“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.”
— Thucydides

“A civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.”
— Jean-François Revel

9/11: Two Songs

Friday, September 10, 2010

I have loved and enjoyed music all my life, but have never before or since experienced anything like the two weeks or so after 9/11, when, for the first time, I found it impossible to listen to any music at all. Music I had treasured all my life, with which I had felt a deep emotional connection, and in which I had sought refuge through many crises, fell flat on my ears, and seemed a distant artifact of another life that I could never return to.

I don’t remember any particular moment when I was first able to break out of that isolated silence. I think it was a gradual and tentative process. Thankfully, the human mind has a remarkable ability to adapt and recover, to put tragedy and horror behind and get on with the necessities of day-to-day life in the present. Eventually my ability to enjoy music somehow found a way to coexist with the gloom in the back of my mind, with daily thoughts of that terrible day and its consequences, of the fight we’re now in and how ill-equipped we seem to be as a culture to prevail.

It took years for our creative culture to begin to make sense of 9/11 and its world-changing aftermath, and for songwriters to grapple successfully with this extraordinarily difficult subject. The two superb songs that are especially on my mind this year are relatively recent.

Tuesday

John Ondrasik, who records and tours under the the band name “Five for Fighting”, wrote a remarkably stirring song about 9/11 and its psychological aftermath called “Tuesday”. Released on the 2009 album “Slice” (Amazon, iTunes), and given a fitting intro by John on his “Live in Boston” album (iTunes, “Tuesday” reflects on the ordinary day that became anything but, on the helpless sense of loss, of uncertainty whether further attacks would come, and our inexorable tendency to gradually forget, as even the most awful of memories slowly recede into our increasingly foggy recollections of the past.

John spoke briefly about “Tuesday” in this Big Hollywood interview, and was kind enough to confirm the lyrics for this post. I can’t do this deeply moving song justice in prose. — Go and have a listen…

Tuesday

One year like any old other year
in a week like any week
Monday lying down,
half asleep
People doing what people do,
loving, working and getting through
No portraits on the walls
of Seventh Avenue

Then Tuesday came and went
like a helicopter overhead
The letter that she left,
cold addressed in red
Tuesday came and went
one, one September when
Will she come again?

The thing about memories
they’re sure and bound to fade
Except for the stolen souls
left upon her blade
Is Monday coming back?
Well, that’s what Mondays do
They turn and turn around
afraid to see it through

Tuesday came and went
like a helicopter overhead
The letter that she left
cold addressed in red
Tuesday came and went
one, one September when
Will she come again?

Tuesday came and went
one, one September when
Cold and dressed in red, how could I forget? Tuesday came and went
like a helicopter overhead
Will she come again?

Remember (9-12)

I found Jeremy Hoop’s “Remember (9-12)” just a couple of weeks ago, and it has replayed in my head ever since. More directly than any other song I’ve heard about 9/11, it addresses the West’s willful blindness and perilously persistent state of denial regarding what we’re up against.

“Peace, prosperity, pride. Our wizards said there’d be no ebb to this tide,” the song begins, conjuring the Fukuyama-esque belief that seemed to prevail through the 1990s — the belief that we had reached an “end of history”, that the future from there on held not the familiar historic cycles of conflict and the periodic return of tragedy, but an unprecedented deviation from all human history to date, in which liberty’s light would expand inexorably to illuminate the world and raise up all of humanity. To be sure, we had willfully shut our eyes to the threat of Jihadist warfare that had clearly announced its intentions (c.f. Osama Bin Laden’s 1988 declaration of holy war against the United States, and the subsequent bombings of the USS Cole, US embassies, and, in 1993, the World Trade Center). Together with their nearly 3,000 victims, the 9/11 Jihadist attacks on the United States irrevocably killed this naïve delusion that we had somehow escaped history’s grasp.

“And the sages did not see the spaces to hide, or the cracks in the footings, termites inside…” A dual reference, perhaps — to the 19 al Qaeda “termites” who had concealed themselves in plain sight among us, training for their horrible task in our flight schools, and living in our neighborhoods — and also to the damage of our own doing that had crept into our culture’s foundations, leaving us vulnerable to such an attack and only weakly able to respond to it. The lyric instantly brought to mind the opening of Bill Whittle’s superb 2005 essay “Sanctuary”, which I’ve quoted before:

What’s worse than crawling under your beloved house and seeing the foundation’s rotten with decades of termite damage?

NOT crawling under your beloved house and seeing the foundation’s rotten with decades of termite damage.

(Sadly “Sanctuary” is no longer online, but it can be found in print as part of Bill’s “Silent America” essay collection. I’ll keep an eye out for its return, and update the link in my Bill Whittle essay index when it surfaces.)

Jeremy goes on with uncommon songwriting grace, recalling our brief unity (or perception thereof?) in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, our determination to remember that day and understand its implications, and our subsequent withdrawal into an even more willful blindness, an insistence on doing the impossible, on retreating to the “9/10” mindset that had allowed the attacks to happen. “Just seven short years, oops! we’ve blown it again. The bubbles this time around are bigger times ten” We stand on the precipice overlooking an abyss, it seems — one that threatens to swallow us as surely as other civilizations before that have abandoned their own defense. If 9/11 wasn’t enough to wake us up, to snap us out of our willful denial, what will it take? Is there any hope that we, as a civilization, will avoid passively free-falling to our demise? Some of us still struggle to sound the alarm loudly and clearly enough so that our countrymen will hear and take heed, but it often seems a futile endeavor … as if no one is listening.

Can we put them back, pull the slack, right the track
But it’s business as usual, we’re playing the fool
Though no bodies falling to the ground, no smell of jet fuel
The carnage lying round the bend’s as real and as cruel

Much like the equally absurd notion of airliners full of passengers and fuel being turned into weapons and flown into buildings full of people, the idea of a devastating biological attack, or of a radioactive crater where a major city once stood, will continue to be nothing but a figment of far-fetched, scare-mongering fiction. Until it isn’t.

Many realms gone before have marched to their December
While the crowds cried “all is well!”
That fate will be ours if we don’t remember
Those days after, days after
The towers fell
… Remember, Remember, Remember…

Jeremy Hoop can be found on Twitter as @jeremyhoop.

Remember (9-12)

Peace, prosperity, pride
Our wizards said there’d be no ebb to this tide
And the sages did not see the spaces to hide
Or the cracks in the footings, the termites inside

Then darkness broke through that clear morn in September
When our land saw the blackest hell
I swore what I’d be, and I would remember
Those days after…

When what to my wondering worry worn eyes
Mere strangers at once turn near kindred with binding ties
City to city to wide open country skies
No left or right, black or white, hands on hearts, all please arise!

The light that shone through those dark days like an ember
Lit the fires of the citadel
And we swore what we’d be, we would remember
Those days after the towers fell

Short memories, of braveries, of slaveries,
Prone to retreat
And walk through the door, like Rome before, forevermore
Known in defeat
The remedy, no mystery: know history
Or be doomed to repeat it.

Just seven short years, oops! we’ve blown it again
The bubbles this time around are bigger times ten
The Animal spirits broke loose from the pen
Can we put them back, pull the slack, right the track
But it’s business as usual, we’re playing the fool
Though no bodies falling to the ground, no smell of jet fuel
The carnage lying round the bend’s as real and as cruel

Many realms gone before have marched to their December
While the crowds cried “all is well!”
That fate will be ours if we don’t remember
Those days after, days after
The towers fell

Remember the days after
Remember the day after
Remember the day after
Remember, Remember, Remember