Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11

Ten years ago, I was the pop music critic at The Buffalo News in Buffalo, NY. I had just moved from Manhattan a few months earlier. This is the commentary I wrote right after 9/11, and some songs that take me back to that time.

Published on September 14, 2001
BY CRAIG SEYMOUR - Pop Music Critic
© The Buffalo News Inc.
We all have different ways of relating to the people who were involved in the tragedy that rocked the nation Tuesday, our own personal passageways to empathy. We think about the people who died doing jobs similar to our own, those who may have had young children, and those who were en route to destinations that we are intimately familiar with.
One of the ways that I try to comprehend these nearly unfathomably tragic events is through music. I wondered which tune was playing on a tiny office radio as the first plane rammed into one of the World Trade Center's towers; which little ditty gave one of the doomed passengers so much pleasure - indeed one of their last moments of pleasure - as they sang along with it while driving to airport; and which song a trapped survivor was possibly singing to him or herself like a survival mantra or a hopeful prayer. 
These questions, however odd or disproportionately insignificant with respect to the larger issues of who did it, why and what are we going to do about it, allowed me to keep a grasp on the fact that at the heart of this historically momentous catastrophe were ordinary people killed doing ordinary things.

But, ironically, as I was having these music-related thoughts, music was being stopped throughout much of the country Tuesday. Music radio broadcasts were interrupted by news reports. The Latin Grammys, all Broadway shows and concerts by Madonna, Janet Jackson, the Black Crowes, Train, Weezer and Tool, among others, were canceled.

The four major music video networks - MTV, VH-1, BET and CMT - suspended programming Tuesday. And MTV's popular weekday "TRL" countdown show, which is broadcast live from the network's Times Square studios, remained off the air Wednesday, which raised the ire of some fans on the program's Web site. "I miss regular MTV programming. When is "TRL' going to be back on?" wrote one poster. Another responded: "Does it really matter when it is going to be on? I think we can live for two days without it. Just act like it's a weekend, OK?"

But with the exception of "TRL," all four music channels returned to showing videos sometime around midnight Wednesday. And although I'd seen most of the videos that they played before, I sat watching the clips for hours because so many of them now looked and sounded completely differently.

Some suggested the nation's wounds, which arguably went deeper even than the black gouges in the twin towers before they fell, the smoking dirt pit in Pennsylvania and the sideways slice through the Pentagon. R&B crooner Ginuwine cried, "My whole life has changed" on BET. Staind's lead singer Aaron Lewis sang, "It's been awhile since I could hold my head up high" on MTV. And on CMT, Dolly Parton called out, "Heaven let your light shine down."

Other videos were newly disturbing because the imagery was so similar to what I'd been watching on the news all day. Fiery meteors slammed into earth in Creed's "With Arms Wide Open." A man plunged from a skyscraper, crashed through pavement and continued descending to the Earth's core in "When You're Falling" by the Afro Celt Sound System featuring Peter Gabriel. And in Brooks and Dunn's "Only in America," the twin towers appeared in an opening scene like a hazy sepia-tinted ghost. And this song's title also took on new meaning since it was so similar to the phrase which, 24 hours before, we thought protected us: "Never in America."

But while these clips were unsettling, others were comforting. In the video for Destiny's Child's cover of the BeeGee's "Emotion," the screen is split three ways with each frame telling a different story. In the first, member Kelly Rowland is sad that her boyfriend is moving away. The second shows another member, Beyonce Knowles, seeking revenge on a philandering boyfriend. And the third follows the third member, Michelle Williams, as she cares for her sick mother. At the end of the video, Rowland and Knowles come together to comfort Williams after her mom has died, thereby learning the lesson of the day, that matters of life and death take precedent over anything that was going on before.

The video for "Lifetime" by neo-soul crooner Maxwell's was similarly soothing. Its scenes of subways racing through Manhattan and the star walking through a bustling business-as-usual Times Square was a much-needed reminder of the city's greased-lightning beauty. And its opening line offered a powerful message to a nation in need of healing: "I was reborn when I was broken."

Songs that Remind Me of 9/11

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