The 9/11 attacks might inspire musicians to craft new patriotic standards.

National Anthems 

The 9/11 attacks might inspire musicians to craft new patriotic standards.

At the Gem Theatre on January 17, the Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors hosted a panel discussion on the topic "Music After 9/11." The timing seemed a little odd -- after all, most of the dire predictions made in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks didn't come true. People do care about fluffy escapist entertainment again, as evidenced by the huge viewing audiences for Britney Spears' and Michael Jackson's televised performances and by the mammoth box office figures for Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. After a few enormous concerts and not-for-profit compilation discs, celebrity efforts have come to a halt. Some stars undoubtedly continue to make financial contributions to relief organizations, but the last of their immediate-aid projects, the ones that might be material for an organized discussion, took place months ago.

But if anything, it might be too soon to assess September 11's effects on the music world. As moderator and Kansas City Star columnist Steve Penn noted, audiences have been seeking songs that address freedom, choice and change. However, most of the tunes they're asking for come from another era and address struggles the nation faced at the time they were written, such as segregation and the Vietnam war. Crafting a built-to-endure protest anthem takes time, and though Paul McCartney and Neil Young can't be faulted for moving quickly to put together topical material for benefit shows, their hastily-assembled tunes aren't strong enough to have staying power.

In the next year or so, musicians who were moved by the events of September 11 will have time to reflect, mine their still-settling emotional cores and perhaps deliver the type of poignant, mass-appeal patriotic standards that post-hippie generations lack. Look at the startlingly inappropriate songs used to fill that void at last year's Independence Day fireworks show at Lee Park: "American Woman," an anti-American diatribe written by a Canadian band; "Born in the U.S.A.," Bruce Springsteen's bitter-ex-vet lament; and "Freedom '90," George Michael's snippy salvo at "the boys at MTV." Or sample the makeshift measures that currently provide the soundtrack for 9/11 footage: Ryan Adams' "New York, New York," which uses the city as a metaphor for a jilting lover; and Enya's "Only Time," which was written for, well, whatever reason Enya writes songs.

So far, the most powerful post-attacks musical message comes from Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah, who, on a track from the New York-based collective's new Iron Flag, demands to know Who the fuck knocked our buildings down?/Who's the man behind the World Trade massacres, step up now. His voice is panicked, his tone trembling, his rage unmistakable. Due to its esoteric appeal and occasional profanity, the song won't become a mainstream favorite, but it does contain the raw grief and disbelief that any definitive portrait of the event and its aftermath should convey.

While waiting for today's popular artists to craft a new "America the Beautiful" or "What's Goin' On," young music fans have been embracing the existing songs with a fervor unseen for thirty years. As Jazz Ambassadors president John Leisenring noted, the playing of the national anthem before collegiate sporting events, which had become rote for many students, now produces solemn pride. Recalling the '60s, Leisenring described being unable to persuade his mother that her "America: Love It or Leave It" bumper sticker was "a drag," a sentiment with which a sizable number of teens and twentysomethings would have agreed before the attacks. Now there's a renewed appreciation for unironic displays of patriotism, even in alternative-rock circles that previously might have been aghast at any such pledge of allegiance.

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