Updated: Jun 7
The idea for this song came about in the wake of a school shooting. Sadly, there have been so many such shootings that I cannot recall which one prompted me. The news was yet again full of descriptions of guns that were capable of delivering multiple rounds upon a target in quick succession. People argued over the proper terminology of such guns—automatic, semi-automatic, assault rifles, machine guns—as if any of that mattered. To me, and to so many others, what mattered, and what was problematic was that the general population could rather easily access guns that could kill a lot of people in a short period of time.
While I am not a gun enthusiast, I was familiar with the AK-47, as it had become the weapon of choice of terrorists and it seemed hardly a day went by when the AK-47 showed up in an image or a reference to a violent incident somewhere across the globe. That particular gun was the creation of Mikhail Kalashnikov.
As a young man, Mikhail's skills with mechanical things, specifically tractors, caught the attention of an organizer in the Russian military, who in turn assigned him to a position as a tank mechanic. He later become a tank commander. In 1942, while recuperating from a battlefield wound, he heard his fellow soldiers complaining about their firearms—their unreliability and propensity to jam—and how the Germans weapons were superior to the Russian-issued guns. Kalashnikov took it upon himself to design an automatic gun that would exceed the capabilities of the German Sturmgewehr, eventually unveiling the AK-47 in 1949. According to
Beginning in his youth, Mikhail began writing poetry and prose—something he continued to do throughout his life—and something he thought he would be known for. As he was raised in a rather poor farming family, he had a desire to help the small farmer by designing simple, effective, reliable farming equipment to help them with their work.
His fame, however, comes as the inventor of the AK-47. He was proud of his weapons creations, numbering around 150 different firearms, and claimed that he did it all for service of the Motherland. As he approached his end he lamented his contribution to the deaths of so many in a letter to the written to the leader (Patriarch Kirill) of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Church absolved him of any guilt and assured him that his actions would be looked upon favorably by the Church.
This song is a heavy one to sing, and has become even heavier in the wake of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, where the weapon that Mikhail envisioned would put an end to war is being used to slaughter Ukrainians and Russians alike. One listener commented that is was unfortunate timing on my part to release an album that included a song sympathetic to a Russian arms manufacturer. It is not about sympathy for Mikhail, for I don’t share his experience and all that goes with it. Rather, it is about empathy for a person whose life’s work leaves them fearful and regretful on their deathbed.