untitled film still paintings
if I died in a combat zone

tour of duty
karen
soda man
my father asks what's going on?






My father grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, listening and dancing to the blues infused rock 'n' roll music of St. Louis's very own, Ike and Tina Turner Revue, and Motown acts like the Four Tops, the Temptations, and Marvin Gaye. My father loved this music and loved to sing it. My mother often recalls with a smile how he would sing to her over the phone.

But by 1968 he was in Vietnam. While there, he found comfort in little else but word from my mother and his favorite music from back home. He was at Keh Sahn, Con Thien, Phu Bai, An Hoa, and Da Nang. Then finally, after thirteen months, in the summer of 1969, my father rotated back home. He was greeted by spitting protesters and accusations of murder.

Curt Bozif

Marvin Gaye's 1971 single, "What's Going On," became my father's favorite song the moment he heard it. It was released just two years after his return and it immediately became an anthem for millions of anti-war activists and Vietnam vets like my father, and civil rights leaders.

As the son of a Vietnam vet, a Vietnam vet who like so many others identified with this song and the man who sang it, I grew up listening to it repeat over the course of my life. Some nights my father would spend hours in the basement by himself. There he would sing with such emotion and so earnestly that I felt as if I were intruding on something very private by simply hearing it billow up through the floor beneath me. To this day I try to imagine all the things that this song might mean to him and all images that it might recall. To me, it didn't matter that he was a white man identifying with this song or its author, or that he didn't know all the words, or that he couldn't hit some of the notes. Like for so many others, "What's Going On" provided my father with the appropriate cry where language came up short and a moment when all the hurt and loneliness of a man's life might be expressed together in the words of another. Despite all the questions I've ever asked my father about how his mother died, how his father had abandoned him, what happened in Vietnam, his many injuries on the job, and his now dead brother, no answer he ever gives says as much as when I hear him in the basement by himself asking "What's Going On?"















My Father Asks What's Going On, 2008,
vocals by Joe Bozif, audio, 3:45




"What's Going On"
Written by Al Cleveland,
Marvin Gaye, and Renaldo Benson

Mother, mother
There's too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There's far too many of you dying
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today - yeah

Father, father
We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today - oh

Picket lines and picket signs
Don't punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what's going on
What's going on
Yeah, what's going on
Ah, what's going on - ah

Right on, baby
Right on
Right on

Mother, mother
everybody thinks we're wrong
Oh, but who are they to judge us
Simply because our hair is long
Oh, you know we've got to find a way
To bring some understanding here today - oh

Picket lines and picket signs
Don't punish me with brutality
Come on talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what's going on
Yeah, what's going on
Tell me what's going on
I'll tell you what's going on - ooh
Right on baby
Right on baby