The Vietnamese Rock Star Interview on AFVN

A Story from

A Saigon Party:
And Other Vietnam War Short Stories

by Diana J. Dell

Announcer: "This is the American Forces Vietnam Network."

Bouncy 'Tonight Show'-type music plays for 10 seconds, begins to fade, and a husky-voiced young man speaks over the music in the background.

Nick: "Good morning, all you sleepy heads in Vietnam who are just joining us. My name is Navy Journalist Nick White, your host of ‘Dawn Buster,’ your rise and shine AFVN show. Today is Wednesday, May 24, and it's almost 9:00 a.m. When the big hand is on the 12 and the little hand is on the nine, I’m outta here.

“But for now, on with the rest of the show. As a special treat for our late-rising morning audience, we have in the studio a very unique guest. His name is Nguyen Long Dong, the popular Saigon singing star. A group of friends and I caught his act last night, and I positively knew that you servicemen and women stationed around Vietnam would be delighted to hear about this major talent.

“Welcome to ‘Dawn Buster,’ Nguyen."

Rock Star: "Thank you, Nick. It is good to be here."

Nick: "So, tell me, Nguyen, how do you handle all that fame?"

Rock Star: "I love being a celebrity in Saigon during the American Vietnam War. It is a pretty heady time for a guy in his early twenties such as I am."

Nick: "You must get a lot of fan mail."

Rock Star: "Oh, yes, not only from fans in Vietnam but also from people around the world."

Nick: "Really? What do they ask you when they write?"

Rock Star: "People ask me all the time what it is like living in Vietnam during the war and expect to hear about bullets and bombs and blood and bodies. They are always surprised when I tell them that it is not like that at all. Oh, sure, there are battles, but except for a few isolated incidences, it certainly is not going on in Saigon.

“People write and say they watched television when Saigon was attacked during Tet of 1968, and they could see that there was all that fighting in the streets, and they witnessed the mayor, who by the way is a friend of my family, shooting a VC in the head and all that. Oh, I write them that most of what they saw was the magic of television. I was living and working in Saigon during Tet of 1968 and slept right through it. Oh, sure, I heard lots of fireworks and explosions, but I just assumed it was part of the Tet festivities."

Nick: "That must surprise them to read that. What other things do your fans want to know?"

Rock Star: "They ask me what it was like in the army before I became a singing sensation. I do not know why they would think every Vietnamese male was or is in the military. As a matter of fact, none of my relatives or friends are or were. I mean, maybe people are getting the two sides confused. North Vietnam is the Communist side, and I am on the South Vietnamese side which is defending our country from the Commies."

Nick: "Do tell our GI audience what those differences are."

Rock Star: "Now in the North, it seems that everybody, and I do mean everybody, is in the military. I believe the draft age is from 15 to 45 and higher and lower when an emergency arises.

“But South Vietnam is a Democratic society, more like the United States. In the U.S. a boy is exempt from the draft if he goes to college. Same as we are. In the U.S. he can get out of serving for a medical problem. Same with us. Guys in America stay out of Vietnam by joining the National Guard or the Reserves. Sadly, we do not have stuff like that in Vietnam, but our country is more sophisticated with its policy of exemptions for non-military essential jobs."

Nick: "And do tell our American soldier audience, Nguyen, how did you stay out of the military?"

Rock Star: "I did not join because I am a rock musician and felt that I would better serve my country by entertaining foreigners in nightclubs in Saigon. Most of my other friends who did not have the talent that I do had to resort to bribing generals to stay out of the military. I mean, what could they do? They could not very well spend their time in the army. They are so much above those peasant boys who are soldiers. Just like the American soldiers. Real lowlifes. Guys like me and my friends have better things to do than march and shoot and boil rice over some campfire."

Nick: "Interesting. Tell us a little about your family."

Rock Star: "I am an only child. My father works for the government and has so much free time that he is my business manager. He really is the guiding force behind my career. My mother designs my band's costumes and her favorite seamstress sews them. ‘No off-the-rack stuff for my little star,’ she likes to tell everyone within earshot. Mommy is my biggest fan."

Nick: "And how did you get started in show biz?"

Rock Star: "I formed my first band during my senior year in high school. We played a lot of Beatles’ songs, then switched over to Rolling Stones' stuff. We played most of the nightclubs in Saigon, but my favorite was and still is the Eve Club. It really rocks and rolls, especially after Tet of 1968 when everyone became so bored with hearing about the war, like that is the only thing that was happening in Vietnam. I feel sorry for my friends who left the country too early. They missed out on some groovy fun. The night life is unbelievable."

Nick: "Describe to the listeners a typical day in the life of a Vietnamese rock star?"

Rock Star: "I wake up about noon, grab a taxicab over to the terrace at the Continental Palace for a bite of lunch and to sign some autographs, shoot the breeze until three with some other singers and musicians who are playing at the Samurai, Baccara, La Cigale, or Nam-Do, go for a facial or manicure at Beautex and sign more autographs for the girls who work there, then head back home for a nap before showtime at nine.

