This iconic photo shocked, horrified and yet inspired the world.
The Self-Immolation of a Monk: the Ultimate Expression of Non-Violent Resistance. A New Musical Contemplation.
Via the artist:
Someone yells fire
They scream of a fire
The peaceful resistance
Brings more than just burned flesh
You turn heads without screaming
You won’t be forgotten
Tomorrow the papers will
Note of a tragedy
But who will honor
Someone yells fire
They scream of a fire
Is less of a
More a mirror
The pages and headlines
Destruction of future
Deception of smoke clouds
Whether or not the images of innocent humans lighting themselves on fire was impacting to the U.S. in 1966, it had a direct impact on me. Throughout history and religion self-sacrifice is the most powerful gift or form of resistance. I think that the Buddhists gave a gift in showing their resistance. Due to these images I was inspired to write a song surrounding the idea of self-immolation, and its connection to the Vietnam War.
The first stanza of the song that is repeated again after the chorus was a combination of looking at the faces of those in the pictures who watched the burning bodies, and my reaction to those images. It started with fire, and confusion as to what was happening, but as time went on, there was both internal and external chaos. So the speechless whisper of fire turns to someone yelling fire, then screaming fire. For me the images evoked a feeling of panic.
The second stanza was in response to the utter peacefulness of those who spoke out this way. In such a calm state they were set on fire in an eerie protest of complete peace and innocence. In the midst of chaos, they were at peace with destroying their earthly body. And with this all it brings more than just the physical damage, it brings a strong profound statement of suffering and injustice as well.
In the third stanza talks of how each burning made such a statement with out any sounds or cries of pain. This allowing it to be a protest that cannot be forgotten by those who observed it, or heard of it, even if a veil of apathy is applied.
The chorus explains how not only with this event, but many in the Vietnam War, tragedys like these were rarely disclosed, and if they were, there was little or no action to correct them. So the papers and magazines would speak of something occurring, but make excuses and the government would derive new military plans and tactics. In the midst of turning it into something its not, there is little recognition and honoring of the sacrifices that were made in Vietnam, not only from the Buddhist monks and nuns, but also from all sides. Its repeated to show the repetition of that, the way it cycles on constantly.
After the chorus the initial stanza repeats again, once more representing repetition, but this time specifically of the self-immolation protests. The fourth stanza is about the United States reaction and the irony of it. To get to the point where monks are burning themselves to death, there has to be a catalyst, and we are basically looking in the mirror at it. We put Diem into power and supported him, up until he was no help to us, then we supported Ky. Both of these powers oppressed the Buddhist community that made up the majority of the Vietnamese population. Any articles and stories that show the tragedies in Vietnam like these protests were a direct reflection of our policies in Vietnam.
The last stanza is a question of where things can go from that point of self-sacrifice. There is deception of the smoke because it seems so dark and horrific, yet the Monks knew it would draw attention to an extremely unjust war. So while the future seemed like it was being destructed, there was hope with the smoke and ash, that people still might care enough to do something.
The art project is an extension of the song. It was a response to the honor I felt they needed from doing something so sacrificial as burning themselves. The mirror underneath is to remind us that we need to be happy with what our reflection on the world is, the shape of that mirror is a heart. The heart is to represent the hearts of the Buddhists, that myth says never would burn, so they are still present on earth as a reminder of those men and women. The glass in back is dark to represent the smoke and the color of the ashes, but around it is hemp symbolizing the growth and life that can come from protesting for peace. The candles are burnt because of the high importance placed on honoring the dead in Vietnam, and the sand or dirt is at the bottom to show how they sat on dirt roads to end their lives.
Its simple, however I felt it was necessary in some way to recognize the twelve Vietnamese that gave up their lives in hopes it would bring peace to a broken country.