Talking World War III Blues

A Hard Rain Starts to Fall

Don't get me wrong: I'm a lousy optimist. I'm not sure it's gonna be alright, and it certainly isn't alright now. I turn to music to experience the divine, but I also turn to it to escape, and although my heart's fixed on the tragedies of my beloved former city, I know my soul wants to flee and find refuge in little things, like the soothing, soft, North England way Tennant sings Afghanistan. It's so beautiful. —Barry Walters


Lisa and I were on our honeymoon, driving across America with a hundred or so cassettes—mix tapes, radio airchecks, truck-stop curiosities, everything. The afternoon of the 11th, we got back on the road, and we could only bear the simplest, bluntest distractions from news reports: The Story of ABBA and Highway to Hell. Reptile-brain music. Radio ABBA radio AC/DC radio ABBA radio. The announcers kept saying the same things again and again, and we played the same songs again and again, and the stores and restaurants by the side of the road kept repeating themselves in cycles. We're still a couple of days away from New York, and we sing along to keep from thinking about it. S.O.S. We're on the highway to hell. —Douglas Wolk


There's an irritating streak I hear surfacing in the music I run into. I can't bear another preacher on TV singing "Amazing Grace," or the tinkle-tinkle hearts-and-flowers music the TV runs under the unscrolling of names of the dead. Last night I watched One False Move on Bravo; for the buildup to the climax, there's this black farmer sitting in his yard playing blues harmonica, and I was absolutely convinced this was the worst music ever made (it had never bothered me before).

So I've been listening to the New Pornographers' "Letter From an Occupant," from Mass Romantic—I play it three or four times in a row as loud as it goes, then turn around and go back to whatever I was doing. It's Neko Case rising out of a great noise like a water spout. It's the most alive thing in the house. It's complete. When it's on, your thoughts can go anywhere. —Greil Marcus


U2'sAll That You Can't Leave Behind, Ray Barretto's "Fuego y Pa'Lante," OutKast's "Bombs Over Baghdad" for the obvious reasons. But as much as I want to blast these sounds out my Inwood window to drown out the sounds of jet planes riding very low and loudly over my building, I don't. Out of respect for the grieving mother of a young child who lives directly above my apartment, whose husband is still missing. —Raquel Cepeda


For the first timein my life, I have no desire to listen to any music. My head has been numb for days and all I want to hear is silence. Music would bring no pleasure now. It would only remind me of life before. —Scott Seward


Living outside Los Angeles, I spent the greater half of Tuesday as a television spectator. I was alone in the house and had to turn off the tube for a while but didn't turn to the stereo. Instead, I buried myself in a more personal activity: the digital restoration of old out-of-print recordings. It may seem eccentric, but I derive a great deal of comfort from taking something obsolete and discarded and making it bright and full of merit again. Massaging algorithms on the computer to remove the sounds of dust and decay on old vinyl is fulfilling. It takes concentration and locks you away from the real world for a few hours until it's done right. The record? A British white-boy blues band from 1974 called Nutz. Nothing special and not much remains of them in the pop-history books, although they meant something to me for a few months in high school. "Can't Tell Her Why" was a wonderful heartbreaker on it; the Black Crowes sound a lot like it in their finest moments.

I played it once before I went to bed. If anyone wants a copy, I'll make them one. —George Smith


At the I Love Music chat room, I found that someone had linked to a promo site for the Coup's forthcoming record. When I saw the cover, I immediately went back to the mix tape I'd been listening to and hit play, because the Coup's "Me and Jesus the Pimp in a '79 Granada Last Night" was the next song on it. Sad, eerily beautiful sound, the words about how a kid becomes emotionally dependent on the pimp who killed his mother. Tremendous song, morally complicated, no posturing; I hope this guy's career doesn't get derailed by one stupid gaffe. What I'm referring to is that the album cover, which was made a couple months ago, is a picture of the World Trade Center exploding. People discovered it last Wednesday and began circulating it on the Web, and the news media got onto it. Obviously, the group will change the cover before they release the LP. Their record company released this statement: "The Coup are deeply saddened by this horrible tragedy. The Coup advocates change, but change through peaceful means, never through violence." —Frank Kogan

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