Because Songs Matter


Hello everyone. Sorry about yesterday’s silence. It was a case of an insane weekend turning into a long night which resulted in comatose AIV yesterday. I’ve got a few more guest posts for y’all this week while I recover from Deep Blues Fest. This one come’s from Kasey Anderson. I first saw it on and I am very happy that he agreed to repost it on ninebullets. Hope y’all like it.

You’ve seen Blake Miller’s face. Eyes to sun-strained slits, staring off at God Knows What, smoke swirling around him, cigarette dangling like he’d taken classes from James Dean. When Miller’s photo, taken by Luis Sinco, appeared on the front page of the Los Angeles Times November 9, 2004 – and subsequently appeared in hundreds of publications, along with being singled out by Dan Rather – he became an instant, iconic image of the war in Iraq. Whether he knew it or not, whether he wanted it or not, Miller’s face became a canvas upon which any beholder could paint his or her version of the American Military Man. You want to see quiet resolve and stoicism? It’s there. Looking for a beleaguered soldier whose only remaining coping mechanism is the sort of numbness one can only achieve by constant subjection to death and destruction? It’s there. Any version of America you’re looking for is visible in Miller’s face, you need only project it.

Nearly one year to the date after Sinco’s photo ran, Miller found himself discharged from the military and attempting to re-adjust to civilian life. Jenny Eliscu chronicled Miller’s turbulent re-entry in a piece that ran in the April 3, 2008 issue of Rolling Stone, focusing on his constant battle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, estrangement from his wife and involvement with the Highwaymen, the motorcycle group of spotty reputation. I’m not going to summarize Eliscu’s story here, as the link makes it readily available, but suffice it to say it’s not an easy piece to “shake off.” I read the piece when it originally ran and found myself turning Eliscu’s words – and Sinco’s photo – over and over, until I was writing about Miller myself.

At the time, I was working on a record that dealt almost entirely with my own life, the first time I had ever written a record that was entirely autobiographical. “I Was a Photograph,” the song I wrote about Miller, was the last song I wrote for the record, and I considered not including it, not because I felt it didn’t fit but because I didn’t want to cheapen Miller’s story by sandwiching it in between songs about how I was a fuckup and love is hell and everything else I had been writing about. But the more I played the song, the more I felt it belonged. Because Miller was like me, like anyone else, before the war. And that’s the point. We all know war changes people but we assume that, like being a fuckup or dealing with a busted heart and a bunch of burnt bridges, they get over it and/or get through it. Eventually. That’s the American way, right? We persevere. Or they do, so we don’t have to.

Well, not always. Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller is living proof that the casualties of war cannot be measured by a death toll or by the deteriorated physical condition of many of the men and women who return home. The casualties of war are something Blake Miller lives with every single day, in his dreams, in his subconscious, in every waking moment of his life (of which there are plenty, he doesn’t sleep much). The casualties of war were written on James Blake Miller’s face long before he came home. They’re there. You just have to look for them.

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