Academic journal article Western Folklore

My Music, My War: The Listening Habits of U.S. Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan

Academic journal article Western Folklore

My Music, My War: The Listening Habits of U.S. Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan

Article excerpt

My Music, My War: The Listening Habits of U.S. Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. By Lisa Gilman. (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2016. Pp. ix + 226, preface, acknowledgements, introduction, photographs, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $80 hardcover, $26.95 paperback, $21.99 ebook.)

Too little attention has been given to the social life of our troops engaged in America's most recent foreign wars. Instead, the focus often has been on the destruction that these men and women produced and that they have suffered as a result. Lisa Gilman's work is therefore a welcome turn, one that the soldiers she interviewed actually energetically desired. For revealing your musical loves exposes you in a fashion; this revelation allows others to see some part of your emotional core-and it can be an antidote to preconceived notions about identity.

Early on, Gilman notes that the sameness of mandated military dress, hair style, and even behavior makes individual music tastes more important than usual for soldiers in that they allow listeners to forge their own identity, their own self-expression. These individual choices also sometimes allow the soldiers to form their own mini-communities when they find others who share their particular musical tastes. Thus, the music fi lls two very basic human needs for those who are placed in new and often trying circumstances.

But Gilman also discusses how music listened to within the restrictions of a military culture could still be controlling and limiting, especially in terms of gender expression. Specifi cally, she finds that the masculine constructions of identity within the armed forces often make the self-expression or community-building mentioned earlier diffi cult for women in general and for many men who do not fit stereotypical notions of a soldier: heterosexual, aggressive, fearless, virile, tough, strong, and violent. If soldiers' musical tastes did not conform in some fashion to this kind of identity, there could be ridicule and rejection, which sometimes forced individuals to limit their public listening habits.

Perhaps the most important message of the book concerns the use of music as a balm, whether in the fi eld, in the barracks, or even back at home. Gilman argues that individual relationships with certain songs often give soldiers a kind of resolve or even peace-but certainly a means to deal with the sometimes harsh realities that they face, both during deployment or when they return to civilian life.

However, these features of the book, as welcome as they are, are rather short-lived due to a number of factors. For one, Gilman does not give the soldiers she met enough room to voice their own particular concerns and revelations. Early on she reveals, "Each interviewee was so articulate, and the interviews were so powerful, speaking so fundamentally to the individual's experience at war, that I felt that my role might be to collect and present rather than interpret these narratives and that the readers could think about the narratives in interaction with one another to produce their own analyses and conclusions" (xiii). …

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