I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong!
The Vietnam War is remembered as the first war the United States lost and the trauma of the result for a nation. The conflict was different from previous ones in various ways. Some impacts on the western culture had been directly visible, monitored through the mass media. The ones on a subcultural level needed a bigger temporal distance. Nowadays it seems easy and obvious to claim: Vietnam was the first rock and roll war, but beyond that you’ll find a lot subtle interconnections between the war in Southeast Asia and pop music. My MA dissertation at Central Saint Martins is an attempt to evidence the connections of the Vietnam War to some of the most well-known popcultural phenomena.

On 8 May 1956, frightened by communist progresses all over the globe, President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced US economic and military aid, and later that month send the first 350 military advisors to a small country at the edge of the Indochinese peninsula called South Vietnam. The number one record at the time was Heartbreak Hotel (1956), Elvis Presley’s first for RCA Records, to whom Sam Phillips had sold him for $35,000. The song was the best selling single of that year and introduced Presley to the American national music consciousness. The first decade of rock and roll was just about to begin. The sociologist David E. James comments on this temporal coincidence: “[...] rock and roll and what the Vietnamese call the American war were [...] born at the same time. The synchronicity marks a register of interdependencies which in retrospect seem so intricate that we hardly imagine one without the other.”[1]
Even though, as James states, we intuitively think of rock and roll and Vietnam as closely related to each other, those interdependencies have scarcely been detected.

The mentioned interdependencies are anything but one-dimensional: Demography, political circumstances, technological progress, and economic interests all had significant influences on both, on the merging of popular culture as well as on the events (and there cultural reflection) in the context of war. Take the economic nature of the military-pop joint venture for example. During the war the American music industry increased their earnings by three, while it stagnated during previous wars, and the amount of music genres in the US tripled equally in the same period, while it was quite un-innovative during the decades before. If you broaden the research on sub cultures, the birthplace of pop, the way they spawned throughout the anti-war protest movement and personal biographies, the whole picture gets more and more exciting and it opens up a gigantic field of research. The dissertation gathers data, aspects and arguments of several different academic disciplines to adduce evidence for how rock and roll, as a particular and decisive part of popular music and the war in Vietnam stimulated each other to a so far unknown degree.

By critically examining the correlations, resonances and interferences of military action and popular cultural discourse, our understanding not only on the events of the 60s and 70s, but also on aspects of our time could be enhanced. Most of the yet to be examined structures, technological and economic, like FM radio or the record distribution for example, still follow the same mechanisms until today. In many ways the rock and roll war of the 60s and 70s can and must be regarded as zero point, as a key event for the understanding of the omnipresence of war metaphors, symbols and aesthetics in postmodern popculture nowadays. These days pop is everywhere, but it started back in the days of the Vietnam War. The war worked in many ways as a catalyst on pop culture. After the war, pop had been politically, economically and socially stronger than it was before and Vietnam is the reason.
The design copy of the MA dissertation, that had a length of a bit more than 14,000 words, a digital file including hyperlinks, was copied on USB stick. The device was put into a cassette tape, as tapes played a special role in the success of pop in the jungle, just as Michael Herr in Dispatches describes so intensely. The lot was put into an olive metal box that was used for radio replacement parts once. The main title of the dissertation, Great Balls of Fire (Sub: The Vietnam war as a catalyst for American popular music) was silk-screened on the box. The DIY silk-screen set really was a lot of fun. I’d like to thank Melanie, Madlen, Hannes, Simon and Kathi for the strong support.

[1] James, D E 1996, Power Misses – Essays across (un)popular culture, Verso, New York, London. p.71
Upper pictures by Lance & Cromwell.

This is the online portfolio for motion and design projects and related research of Nico Roicke. I'm a graduate of MA Communication Design, pathway Digital Media, at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London. Also I'm part of the motion design studios Sir ja sir and Buchstabenschubser.

Beside motion graphics (or motion design, if you prefer) I'm the co-founder of the fanzine and weblog Jackpot Baby! - New digital pop culture (all texts unfortunately in German language) and I write for Berlin's finest Webblog Spreeblick - Pop, Politics, Products & Positions (German again). Go and catch up some of my latest tweets on Twitter (English and German, it's really hard to tell) or take a glance at some of my Flickr pics and Vimeo vids.