Rifles and Rosary Beads

Certain things date a person.

  1. Knowing where you were when Kennedy was shot.
  2. Having watched a man walk on the moon.
  3. Remembering when they believed man actually did walk on the moon.
  4. Having watched a draft with a knot in your stomach instead of NFL rosters in your hand.
  5. Remembering when Michael Jackson was a) alive, and b) not weird.
  6. Having watched the Cowboys go to the NFC championship game every year1 instead of every half-century.

I only hit on two-thirds of those (no idea where I was when Kennedy was shot, and I was born in the only two-and-a-half year period in the last 75 years that didn’t have to register for Selective Service), but that’s more than enough.

It used to be that another thing that dated you was having owned and listened to a large round piece of vinyl with a small hole in its center that turned, turned, turned, on a thing called a turntable. But the last few years have seen a resurgence of interest in those things we call LP’s, for reasons that completely escape me.

I hated LP’s. If you got a group of people together from some think tank and gave them the task of coming up with the most inconvenient way possible to listen to music, the LP is what they would have come up with.

LP’s and their protective sleeves have to be carefully removed from the album cover. The LP then has to be carefully removed from the sleeve. The LP then has to be held by the edges and carefully laid down on the turntable. Depending on the turntable, the turntable arm might have to be carefully lifted up and laid down, carefully, on the exact right spot at the outer edge of the LP so none of the first song is missed. In fifteen minutes or so, you have to stop what you’re doing, carefully lift the LP off the turntable, turn it over, carefully lay it back down, and carefully move that arm back onto the exact right spot at the outer edge.

Fifteen minutes after that, you have to reverse all of that, carefully putting the LP back in the sleeve, the sleeve back in the cover, the cover back on the shelf, and start all over again for the next album. Except that it’s probably time to go to bed because you just wasted all of your spare time doing all of the (careful) work necessary to listen to the first one.

(No, Suzie, it is not worth it. The sound of an LP is worse, in every possible way, than a CD, or even a well-burned MP3. LP’s are not “warmer,” they are less accurate in their sound reproduction, and they are filled with pops and clicks and hisses. You can reduce, but not eliminate, the pops/clicks/hissing by cleaning the LP every single time you play it, which is its own ten-step process.)

But.

A strange thing happened when you listened to an LP. You actually listened to the music. LP’s were rarely listened to in the background, because you didn’t have enough time to do something else before it was time to turn the LP over or replace it with a new one. Consequently, listening to an LP was a foreground activity; I often learned the majority of the lyrics for a new album in a couple of hours, because I wasn’t doing anything else while I listened to it.

I bring all of this up because I have an assignment for you. The assignment is to listen to an album. Not in the background, not while you’re doing aerobics or driving to work or playing a video game. In the foreground, preferably with headphones/earbuds. With your full attention on the music, and especially the lyrics. It’s going to require forty-five uninterrupted minutes. It’s going to be the second-best forty-five minutes you spend this week.

What saves you in the battle can kill you at home.

The album is Rifles & Rosary Beads, and while the name and the voice on the album is Mary Gauthier, the songs themselves came out of SongwritingWith:Soldiers. SW:S pairs veterans and active-duty service members with songwriters to create musical stories about their military experiences. The SW:S retreats are opportunities for the service members to tell their stories, to have their stories really heard, and in the hearing to turn those stories into songs that others can hear as well. If you follow that link above, you can listen to songs from any of the retreats. (And btw, you should follow that link above; very few of you typically do that, but when I include a link, there’s something there I want you to see.)

Mirrors frighten me, I don’t recognize what I see.

Although the music from the retreats is all good, and you should buy some, today’s assignment is Rifles & Rosary Beads. It is as close as most of us are going to get to having a one-on-one session with a roomful of veterans, and if you weren’t already focused on the music because you were doing this assignment, their stories would stop you in your tracks. They are stories of loss, of wives who stand in the gap, of being a woman in a man’s world, of discovering that not all the enemies are on the other side of the battlefield.

Land mines in the living room, eggshells on the floor.

They are stories that demand to be listened to. I rarely listen to music in the foreground anymore, but I was brought up short on the very first song of the album as a lyric penetrated my brain while I was doing whatever I was doing, and I stopped whatever that was and listened for the next hour-and-a-half (I listened to it twice all the way through, and probably another four times since.)

Listen, because We’re stronger together.


  1. Ten times in the thirteen years from 1970-1982.

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