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A strum that brings people together

By JOHN PENDYGRAFT, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 27, 2003

In the past year and a half, Lance Cpl. Daniel Hartzog's 30-year-old guitar has been to Afghanistan, Crete, Malta, Spain, the United Arab Emirates and in an airtight room on the USS Bataan (which had great acoustics) and it's now being used in an empty recreation tent in Kuwait to piece together a song about war.

The guitar was a gift from Hartzog's father. A Black and Mild cigar tip wedged between the neck and the body helps hold it together. The peg that holds the high E string is a piece of carved wood wrapped with plastic. A ragged T-shirt, which at one time was an improvised strap, hangs near the tuning pegs. The guitar falls out of tune quickly, prompting Hartzog to quietly hum his best memory of an A tone and fiddle with it often.

It is gold to him.

The Marines were told to come here packing light, with just an ALICE (all-purpose lightweight individual carrying equipment) pack and two bags. Deploying with a guitar was a messy task.

"I figure it's worth it. There's a couple of days of fumbling all your stuff around, but once you get it here, it means the world," Hartzog said.

He explains why music in a theater of war is important to him.

"Ultimately the objective in war is to try to bring people together, bring nations together. Music does the same thing on a smaller scale. If I'm in a positive mood and I'm playing, it might affect someone. War brings about change, always. So does music."

A few minutes later, Capt. Chris Knarr, who got his call sign "Ocho" because he has just eight fingers after a helicopter crash, wanders in and watches the finger picking.

"I'd love to stay and play if I had a little more time," Ocho hints as he gets the guitar. We make a pick out of some cardboard and he gets a great riff from a Tesla song going, explaining he learned to play in the '80s. Ratt, Skid Row and Tesla are what he cut his teeth on.

After a few minutes, he stops. Nerve damage to his hand makes playing difficult. He says he misses it, but can't find a way to pick that works. He tried banjo picks and others, but nothing works. He fiddles around as he can with three guitars at home: a Gibson Les Paul custom, a Yamaha Pacifica and a Yamaha acoustic.

"An electric guitar keeps you honest. If you play sloppy it'll pick up your fingers sliding in the strings. You have to play clean. I'm glad I started on the electric," Ocho said.

Hartzog's guitar is free for the taking for anyone who wants to play.

"I brought it just because I know that because I have it, someone is going to be happy, whether I play it or if they want to pick it up for a while," Hartzog said. "I have a friend who likes to write lyrics. The other day he came up to me and said 'Remember that riff you were playing? I wrote something for that.' So I played it and he sang the lyrics. It's awesome. Music speaks."

He goes back to working on his song:

There's a man I used to know

Smile was bright but his heart was cold

Even to his dying day

He prayed revolution would find its way

Distorted but unchanged

We the people are to blame

Send our brothers off to war

Sacrifice a life to settle the score

(Chorus) Revolution is on its way, Revolution is on its way.

They say that freedom has a price

But is it worth another life?

Is your life worth more than mine?

Who are we to decide?

The people cry for a change

But we are the only ones to blame

In our hearts we know what's right

Yet we still chose to fight

Every night I pray

That revolution is on its way

(Chorus) Revolution is on its way, Revolution is on its way

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