"Handsome Johnny" as written by Richard Pierce Havens and Louis Gossett....
Hey, look yonder, tell me what's that you see
Marching to the fields of Concord?
It looks like Handsome Johnny with a musket in his hand,
Marching to the Concord war, hey marching to the Concord war.

Hey, look yonder, tell me what you see
Marching to the fields of Gettysburg?
It looks like Handsome Johnny with a flintlock in his hand,
Marching to the Gettysburg war, hey marching to the Gettysburg war.

Hey, look yonder, tell me what's that you see
Marching to the fields of Dunkirk?
It looks like Handsome Johnny with a carbine in his hand,
Marching to the Dunkirk war, hey marching to the Dunkirk war.

Hey, look yonder, tell me what you see
Marching to the fields of Korea?
It looks like Handsome Johnny with an M1 in his hand,
Marching to the Korean war, hey marching to the Korean war.

Hey, look yonder, tell me what you see
Marching to the fields of Vietnam?
It looks like Handsome Johnny with an M15,
Marching to the Vietnam war, hey marching to the Vietnam war.

Hey, look yonder, tell me what you see
Marching to the fields of Birmingham?
It looks like Handsome Johnny with his hand rolled in a fist,
Marching to the Birmingham war, hey marching to the Birmingham war.

Hey, it's a long hard road, it's a long hard road,
It's a long hard road, before we'll be free.

Hey, what's the use of singing this song, some of you are not even listening.
Tell me what it is we've got to do: wait for our fields to start glistening,
Wait for the bullets to start whistling.
Here comes a hydrogen bomb, here comes a guided missile,
Here comes a hydrogen bomb: I can almost hear its whistle.


Lyrics submitted by hippie_v02

"Handsome Johnny" as written by Richard Pierce Havens Louis Gossett

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Handsome Johnny song meanings
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3 Comments

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  • 0
    General CommentAbout war and idolization of violence. And how what we imagine as far away and oversees, we've actually brought home.
    Smokleron October 13, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentGreat song, i can't believe there arent more comments
    zoso15128on July 03, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWell let's go through the song and establish some main points:
    The songs lyrics describe Handsome Johnny going to actual conflicts and wars in chronological order (The Revolutionary War is mentioned before Vietnam). Obviously Handsome Johnny is not going to all of these wars. So we can assume that he is an everyman character. Handsome Johnny is every single soldier who ever fought in any war. To emphasize the 'everyman' status, the lyrics repeat themselves stylistically ("Hey, look yonder, tell me what you see/Marching to the fields of X?/It looks like Handsome Johnny with a Y/Marching to the X, hey marching to the X.")

    Secondly, 'Birmingham' means the Birmingham campaign, which was a civil rights movement that Dr.Martin Luther King was involved in. So Handsome Johnny does not just mean a legal soldier for a nations military, he is any young man going off to win a 'war'. Whether it be literal (one country fights another) or proverbial (the civil rights FIGHT for black liberation).

    Therefore, Handsome Johnny is a young man going to fight for what he believes in. Whether he believes in helping England keep those damn colonies in line, going off with the US army to stop communism in Asia, or protecting the rights of blacks. Handsome Johnny is always doing what he feels is the right thing, and it always leads him to conflict.

    With that thought in mind, you can say this song is saying 'when you stand up for what you believe in, you're going to have to fight for it. Whether you want to fight with the M15 like in Vietnam or with non violent protests like Dr.King is up to you. But you have to fight for what you believe in. How you choose to do it is the only thing you have control over.

    In the final lyrics he says what is the point? "Hey, what's the use of singing this song"? And that's a good question. Why stand up for something? Why go off like Handsome Johnny and get yourself killed in some sort of battle? Well, if you don't, then you're just sitting their waiting for the 'bullets to start whistling'. They may not be literal bullets, but bad things will happen and everything you stand for will be destroyed ("wait for our fields to start glistening"). If you sit there, uninvolved and 'not listening', you're just waiting for the world to turn to shit. When you don't involve yourself, you're letting people with morals you don't agree with run the world.

    Subsequently, that means that every responsible person has a duty to be like Handsome Johnny. To stand up for what they believe in, and do it properly (not with M15s, namely). You have a duty to do the right thing and defend it.

    With the lines 'Here comes a hydrogen bomb, here comes a guided missile/Here comes a hydrogen bomb: I can almost hear its whistle.", the narrator is pretty much saying "Okay, everything going to shit. None of you guys are standing up". With that line, he is saying "we should be standing up to help people, but we're not. So we're just waiting for this proverbial bomb to drop."
    fizzypopismon March 03, 2011   Link

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