Friday, September 9, 2011

Praying to the Wind

Sometimes a piece of music may speak to you of a particular time & place even if it had been recorded decades prior, even if you already possessed an established relationship with the piece of music. You hear the lyrics, you feel their meaning and are able to relate them to your own circumstances. Such was the case with me and "We Came Through" in the days following the attacks of September 11.

"We Came Through" was written and recorded by Scott Walker for his 1969 album, Scott 3. I have long held Walker in high regard as one of my favorite musicians, as well as being fond of "We Came Through" as an outstanding song from a record full of stellar tracks. My own interrpretation of the song is that within it, Walker is taking stock of his historical moment, examining the state of the world. What he sees is not encouraging, painting a vision filled with war & flames, dead heroes & expired hopes. What has been accomplished, what has been purchased with all this sorrow? Not much. The singer can merely claim that "we came through." That is his generation's great achievement: we survived it all.

Or "salute the men who died for freedom's sake [but] we won't dream, for they don't come true for us, not anymore. They've run far away to hide in caves, with haggard burning eyes. Their icy voices tear our hearts like knives."

Listening to these lyrics in the days after September 11, I gained new associations that ten years later, I am still unable to shake whenever I hear the song. In the immediate aftermath of the day's events, those "icy voices" hiding out in caves, cutting through us like knives took on fresh faces. As the shadows of the attacks grew longer, as I myself grew more pessimistic, the more strongly I felt as though Walker's words could relate to my own historical moment. Witnessing yet again "our kings and countries raise their shields . . . as Luther King's predictions fade from view" I would be left wondering often during the years ahead if all that my generation could claim for our own time was simply that we had survived it as well. 

There's one other song that I associate with that day, but, in a more positive light. When eventually it grew late, and the time came to switch off the TV and attempt to sleep, I needed something to clear my mind of all the horrible images of the day. I reached for music, as that is what most reliably sooths my spirits, something of beauty to remind me of the good things that people can produce, the happiness that we can spread instead of hate. In this instance, I chose John Coltrane:

Peace, everyone.

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