1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Archive for the tag “On The Border”

Letters For Dicky – Jennifer Ferguson

Hand Around The Heart - Jennifer Ferguson

Hand Around The Heart – Jennifer Ferguson

David Kramer’s song ‘On The Border’ tells the story of a guy recalling a friend who ended up commiting suicide while doing his army stint. In that song it was time spent in DB that put the guy in question over the edge. Jennifer Ferguson’s ‘Letters For Dickey’ covers similar material except that the narrative is in the form of letters from a girl to her boyfriend on the border.

The song is sung in a strong South African accent and one can imagine it being a rather simple and frightened girl who at first cannot believe that there would be anyone else but Dickie for her, but while her man is away she is tempted and falls pregnant to another guy. Despite the ‘Dear John’ letter she ends up writing, she still loves her Dickie. The song takes a sharp turn from this dreamy lovestruck, confused and rather naïve girl when the news come through that Dickie had taken his life. Ferguson’s voice reflects the growing maturity in the girl as the song builds to its climax and perfectly captures the shock and emptiness as she sings the line ‘the bullet that you put into your head was meant for me not you’.

Like ‘On The Border’, ‘Letters To Dickey’ is a very emotional song and deals with a subject that we all knew, but never spoke about openly. It perfectly captures the strain that conscription put on the country, not only for those fighting, but also for those back home waiting for the return of loved ones. While those days are gone, this song and those like it, still speak to us of the impact war has on people. There have been many anti-war songs written, but few cut as close to the bone as this one. The song appeared on Ferguson’s album ‘Hand Around The Heart’ and everytime you hear ‘Letters To Dickie’ that hand is not a kind one, it is squeezing your heart till it hurts. Powerful stuff.

Where to find it:
Hand Around The Heart – Jennifer Ferguson (1985) Shifty Records

Hear here:
http://jenniferferguson.bandcamp.com/track/letters-to-dickie

On The Border – David Kramer

On The Border – David Kramer

David Kramer

David Kramer

David Kramer’s hits tend to be carefree, often funny songs like ‘Meisie Sonner Sokkies’ or ‘Stoksielalleen’. Sometimes there is an element of pathos thrown in to mix, like the bankrupt farm owner in ‘Die Royal Hotel’ or the slight sadness that pervades ‘Hak Hom Blokkies’ where all the guy has left is his memories.

But when you look at some of Kramer’s songs that weren’t hits (mostly because they would never get played on the radio), you get some very serious and deep stuff like ‘Out Of The Blue’ and ‘Prisoner Of War’. ‘On The Border’ is one that would hit a nerve with nearly every white South African male who did their time in the army. The only version I am aware of is the live one that appears on ‘Jis Jis Jis’ which was a recording of a concert he did at the Baxter Theatre in1983.

The song is just Kramer telling (rather than singing) his story over a gently plucked guitar and it’s a bit like he is just sitting chatting to a friend. He starts out getting a quiet chuckle from the audience as he describes his mate that he met in the butchery while buying “boerewors and chops”. He gets another laugh when he tells about Johnny Lategan, his army buddy who stole an army Bedford truck and went joyriding, wrapping it round a tikkie box. But then things get serious as he goes on to relate how the time Johnny spent in DB affected him and ultimately led to his suicide, taking those on patrol with him. The song gets even more of an edge to it when Kramer appears to get a real lump in his throat while performing. Perhaps Kramer was relating a story that really happened with one of his own friends, or he was just being a brilliant performer. Either way, one cannot but be moved by his telling of it.

The audience are almost hesitant before their applause at the end of the song almost as if they are in a state of shock from what has just happened to Johnny. When the clapping does start, it is reverential, as if paying respects to all the Johnny Lategans of the border war. It is still hard to believe that Kramer could have performed this song and got away with it back in 1983. But he did, and we are left with a something that even today, is still as powerful as it would have been way back then.

Where to find it:
Jis Jis Jis – David Kramer (1983), Blik Musiek (BLIK14)

Lyrics:
I just bumped into Peter this morning
You know, Uncle Louis son
And he greeted me cowboy style
Ja, with his hand cocked like a gun
You know he was in the butchery
We were buying boerewors and chops
And he was wearing a T-shirt
And a pair of short pants
And those blue rubber flip-flops
And his brother was with him
In his blue jeans
And a gaudy tropical print
I think he was trying to his out in civvie street
Ja, after doing his army stint
He told me that he’d just spent
Six months on the border
But to him it felt more like six years
And that they passed the time with jokes and with poker
And counted the days but not the beers
Well I had a friend called Johnny
And his surname was Lategan
And Johnny and I were in the Army together
Ja in the good old days man
Back in 1971
But you know Johnny
He was a funny kinda guy
He was either very quiet
Or shooting off his mouth
And then one week end
He AWOLed with a Bedford
Ja and he hit the N1 heading south
But old Johnny
He wrapped that truck around a tikkie box
And he ended up in DB for about ten weeks
And I tell they cooled him down to zero there
Because when Johnny came out
He wouldn’t speak
So you know maybe that’s where it happened
Perhaps he just was that way
Well they could have pushed him a little too far
But I mean who am I to say
But it was on the border that it happened
And nobody knows quite where
But I heard about old Johnny Lategan
Ja from a buddy of mine who was there
And you know it was hard
It was hard to believe his story
And it certainly wasn’t the official line
And anyway that kind of thing is just difficult to swallow man
Because Johnny was such a good friend of mine
But he told me that Johnny took his own life
And he left a little note that said ‘Cheers’
And the five other troepies on patrol with him
Well he put a bullet between their ears
So when I bumped into Peter this morning
Ja you know he reminded me of Johnny Lategan
Cause Johnny always used to greet you
Ja with his hand cocked like a gun

(written by David Kramer)

Video:

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