Are you listening, Mr. Gorbachev? Tear down this wall! We write historical songs not because they are easy but because they are hard.

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Aug 10, 2017 No Comments ›› admin

By Lynn Woolley

I’ve written a lot of song lyrics over the years, but none in a stranger situation than a “new” song called “Tear Down This Wall.”

I love to write songs about history.

But they are far harder to write than love songs or rock and roll. Even with literary license, you still have to research the topic and make sure that the words you are writing are historically correct. Also, you have to condense a piece of history into a song with typically a chorus and 3 or 4 verses. Back in the 90’s, I had written the chorus to a song about the fall of the Berlin Wall – and President Reagan’s part in it. But I never could get the verses to work.

West Berliners crowd in front of the Berlin Wall early 11 November 1989 as they watch East German border guards demolishing a section of the wall in order to open a new crossing point between East and West Berlin.

Fast forward to July 26 at 3 a.m. I had undergone surgery the morning before and was stuck in a hospital bed unable to move. For some reason, the words came – and rather easily. I whispered them into my cell phone, and the song was finally completed.

We write historical songs not because they are easy but because they are hard.

In 1975 I was tinkering around with a song about vampires. About that time, the Ed Busch talk show that ran late nights on WFAA 570 was doing a lot of content about the Kennedy assassination. I rewrote the lyrics to the vampire song and turned it into a conspiracy-theory statement about JFK and his assassin, unnamed in the song, entitled “They Said It Was Only One Man.” Robert Malsbary and I recorded it and it got some airplay.

Years later, I got the urge to write a song about Texas history. Noting that there were two major movies about the Alamo and many songs about that battle – which we lost – I wanted to write a song about a battle that we won. So I wrote a verse about Sam Houston preparing for San Jacinto. The verse (written on April 13, 2003) was fine – but no more verses would come. Besides that, I could not find a melody that worked. So I put it aside and worked on other projects. But the song never escaped my mind and finally, on February 11, 2015, I found my melody and wrote two additional verses. Now, I regularly perform “The Battle of San Jacinto” when I play.

And so it was with the Berlin Wall. 

The challenge was to write three verses to go with the chorus that I’d already written years earlier – and to tell the story of the fall of the Berlin Wall, while giving props to Ronald Reagan. If it sounds hard — it was actually harder.

But in the wee hours of the morning, in a hospital bed and with wires and tubes plugged into various parts of my body, the ideas began to flow.

I had nothing to write with, so I whispered the lyrics into my cell phone to retrieve later. Once out of the hospital, I massaged the words slightly – and I had my song at last. I plan to work the song into my act very soon. At this writing it has never been performed in public. So here’s how it turned out:

Tear Down This Wall

CHORUS:

Tear down this wall. Tear down this wall.
With pick and axe and hammer let it crumble, let it fall.
It separates the East from West.
It keeps the German people oppressed.
Are you listening, Mr. Gorbachev? Tear down this wall.

VERSES:

1. After the Second World War, at the city of Berlin…
Khrushchev built a dividing wall to hold East Germans in.
The wall was strong and fortified and never would it fall.
And that is just the way it was when Reagan came to call.

2. From Checkpoint Charlie all around, East German snipers fired
At anyone who breached the wall when freedom was desired.
President Ronald Reagan started history on its flow
When he told the Russian leader that the Berlin Wall must go.

3. The old Soviet Union was starting to unwind,
And all of Eastern Europe was being redefined.
The people came together and boldly held their ground.
On November 9 of eighty-nine, the wall came tumbling down.

Music making history.

I’ve only written three songs about history, but there was a time when the radio played this type of music all the time.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” was almost revised to “This ugly wall will disappear” after a diplomat in Berlin took out the controversial line, fearing it would be too harsh on Gorbachev.

Especially in folk and country music, history has always been a prime topic. Artists like Jimmy Dean, Johnny Horton, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Jimmy Driftwood, Peter, Paul & Mary, Stompin’ Tom Connors, the Kingston Trio, Gordon Lightfoot and many others recorded songs about history.

I think it would be fun to put a set together and do a concert featuring the great
songs of historical significance. I’ll see what I can do.

Song lyrics © 2017 by Lynn Woolley. All rights reserved.  lynn@BeLogical.com

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