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Two Takes On “One Tin Soldier” After Fifty Years

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Hit Song From Billy Jack Film Is Seen In a Whole New Light Fifty Years Later


Occasionally you will be relaxing with music playing, when all of a sudden a song strikes you in a new way. Usually it is just a line or two that, through personal experience or for some other reason, transforms your original opinion of the piece.

Two cases I can clearly recall involved more than just a few lyrics, but rather it was the entire theme of the song that was completely upended. One change in perspective had caused me to look at the song as more depressing, while the other left me enraged.

Harry Chapin's “Cat's in the Cradle” had always left me feeling sorry for the father narrating the story, a guy who had been so busy earning a living that he missed his son's growth from boy to man. That tune, no matter how many times I heard it throughout the years, nearly always brought tears.

One day a few years ago, just as my own kids were leaving the nest, I lost sympathy for the father. He was the one who had chosen money over his child, so Dad is worthy of no sympathy now the adult son prefers time with his own kids.

“He'd grown up just like me, my boy was just like me,” could not be more inaccurate. In fact, the son grew up to be the opposite of his father.

Last Sunday morning, while listening to Casey Kasem's American Top Forty on the local oldies station, I experienced another upheaval of a song that I have known for fifty years. After hearing Coven's “One Tin Soldier” during a long distance dedication segment, I cursed myself for the naive perception I had always drawn from the theme song of the movie Billie Jack.

It is the musical tale of a kingdom on a mountain, the valley below it, and a treasure hidden between the two areas. The valley people, who are literally and figuratively below the kingdom, send a note demanding the treasure. The royalty on the hill respond by saying, “With our brothers we will share.”

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Not being satisfied with this promise of sharing the wealth, the valley people mount horses and draw swords against the royalty. When they at last uncover the box with the treasure, the valley people are disappointed to find only a note advocating peace on earth.

For fifty years I like most listeners have vilified the valley people for a greed that led them to kill, but now in 2020 I can understand their reasoning. After all, I am part of the valley, or the common working folks whose labors are mostly for the enrichment of those who govern on the Hill.

As for their promise of sharing the wealth with us, well, we have heard that line way too often. Its latest name is “trickle down” economics. Those in power bestow on the rich corporations large wealth from our taxes, promising that they will then provide us with a share.

Like us, the valley peons had heard repeated promises of sharing the pot, only to have 99% of the wealth staying in the hands of the richest 1%. It is no wonder they were no longer buying the line, choosing instead to overthrow the kingdom on the hill.

Even though there was no treasure, the valley workers still came out ahead. Getting rid of the selfish kingdom on the hill they found, if not quite peace on earth, at least some peace of mind.

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