Grey Victory: A Playlist for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony
A Hiroshima victim
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
In 1945, the Japanese city of Hiroshima became the first target of a nuclear weapon ever. The United States called for the unconditional surrender of the country at the end of World War II, an ultimatum that was ignored. In response, we deployed a weapon that killed between 90,000 and 166,000 Japanese and exposed the world to the horror of nuclear weapons and their devastating power.
Every August 6 the people of Japan hold the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony, designed to console the survivors of the attack, remember those that died and pray for the realization of peace around the world. The ceremony is an elaborate affair, with a roll call of the dead, the tolling of bells, the releasing of doves and an address by the Prime Minister of Japan in the city itself.
In memory of that day, this week's playlist is dedicated to songs about or that mention the Hiroshima bombing. At 8:15 local time on this day 67 years ago, the world was changed forever, and we continue to live with the effects of unleashing such power today. Like the Japanese people, we pray such a day is not repeated.
Leonard Cohen, "The Future": For my money, Cohen's The Future is his best album. It's hard to top opening with his almost seven-minute, high-energy ode to a dismal dystopia looming ahead of us as the harvest for our sins. Cohen drops a lot of references over the course of the tune, but it's best summed up in the line, "Give me Christ or give me Hiroshima." You can't have both.
Subhumans, "When the Bomb Drops": George Carlin said we're all too fat and happy, and the Subhumans really hammered home on that point in this track off of Rats. They lament how England will be sitting ducks when the time comes for someone to attack them with nuclear weapons because of societal apathy. But as the song says, 'I ain't forgot Hiroshima. I ain't forgot the war."
10,000 Maniacs, "Grey Victory": Listening to 10,000 Maniacs is always a weird experience because I keep forgetting that the songs they sing are generally really freakin' depressing. Natalie Merchant expresses her thoughts on the Hiroshima bombing with a bleak, poetic brilliance that is almost hidden by her lighthearted voice.
Slug Feed, "Lost in August": Slug Feed was born in Japan but immigrated to San Diego, where he became a rapper. His grandfather would tell him about that time, and Feed took those stories and crafted an absolutely amazing hip-hop track out of them. Good luck getting through this one with dry eyes.
Jim Couza, "Cranes Over Hiroshima": Sadako Sasaki was two years old when the bomb was dropped. She survived the blast but as she grew up, cancer caused by the radiation tore through her body and eventually claimed her. While she was in the hospital, her best friend, Chizuko Hamamoto. told her the legend of the thousand origami cranes, how if you make 1,000 of them you will be granted a wish.
Sadako made it to 644. Chizuko completed the rest for her after she died in 1955. Fred Smalls was inspired to write this song for her, and Jim Couza sings it the best. A memorial is dedicated to her in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, where today crowds will gather to mourn and to pray for a day when no one ever need fear the fire in the sky or the poison in the air again.
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