April 5, 2001
Trinh Cong Son, Vietnam-era Antiwar Singer
By SETH MYDANS
BANGKOK, April 4 Trinh Cong Son, an antiwar singer and songwriter whose
melancholy music stirred Vietnamese on both sides of the war, died on
Sunday and was buried today at a Buddhist temple near Ho Chi Minh City. He
His family said he had diabetes after years of periodic hospital visits.
Residents said thousands of mourners thronged his home, piling bouquets
With his focus on human emotions and his refusal to conform to official
dogma, Mr. Son suffered pressure from both the government of South
Vietnam, where he lived during the war, and the victorious Communists, who
sentenced him to four years of farm labor and political education when the
But his popularity won out and his music endured; in the last years of his
life he was tolerated and even embraced by the government. His songs are
widely performed both in Vietnam and among Vietnamese overseas.
"Crying for Trinh Cong Son," read the headline over a full-page tribute in
the daily youth newspaper Thanh Nien this week.
"Truth, innocence and beauty in Son's songs surpassed all hostility," the
In his last years he took up painting as well as songwriting and was a
fixture, with his friends and his bottle of Scotch, at a cafe in Ho Chi
Minh City, the former Saigon.
"Now, really, I have nothing to protest," said Mr. Son in an interview last
April on the 25th anniversary of end of the war. "I continue to write
songs, but they concern love, the human condition, nature. My songs have
changed. They are more metaphysical now, because I am not young."
Mr. Son's popularity was at its height during the war years in the 1960's
and 1970's when his songs propelled the careers of some of the best-known
South Vietnamese singers. He became known internationally as the Bob Dylan
of Vietnam, singing of the sorrow of war and the longing for peace in a
Almost everybody knew the words to songs like "Ngu Di Con" ("Lullaby"),
about the pain of a mother mourning her soldier son:
"Rest well my child, my child of the yellow race. Rock gently my child, I
have done it twice. This body, which used to be so small, that I carried in
my womb, that I held in my arms. Why do you rest at the age of 20 years?"
Because of what it called "defeatist" sentiments like these, the South
Vietnamese government tried to suppress Mr. Son's music which flourished
underground and was also listened to clandestinely in the North.
When the war ended in 1975, Mr. Son refused to flee like many other
southern Vietnamese including most members of his family. Along with tens
of thousands of other southern Vietnamese who remained, he was sentenced to
a period of "re-education."
Born the eldest of seven children and trained as a teacher, Mr. Son never
married. His siblings fled to Canada and the United States after the war,
and since the death of his mother a few years ago he has been the only one
of his family in Vietnam.
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