It is not easy at all to choose a couple of songs from Trịnh Công Sơn for any list of ten songs about the Vietnam War.   The first of his five albums in the Sing for the Vietnamese Country series – Hát Cho Quê Hương Việt Nam – is a masterpiece that must be listened from top to bottom.  It is not a surprise that both of my selections come from that album.

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Hãy Sống Giùm TôiLive for Me or Please Live For Me – is perhaps the simplest composition in the entire album: musically, perhaps; linguistically, definitely.  It took me, what, all of six or seven minutes to translate the lyrics – half of the time on two or three lines.

The lyrics thrive on triplets.  “Live for me, speak for me, breathe for me!” “For hatred, for violence, for ambition…” “Why waiting, why sitting, why being still…”  If there could one song without any need for commentary, this is it.

Hãy sống giùm tôi,                Live for me,
Hãy nói giùm tôi,                   Speak for me,
Hãy thở giùm tôi.                  Breathe for me.
Thịt da này dành                  This body has been used
Cho thù hận,                          For hatred,
Cho bạo cường,                    For violence,
Cho tham vọng                     For ambition
Của một lũ điên                     Of a mad gang.

Hãy sống giùm tôi,                Live for me,
Hãy nói giùm tôi,                    Speak for me,
Hãy thở giùm tôi.                   Breathe for me.
Quả tim này dành                 This heart is reserved
Cho lửa hồng,                         For fire
Cho hòa bình,                         For peace
Cho con người                        For people
Còn chờ đấu tranh                 Waiting to struggle.

Ai có nghe                               Who have heard?
Ai có nghe                                Who have heard
Tiếng nói người Việt Nam,   The voices of Vietnamese,
Chỉ mong hòa bình                Longing for peace
Sau đêm tăm tối,                     after the dark night
Chờ mong một ngày              Longing for a day
Tay ấm trong tay?                    when hands hold warm hands?

Hãy sống giùm tôi,                   Live for me,
Hãy nói giùm tôi,                       Speak for me,
Hãy thở giùm tôi.                      Breathe for me.
Đã lâu rồi làm                           For so long
Sao chờ đợi,                               Why waiting?
Sao còn ngồi,                             Why sitting?
Sao im lìm                                  Why being still,
Ngủ hoài các anh?                    Sleeping with no end?

Hãy sống giùm tôi,                    Live for me,
Hãy nói giùm tôi,                        Speak for me,
Hãy thở giùm tôi.                       Breathe for me.
Còn thấy gì                                 What do you see
Ngoài bom lửa đạn?                 Other than bombs and bullets? 
Anh chị này,                               Brothers and sisters,
Sao vui mừng                            Why should we accept
Làm người cúi xin?                   being the oppressed?

It’s long known that this song was inspired by the self-immolation of Nhất Chi Mai, a thirty-something school teacher during the week of Buddhist Vesak celebrations in 1967.  Legend has it that although she was a devout Buddhist, she placed two statues in front of her – one of Guanyin, the Buddhist female saint of mercy, and one of the Virgin Mary – and prayed to both of them before self-immolating in protest of war and the hope for peace.

Like most songs in this album, the arrangements for Live for Me is just about perfect.  The acoustic guitar opens the recording, plays the instrumental break, and comments on the lyrics through and through.  The rest of instrumentation comes from the bass, the snare drum, and a light and non-intrusive sound from the organ.

Khánh Ly’s voice is steady without emoting: an impressive accomplishment for a song that invites easy emotionalism.   It’s a vocal performance always in control of itself.  I remember reading somewhere that Khánh Ly considers it either her favorite song of this album or, possibly, of all songs by Trịnh Công Sơn.  (I think it’s the latter.)    I don’t know her reasons, but should guess that it may have something to do with the lyrical prowess deriving from the simplicity of composition and arrangements.