Picaresque - Track #7 - 2005 - Written by Colin Meloy | Performed by The Decemberists

16 military wives
32 softly focused, brightly colored eyes
Staring at the natural tans
Of 32 gently clenching wrinkled little hands
17 company men
Out of which only 12 will make it back again
Sergeant sends a letter to 5
Military wives as tears drip down from ten little eyes

Cheer them on to their rivals
Because America can and America can't say no
And America does if America says it's so
And the anchor person on TV goes
"La di da di da di diddy diddy da.
La di da di da di diddy diddy da."

15 celebrity minds
Leading their 15 sordid, wretched, checkered lives
Will they find the solution in time
Using their 15 pristine moderate liberal minds?
18 Academy chairs
Out of which only 7 really even care
Doling out a garland to 5
Celebrity minds, they're humbly taken by surprise.

Cheer them on to their rivals
Because America can and America can't say no
And America does if America says it's so
And the anchor person on TV goes
"La di da di da di diddy diddy da.
La di da di da di diddy diddy da."

14 cannibal kings
Wondering blithely what the dinner bell will bring
15 celebrity minds
Served on a leafy bed of 16 military wives

Cheer them on to their rivals
Because America can and America can't say no
And America does if America says it's so
And the anchor person on TV goes
"La di da di da di diddy diddy da.
La di da di da di diddy diddy da."

The Song

16 Military Wives is the first single from the third album (Picaresque) by The Decemberists, a band out of Portland, Oregon, and the first song by the group to gain widespread attention and acclaim. Quite simply, it's a catchy pop/rock number (with one of the catchiest horn lines I've ever heard) with protest lyrics that Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger would be proud of; the type of song that gets in your head and you find yourself humming or singing on the bus four days later - and perhaps someone will hum along with you.

Lyrically, the song essentially sums up the political landscape of the United States in the post-9/11 world from three distinct perspectives, each reflected in a verse.

The first verse reflects the cost of war from the perspective of sixteen wives of military men. The verse describes seventeen soldiers going to war, sixteen of them married, with sixteen children among them. Five of them die in the war, leaving five widows behind to grieve and get on with their lives without their husbands.

The second verse discusses the liberal mindset of much of the entertainment industry in America. You might expect after the first verse that the song would laud liberals, but this isn't the case; the song actually skewers them, essentially stating that they are only "moderate liberals" with no real answers and that they waste their time giving awards to each other and patting each other on the back.

The third verse reflects on the result of the "Hollywood liberals" being the face of modern liberalism in the United States: the neoconservatives are basically feasting on them.

The song overall seems to say that the "war on terror" is a sad one, with lives being lost, but that the opposition to the war is too busy scratching its own back to do anything and because of this the neoconservatives are running wild in the henhouse. It's a pretty apt analysis of the situation.

The song is particularly effective because of the band's willingness to hold back from spilling a bunch of anti-war anti-Republican vitrol all over the place. Replacing this with "la di da di da di diddy diddy da" was a brilliant move, framing what is being said with nonsense, which is what it is framed with in the larger scope of things.

The Video

Most music videos are quite dull, simply featuring the band performing or a dull attempt at "art." A handful manage to rise above the lot to do something interesting and memorable.

The video for 16 Military Wives is one of the latter.

The video, directed by Aaron Stewart, is done almost as an homage to the style of the movie Rushmore. The video is set in a private school, much like Rushmore Academy, and focuses on the "model United Nations" that several of the students are involved in. The student who represents the United States is Henry Stowcroft, the focus of the video (more or less). Henry is quite arrogant and is followed around by two toadies representing Poland and Korea in the model UN. Henry's primary rival is Jude, who represents France in the model UN and trounces Henry in athletics and academics.

In the model UN meeting, the United States declares war on Luxembourg, much to the behest of Molly, who represents "the neutral nation of Ireland," and enjoys composing musicals.

Luxembourg is randomly represented by a middle-aged looking guy named Carl, who no one seems to really know much about. Henry and his "Korea" and "Poland" lackies follow Carl around, often dressed in homemade "UN Security Force" uniforms, and impose various "sanctions" on Carl, including throwing him out of the UN meeting, "violating his human rights" (in the words of the video) by denying him bathroom access, executing a "bombing campaign" (throwing paper wads at him), "imposing sanctions" (convincing the lunch lady not to serve Carl any food), hiding a slingshot in Carl's locker and calling a "weapons inspector" (i.e., a teacher), and then delivering a fiery speech matching the chorus of the song, ending with Henry in prayer.

Eventually, Molly ("Ireland") discovers that Carl has a secret interest in rock music, and she composes a protest song (which sounds, coincidentally enough, a lot like 16 Military Wives). All of the other nations begin to sing this loudly during the next model UN meeting, and they chase out Henry for being a bully.

There are several other smaller elements running through the video as well, including a few very specific references to Rushmore, an "intrepid" reporter, and some other items.

The video is quite creative and memorable and pays homage to one of the best films of the 1990s. Beyond this, it makes a pretty clear point about the behavior of the United States on the world stage, at least from the perspective of the director and, presumably, the band: the United States is a bully.

The video can currently be seen at:
http://www.otaku-house.com/films/decdnload.htm
(please let me know if the URL no longer works). The video is also available via bittorrent courtesy of the band at:
http://www.decemberists.com/16militarywivesmp4.torrent

This review was checked with special care with regards to E2 FAQ: Copyrighted Material

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.