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Manoa 14.1 (2002) 152-160

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Our Hands Shall Embrace:
A Eulogy forTrinh Cong Son

Frank Gerke

Woods and mountains reach out their hands
To reunite with the faraway sea.
We form a large circle
To reunite with the woods and mountains.
In this endless country
My brothers and sisters meet again,
In happiness like a sandstorm
Swirling round and round in this infinity.
And our hands shall embrace Viet Nam.

"Noi vong tay lon" (Let's form a big circle)

He sang these words live at noon on 30 April 1975 at a Saigon radio station just when the Northern liberation army marched into town. And he meant what he said. Not only in this song, but also in many others, he expressed his great hope for peace and love—a hope he saw related to the liberation of Saigon. He felt sure that, after this moment, there would be a new Viet Nam—a Viet Nam without death, hate, murder, suffering, and expulsion. The "he" I refer to is Trinh Cong Son, the singer, poet of love and peace, and conscience of Viet Nam.

Like no one else, Trinh Cong Son portrayed the horrible face of the war and sang about it to decadent Saigon society. In doing this, he became the most famous singer-songwriter of Viet Nam. He was persecuted by the old Saigon regime like nobody else, but for him, the horror of the war did not exist on one side of the line alone. He showed that its horrible and brutal face existed on the other side as well. The new leaders in Ha Noi disliked his songs, perhaps because he did not sing about the heroic battles for the liberation of the Vietnamese people; Son did not deny this fact. In the opinion of the new government, he did not fit in ideologically, and so, shortly after his April 1975 appearance on the radio, he was forced to do self-criticism on the same station. Afterwards, the government condemned him to four years of reeducation camp. [End Page 152]

Trinh Cong Son was born on 28 February 1939 in Lac Giao (now called Buon Ma Thuot), Dac Lac Province, in the Central Highlands, and died at the age of sixty-two on1 April2001 in Cho Ray Hospital, Ho Chi Minh City, after a long battle with diabetes. Though born in Dac Lac Province, Son had his family home in Hue. After graduation from Rousseau High School, he studied pedagogy in Quy Nhon and earned his first living as a teacher in the Central Highlands. He had loved music from early childhood, but it was not until he lived in the seclusion of the highlands that he wrote his first compositions. In the beginning, he never thought of becoming a professional musician. He once said, "I did not start composing music in order to do it as a profession. I remember that I wrote my first songs because of feelings deep inside myself. That was around 1956 or 1957—a time of confusing dreams and useless, silly fantasies. It was the time of youth—a youth fresh and green like the fruits at the beginning of the season. I really loved music very much, but never intended to become a musician."

In 1958, Son wrote "Uot mi" (Moist eyelashes), a slow, sad ballad that became his first success. It was published by An Phu Publishing House in Saigon in 1959. At his residence in Saigon, Son once told me that he had been paid two thousand Indochinese piasters for that song. Fifteen hundred piasters he gave to his family, and five hundred he kept to go out dancing. In those times, one needed only about fifty piasters to take a girl out for dinner and dancing.His next big success came in 1959with"Thuong mot nguoi" (To love somebody).

In the years that followed, Trinh Cong Son appeared on stage frequently and his music became especially successful with the younger generation. In 1962 he went to Da Lat, where he met a...


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