Man on Fire: A Playlist for Thich Quang Duc
Photographer Malcolm Browne took the above, unforgettable picture on June 11, 1963 when a Buddhist monk named Thich Quang Duc set himself on fire and burned to death in complete, immobile silence as a protest against Buddhist persecutions by the Roman Catholic Vietnamese government. During the self-immolation, Duc remained perfectly calm, quiet, and still, with many onlookers, including a police officer, prostrating themselves before him in reverence for the act.
The shocking death and image reverberated around the world. Pressure was put on President Ngo Dinh Diem to curb abuses by Catholics against the Buddhists, but Diem failed to handle the situation. His de facto first lady, sister-in-law Madame Nhu, called the demonstration a barbecue, and offered to buy gasoline in the future. Riots and raids continued for the next five months, until Diem was overthrown and assassinated.
According to the Doctor, certain events are fixed points in time, important deaths and actions that are so essential to history that they serves as a anchor points for the whole of infinity. This image, which won Browne a Pulitzer Prize, is surely one of those points. This week's playlist is dedicated to Duc, in honor of his sacrifice in the name of freedom.
Cream, "Anyone for Tennis?": There's going to be plenty of angry yelling in this article, so hold onto your horses. "Anyone for Tennis" may look and sound like a light-hearted tune, but its real meaning is centered around an uninterested world wasting away on frivolities while world changing events happen all around it. Duc is referenced directly as the "yellow Buddhist monk burning brightly at the zoo" in the last verse. Duc was covered with yellow robes after death when his fellow monks took his body away.
Fear Factory, "Freedom or Fire": Fear Factory's critically-acclaimed concept album Obsolete remains a hard-rock classic that proves that 90 percent of the bands out there trying to go hardcore just don't have the first clue. "Freedom" serves as the last words of a protestor who burns himself alive at a public demonstration, seeing no other escape from an oppressive government regime in the album's third act. There can be no doubt that Duc directly inspired the scene.
Rage Against the Machine, "Settle for Nothing": No list about Thich Quang Duc would be complete without Rage and their debut album. Browne's photo served as the album cover, as illustrated on the first page. Rather than go with the big hits from that iconic album, I thought I'd pass on this incredible video set to "Settle for Nothing."
The Other Mic, "The Enlightenment Trilogy, Part 1: Wake Me Up": Let's take it back down a bit, shall we? I don't know who the Other Mic is, and I haven't been able to find out much, but despite the unfortunately amateur nature of his music video here, the song itself is freakin' amazing. He mentions Duc among other examples of a mad world, though he calls him a Zen monk instead of a Mahayana one, an error he acknowledges in the description of the video. A fantastic underground work that you could only run across in the age of YouTube.
Live, "Lightning Crashes": Being a band made up of Buddhists, it's easy to believe that this powerful little song is about reincarnation. I certainly did for years. However, it was actually inspired by the death of a friend of the band named Barbara Lewis, who was killed in a car crash.
After the immolation of Duc, his heart was found to be preserved and intact, and was declared a holy relic that went one to inspire people. Lewis's heart also lived on after her death. She was an organ donor whose heart went on to save a life. I like to think Duc would've liked being linked with her, and with a song that speaks endlessly of hope and love in the face of death itself.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.