This all got started in: I was a prisoner in a Mexican whorehouse,
followed by: A long time gone, How to brush your teeth in a combat zone, Libber and I go to war, and Fate takes a piss.

Chapter 9 in an E2 nightmare called REMFS.

It banishes melancholy, begets confidence, converts fear into boldness, makes the coward eloquent, and dastards brave.
Nobody, in desperate circumstances, and smiling under a disrelish for life,
ever laid violent hands on himself after taking a dose of opium,

or ever will.

—John Brown
(1735 - 1788)
Elementis Medicinae, 1780

Oh, he was wrapped tight, Rat was. You could hear that in his solos. Master of paradiddle, keeper of the holy beat, the Joint Chiefs would be lost without their drummer.

Rat idolized Charlie Watts. Wanted to be Ginger Baker when he grew up. The only question on my mind in those dark, conflicted days was would he grow up?

By all rights, like all of us, he should have died at Waterloo, puking his guts out on CS, jamming magazine after magazine into his always-filthy M-16, till all his ammo and any chance of survival were gone. His brains, by rights, should have been pinkly planted in the green dink landscape.

We were the only rock n roll band in history to pack full military heat to our gigs. And the only reason we didn’t have to fire up our gats that night was the fact that the most hallowed deus ex machina in history—the Bell UH-1 “Huey” helicopter—arrived, as they say, in the nick of time. We had been lucky. The grunts who called LZ Waterloo their home, alas, had not.

Like the rest of us, Rat was pretty messed-up after all the smoke had cleared. Unlike the rest of us, however, Rat’s drug of choice in no way made things better.

The reassuring glow blossomed a comfortable reading-distance away. Contained within the tiny sphere—the dried latex of the unripe seed pod of P. somniferum—to be sure, were all the words of Melville, the tropes of Shakespeare, the paintings and symphonies and sculptures and dreams and nightmares of every artist who ever lived, like a neural hologram, distributed-DNA across time and space, human history aflame on a needle-point.

Rat sniffed, inhaled, religiously, his future. Across the hootch, if not yet a million miles away, sat Mac, darkly present but somehow removed from what was happening. Waiting. Watching. Like he always did.

The drummer was so young, Mac thought. His compact wiry physique made him appear to be barely out of high school which, of course, was close to the truth. Rat was trying to grow something like a moustache but somehow it looked all wrong.

As he wrapped his soul around his breath, eyes barely open, Rat arced his little galaxy of smoky possibility—so cheap here in Nam, more affordable than Courvoisier, or Stoli, or even Budweiser—in Mac’s direction. You could smell the disturbed molecules of seaside ozone as they rearranged themselves along behind the gesture.

The older man (just turned 22) shook his head enigmatically, tired eyes in painful repose behind freshly-reconstructed flesh and bone, courtesy of a Chinese Communist rocket-propelled grenade and malevolent intent.

“Way past that, son. Enjoy.”

While the glowing ember—like a comet re-entering the solar system after a century’s voyage—settled beneath its maker’s mien, as Rat exhaled and considered what next he had to do, the music bloomed out of the jungle night, which up till now had been, through long familiarity, unremarkable.

I saw her today at the reception
A glass of wine in her hand…

The children’s voices were like liquid bells at Christmas time, out of a distant past with no war in its future. Mac smiled and unbuttoned his fatigue pants pocket. His kit fell comfortably into his magic left hand, the one that had memorized the entire galaxy of guitar chords.

Rat nodded, enraptured, as the choir flowed on like honey in the sun, like the short soft hairs on the back of his girlfriend’s neck, like a solar sailboat on a river of endless…opium.

I know she would meet her connection
At her feet was a footloose man…

Mac didn’t really need his right hand to do almost anything. Like a dog born with only three legs, he’d never really gotten loaded any other way. Before the crash, yes, he’d chipped away at his new habit with two hands and a hungry heart, like most folk do, but it wasn’t like he didn’t HAVE a hand now; it just didn’t work. It could HOLD things, that’s all. Like his guitar pick. Like this here half-a-Coke can, steadied against his thigh.

