Talking World War III Blues

A Hard Rain Starts to Fall

In the past, I've found the rebellious anger of many rock and rap songs to be energizing and uplifting; but now this romanticized view of street fighting men and women seems inappropriate—self-righteous anger is just too deadly to take lightly anymore. —Todd Kristel

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

On Saturday I woke—alone in a ordered, still flat—to a bright, early autumn morning, with these words in my mind: "It's dark, dark in the daytime . . . " A line from "Cities" by Talking Heads. I've played Fear of Music since, nonstop. Why a song written from within a terrorist's head, or anyway an arty boho's possibly glib guesswork at same? It's about emotional lockdown, I think—the song is, the LP is, my need for it is. I've played it little for years, but in my early twenties it was my way favorite record, body-armored as I was to distrust everything: sex, love, fun, punk, all just tricks to disarm and ensnare and distract. We lived in unreal time; a terrible day would dawn. I liked that, then. And if the LP's disenchanted chilliness was bogus, or parodic, a put-on song after song, all the better: "I got it figured out!" This last week, twisting away from real emotion—and from two decades' hard-won trust that not everything turns out bad, that all shared knowledge is not false—this trebly relentlessness came back to calm me. Music to deep-freeze your nerves to. And solace in the sheer familiarity of a long-forgotten mindset. —Mark Sinker

I've read in Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror that the orderly, elegantly structured cathedrals, paintings, and music of the 14th century were a survival response to the chaos of the bubonic plague. Similarly, Bach's The Art of Fugue filled my apartment with visceral evidence of civilization, elegance, and order. I wonder, if our way of life fails to return to its former stability, whether we'll see a resurgence in orderly, calm, highly structured styles of music. —Kyle Gann

In some useless critical peacock-strut, I'd say Swedish piano-based jazz trio E.S.T. are the sound of Ahmad Jamal crashing Radiohead in a European dance hall. None of this really matters. What matters is "The Face of Love" makes me want to cry—the way it breaks through the mood of catastrophe hanging like the black cloud above Brooklyn, and helps me process the constant threats of racist violence a half-mile away where the muezzins call each morning, the bomb threats at the subway station down the street, even right here on my corner, a block from my son's school. It's a cover of a song by the late Muslim qawwali artist Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. E.S.T. couldn't have known the meanings this song would gather. But they have reminded me why I, and maybe you, need music so. —Jeff Chang

I live on Broadway below Canal. Tuesday morning, I take my four-year-old, Sam, to school. I park on Sixth near Bleecker and wait for a space to become valid at nine. When we see people pointing downtown, we get out to see what they're pointing at. Gray and white smoke pours from the top of the WTC. Huge smoke, silent but closer than you'd think. We can see a black hole outlined in flame. I am holding Sam up so he can see and thinking he shouldn't be seeing this, but the mood is still somewhat even. People have their car doors open, to share their radio broadcasts. There is instant community, instant suspension of traffic rules. As we watch the smoke, a second plane appears from the right and then a huge fireball replaces the top of the second tower. Sam starts to cry and says, "I don't like this," and I feel like the world's worst parent.

After a hundred other events, I am taking Sam home from school and he is terrified, because he can see quite clearly that we are walking toward the smoke. I assure him that there won't be smoke near our house. I have to argue with a policeman to get into my house, and Sam starts to cry again. At home, the TV is on and Sam sees more than he should before it goes off. At dinner, I remember music exists and put on Duke Ellington, mostly out of habit and nerves. It is too before-the-flood, too hopeful. I turn it off.

Thursday morning we pop in the only videocassette Sam ever watches, just to give him continuity, and I hear the theme song I've heard 4000 times, but it's not the same now: "Bob the builder! Can we fix it? Bob the builder! Yes we can!"

That night, the thunder and lightning wake everybody at 4 a.m. and I realize thunder will never be just that. I lay awake listening to the rain, the best sound I've heard in days. Then I start thinking about how much water weighs. —Sasha Frere-Jones

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