Guadalcanal Diary, is a little known 1980’s alternative band from Georgia. They are best described as alternative, similar in sound to REM. Like many of the alternative bands they have a sound basis in both punk and pop. As a whole, their music seems to be focused on two broad categories; religion and society.
The messages of Guadalcanal’s religious music is very distinct. God is real and is our creator. Live a better life, with less materialism and more spiritualism. The world is full of pain, find salvation and it can be alleviated. It’s okay to question things, God understands.
These type of themes are ever present in songs such as Where angles fear to tread, Litany, Fear of God and Why do the Heathen’s rage? They are upfront about this part of their music, even using the religious themes in the titles of their first two albums Walking in the Shadows of the Big Man and Jamboree. For Jamboree they even covered the christian campfire classic Kumbayah (my lord).
Part of the effectiveness of their message is the vocal styling of lead singer Murray Attaway. Attaway’s tenor/baritone mixed with his distinctive Georgia accent makes him a prime candidate to preach fire and brimstone, at least through song. Combining Attaway’s voice with extremely visual lyrics like “Her eyes look up with tears of dust. Her breath all smoke, she left hanging.
She heard a voice that came so near, a lowly life in darkest night. All the power of heaven, no moon on nights like this. Two hands reach up…Nothing…nothing…nothing but the fire… ” from Fire from Heaven present their message with seldom matched strength and emotion.
On the other side of the fence is Guadalcanal’s social commentaries. Their work includes songs about topics ranging from the emotional strain of war in Trail of Tears, the invasion of American culture in Africa as with Watusi Rodeo, and even paying tribute to the late great comedy legend Moe of the three stooges in I see Moe.
Their two most popular songs comes from this category. Watusi Rodeo and Trail of Tears were, although not top ten hits, pretty well known and well liked college radio songs.
Watusi Rodeo is a very energetic argument about the white american culture invading Africa. Upon closer examination of the lyrics, it is apparent that, while they are satirizing the issue they are also saying how wrong and stupid it is. Lyrics such as “Monkeys in the trees just thumbing their nose at the bull riders riding on rhinos.
Warriors standing with the spears in their hands, wondering what’s next from the crazy white man? ” convey these messages in a very vivid, visual way. Noteworthy is the fact that this message is so strong that it was chosen to be covered by singer Reverend Horton for the film Ace Ventura 2: When Nature Calls, which also satirized the concept of the American cultural invasion.
Trail of Tears on the other hand has a much more emotional message. Although it is based on the American Civil war, the themes of the emotional torment of battle can be applied to any War. Yet again using poetic language, to vividly portray their story and message, Guadalcanal Diary involves the listener emotionally in the story. One line in particular paints a very personalized picture of war.
“Two girls wait by the rail road track, for their soldier to come back, knowing this will be their last. One wore blue and one wore black…3 ” This lyric illustrates both extremes of having someone you love in battle. The girl in blue is waiting to finally have their soldier back with them after fighting in battle.
The girl in black is waiting for her soldier to return home, so that she may bury him after being killed in battle. Both know it’s the last time they will have to wait for their soldier to come home, for better or worse.
As a final thought, this obscure Georgia band, from the underground days of Punk/Alternative Rock, had such an impact with there music that Walking in the Shadows of the Big Man and Jamboree were re-released on a single compelation disc as a in 2004 (the first time Jamboree was made available on CD) and 2×4 was reissued as well in 2005 in a limited run of 2500 copies.
Through these re-release this band is playing to a new generation, weather it be to preach the word of God or to speak out on important social and political issues. Guadalcanal Diary still voices their message loudly, years after writing their last song and playing their last show. The importance of their use of the media is not how many people are still listening but rather that someone is still listening.