“The audience is always packed—wealthy Vietnamese, the embassy crowd, high-ranking American officers and civilians, and plenty of foreign correspondents and visiting dignitaries and celebrities from the States. I love to wave to other stars sitting in the audience. And when I direct the spotlight on them and ask for them to join me on stage, they do what all celebrities do, blush and act surprised to be singled out."

Nick: "What celebrities have you called on stage?"

Rock Star: "Well, let me think? Martha Raye and I sang a duet of 'Hello Dolly.' George Peppard and I hummed a duet of 'Breakfast at Tiffanies.' Joe DiMaggio and I sang 'Take Me Out To The Ball Game.' But let me continue about my typical day. You rudely interrupted me.”

Nick: "I'm truly sorry. Please continue."

Rock Star: "After the show ends at 12:30, the band and I head over to someone's villa, usually an American civilian's, and party till five or six o'clock. Then, I head back home for my beauty sleep before beginning another hectic day."

Nick: "Sounds exciting, yet exhausting. I assume yours is a lucrative job."

Rock Star: "You know the old saying, the people who do not need to make money usually make the most. Well, that is true. My family is quite well-off from inherited wealth on both sides, and I never think about money much. When I started singing in nightclubs, the money started rolling in.

“I cut 10 records during 1967-68, when the war was hot, hot, hot and they hit gold within days of being released. My father marketed them all over the Far East—the Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia—and Australia. The title of the biggest hit was 'The Vietnam Songbook' and subtitled, 'The Soulful Songs from a Man Ravaged by War.'

“My father was certain that war was a big seller, and he was right on the button. After 'Songbook' hit the charts in the Far East, I did guest shots on TV and radio in 20 cities, including Paris. I was interviewed by 'Time,' 'Newsweek,' 'Der Spiegal,' 'Hong Kong After Dark,' and hundreds of other publications world-wide. Every reporter asked my opinion on the war.

“I received flowers and telegrams and letters from thousands of well-wishers urging me to keep my chin up and keep fighting for good against evil. Hollywood agents sent scripts, publishers begged me to write my memoirs, and thousands of women sent marriage proposals.

“I guess we waited too long in responding to the requests, because within months of hitting the charts, I was old news; and the media turned its stupid attention to other less exciting matters concerning the war like drug abuse, atrocities, fraggings, corruption, even some battle things. At first I was a little taken aback at the lack of attention, but then realized that I was happiest being a hometown star."

Nick: "Where would you most like to live and sing, other than Saigon?"

Rock Star: "Saigon is my stage. I never once thought of living and singing anywhere else and just hope that the war will go on forever. But, those infantile antiwar activists in America, who do not have a clue what patriotism is, are trying to end my wonderful life and career."

Nick: "What will you do if the war ends and the Communists take over?"

Rock Star: "My father, mother, and I will leave Saigon on the same plane as President Thieu, a family friend, a few days before the Communists take over my country. We will fly to London or Paris and stay with Uncle Thieu for a few weeks, then my family and I will head to Las Vegas."

Nick: "By golly. You seem to be planning ahead."

Rock Star: "Oh yes, I have thought about the what-if? and have come up with many, many scenarios.

“I may decide to switch from rock to easy listening, do a lounge act. I can imagine quite a following of loyal fans. Maybe not girls in school uniforms like I have now, but older women with blue hair will lavish me with much more attention.

“I can see me still waving to celebrities stopping in the lounge. Mr. Frank Sinatra will salute me from his ringside seat after hearing about my war-time past. And Mr. Tony Bennett will nod in my direction as I start singing 'I Left My Heart In San Francisco.' Yeah, Vegas is my kind of town and the place I will head to if, God forbid, the war should end. Perish the thought."

Nick: "My word, I can see by the clock on the wall that our time is up. Thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to come on the show."

Rock Star: "Thank you, Nick. I am glad I had the opportunity to talk about my role in the Vietnam War, and I am sure you will not mind me telling your listeners that I am thinking about doing a re-release of my big hit, 'The Soulful Songs From a Man Ravaged By War' and then subtitle it with the original title, 'The Vietnam War Songbook.' Look for it in record stores all over Vietnam."

Nick: "Our time is definitely up. Thank you, again."

Rock Star: "My pleasure."

Announcer: "This is the American Forces Vietnam Network."

Nick: "Well, boys and girls, I hope you enjoyed our special guest. And before Edwin Starr sings about your least favorite subject, here's your quote for the day. It's from Lyndon Johnson, who said in 1964, 'We are not about to send American boys nine or ten thousand miles from home to do what Asian boys ought to be doing themselves.'

“This is Nick White signing off for another beautiful day in Vietnam."

Edwin Starr's 'War' begins to play.

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