An unpleasant reminder of ongoing horror came in the mail yesterday, in the form of a seven-inch single. It’s John Cale’s “Mercenaries (Ready For War),” released in 1980, from his punk masterpiece, Sabotage/Live. The A side is a brutal song about the soldiers who are paid “enough to want to kill for you, but not enough to want to die for you.” The B-side is the rare “Rosegarden Funeral Of Sores,” which is unavailable on CD.
The picture sleeve is the real point, though. It’s a threatening photo of Cale, overlaid on a map of a war-torn region of the world that was omnipresent in the news at the time. The map shows eastern Afghanistan, northwest Pakistan, and a bit of Iran. Thirty years later, it’s completely up to date, as are the two ugly and violent songs on the record. True, “Ready For War” references the since-renamed Zaire, but the “jolly old Belgian Congo” is still quite the business opportunity for mercenaries.
And this affects me, like most Americans, not at all; it takes a luxury purchase to even bring it to mind. It’s sad and shameful.