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9-11 Requiem

Despite owning one of his best songs, “My City Of Ruins” and one of his best third tier songs “The Rising”, I hate The Rising with a passion, and the reason is because Springsteen used the tricks of his trade to personalize what was already possible. He Tom Joaded it, he wrote fictions about facts (he also didn’t do them well, the tour was the worst I’ve ever seen him because the songs stunk up the joint).

I don’t doubt his sincerity.  How can I when he won’t stop shoving it down my throat? But the victims of, and the remains of, 9-11-01 did not lend themselves to what amounts to a form of anthropomorphism: essentially, changing their character to make them what Springsteen needed them to be in order to fit into his true blue collar tableau.

Much, much, unspeakably better, is John Adams  (the composer of the popular opera “Nixon In China) “On The Transmigration Of Souls”, commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and the Lincoln Center Great Performers and performed for the first  time on September 19th, 2002. It won the Pulitzer in 2003 as well as two Grammy’s  in 2005.

For “orchestra, chorus, children’s choir and pre-recorded tape”, the composition opens with the names of the missing while backing tapes whirl in the background, as the piece evolves portions of remembrance “sang like an angel”, is spoken. According to James Manheim in Allmusic “a reading of a group of names of the dead, words from the notes that were taped to walls all over Manhattan in the days following the towers’ collapse, excerpts from The New York Times “Portraits of Grief,” the words “love” and “light,” and the words of the flight attendant who may have been the first person to understand what was happening: “I see water and buildings.”

The music, an atonal nagging on the nerves a quiet sinking down into reality until the eleven minute mark rising of anxiety levels like the firemen rushing up the World Trade Center a zig zag of violins and cymbals reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann having a heart attack, before crashing down to more names before closing after 25 minutes.

The third of the three 9-11 albums isn’t a 9-11album at all. Bright Eyes masterpiece, I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, takes place in a post 9-11 Lower East Side world, a few miles away from WTC and the cover has a moon rising over Manhattan. It is an anxious, druggy, youthful world in the shadow of disaster and at the start of a new millennium. Informed by politics, but also informed by the 21century acute paranoia blues.

What all three albums share is a sense of political disbelief. It is like the first time somebody you love dies, you just don’t quite grasp it. The States, who hadn’t been attacked on its own soil since Pearl Harbor, went into shock. What Adams did was give a sound to the shock, Springsteen gave a story, and Conor moved past it.

On the various occasional I’ve been close to terrorism, and between Lebanon, where entire buildings were getting blown up to knock off one political figure, the UK in the 1970s (the IRA were dodgy creatures) and finally the US, I’ve gotten used to the idea that forces beyond my control can bring me down, that you can hide from life but life will still find you. But in the US it is more like a natural disaster, it is so far beyond the scope of live that people respond to it like a hurricane of sorts: an anomaly, it happened and won’t happen again and that makes a human face. Adams gives a face to the many.

On The Transmigration Of Souls – John Adams – A

The Rising – Bruce Springsteen – C-

I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning – Bright Eyes –  A+


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