Vionlinist Billy Bang on being a “tunnel rat” in Viet Nam

Violinist Billy Bang, died at age 63 on April 11 of cancer, was a composer of enduring, affecting music based on his military service in Viet Nam. Prayer for Peace, Vietnam: Reflections and Vietnam: The Aftermath deal directly, bravely and beautifully with Bang’s thoughts and feelings about having been a tunnel rat — a small soldier dropped into darkness to sniff out what, or who, was a danger underground. Go to my NPR interview with Billy and click “listen.” billy bang aftermath.jpeg 

I was pleased to get to know Billy when writing liner notes for Aftermath and Prayer, as well as Outline #12, an early experiment with conduction by Billy’s friend and fellow Viet vet Butch Morris. When Billy was a kid, he’d tap-danced for spare change on New York City’s subways, and that’s how an image I savor of him: light on his toes, deft working a crowd.

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  1. David says

    This is very sad. I got to talk to him one time, at the Guelph Jazz festival in 2006, and it’s a big memory for me. His music is strange and beautiful.