Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Songs of 9/11

I'm sorry if I seem too stuck on this theme, which is not directly related to education.  But as I said in my first blog post on this topic,  I'm not sure that any content we can teach our children can compare with the context we teach them about how to deal with this issue and other tragedies that will occur in their lives.  Plus, I consider Washington DC to be my home town, and I know how it feels to live in one of our enemies' Number One targets.

I'm someone who has always been highly effected by music, and we've spent a lot of the summer on music education, so it seems like one way to sum up the responses to 9/11 (and the 10th anniversary thereof) is the music we associate with it.  So here is my take on things.

One of the great things about music is that there is such a variety of musical responses to 9/11 that there is something for everyone.  So let's start with the biggies:  rock and country.  I think those are probably the most popular genres among the entire American population.

There have been many rock songs about 9/11, but probably the most popular and influential has been Bruce Springstein and his The Rising album.  And that makes sense.  Not only is Springstein a wonderful musician and songwriter, but he came from the area (New Jersey) middle class (his father was a bus driver) population that developed so many of the police and fire fighter heroes of the 9/11 attack.   At our spiritual center, they played Springstein's The Rising as the song after our meditation on healing and peace, and it's hard to think of a better song for that purpose:

There are numerous country songs on this theme, but I think the most famous is Alan Jackson's Where Were You When The World Stop Turning?   Once again, it is hard to beat that one.  What I really like about that song is that is poses some of our choices:
Did you open your eyes, hope it never happened
Close your eyes and not go to sleep?
Did you notice the sunset the first time in ages
Or speak to some stranger on the street?
Did you lay down at night and think of tomorrow
Or go out and buy you a gun?
Did you turn off that violent old movie you're watchin'
And turn on "I Love Lucy" reruns?
Did you go to a church and hold hands with some strangers
Did you stand in line and give your own blood?
Did you just stay home and cling tight to your family
Thank God you had somebody to love?
But it always returns to the gifts of spirit, which he says are "faith, hope, and love," and reminds us the greatest of these is love:

Folk Rock
Of the folk rock contenders, my favorite is Melissa Etheridge's Tuesday Morning.  This song is a tribute to a different hero than Springstein's first responders, who died while doing the job they had chosen.  Instead, this song deals with the passengers on Flight 93, the ones who overthrew the terrorists in the belief that it was better to die in a field in Pennsylvania that to be the vehicle of death for others in some unknown destination, but probably a major Washington DC landmark.  Actually, it is dedicated to one in particular--Mark Bingham, a gay man who apparently was one of the leaders of the resistance to the terrorists in the plane.  Etheridge highlights the fact that he died to saved others, even though his native land was denying him some basic privileges.  As she says,

And the things you might take for granted
Your inalienable rights
Some might choose to deny him
Even though he gave his life

It pains me to admit that the day after 9/11/11, the North Carolina legislature voted to put on our ballot a constitutional amendment to deny gay couples the right to marry.   At a time when we should be pulling together, some legislators are insisting that we enact provisions that drive us apart.  So I hope the people of North Carolina will embrace the unifying spirit of 9/11 and reject this legislative mandate.

If you need a reminder why, listen to Etheridge's song:

Classic Rock

Finally, I have to mention a song not typically mentioned in terms of 9/11, at least until recently.  Paul Simon sang at the 10th anniversary commemoration/Ground Zero dedication, and apparently was supposed to sing the more positive-looking Bridge Over Troubled Waters.  But instead, he chose to sing The Sound of Silence, which I have always thought is one of his most beautiful and poetic songs.

Until I wrote this post, however, I never knew that he wrote the song in response to the John K. Kennedy assassination.  But when I learned that, it seemed even more appropriate.  I think the JKF assassination threw an entire generation into shock and upset and re-alignment and questioning, just as the 9/11 killings did for the generation about 40 years later.  And once again, it seems to me that the song is about not just the event, but our choice to use it to either connect, or to avoid each other with the sound of silence.  My favorite lyrics, delivered by the author who has grown gravelly and grey since the time he first shared them with us, are:

"Fools", said I, "You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you"

But why not listen for yourself?

To me, all of these songs say that certain events happened, and they weren't very happy events.  They weren't events than most of us could control.  But our interpretations and reactions to those event--that is our responsibility.   We can choose to use these events to move us towards love and connection, or towards hate and separation.  It is our choice.

But, as always, I hope we choose love.  If we can't choose that for ourselves, then let's choose that for our children.  We can leave them a much better world that way.

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