Talking World War III Blues

A Hard Rain Starts to Fall

 One of the only records I've been able to stomach since 9-11 hit was released that very day. Bob Dylan's Love and Death—I mean Love and Theft—begins with the image of twins, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, throwing knives into a tree, and continues, "Two big bags of dead men's bones, they got their noses to the grindstone." The album, at least the way I hear it this week, is riddled with images of hopelessness, futility, apocalypse, and revelation: splintered ships, a cornered drifter, the end of summer, and a long laundry list of other things "too terrible to be true." —Richard Gehr

After squinting from my Park Slope rooftop as the smoke blew into Brooklyn last Tuesday, sneezing through the ashes dusting cars even that far south, staring choked-up and bleary-eyed at the atrocity exhibition on CNN for most of the afternoon and night, wondering if my family and friends back in the heartland would connect to all this more if it hadn't happened in a city they mainly know from disaster movies, I found myself relieved again that the army no longer lists my onetime Signal Corps captainhood on their reserve rolls. In the 24 hours following the destruction, a line about mushroom clouds from the grief-ridden song "Shattered Within" by ambient Finnish metal band Amorphis kept repeating inside my head, and the only music that made any sense when I put it on was other desolate enveloping doomsday metal like Neurosis and My Dying Bride, funereally moaned and codeine-tempoed and devoid of shape or reason—just blank nuclear-winter mood, no personality to get in the way since there was too much to think about already. And I didn't play it loud.

The front door of Vinyl, 6 Hubert Street, September 15
photo: Robin Holland
The front door of Vinyl, 6 Hubert Street, September 15

Wednesday morning, the eerily paper-strewn and sparsely populated Armageddon blocks between the Prince Street subway stop and Astor Place reminded me for the first time ever of Detroit, in the wee hours after Devil's Night maybe. In my e-mailbox: a long letter from Iranian-born former Voice intern Sanaz Mozafarian, about her hearing that Arab Americans were already being harassed in public, about cars near Wall Street with "Revenge Is the Only Answer" scrawled into the soot on their hoods, about how trying to reach the financial district's ground zero from her midtown morning dance class after Tuesday's explosions had reminded Sanaz of braving Seattle's "no protest zone" in December of 1999. Spinning in the background was a newly arrived Best of Randy Newman CD I put on just to drown out whatever, and the song that goes "They don't respect us, so let's surprise 'em, let's drop the big one and pulverize 'em" gave me shivers.

Back in oddly sunny Brooklyn later that day, friends and I walked up to Methodist Hospital to offer blood donations, and on the way back stopped at a five-dollar rack, where we found a tanktop with the twin towers on the front, surrounded by fireworks and the word "Celebrate!" (On Saturday, I walked by the same store, and "We Are the World" was blaring through its doors.) Wednesday night I had a beer with Blender fact checker Gabe Soria, who said he'd turned to Al Green's I'm Still in Love With You the night before to reassure himself there was still something good and beautiful and unassailable in the world. I wished I had a taste for spiritual redemption myself.

And though once in a while as the week wore on my internal soundtrack would reach for "Rivers of Babylon"—damn right we remember Zion—more often, especially while devouring the Times, I was hearing the Clash's "Washington Bullets" (the only song I know featuring Afghan rebels), Breaking Circus's "Knife in the Marathon" (the only song I know featuring Middle Eastern terrorists brandishing sharp objects), Baader Meinhof's "Meet Me at the Airport" ("waste them without mercy"), Emily XYZ's "Who Shot Sadat" (thanks to Osama bin Laden's ties to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad), Brooks & Dunn's "Only in America" (both the hardest-rocking and most blatantly flag-waving hit on any radio format this summer, now guaranteed to become a national anthem), the Butthole Surfers' "Jet Fighter" (anti-war-against-Allah song of the year), the Cure's sadly inevitable "Killing an Arab" (which maybe Ted Nugent will finally cover). None of them explained a thing. But you never ask questions when God's on your side. —Chuck Eddy

After the first mention of our presumed enemy, Pet Shop Boys' "It's Alright" started haunting me. "Dictation being forced in Afghanistan," goes the first line. It's not one Neil Tennant would write. Like him, I was first a fan of the original version by Sterling Void. Of course, dictatorship is the proper word, not dictation, but dictatorship doesn't flow with the song's rhythm. Afghanistan actually does, though, which in itself is remarkable, particularly since "It's Alright" was an early house record, the first with a political lyric.

I'm generally not one to have political lyrics stuck in my head. But like the Village People's "Go West" that Pet Shop Boys would years later cover, "It's Alright" is solace-seeking gospel. God isn't depicted biblically—I wouldn't have it in my head and the Pets wouldn't be singing it if it were. Instead, God is something much closer to my home and theirs: "Generations will come and go/But there's one thing for sure/Music is our life's foundation/And shall succeed all the nations to come/I hope it's gonna be alright/'Cos the music plays forever."

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