“Student Visas” by Corb Lund and The Hurtin’ Albertans
As of 2017, with the U.S. having been inaugurated in 1776, the country has “been at war 222 out of 239 years”. This may seem like a shocking statistic to many readers, but if you really think about it, the United States is always involved in some war somewhere. And this is not only in the official sense of the word but also in what are referred to as covert operations. And such was America’s role in the Nicaraguan civil war of the 1980s.
Now as alluded to earlier, this wasn’t one of the more publicized skirmishes which the United States has been involved in. Indeed the situation, as far as foreign involvement was concerned, reads a lot like a remnant of the Cold War. So not having much knowledge of this conflict, we’ll base our account on what the vocalist is saying in the song “Student Visa”.
Lyrics of “Student Visas”
And the first question you may be asking yourself is ‘why is a song about a war entitled “Student Visas”?’ Well that would be because, as detailed from the onset of the first verse, the United States sent their forces into the Central American country under the guise of civilians, specifically students, opposed to being identified as military personnel, which they actually were.
This includes said soldiers ‘growing their hair’ to disguise their actual occupations, you know, looking like shaggy students or perhaps hippy Americans instead. And the lyrics also reveal that other neighboring countries, such as Honduras and El Salvador, were involved.
Meanwhile, the narrator closes out the verse alluding to the notion that in the present, with the war now being over, he feels like a dejected vet. And even while the conflict was going on, he didn’t actually take pleasure in “killing folk” anyway and desired to return home – a sentiment which is expressed using the same exact wording at the end of almost every verse.
At the beginning of the second verse, the narrator indicates that he actually comes from a long line of soldiers. His grandfather fought in the American Civil War, his granddad most likely World War II and his dad Vietnam.
And whereas that timeline may be off a bit, i.e. considering the decades that elapsed between the Civil War and WWII, the vocalist is really trying to prove a point. And that would be something like all of the above came home as war heroes, unlike himself, who “worked mostly clandestine”. Furthermore whereas he may have benefitted from the use of better weaponry and higher compensation for his military service than his forefathers, overall the experience was unedifying.
Such is perhaps to be expected when you have someone who, in their mind, joined the military for all the right reasons, as this subject seems to be dispositioned. But instead he ends up engaged in a war whereas he’s not sure why it’s being waged in the first place, on top of not knowing exactly who the enemy is supposed to be. Or put differently, he’s questioning the entire moral basis of the conflict.
And of course with this being a war, it wasn’t like the U.S. just went in freely kicking a-s. American forces, including some of the narrator’s homeys, suffered casualties also. And such is how the third verse begins, with the vocalist recounting how a couple of his buddies caught a bad one on the field.
Here, he mentions one Huey catching “a rocket”, i.e. being hit by a rocket. In the process Huey and others end up losing their lives so spectacularly. The narrator, who was also caught in the blast, got injured. But despite being severely injured he continued to fight on. However, at that point, honestly speaking he couldn’t really tell friend from foe. So this is yet another way in which the Nicaraguan experience shall we say traumatized this vet.
Moreover due to his covert status in the war, the vocalist can never be officially recognized for the service he rendered therein. This adds insult to injury. And yes, the aforementioned incident did leave him permanently injured.
But who is Huey?
Many think Huey is a person. Even we also thought Huey was one of the narrator’s buddies. However, it has been brought to our attention by a former American soldier that ‘Huey’ is not a person. According to him, ‘Huey’ references “the helicopter they were in, a version of the UH-1 which was a very common helo in that era and was nicknamed ‘Huey’“.
Then, the fifth and final verse encapsulates what we will deem as the moral of the story. The vocalist clearly understands that there are people who idealize the soldier lifestyle. He too was obviously like that at some point. But now after experiencing what such entails, the reality is different from the fantasy. For in reality a lot of people ended up dead at the end of his trigger, many of whom he’s not sure why he was there to fight to begin with.
And even now in the aftermath, despite being in a peaceful environment, if ‘backed into a corner’ his killing ways will come to the forefront. So this is perhaps one of the first songs which recognized that it isn’t always ideal to place grizzled vets in civilian settings due to the violent tendencies they developed, something which the U.S. government itself seems as if it didn’t really pick up on until the 21st century.
Finally, each verse except for the last one concludes with the vocalist putting forth that he did not enjoy the experience of “killing folk”. Additionally, he asserts that he “ain’t gonna do [it] no more”. So, it’s not like he can go back in time and undo his PTSD. But concurrently, even as a vet he isn’t keen on going back to a war ever again.
Facts about “Student Visas”
Hailing from Canada, Corb Lund who is a western and country singer-songwriter, composed “Student Visas”.
The song was released in the year 2007.
It was listed as the 7th track in the album “Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier!” Both song and album are products of Stony Plain Records.
Four singles were released from this album of which “Student Visas” wasn’t part. Songs from this album can be classified into the following musical genres:
The “Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier!” Album
“Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier!” is Corb Lund and the Hurtin’ Albertans’ fifth studio album. The album was produced by Harry Stinson and released on the 13th of November 2007.
Most of the songs on the 47-minute long album communicates a contemporary war message in Roots, Country and Blues styles.
The lyrics of the songs on the album were written by Corb Lund except a few including “I Wanna be in the Cavalry” and “My Saddle Horse Has Died”.
Canadian country singer Mike Plume composed the song titled Hard on Equipment (Tool for the Job) included in the album.
“Horse Soldier! Horse Soldier!” earned the number 25 spot on the Canadian Albums Chart and received a Gold certification from Music Canada. This project birthed the following singles:
- “I Wanna Be in the Cavalry”
- “Family Reunion”
- “Horse Soldier, Horse Soldier”
- “Hard on Equipment (Tool for the Job)”
The Inspiration behind “Student Visas”
The 1980s Contra War in Nicaragua greatly inspired the lyrics of “Student Visas”.
The Contras were a fusion of three elements of the Nicaraguan society. The Contras stood against the Marxist Sandinista Junta of the National Reconstruction government in Nicaragua and waged war to overthrow them. The war lasted for eleven years from 1979 to 1990.
These Contras were technically rebel groups that were supported and funded by the United States of America. The first group consisted of the former guardsmen in the Nicaraguan National Guard together with others who fought side-by-side with the former autocratic family, the Somozas.
The second was the Anti-Somozistas and lastly, the Nicaraguans who managed to stay off direct involvement in the war but sternly stood against the Sandinistas.
A wide variety of very sophisticated weapons were used in this fight. Some of these weapons as well as funds were supplied by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
By 1989, the economic state of Nicaragua was in shams. Shortly after that, the Contra war ended. At the end of it all, there was an estimated loss of over thirty thousand lives and numerous human rights violations.