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  • Writer's pictureIan Galipeau

Creation Stories: Red Moon Running

Updated: Dec 15, 2022

I often tell this story before I perform "Red Moon Running", but it deserves to be written down at least as much as any of these other songs. If you read the lyrics (which are down below), it's fairly obvious that this song is about the Vietnam War. Those first 4 lines came to me when I was in high school, and then I just had them in the back of my head for over ten years... because what the hell did I know about Vietnam? But then a few years back, my grandfather wrote some memoirs for the family about his 2 tours as a company commander in Vietnam (ALPHA Company, 1st Battalion 28th Infantry - "Black Lions"). So I read those, then did the deep dive and watched the Ken Burns docu-series, then read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. At that point, I remembered I had a fragment of a song about Vietnam, so I thought I should see if it had any legs, now that I had some context. And it turns out, it did.

Lyrically, it's a narrative story that's told from a few perspectives outside of the protagonist. In the first verse, a soldier is drafted. He is told he will be fighting for freedom and democracy in the East. The chorus lands, and it feels like the "red moon" is the Communist scythe, sweeping down through southeast Asia. The "lines between good and guilty" imply that the evils of communism must be beaten at any cost, and the "stars" in this first chorus are a reference to the Vietcong flag - our protagonist is reassured the enemy is on the edge of defeat.

By the second verse, he is overseas, and the narrator switches - it's now one of the more seasoned soldiers talking to the new recruit. He tells him that the justifications for the war that he heard state-side don’t really apply on the ground. He sees that this isn’t like his dad’s war (WWII) - that there’s no real front, or even a visible enemy. When the chorus returns, it feels more like a parroted propagandist talking point than a sincere message - the words are the same, but it's almost bitter in this new context.

In the last verse, the soldier has seen combat. Any illusions he held are gone - the experience of jungle warfare has fundamentally changed him. The "rocket's glare" line is a deliberate reference to the National Anthem, and its quaint notions of valorous 19th-century warfare. The verse closes with a question - how could they expect valor from these kids in that situation? The last chorus rolls around, and the "good and guilty" line is reflected back on our soldiers - the "stars" are now the stars of the American flag, as the recruit feels the hopelessness of his mission.

And here we are, 50+ years later. The kids are not kids anymore - they’re grandfathers, who returned home to public anger and denouncement 5 decades ago. Many of them still suffer with the trauma of that experience. Since then, we have fought a whole new round of 20-year conflicts, sending troops into front-less wars against invisible enemies. God help us.

Production-wise, the instrumentation is relatively simple - one vocal track, one acoustic guitar, one electric guitar (and a couple overdubs), bass, and drums. An organ pads the chorus sections. Despite that, the final mix had almost 30 tracks because I ended up using sound effects very heavily. It was an idea I had late one night as I was finishing tracking. It came from my lucid, exhausted brain… but I am very proud of the way it turned out. That opening swell that starts the song is a reversed explosion, which flips on the first beat and plays forward. The bridge is where it goes crazy; the instrumentation of that section was deliberately explosive - I wanted to imply warfare, with big hits and driving snare-fills. That section sits in the narrative exactly where our solider would be experiencing his first combat, and I wanted to do more than just imply it for the listener. I added explosions, gunfire, and helicopters overhead, and it brought the song to a whole different level. Everything from the bridge forward has jungle sounds underneath - another indication of the changed atmosphere.

The song ends with a quiet chorus sung an octave lower than the first choruses - an intentional metaphor for the exhaustion of the situation. The final chord rings out unresolved over jungle sound effects. The last thing I did on this song before mixing was to add a branch snap sound before the fadeout. When I listened back to it the first time, all the hair on my body stood on end. And at that point, I knew the song was done.

"Red Moon Running" is track 6 on my album Like We Were Never Here At All. Listen here.


Come on boy now, don’t you know

It’s time you met your Uncle Sam

Tell me son now, have you heard

Of a place called Vietnam

Look alive boy, stand up straight

We’ll strap you to an M16

Liberty herself could fall

If you’re not there to stand between

‘Cause there’s a red moon running like a

Knife blade cutting down lines between good and guilty

If the stars aren’t falling tonight

Then it’s just a matter of time… ‘til they will be

Make no mistake - the boys up north

Ain’t fighting just to fly some flag

Twenty years and counting they’ve been

Dying to win their freedom back

Learn it quick - this enemy

Don’t play the way your daddy learned

If war’s a game, we’re the fools

Calling rules while the table burns

‘Cause there’s a red moon running like a

Knife blade cutting down lines between good and guilty

If the stars aren’t falling tonight

Then it’s just a matter of time… ‘til they will be

The jungle humming in your blood

‘Til fight or flight’s the only law

No rocket’s glare to light your way

Now who’s to say where the crosshairs fall

‘Cause there’s a red moon running like a

Knife blade cutting down lines between good and guilty

If the stars aren’t falling tonight

Then it’s just a matter of time…

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