Tuesday, September 6, 2011

In Times of Crisis, Music Gets Me Through -- originally published September 12, 2002

   As much as I wanted to avoid the myriad painful, yet poignant, September 11 commemorations and recollections, I found it almost impossible not to be drawn to a few. As a journalist and writer, it was also sort of an obligation. Nevertheless, I kept my involvement to a minimum.
   No less than a dozen cable and broadcast networks began an onslaught of programming last week. Some I found absorbing and agonizing, others I viewed with distraction. The blitz continued through late yesterday with odds and ends yet to come.
   This was, after all, the first anniversary of the terrorists’ attacks on America. September 11 remembrances had undoubtedly been planned for months. It was expected — and excessive — because the once unimaginable horror and grief of that day remain so much a part of our lives, especially here in New York City, which sustained the brunt of the disasters. And until the architects of the attacks are killed or caught and brought to justice, the relentless reminder of that tragic September morning will endure.
    Most metropolitan area residents were fortunate not to suffer any loss, yet the catastrophe may have shaken them in other intangible ways despite the detachment. I was affected and had the feeling compounded after driving near Ground Zero last October, less than four weeks after the tragedy. Looking up at the distorted skyline before I entered the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel was a shock that prolonged my melancholy for months. Eyewitnessing the altered landscape provided an utterly different experience from what I’d been seen for weeks on television. I didn’t lose any sleep, nor did it impact my job performance, but I was affected.
   As in past personal crises and heartbreak, I found music to be the ideal treatment. It doesn’t necessarily help transform my disposition, but I find some music, whether it’s rock, jazz, classical or new age, to be an effectual respite and diversion that encourages emotions to help me wrestle with my feelings. However, it took three or four days after September 11 before I could listen to music whether at home or driving in my car.
   The first song that provided some relief, not to mention a few goose bumps, was a revision of Lee Greenwood’s inspiring "God Bless the USA," a patriotic tune written about the U.S. involvement in the Gulf War. The new version, sometimes interspersed with bits of current news bites, was appropriately reworked for September 11.
   Ten days after the attack on America, in a show of solidarity, a diverse group of contemporary musicians took part in a somber, commercial-free, nationally televised telethon that raised more than $110 million. Among the performers in this spellbinding "Tribute to Heroes," were Bruce Springsteen, U2, Pearl Jam, Sheryl Crow, Sting, Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, Wyclef Jean and Enrique Iglesias.
   It was an ideal antidote so soon after 9/11. A few performances left a lump in my throat, especially Billy Joel singing his classic "New York State of Mind" and Neil Young’s moving rendition of John Lennon’s "Imagine."
   Three weeks later, an all-star benefit "Concert for New York City" provided a suitable, yet completely different tone, but comparable needed relief for those in attendance, at a rousing, rock and roll show held at Madison Square Garden. A large segment of the audience consisted of firefighters, police officers and emergency workers, who for the previous 30 days had been immersed in almost nothing except rescue efforts at Ground Zero. This was the right time for rejoicing and rocking before returning to the grueling task that would continue for another seven months.
   One of the most emotional-inducing pieces of classical music is without a doubt Samuel Barber’s "Adagio for Strings." It has been used effectively in several movies, including “The Elephant Man" and "Platoon," to heighten the drama or mood. I listened to it several times in the aftermath of 9/11. I also found some comfort in Aaron Copland’s stately “Fanfare for the Common Man” and the soothing sounds of new age music by Enya and George Winston.
  In a bit of irony, even anti-establishment music that was trendy during the Vietnam War found its way onto post-September 11 radio playlists. The Byrds’ "Chimes of Freedom," The Hollies’ "He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother" and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s "Find the Cost of Freedom" were among those that seemed quite suitable again.
   Everyone copes with loss, shock or stress in their own way. In my times of worry, music, more often than not, gets me through.