March 13, 2007

A little bit country, a little bit rock ’n’ roll, inside a war zone

First Lt. Kevin McDaniel: Photo Courtesy of Kathy McDaniel First Lt. Kevin McDaniel, 27, and a fellow soldier stand inside a crater made by an improvised explosive device, or IED.Music offers a means of escape, a chance to climb inside your own head for a little while and forget about the world around you. This is nowhere more appropriate than for soldiers who serve in Iraq.They don’t say much over e-mail. They don’t wax nostalgic about hanging out in Tinseltown’s parking lot, watching Friday night lights beam down upon their old high school football team or hitting bars on Baxter Avenue. Give them a topic, and they stick to it. When you consider they’re fighting a war, such brevity is not only appreciated, but also cherished. Necessary.Take Army Specialist Cliff Roberts. The 21-year-old who grew up on Westport Road says that when he first went overseas, he listened to hip hop. His faves include Tupac Shakur’s “Changes,” a call for peace released posthumously in 1998 as part of the rapper’s catalog of greatest hits.  On a brief trip back to the states, Roberts discovered Akon. “When I got back, it was the first thing I heard on the radio, and I had to get the album.”Now Roberts’ iPod is filled with all kinds of music, from Stevie Wonder and Linkin Park (“I like the yelling; it gets me pumped up.”) to Three-Six Mafia and Aerosmith. “I learned to respect them and what all they’ve done, because they’ve been around for so long,” he said.Country music is hard for Roberts to stomach, but when he needs to fall asleep, he listens to three songs by Brad Paisley: “Whiskey Lullaby,” “Little Moments” and “I’m Gonna Miss Her.”Okolona native Sgt. Brandon Sword, 22, on the other hand, digs country. “I don’t really have a reason why,” he says, but he does know who his favorite artist is.“George Straight, because all of his songs are great,” said Sword, who has been stationed in Iraq for about six months. “You don’t just buy his CD for one song; the whole album is good.”First Lt. Kevin McDaniel, of the Highlands, has tastes that run a bit older.“As far as the kind of music I listen to over here, it varies quite a bit,” said McDaniel, 27, who serves with Apache Company, an airborne infantry unit with the Army. “But for the most part, I find myself listening to a lot of classical music (Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky) and instrumental film scores (John Williams, Howard Shore and Enya) because they help me relax and get away from the war.” Modern rock isn’t far from his ears. Dave Matthews, The Fray and Five for Fighting top his list, as does country music star Toby Keith. “I listen to Toby Keith (“Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” and “American Soldier”) when I need to remember why we are fighting, because his songs inspire me and help to rekindle my patriotism, as cheesy as that may sound. I also listen to ‘Paradise’ by John Prine often, because it reminds me of Kentucky.”   Contact the writer at