March 20, 2013

Coincident of Silver Stars

The 1960 U-2 spy plane incident catapulted Francis Gray Powers into history and his name into our consciousness as the public watched his Soviet Union trial and imprisonment, and the eventual American resolution of our suspicions about his actions. As a pilot conducting aerial espionage of our Cold War enemy, the former Soviet Union, Powers’ surveillance of Russia's potential nuclear capabilities and ultimate threat were eventually recognized to be "CIA-initiated." Powers served nearly two years of a 9-year sentence for espionage in the U.S.S.R. yet when he returned to the U.S. he wasn’t eligible for de rigueur military awards for being captured “behind enemy lines” because he was ostensibly CIA, not military.

I learned about Gary Powers as everyone did: through the myth of the U-2 spy plane. I had forgotten about his legend, not knowing even that he'd served time for piloting the U-2. I certainly wasn’t thinking of him when I wrote lyrics for what would become an original song by the Boyd Bros called “Silver Star.” I was living in a loft near downtown Los Angeles, driving up on the weekends to Val Verde, north of LA,  where I played music in one of those desert huts with my brother Scott, Chan Poling and Beej of The Suburbs, and often Su Tissue of the Suburban Lawns. We jammed and partied together those long weekends and I usually ended up late Sunday evening working on songs with Scott at his Newhall bungalow.

“Silver Star” was originally about a bar and a guy in there maybe suffering delirium tremens visions that culminated lyrically in orgiastic, Jim Morrison-like petulance, with choruses of “ain’t nothing wrong with staying in bed.”

Over three decades later, I changed those lines and introduced the idea that the protagonist of “Silver Star” might be suffering PTSD, with a new chorus, and a new set of chords to go with it courtesy of Boyd Bro Scott. In the new version, the singer survives Iraq, comes home, and gets a job driving a flatbed, bravely suffering his regular nightmares of being "still in the fight." Our song's refrain of "..the Silver Star, the Silver Star" now possibly implying the singer was awarded that third-highest military decoration for valor.

Suddenly, when I finished those final mixes of my song “Silver Star” on June 21, 2012, it now was  about a decorated veteran, in recognition of outstanding action in some mysterious traumatic combat, of which he sings in the last verse: "No trouble with what I did."

As surprising as that was to me, it wasn’t near as overwhelming to learn that, unbeknownst to me, Francis Gary Powers was posthumously awarded the Silver Star on June 15, 2012.

The full, coincidental extent of this “Silver Star” story only became clear to me later when I read a Powers' obit to discover how Powers had died: he’d been killed while piloting a KNBC news helicopter while covering brushfires near LA; his helo crashed in a field north of LA’s Sepulveda Dam on August 1, 1977.  

Remarkably, a song I had begun in 1977, the same year Francis Gary Powers had died, crashing in a field within 50 miles of where I had wrote that first version, was randomly resurrected in 2012, with new lyrics about a decorated war vet, almost to the very day that Powers was finally awarded his elusive Silver Star.

IMAGE: MCB as "The Pilot" in still photo from "Stop In The Name Of Love," a Hollies video shoot directed by David Jove, 1983. 

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