When Only A Few Words Create Magic - Khe SanhWords create magic, even only a few.

These two words create magic – Khe Sanh. It is the title of a song made popular by an Australian band, Cold Chisel, and the song has become an anthem for two generations. It is sometimes said in Australia that when babies are born, their DNA carry the words to Khe Sanh. It seems that everyone knows the words to the song, almost from birth.

From the instantly recognisable quiet few bars of piano that introduce what is a Vietnam War protest song, almost every Australian can launch immediately into the opening line, and then continue singing every single word of the song, which cannot as easily be said for Australia’s National Anthem.

In fact to many, Khe Sanh is the Australian Anthem.

I left my heart to the sappers round Khe Sanh

From this opening line, the words that follow create magic, in that the picture that is painted of a returning Vietnam War veteran is so real, so understandable, and so vivid.

We can understand the returning vet’s pain, his suffering of post traumatic syndrome and his inability to re-adapt to his pre-war life. We also understand how he has changed, and how he now views his old friends, who have no idea, or even want to know of his ordeal.

Simple lines such as these punctuate the song, yet the power of these words is immense.

“How there were no V-dayheroes in 1973”

“And their legs were often open
But their minds were always closed
And their hearts were held in fast suburban chains”

“There ain’t nothing like the kisses
From a jaded Chinese princess”

“I’m goin’ nowhere and I’m in a hurry”

Some writers need a novel to express such powerful images, but Don Walker, who wrote the song, needed so very few words to create imagery, liberal double meaning, and a story that would become ingrained into the psyche of every Australian.

Khe Sanh is a brilliant example of how only a few precisely chosen words create magic. A aspirational goal for all writers.

Read the lyrics, and watch the video below, and see if you agree that Walker’s few words create magic. And of course, the unique voice of Jimmy Barnes, Cold Chisel’s singer, who makes these few, simple words, send chills down your spine, whether you are Australian or not.

“Khe Sanh”

I left my heart to the sappers round Khe Sanh
And my soul was sold with my cigarettes to the blackmarket man
I’ve had the Vietnam cold turkey
From the ocean to the Silver City
And it’s only other vets could understand

About the long forgotten dockside guarantees
How there were no V-dayheroes in 1973
How we sailed into Sydney Harbour
Saw an old friend but couldn’t kiss her
She was lined, and I was home to the lucky land

And she was like so many more from that time on
Their lives were all so empty, till they found their chosen one
And their legs were often open
But their minds were always closed
And their hearts were held in fast suburban chains
And the legal pads were yellow, hours long, paypacket lean
And the telex writers clattered where the gunships once had been
But the car parks made me jumpy
And I never stopped the dreams
Or the growing need for speed and novacaine

So I worked across the country end to end
Tried to find a place to settle down, where my mixed up life could mend
Held a job on an oil-rig
Flying choppers when I could
But the nightlife nearly drove me round the bend

And I’ve travelled round the world from year to year
And each one found me aimless, one more year the worse for wear
And I’ve been back to South East Asia
But the answer sure ain’t there
But I’m drifting north, to check things out again

You know the last plane out of Sydney’s almost gone
Only seven flying hours, and I’ll be landing in Hong Kong
There ain’t nothing like the kisses
From a jaded Chinese princess
I’m gonna hit some Hong Kong mattress all night long

Well the last plane out of Sydney’s almost gone
Yeah the last plane out of Sydney’s almost gone
And it’s really got me worried
I’m goin’ nowhere and I’m in a hurry
And the last plane out of Sydney’s almost gone

When Only A Few Words Create Magic – Khe Sanh
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