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  • Robison Wells

"Wildfire" by Mandolin Orange


The Wikipedia entry on Mandolin Orange, a folk group led by Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz, describes them as "bearing the stamp of folk, country, bluegrass, gospel and pop, all mingled in a unique melange perhaps best described simply as modern American roots music." Putting aside the fact that this flowery language probably means the article was written by their publicist, the description is rather apt. Marlin plays the titular mandolin, plus guitar and banjo, and Frantz plays guitar and violin. And, together, they have amazing harmonizing vocals.


But I want to talk today about their song "Wildfire," because it's a stellar example of their musical range, but also a timely and piercing song about a culture of inherited racism and hatred.


The song begins in the Revolutionary War, referring to Joseph Warren:


Brave men fought with the battle cry Tears filled the eyes of their loved ones and their brothers in arms And so it went, for Joseph Warren It should have been different It could have been easy His rank could have saved him But a country unborn needs bravery And it spread like wildfire

Joseph Warren, a patriot and revolutionary, had been commissioned as a Major General, but insisted on fighting as a private. He died in the Battle of Bunker Hill, but served as a catalyst for the revolution.


The song then jumps forward in time to the Civil War, first saying that from the ashes of the revolution brought sweet liberty, but then takes a somber tone and and declares that "too much money rolled in to ever end slavery, The cry for war spread like wildfire."


The entire song decries the endless cycle of hatred, declaring that the Civil War should have ended racism and hatred, but it only wounded it and made it fester.


Civil War came, Civil War went Brother fought the brother, the South was spent But its true demise was hatred passed down through the years It should have been different It could have been easy But pride has a way of holding too firm to history And it burns like wildfire


Throughout the song, that middle couplet is repeated and emphaszied: "It should have been different. It could have been easy," sung sometimes wistfully, and sometimes angrily. It should have been different. It could have been easy. Of course, the idea that it could have been easy is wishful thinking--it would never have been easy. But the sentiment is there in that it should have been different.


The song then jumps forward to the modern day, talking about those who "beat their chests and say that the south is going to rise again." "The day that old Warren died, hate should have gone with him, But here we are caught in wildfire."


They offer no solutions, only the sad refrain that hatred burns like wildfire, and the idea that it should be different, and it can be easy.

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