EVERYTHING changed and nothing changed on the morning of Sept. 11.
While still in a state of sad shock and agonized despair, big-name bands hurried to recording studios with rewritten tribute songs, while the suits sat in boardrooms and prepared for the onslaught of media events. There was cover art that needed to be reworked (the Coup's Party Music) and festivals that had to be postponed (New York's annual CMJ weekend). Certain songs blanketed the radio, while others seemed inappropriate. Rumors circulated that radio stations were banning any potentially troubling song, but, after a few days, the shock began to wear off, and the absurdity of overreaction set in. Then those watching from the sidelines—those pencil-wielding media types—began predicting an end to mindless pop drivel and a renewed sense of awareness in mass music.
It would have made a sort of sense. War, economic trials, human crisis, and Republicans in the White House: History tells us that these things allow for integrity to cut through the teenybopper crap. Sometimes. But here we are in the middle of the holiday season; shoppers dazedly cruise lanes of red, white, and blue sweatshop sweaters, and reckless revelers plan to get their New Year's Eve groove on with the latest Britney Spears single, while, on the other side of the world, there are men and women hunting cave dwellers and dropping boxes of bologna sandwiches on innocent villagers. We're at war but you'd have a hard time telling so, and if we're in the middle of a music revolution, it sure as shit isn't being televised.
In the days following the attacks, many of us shared with our friends and loved ones what was in heavy rotation on our stereos and we marveled at the prescient meaning old words and familiar melodies took on: Morrissey singing "If it's not love/then it's the bomb that will bring us together;" Springsteen encouraging us, "At the end of every hard-earned day/people find some reason to believe;" Lou Reed because he's always been there; old Joe Strummer because he's the rightful leader of the crusade; Leonard Cohen and the Chelsea Hotel; Everything Falls Apart and More. Men and women with guitars and microphones stood on stages around the world and, instead of being insular and cool, they were warm and compassionate. They reminded us about love. We got sentimental tattoos; we made mix tapes; we sang out loud.
Lives are still lost; there is still much hurt and it isn't going to heal no matter what MTV decides to move into rotation. But music has always been a salve, a candle, a redeemer. And maybe the revolution isn't going to come so quickly, or even at all. Maybe it's wrong to even hope for such a thing in a time of lost lives, terrorism, and suffering. But there were at least a few days there when we just sat quietly and listened.