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Arts of war

Paulette Carlson’s Country Music
Homage to Vietnam Veterans

By Marc Leepson

If you were a country music fan in the late eighties and early nineties, you know the band Highway 101. Named after the famed California freeway and a highway in Minnesota, the rocking country outfit had hit after hit and featured the stunning voice of lead singer Paulette Carlson. Their first album, Highway 101, had five songs that hit the top-ten country charts, including two tunes that made it to No. 1: “Somewhere Tonight” and “Cry, Cry, Cry.” For two years in a row, Highway 101 was named Vocal Group of the Year by the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association.

The founder of the group, Paulette Carlson, will be performing at the Opening Ceremonies at VVA’s National Leadership Conference in Tucson. She was born in the farming community of Winsted and grew up in Moose Lake, Minnesota. She was named, she told us in a recent interview, for the 1940s Hollywood star Paulette Goddard. “My dad was a radio operator in the Air Corps in World War II, and he flew her over the Himalayas,” she said. “That’s how I got my name, because he thought Paulette Goddard was so nice.”


Paulette Carlson began her music career singing in “probably a dozen different bands,” she said, “in clubs in Fargo, North Dakota, and Minnesota, working six nights a week, month after month, year after year.” Then, in the early eighties, she went to Nashville, as so many other musicians have done, to seek her country-music fortune. She sang demos for publishers “so that my voice could get heard,” she said, before landing a job as a staff writer for the Oak Ridge Boys’ publishing company. She formed Highway 101 in 1985.

“I started that band,” Carlson told us. “We had auditions in Colorado and in Nashville. The guys were from California. My mother thought of the name. We had a Highway 101 in Minnesota. My dad and she used to go cruising on it.”

After the whirlwind of big hits and national fame, Carlson left the band in 1990 to start a solo career and devote time to her husband and baby daughter. Two years later, Carlson quit the music biz altogether and moved to Montana. But her career rematerialized with a jolt in 2004 when she was moved to write the song, “Thank You Vets,” in honor of her brother Gary, who did two tours as a medic with the 82nd Airborne Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade, as well as the many other Vietnam veterans she has known.

“I say I wrote that song, but that song was just given to me,” she said. “It came in a matter of ten minutes, and it basically wrote itself. All I had to do was just pick up the pen.”

The day that she wrote the song her brother Gary was confined to a bed in a VA hospital. “The war had finally caught up with him,” Carlson said. “We thought we were going to lose him that day. He had gotten a strange form of hepatitis C, and he ended up with liver cancer. I pulled my guitar out of the closet and sat on my bed that night, and that song wrote itself.”

Writing “Thank You Vets” put an end to her early retirement. “I had retired nine years before that. I was starting to believe that I was never meant to go back to work,” Carlson said. “But when I wrote ‘Thank You Vets,’ I knew immediately I’d be going back to work, because I felt so motivated that every one of our Vietnam veterans and their families hear this song because a thank-you was long overdue. So I made the move back to Nashville.”

Back in Music City USA, Carlson decided to cut an album right away. “After a few weeks, I went into the studio,” she said. “I wrote more music for the album. I had the energy to do the album and it was time. I ended up writing the title track, ‘It’s About Time,’ which talks about healing for our nation, about a week before.”


Gary Carlson lived to hear the album, then died in August 2005. “He was very proud of his service, and we were proud of him,”Paulette Carlson said. “He heard the album. He said, ‘Go on out and sing this for all my brothers.’ I told him I would, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Paulette Carlson told us she is very much looking forward to performing for VVA at the Leadership Conference in Tucson. “I am honored to be coming to Tucson to sing for you,” she said. “I’ll be there with bells on.”

IAN COPELAND

Ian Copeland, 57, the rock music agent and entrepreneur who helped popularize New Wave and punk rock in the 1970s and ’80s, died May 23 in Los Angeles. Copeland, a Vietnam veteran who received VVA’s Excellence in the Arts Award in 1996, suffered from melanoma. He was the founder of Frontier Booking International (F.B.I.), a talent agency that represented many top rock bands, including the Police, R.E.M., XTC, the B-52’s, the Go-Go’s, and the Bangles.

