There is a music lesson interwoven within the Vietnam War if you listen closely.
It can tell of a man from Memphis named Art Flowers who was hooked on listening to Marvin Gaye.
And it’s in the lyrics of a Buffalo Springfield tune, even though the song is not about Vietnam.
“Every veteran in that war had a song that spoke to me. And still speaks to them,” said Doug Bradley.
As a Vietnam veteran, Bradley knows firsthand what the war sounded like.
But the music lesson, he has found, is about much more than a song. It’s about veterans being able to come forward to tell their story — something they might never have done if a song connection wasn’t there.
The stories reflect everyone from that era — from a grunt in the field to women and African-American soldiers.
Stories, Bradley says, that he carries with him every day.
“We felt humbled and honored people let us into their lives,” he said.
Those stories are part of a book Bradley and Craig Werner have written called “We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War” that Rolling Stone magazine honored.
And at 1:30 p.m. this Saturday, Oct. 19, Bradley will be coming to the Jefferson Public Library to give a talk on the book, telling stories and playing music that captured generations.
The project started with a class that Werner taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Both of Bradley’s children were taking Werner’s Afro-American Studies course where he sent students home with CDs on which he would burn songs.
He used music to teach about history and culture.
“My kids would bring these things home and say, ‘Dad you’ve got to listen to these things,’” Bradley said.
Music, Werner says, is the center of his approach to teaching. He is a pioneer in this idea that developed gradually.
“I started working with that with literature. I would say to the students, ‘I want you to come in with a response to that,’” Werner said of adding music to a lesson.
“What I really wanted to do is build off the culture as a whole with the music,” he said.
Bradley and Werner met at a Christmas party at the same time Werner was teaching a unit on Vietnam. The two started sharing ideas and music.
“We had a beer on the Union Terrace, where I think all good ideas come from on the campus,” Bradley said.
The idea was for a book that captures the stories of Vietnam through music.
Twelve years later, a book was made. The two interviewed hundreds of people from all walks of life and found that there weren’t a few songs that made up the era ... there were thousands.
“When we would talk about a song, the floodgates would open,” Bradley said of the interview process.
“Yeah, I was surprised,” Werner said. “I didn’t think it was going to be like turning on the faucets. The stories flowed.”
Groups they interviewed were from many walks of life, Bradley said. “We didn’t want just Marines or grunts.”
After many rewrites where the two wrote their perspectives out of the book, they came up with something that tells a wide array of stories. Often, Werner said, they would talk to a veteran for an hour or more in a conversation that might be only three lines in the book.
When the time came to hire an agent, the two were turned down again and again by publishers. But they found an academic press.
When Rolling Stone magazine came out with the “Best Books of 2015,” Bradley knew they made the list and was online checking out the top 10. As he scrolled from 10 toward the top, he didn’t see their name.
“By the time I went to three or four I thought I missed it,” he said.
But he hadn’t.
They were No. 1.
Over the last four years, Bradley, who made his career in communications at UW-Madison, has traveled the country giving talks. From the Stax Museum in Memphis to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, he has found new stories.
“The music was shared by those who stayed and those who served. So, we both had the same soundtrack,” Bradley said.
For Werner, music is something he uses to view the world.
“This is the way I live my life. The way I think and process the world through music,” Werner said.
Music is such a part of Werner’s life that he even was part of a 30-person team that nominated musicians for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was an honor he said that Bruce Springsteen’s people helped with.
“Bruce Springsteen loved a previous book of mine, ‘Change is Going to Come.’ He is on record saying that changed the way he did concerts,” Werner said.
Bradley’s own journey in Vietnam began in 1970 at a time when President Richard Nixon came up with the idea for Vietnamization. The military was turning the ground war over to soldiers in the south.
“Lucky for me that was all about good timing. And good fortune. I was a journalist and they made me an Army combat correspondent.
“It was great to write and great to use your brain,” he said.
He worked for the Army newspaper Stars and Stripes and found himself in the office editing copy. Soon, there were fewer journalists as the war moved on.
“We had to do it all and go out and do the stories,” he said.
They told stories of those in the field for hometown interviews. While they were censored, their job was to help keep morale up.
“Not a bad way to spend a year. Even though I was in Vietnam,” Bradley said.
The one thing the military did get right in Vietnam was letting the soldiers have their music, Bradley said, adding that music was so important to that generation. While Armed Forces Radio played a lot of “crap,” Bradley said, it did get music out to the troops that had a following. They even had touring acts like Johnny Cash.
The band that embraced the time was Creedence Clearwater Revival, which wrote songs like “Fortunate Son.” Two of the band’s members found themselves facing the draft. They hit on the fact that their music was liked by country fans and rock-and-rollers alike.
But what surprised Bradley about the war was the great lengths people would go to get their music.
The music gave a voice to people. But that wasn’t listened to or amplified.
By the end of the war, the slogan for the soldiers was simple: Don’t be the last guy killed in Vietnam.
“Guys wanted to stay alive and guys wanted to get out of here,” he said.
After 365 days in Vietnam, Bradley went home and continued his life in communications.
He said he’s proud of the fact that people who were silent or reluctant to talk about their experience are now doing so.
In a book about the soundtrack of Vietnam, one would think all the music would revolve around bands like CCR. But one person even had a Dean Martin story.
The book does list a Top 20 songs of the era.
In Bradley’s second book, “Who’ll Stop the Rain?” he continues to tell the stories of those from the Vietnam era. The book comes out Dec. 10.
Werner also is working on a book about the 1960s.
While music is part of any era, Bradley says he doesn’t find today’s music scene the same. Today’s songs are more of a commodity, not an art.
“It’s not an expression,” he said. “It’s merchandise.”