"Iraq was released 12 years ago but the songs sound as intense to me as back when we were performing them every night."
Editor's Note: In the coming weeks, Larry Kirwan and IrishCentral will look back album by album on the history of Black 47 and their rise to fame. Below is the fifteenth installment of the series about "Iraq," released in 2008.
Below is a note from Larry Kirwan, written April 2020:
Iraq was released 12 years ago but the songs sound as intense to me as back when we were performing them every night. I never doubted that Black 47 was right to make a stand against the war; what I found puzzling was the rancor against the songs, the ideas for which came from our fans who were fighting the war. It was as if those who found the songs anti-American deep down hated the troops who they insisted we were dissing.
One memory keeps resurfacing – on a packed night in Connolly’s a Wounded Warrior approached me before the gig. Part of his face had been blown off and even after much reconstructive surgery he was hard to behold. But after we shared some shots I got used to looking him straight in his damaged face. He was there to have a good time and wished me luck going on stage. After finishing the extended, distorted, feedback-laden instrumental coda to Ramadi he called me over to the side of the stage and asked could he say a few words.
I was hesitant – Ramadi told the tale of a soldier pinned down under fire in that Iraqi city all the while wondering if his girlfriend back in the US was betraying him with another man. But who was I to say he couldn’t say his piece after sacrificing so much. And so he got up onstage on that Saturday night in 2006 and talked about his experiences. The audience was shell-shocked both at the sight of him and by his calm, almost laconic words. The war was in the room – it had finally come home.
14 years later this war is even more of a disaster than it was back then. So many deaths, lives ruined, countries upended and for what – the Bush administration’s ignorance, stupidity, lies, and lack of any knowledge of history. The value of IRAQ is that the moment you listen to any of the songs you’re right back there in that tense and terrible time listening to a tribute to the young women and men who gave up so much. And that’s what the album was all about in the first place.
- Stars and Stripes (Kirwan) - 5:11
- Downtown Baghdad Blues (Kirwan) - 4:47
- Sadr City (Kirwan) - 3:21
- Sunrise on Brooklyn (Kirwan) - 3:15
- No Better Friend... (Kirwan) - 1:08
- Ballad of Cindy Sheehan (Kirwan) - 3:45
- The Last One to Die (Kirwan) - 4:30
- The Fighting 69th (Kirwan) - :37
- Battle of Fallujah (Kirwan) - 5:15
- Ramadi (Kirwan) - 3:47
- Southside Chicago Waltz (Kirwan) - 4:50
- Whatever... (Kirwan) - 1:37
- Geoffrey Blythe: Tenor and Soprano Saxophones
- Joseph "Bearclaw" Burcaw: Bass, Vocals
- Thomas Hamlin: Drums
- Larry Kirwan: Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion
- Joseph Mulvanerty: Uilleann Pipes, Flute
- Fred Parcells: Trombone, Vocals
- Mike Fazio: Atmospheric Guitar
- P2 Tour Manager and general enabler
- Joey "Knobs" Juntunen: Production Manager and Live Sound
- Jordan Valentine: Graphic Design
- William Bitters: Sound fx/Audio Research
- Special Thanks to ejaz215 for Masjid Haram call to prayer in 'The Last One To Die'
The below was written by Larry Kirwan in September 2008:
I had little doubt that President Bush intended to invade Iraq, although there was always the hope that cooler heads would prevail. So why did it all seem so traumatic when the decision was sealed on St. Patrick's Day 2003? I guess there was added bitterness because 9/11 was being used as a pretext and, to my mind, people like Fr. Mychal Judge would have been very opposed to any kind of unnecessary war far from home.
The problems began early that night at our gig in Tribeca's Knitting Factory. In response to the news that the US was about to begin bombing, we did a version of Where Have All the Flowers Gone – I wish to God we'd recorded it, for I've forgotten the arrangement though I added a counter melody and additional words. Scuffles broke out in the packed house, some people left in outrage over anyone criticizing foreign policy in a time of war. And so it began.