Copeland, whose younger brother, Stewart, was the drummer in the Police, joined the U.S. Army in September 1967, when he was 18 years old. He volunteered to serve in Vietnam and underwent a memorable tour. He served with the First Infantry Division’s First Battalion, Seventh Artillery, mostly at Fire Base Di An, where he went by the nickname of “Leroy Cool Breeze.”

After he got out of the Army in 1971, Copeland suffered through readjustment problems. He moved to London and got started in the music biz as a booking agent. In the mid-70s, Copeland returned to the States and booked tours for bands such as Charlie Daniels, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Allman Brothers Band. In recent years, he ran the popular Backstage Café in Beverly Hills. He was the author of the 1995 memoir, Wild Thing: The Backstage, On the Road, In the Studio, Off the Charts Memoirs of Ian Copeland.

IN BRIEF

Peter Rollins, the Oklahoma State University English and American Film Studies professor, Vietnam veteran, and author, recently received the Ray and Pat Browne Annual Book Award for his books Hollywood’s West: The American Frontier in Film, Television and History and The Columbia Companion to American History on Film. Rollins also is the editor of the journal Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and TV Studies. He is currently at work on Hollywood’s Wars, a book dealing with Vietnam and other war films. For more info on the journal, including a November conference on documentaries, go to www.filmandhistory.org

Vietnam veteran Robert “Roberto” Dominguez of Roseburg, Oregon, runs the nonprofit Veterans of the 20th Century, Inc., which helps build veterans’ memorials in small communities across the nation. Dominguez, a self-taught sculptor, constructed his first veterans’ memorial, one dedicated to POW/MIAs, in Vancouver, Washington, in 1993. For more info, write

PO Box 103, Roseburg, OR 97470, or call 541-643-1095.

The Library of Congress Veterans History Project presented “Families of War,”
a one-hour special that was aired on many public radio stations on and around Memorial Day. This was the fifth program in the project’s Experiencing War series, which chronicles a century of war from the perspectives of soldiers’ families, from World War I to Iraq and Afghanistan. Former U.S. Senator and Vietnam veteran Max Cleland is the host of this series, which was created and produced by Lee Woodman. For more info about the ongoing Veterans History Project, go to www.loc.gov/vets

The newest exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, is called “Return with Honor: American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia.” The exhibit contains photographs, videos, dioramas, and artifacts that depict the living conditions of American POWs in North Vietnam. Visitors can look inside recreated, life-size prison cells. Several artifacts, including handmade games, rings, cigarette cases, and clothing that were created by the prisoners during their confinement, also are on display.

The exhibit features a display on the 1970 Son Tay prison camp rescue raid, as well as information on the May 1975 Mayaguez rescue operation. For more info, call 937-255-3286 or go to www.wpafb.af.mil.museum

For more information on the documentary film When I Came Home, which took home an award from the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, go to www.whenicamehome.
com
 The film, directed by Dan Lohaus, examines the post-Iraq war situation of Herold Noel, a homeless man living out of his car in Brooklyn.

QUERIES

Bob Ackerman, a professor in the higher education program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is working on a project to study the adjustments that returning Iraq War veterans face when they attend college after their service. To that end, he would like to hear the stories of Vietnam veterans who returned home and then attended college. He is interested in knowing how we were treated, what experiences we had at college, and what adjustments we had to face. He also is interested in memoirs and other written accounts of Vietnam veterans’ postwar college experiences.

“I am doing ‘soldier to student’ research,” Ackerman said, “focusing on the student aspect of what soldiers experienced on campus as students.” If you’d like to help, e-mail bob.Ackerman@unlv.edu or write to: Bob Ackerman, College of Education, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 4505 Maryland Pkwy., Las Vegas, NV 89154-3002. Tell him you read about it in these pages.

Cheryl and Patrick Fries, the producers of A Touch of Home, an upcoming documentary for the Military Channel on Donut Dollies in Vietnam, are looking for Vietnam veterans who experienced Red Cross workers dropping in on their LZs and FOBs in the field to boost morale with games and smiles. If you are willing to go on camera to tell your stories and thank the Red Cross women, e-mail cfries@arrowheadfilms.com or call 512-302-1100.

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