Mac swiped at the bottom of the can with a disposable alcohol swab Tony the Medic in Tokyo had given him. It made things easier, spending lots of time in hospitals. You learned to do stuff right.

Now you can't always get what you want
you can't always get what you want

Mac’s brand-new U-100 syringe flashed in the candlelight like a spaceship leaving earth orbit, mother nature’s silver seed, like a dagger, an idea, like a solemn promise in the night.

Rat watched through sleepy eyes as his friend drew three-quarters of the syringe full of water. He unloaded it onto the now-sterile can, where it lay calmly, but with potential, a little lake, Excalibur’s aqueous fortress.

you can't always get what you want
But if you try sometime
You'll find you get what you need

From a condom Mac removed the shit. Rat thought he could smell the Good. It reminded him of the darkroom back in school, where once he’d felt up Elfriede Zahn. Funny thing, smells and memory. Elfriede, heroin, Vietnam, all wrapped up together with Keith Richards's acoustic guitar and that mellifluous French Horn while Jagger repeated the first verse:

I knew she was gonna meet her connection
At her feet was a footloose man

You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
Mac had been hitting on this bindle for two weeks and what was left would last him through Easter. Smack: Cheap and Gud—They might as well take out an ad in The Army Times.

He slid a miniature glacier of bliss onto his makeshift spoon, placed the whole apparatus over Rat’s little stub of a candle and watched it cook.

…We're gonna vent our frustration
If we don't we're gonna blow a fifty amp fuse
Sing it to me...

Charlie’s understated percussion had kicked in, driving the song forward in that dangerous way that was the Rolling Stones.

Rat watched with fascination as the skag liquefied. Mac tamped it up, and the cotton bloomed like a blue ribbon 4-H project. Mac pulled the plunger back and loaded up, sure as an AK-47 and just as deadly.

I went down to the Chelsea Drugstore
To get your prescription filled

Mac found the vein like a Grand Prix driver finds an opening on the last lap, and the blood—good news the way blood on the sheets can be good news—floated into the joy. He pushed steadily the plunger home and it hit him immediately.

My favourite flavor cherry red
I sung my song to my Mr. Jimmy,
And he said one word to me and that was "dead"
I said to him...

Rat was always amazed at how beautiful it could be, how they weren’t really in a war, how the war was really in ourselves and we always have the option not to fight.

I saw her today at the reception
In her glass was a bleeding man
She was practised at the art of deception
Well, I could tell by her blood-stained hands

And Mac managed to open his eyes as he withdrew the spike. He waved it erratically in Rat’s direction, and as his friend nodded off, Rat realized that soon, very soon, his time, too, would come.

You can't always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometime
You just might find

you get what you need

Back: LZ Waterloo

You Can't Always Get What You Want, M. Jagger/K. Richards, Let It Bleed, London/Decca Records, 1969.

On Vietnam:


  1. I was a prisoner in a Mexican Whorehouse
  2. A long time gone
  3. How to brush your teeth in a combat zone
  4. Libber and I go to war
  5. Fate takes a piss
  6. Thanks For the Memory
  7. Back in the Shit
  8. LZ Waterloo
  9. Saturday Night, Numbah Ten


a long commute
Andy X Kirby True
a tale of two Woodstocks
Buy a Gun
Dawn at The Wall
Feat of Clay
Funeral Detail
I was a free man once, in Saigon
The Joint Chiefs of Staff
the shit we ate

Breaking Starch
Combat Infantryman Badge
David Dellinger
Dickey Chapelle
Firebase Mary Ann
Garry Owen
Gloria Emerson
Graves Registration
I Corps
Project 100,000
the 1st Cav
The Highest Traditions
Those Who Forget
Under the Southern Cross
Whither the Phoenix?

A Bright Shining Lie
Apocalypse Now Redux
Hearts and Minds
We Were Soldiers

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