Vol. 12, No. 2,856W - The American Reporter - March 18, 2006


by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
Dummerston, Vt.

DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- As America braces for the inevitable flood of sanctimony and sentimentality that will accompany the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Bruce Springsteen has come along to reawaken our buried feelings about that hideous day.

His new CD, "The Rising" (Columbia) has already inspired more than its share of media gobbledygook. Pundits are talking about "art's power to heal." Critics are bemoaning the music's lack of politics. The cover of Time Magazine says Springsteen "turned America's anguish into art."

All of that is a bit grandiose for a recording that seems to represent nothing more - or less - than Springsteen's deeply felt emotional and intellectual reactions to the attacks. Whether the music "heals" is entirely beside the point. If we let it, "The Rising" (Columbia) can help us with our grieving, and that alone is a great blessing.

One thing is certain: On 9/11, America was the victim of an outrageous and despicable attack - a monumental, fanatical, hate-filled temper tantrum. We responded to it in many heroic and human ways.

With awe, we recognized the bravery of our firemen, policemen and rescue workers. We volunteered. We gave buckets of (unneeded) blood. We marveled at the gritty heroism of the workers who have spent the past year at Ground Zero, sifting through the rubble for bodies -or pieces of bodies - so families can bury their loved ones.

But we also responded in ways that were typically American and far from healthy

  • We edited out the realest realities. In the same way that the media suppresses rape victims' names and the photos of corpses, after the first hours of 9/11 television coverage, the bodies falling from the sky - the single most horrific image of the day - were never seen again. The sky that turned pink with blood completely disappeared from view. What must have been a horrible smell of rotting bodies was barely mentioned.
  • We edited the World Trade Center out of our consciousness. In the old "Sex in the City" episodes, for example, Sarah Jessica Parker's face flashes in front of the towers. Now she is there but they are gone, and they are gone as well from almost every other New York City-located television show.
  • We chose one man as our "savior," as if he was Spider-Man or Superman come to save us, and focused our worship on him. And that great hero was, of all people, Rudolph Guilliani, a dictatorial mayor, an enemy of the First Amendment, and a public philanderer who only did what he was being paid to do.
  • We threw tons of money at the families of the victims.
  • We sanitized the victims. This is especially true of The New York Times' "Portraits of Grief" profiles, which Thomas Mallon of The American Spectator correctly accuses of "substituting treacle for essence."

"To read the Portraits," he said, "one would believe that work counted for next to nothing, that every hard-charging bond trader and daredevil fireman preferred - and managed - to spend more time with his family than at the office... The Times had populated Ground Zero with the citizens of Pleasantville."

  • We went into total political denial: "Bush didn't run and hide on 9/11." "We're the good guys." "We don't understand why they hate us." "The Saudis are our friends." "It's not about oil."

    For those of us who didn't lose someone in the attacks, life went quickly back to normal. As Jimmy Breslin said, "The attack was a year ago and that's as good as a century." We dived head first back into our unhealthy food, bad pop music, lousy reality television, foolish movies, celebrity worship, paranoia, bullying, political hypocrisy and corporate greed - the whole ugly and corrupt cultural morass.

    There was other 9/11 music before "The Rising," - fighting songs from the country side of pop, for example, and a lame I-will-fight-for-freedom song from Paul McCartney.

    But "The Rising" is something different. As a New Jersey resident, in the months after 9/11 Springsteen found himself surrounded by pain, sorrow and the funerals of all those Jersey people who died in lower Manhattan.

    In "The Rising" we can feel his - and our own - fear, loss, loneliness, sadness, and bravery, as well as our terrifying anger and our fierce desire for revenge. These are not pleasant emotions, and for the most part, as a culture, we have suppressed them.

    Although Springsteen doesn't mention the falling bodies, he sings about that terrible pink sky: "The sky was falling and streaked with blood;" "My brave young life was changed forever in a misty cloud of pink vapor."

    In the end, Springsteen's images turn out to be our images. His feelings turn out to be our feelings. His grieving helps us grieve.

    Springsteen took an enormous risk in releasing this music. If he failed, he would have been condemned for presuming to speaking for all of us. But he spoke for himself, and that was enough.

    Is "The Rising" a classic? I don't know. We probably won't stand in stadiums pumping our fists and chanting, "Bruce! Bruce! Bruce!" as he sings "Waitin' On A Sunny Day," or even "Mary's Place," a party anthem that never gets off the ground.

    But I'm sure that as long as people continue to love, songs like "Empty Sky," "Lonesome Day," and "You're Missing" - which has the haunting line: "Too much room in my bed, too many phone calls" - will speak to the loss of love. And songs like "The Rising," "Paradise," "My City Of Ruins" and "Into the Fire" will speak to the loss of innocence.

    We can only hope that, in the end, we find some real resolution. Until then: May your strength give us strength/May your faith give us faith/May your hope give us hope/May your love bring us love.

    Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.

    Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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