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
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
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
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
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 2016 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.