Requiem for the Masses

Warriors Publishing Group
3 min readOct 9, 2023

by Doug Bradley

I had just finished introducing the pop group, The Association, to a standing-room-only crowd at tiny Bethany College in Bethany, West Virginia on Monday, November 18, 1968. Exiting stage left, I fully expected to hear them sing “Cherish,” “Along Comes Mary,” “Never My Love,” or another of their Top Ten hits.

Not this night.

Instead, The Association burst into a ten-minute version of “Requiem for the Masses,” one of the strangest, and most solemn, songs I’d ever heard. I was stunned, the audience was edgy, but The Association was clearly sending a message….

I remembered that moment the other day when I heard the news that Terry Kirkman, the multi-instrumentalist co-founder of the group, had passed away. “Requiem for the Masses” was his creation, an ambitious and somber piece that even included Latin vocals. The former Catholic altar boy in me knew the English translations, so I figured I “got” the song.

Or did I?

Truth is, it never dawned on me that night, a 1968 November evening that found me less than two years away from my own military service in Vietnam, that Kirkman was speaking to young college men like me, warning me about what awaited in the jungles and rice paddies of Southeast Asia. I wasn’t entirely tone deaf, but I still had my 2-S draft deferment and still believed the war would end before my number ever came up….

Looking back now, it still astounds me that The Association not only did that, but they did it while appearing at my tiny college campus…and that I was the one who’d made it happen. By some crazy serendipity, my two-year tenure as Bethany College social chairman included basketball playing with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, whiskey sipping with Count Basie, and joint sharing with Grace Slick and the Jefferson Airplane. Nearly 20 acts in total, ranging from Dionne Warwick to Josh White, Jr; Sam and Dave to Spanky and Our Gang; the Grass Roots to the Fifth Dimension. Indeed, thanks to the fees the Bethany College students chose to charge themselves, tiny Bethany College was, for a few years, a musical oasis in the hardscrabble West Virginia hills.

And then along comes…Terry Kirkman and his Association. Lyrics like Requiem aeternam (eternal rest) and kyrie eleison (“Lord have mercy) existed alongside “mama’s pies,” dying matadors, charging bulls, and half-mast flags. The English major in me knew a metaphor from a metronome, an analogy from an apology, but that night I missed it. Kirkman and The Association were singing to me, cautioning me about Vietnam.

And I didn’t listen.

Two years from that night, November 1970, found me a combat correspondent at U. S. Army Information headquarters in Long Binh, South Vietnam. When I went out to cover stories about the war, I realized that Kirkman and The Association were right. “Requiem for the Masses” was spot on — the matador dying in the bull ring was an analogy for U. S. soldiers dying in Vietnam. But they weren’t resting in peace.

Ironically, “Requiem for the Masses” was the B side of The Association’s hit “Never My Love.” At first, it, too, got some air play and began to move up the charts…until the White House allegedly made calls to Warner Brothers Records (The Association’s label) to “influence” radio DJ’s to stop playing the song.

Requiem aeternam Terry Kirkman. I think I finally got it this time.

About the Author: Vietnam veteran Doug Bradley is the author of Who’ll Stop the Rain: Respect, Remembrance, and Reconciliation in Post-Vietnam America, co-author with Craig Werner of We Gotta Get Out of This Place: The Soundtrack of the Vietnam War which was named best music book of 2015 by Rolling Stone magazine, and DEROS Vietnam: Dispatches from the Air-Conditioned Jungle.



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