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Thousands Pay Tribute to “Vietnam’s Bob Dylan”

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Reuters - April 4, 2001.

HANOI - Thousands of mourners packed the streets of Ho Chi Minh City on Wednesday to pay tribute at the funeral of anti-war musician Trinh Cong Son, Vietnam's most beloved singer songwriter. Son, who died on Sunday at the age of 62, composed songs popular with Vietnamese soldiers on both sides of a long and brutal civil war that ended in 1975. In doing so, he fell foul both governments. Dubbed the "Bob Dylan of Vietnam" by U.S. folk singer Joan Baez, he composed more than 600 songs still widely performed in Vietnam and in overseas Vietnamese communities.

On Wednesday, thousands of people lined the way as a U.S.-made Vietnam War-era Dodge van carrying Son's coffin drove slowly through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City. The van, covered in white flowers, took Son to a cemetery about 20 miles away in neighboring Binh Duong province, where his mother was buried. Thousands more followed the cortege, first by foot, then by motorscooter. Many threw flowers in tribute, and a saxophonist in dark glasses played one of his songs at his graveside. Hundreds of fans queued in front of Son's house in the center of Ho Chi Minh City after his death from diabetes, kidney and liver failure was announced on Monday. Many camped out overnight to pay their respects, residents said. His death was reported prominently in most state-run newspapers.

"His songs have been loved by millions because they express the soul of our nation", composer Tran Long An told the Saigon Giai Phong (Saigon Liberation) newspaper. Son, who avoided the draft for the army of the defeated South Vietnamese army emerged as anti-war composer in the late 1960s. His songs were banned during the war in South Vietnam and he was harassed by the secret police for advocating unification with the communist North. After the war he fell foul of the communists, suffering in harsh re-education camps after his family fled to the United States. Son said last year that to have left Vietnam "would have betrayed my dream of reunification." He was eventually honored by the Communist government and many high-ranking officials, including members of the elite Politburo, paid their respects with floral tributes.

In April 2000, just before celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of the end of the war, Son was still irrepressible in his politically incorrect views -- not least when he said Vietnam had been football field for Cold War powers, rather than the scene of a heroic struggle for independence that Hanoi prefers. While happy that Vietnam was at last prospering in peace, he spent his latter years painting. Composing cheerful songs to match the spirit of the times was not his style. During the Vietnam war, Son was particularly popular in Japan, selling two million copies of his hit "Lullaby" a song about a mother mourning the death of her son, a soldier. "Trinh Cong Son's contribution to our music will be remembered forever," said Trong Bang, the head of Vietnam's Musician Association.

Reuters - April 4, 2001.

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