By The Landlord
“If you are going through hell, keep going … I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” – Winston Churchill
“The truest wisdom is a resolute determination.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practise any other virtue consistently.” – Maya Angelou
“Screw your courage to the sticking place.” – Shakespeare, Macbeth
“If one man can destroy everything, why can't one girl change it? With guns you can kill terrorists, with education you can kill terrorism.” – Malala Yousafzai
There are many stirring remarks made by famous, and sometimes extraordinary people about how determination got them through adversity, how hard work eventually brought prominence, victory or success, how something deep within them helped them survive, how stubborn, drive, focus, and self-sacrifice were what made them the person they are today. Some, like the remarks of Napoleon or Churchill may resound with oratorical truth, but are also politically charged, but others, like Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban but survived to strive against them, are more personal and equally powerful.
And meanwhile, making it in the music certainly business requires determination so whatever the topic, it’s a seam that runs behind any creative endeavour, but this week we’re looking at songs that particularly focus on striving onwards through very difficult circumstances, that require courage, dedication, fortitude, perseverance, persistence, or dogged willpower. This, rather than the secondary definition of the word, meaning reaching a decision through research, although that can also be required.
But as much as the above quotations may be true, determination is not merely about words, but actions done by the many, not the few, who never have the spotlight to express this.
So talking of the many, this Sunday 11 November, at the 11th hour, sees the centenary of Armistice Day, 100 years since the formal ending of the First World War, a conflict which brought around 40 million military and civilian casualties, including the long-term injured. I had a grandad and a great uncle who were in the trenches (I had older parents) and they received medals which I’ve inherited. I’m not sure exactly for what they were given or indeed what role they played in the war, but for all the terrible errors of that conflict I’m proud to say that at least one of them was awarded for an act of bravery in saving, rather than taking lives.
On that this forthcoming anniversary, while there is much written about the hardships of those who fought for our future, a new documentary by director Peter Jackson, They Shall Not Grow Old, offers an incredible new perspective of First World War footage. Using technology previously unavailable, it not only adds colour, but also inserts interim frames to make the jerky movement and wrong speed of early cameras far more natural, and even adds audible conversation between troops through far more accurate to lip-reading analysis and carefully researched voices and accents to bring authenticity. These men from a century ago come alive like never before. It’s a truly eye-opening film, humanising many individuals, shining a new light on their determination for a common cause, but with the extra dimension of humour, chatter, and banter, as well as courage:
But every day is a battle for some, and requires determination, sometimes just to keep going, to get through the day, whether it is putting up with bureaucracy, obstacles, difficult work circumstances, but especially for those who don’t know where the next meal is coming from, for those must visit food banks because their poorly paid jobs or because their are unemployed or because disability benefits don’t meet their needs. So this week’s songs can as much touch on habitual strife.
But touching on both the ordinary and extraordinary in film, there’s also Touching The Void, the book by climber Joe Simpson, and a 2003 documentary drama film, about how he and climbing partner got stranded in the Andes, and after a contentious cutting of rope decision, Simpson found himself at the bottom of a crevasse, and had to crawl miles to safety with a broken leg, going through a series of dark physical and mental obstacles just to survive, including getting Boney M’s Brown Girl In the Ring stuck in his head for hours and hours. What could be tougher than that?
Not merely determination, but even darker depths of the survival instinct come out in Alive! This is the 1993 film based on Piers Paul Read's 1974 book Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors, which details a Uruguayan rugby team's crash aboard Flight 571 into the Andes mountains in October 1972. After nine days of starvation and freezing, when the search for them was abandoned, and no food was left, survivors were left with the difficult decision forcing them to eat their dead friends and relatives. This documentary is a great accopaniment to the feature film:
There are many extraordinary tales of personal survival in environments variously harsh, from jungles to frozen wildernesses, in wartime or leisure time gone awry, and perhaps among the most bone-chilling, or perhaps even bone-gnawing, is 127 Hours - based on the memoir Between a Rock and a Hard Place, about climber Aron Ralston who fell and got trapped by a boulder in an isolated slot canyon in Blue John Canyon, Utah, and with his arm stuck fast, made the more than determined decision to cut it off with a penknife to free himself. A decision that’s somewhat more difficult than the editorial process of cutting your own words to keep to a limit.
Determination is not merely in the genes of humans, but even more so in the animal kingdom. We see it constantly in mass migrations, in the march of penguins, in the long journeys of salmon up thousands of miles of seas and up streams to return to their spawning grounds, or in the simple task of the dung beetle trying to roll a ball of food up a hill while being picked off by birds.
Songs? There some rather obvious ones about determination previously chosen for other topics, including Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive, and Chumbawumba’s Tubthumping (“I get knocked down but I get up again” ) but I’m sure Song Bar regulars’ knowledge and determination will bring far more. My role after all is simple to plant a few seeds of ideas that will, with determination, break through to the surface of doubt, and flower beautifully.
So then, this week’s doctor of determination and compiler of courage, is, I’m delighted to say, the marvellous keeper of the Marconium, Marco den Ouden! Place your determined songs in comments below in time for the deadline at 11pm on Monday, for Marco’s playlists published to be on Wednesday. The show must go on …
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