Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
The City
The Stories
Home Page
Resources
The Program
Teachers Guide
The StoriesSon

Son grew up with war. His father fought the French in the first Indochina War, and by the time Son was a young man, the bloodiest fighting of the American War ravaged the central provinces of Vietnam. After the Tet offensive of 1968, which decimated Hue, Son began to speak out for all those in Vietnam who deplored war.

son in concert

Vietnam's Bob Dylan:

Songwriter Trinh Cong Son was born in Hue, the 3,000-year-old imperial capital of Vietnam. His father had fought the French in the first Indochina War, and by the time Son was a young man, the bloodiest fighting of the American War was ravaging Vietnam's central provinces. The 1968 Tet offensive decimated Hue, and Son began to "sing" out for all those in Vietnam who deplored war. He soon became known as the "Bob Dylan of Vietnam." He expressed his beliefs in lyrics like those of "The Love Song of a Madwoman":

The one I loved is dead at Plei Me;
The one I loved, somewhere in Zone D, is dead at Dong Xoai;
Dead in Hanoi, quite suddenly at Chu Prong;
The one I loved is dead, his body carried off by swift currents
Dead in the rice paddies, in the fields;
Dead in the dark forest;
Dead, cold, burned,
Vietnam, how I would love you!

son with guitar

Son speaks out:

Son was one of the only artists who dared to protest against the war and its alarming death toll -over 3 million Vietnamese from both sides would die. Students thronged to his concerts at universities. Soldiers from the North carried tapes of his songs on the Ho Chi Minh Trail to Hanoi. Son's popularity grew and soon exceeded any South Vietnamese military or political figure. His anthems to peace could no longer be ignored. Both the South and North Vietnamese governments banned the sale or broadcast of his music, but black market tapes of his songs flourished. To avoid being arrested, Son often had to hide.

Peace for some, imprisonment for Son

Son's dream of peace was finally realized in 1975. Most of his family and friends fled Saigon in the final days of the war, but Son stayed. "If I leave my land, I am nothing," he said. He penned a song as NVA forces entered Saigon, "Joining Great Arms" that was (and is) repeatedly played on the radio. Son, however, was condemned. His lyrics had too often suggested that "the American War" was a civil war between North and South Vietnam. This idea clashed with the official Communist line which maintained that the war had been a fight of the Vietnamese people against American imperialism. As punishment for this verbal treachery, Son was sent to a reeducation camp. He was ordered to plant cassava and sweet potatoes in landmine-strewn fields.

Son abandons protest music:

In 1979, Son was allowed to return to Saigon-now renamed Ho Chi Minh City. When he began writing songs again, he stayed away from the controversial music that had previously defined his career and composed love songs devoid of any political content.

hung nhung pop music star

"I had a painful choice - I chose tranquility of peace and soul. I am another now; I hide my treasure," he said. Son's love songs brought him renewed recognition and a whole new generation of Vietnamese grew up listening to his ballads of love and loss. Once again Son was Vietnam's most popular songwriter.

Ironically Son, who had been condemned for his outspokenness, was criticized by many Vietnamese who had fled Vietnam and settled abroad for not speaking out against the the current Vietnamese government. He was called "a communist stooge" and "a traitor." The harsh criticism affected him. Son's health was always fragile and after his release from re-education he began to drink heavily. "If I don't drink, I can't sleep," he said.

son's funeral

Vietnam mourns Son's death

Trinh Cong Son died on April 1, 2001, before filming of Vietnam Passage: Journeys from War to Peace was completed. Tens of thousands of grief-stricken fans lined the streets of Ho Chi Minh City to pay homage to the man who once served as conscience to the nation at a great personal risk to himself. His obituary ran on front pages all over Vietnam. Even the state-owned media, which had once condemned his songs, recognized Son as Vietnam's finest poet.

Previous Page

1 2