By the time IRAQ was released in 2008, almost five years had passed and they were five of the toughest in the band's history. Black 47 is blessed with strong right and left wings amid its following. Many fans are interested in politics because of our stance on the situation in the North of Ireland. Thus, unlike most politically inclined bands, we rarely play to the converted.
The first three and half years of the conflict were a nightmare. From early on we were playing Downtown Baghdad Blues and South Side Chicago Waltz. I can still see the fingers in the air as people walked out; still remember the threats, phone calls, emails, letters, and all the other instances of anger and disgust, and for what? Disagreeing with a ruinous foreign policy that has cost so many dead and maimed, and left in its wake a fiscally damaged country.
We lost many gigs and supporters in the first years of the war but that's as it should be. At least we made a public stand and provided cover for others who shared our views. The saddest part was when people would write saying, "thank you for making this stand, I can't do so because…." They'd lose their jobs, friends, even families; and this in the home of the brave, land of the free?
By the fall of 2006 things were changing, if subtly. The barstool patriots and wannabe Marines were still outraged but the country, in general, was beginning to understand that the war was a waste in so many ways. The one real validation and consolation for the band was that no member of the US Forces ever criticized the songs. In fact, they loved the CD when it finally came out. After all, we were writing about them. It was their letters that inspired the various songs. We were telling their story.
If you play IRAQ now it will propel you straight back to a particular juncture in the nation's history. It was written in a time of war and the very production evokes conflict. There's practically no reverb, all is dry, upfront, in your face, there's a sense of displacement and vague hints of distortion everywhere. The recording sessions were tense; no one was particularly happy but songs like Ramadi, Stars and Stripes and Battle of Fallujah resonate now just as much as they did when we recorded them out in Don Fury's Studio in Coney Island that crazy summer of 2007. — Larry Kirwan
Reviews for Black 47’s “Iraq”
"More a prayer than a protest…" — David Fricke Rolling Stone
"The Iraq War has inspired quite a few songs, but you'd be hard pressed to hear a musical portrait of it as vivid and detailed as Black 47's IRAQ. From Sadr City to Battle of Fallujah, the inveterate troupe approaches the defining struggle of our age from all sides. What's surprising is that it took a band of Irish expats to do it." — Doug Wallen Hartford Courant
"A fire-breathing, clench-fisted, rabble-rousing spirit fuels both Celtic traditional music and punk rock. So combining the two styles makes for quite the incendiary device, in the explosive work of New York's Black 47 on IRAQ as seen through the eyes of the US troops on the battlefront. Downtown Baghdad Blues and Stars and Stripes are rich examples of culture co-mingling." — Philadelphia Daily News
"Our pick for best album of 2008, this rivals anything the Clash ever did. Black 47 frontman Larry Kirwan is also a novelist and playwright, with a terrific ear for dialogue. The album succeeds as well as it does as an antiwar statement because it simply recounts the daily stress of combat as seen through the eyes of the American soldiers there…
"Kirwan doesn't preach: he lets their anxiety and dread speak for itself. Over catchy, anthemic, Celtic- or blues-tinged rock, Kirwan offers an eyewitness view of the war that the corporate media types "embedded" with the soldiers were never allowed to depict: the guy from Brooklyn who finds himself shocked by the natural beauty of the Iraqi desert; the embittered, cynical GI who can't wait to get home to watch his beloved San Diego Padres; a heart-wrenching account of Cindy Sheehan's transformation from war supporter to iconic antiwar activist following the death of her son; and finally, the savage Battle of Fallujah, whose narrator leaves no doubt that "If there's a draft you know damn well yourself this war would be over by dawn…your tax dollars can go to building it all back over again."
"What Frankenchrist by the Dead Kennedys was to 1985, what Wallace '48 by the Hangdogs was to 2002, Iraq by Black 47 was to 2008: an important historical work that also happened to have some good tunes." — Lucid Culture
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