[sixties-l] Shelter From the Storm (fwd)

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Date: Mon Oct 15 2001 - 02:10:50 EDT

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    ---------- Forwarded message ----------
    Date: Sun, 14 Oct 2001 10:58:10 -0700
    From: radtimes <resist@best.com>
    Subject: Shelter From the Storm

    RollingStone.com 9.11.01
    Shelter From the Storm
    By David Fricke

    Shortly after 8 p.m. on September 14th, I sang "God Bless America" for the
    first time in more than twenty years. It was at a memorial vigil near my
    home on Manhattan's Upper West Side, where residents had gathered with
    candles and wounded voices to mourn and pray - for the victims of the
    September 11th attacks; the rescue workers, deep in rubble and sorrow; and
    ourselves, appointed by fate to remember and rebuild. We also sang "America
    the Beautiful," "Amazing Grace" and Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your
    Land," a verse of each because that was all anyone seemed to know.

    It felt good, right and strange. I last sang "God Bless America" at hockey
    games in my hometown, Philadelphia, where the Flyers played Kate Smith's
    recording each night before going out to high-stick the hell out of the
    visiting team. It was also an era of national shame. In the 1970s, Vietnam
    and Richard Nixon's presidency had gutted Irving Berlin's hymn of the
    composer's original love and pride. "God Bless America" only made sense as
    kitsch, a local sports gag.

    I hear the song - and every other song around me - differently now. A week
    after the devastation, U2's "Beautiful Day" and "Elevation" burst through
    the radio with even more contagious hope than Bono and the band had put
    into them at Madison Square Garden just three months earlier. When the DJ
    also played Journey's 1981 hit "Don't Stop Believin'," I was surprised to
    find myself carried away, near to tears, by its totally-Eighties swagger
    and reassuring buzz. There was also the purgative shock, that day, of
    hearing Nirvana's "Rape Me" on a local modern-rock station. No song, in the
    first few seconds, seemed more obnoxious. Then the big hurt of Kurt
    Cobain's guitar and shredded voice kicked in, a consuming rain of
    helplessness and violation. When it was over, I felt at least partly
    cleansed, as if all of that distortion had scrubbed away a top layer of
    rage and anguish.

    And there was my walk up Broadway two days after that candlelight vigil. As
    I passed the photos and fliers pasted to lampposts and shop windows by
    people pleading for information on missing loved ones, Bob Dylan popped
    into my head, singing "Shelter From the Storm" from 1975's Blood on the
    Tracks. It is a song about betrayal, from an album about divorce. But I
    found medicine in there: "I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of
    form/'Come in,' she said/'I'll give you shelter from the storm.' " At that
    moment, stuck in suffocating darkness, I thought it was the most patriotic
    song in the world.

    In music, as in any art, context is everything. The who, how and when of
    reception are as critical as the who, how and why of creation. There may be
    no better example, right now, than Dylan's new album, Love and Theft, which
    was released with unconscious, pinpoint irony on September 11th. A month
    before, listening to an advance copy, I was delighted by the wicked humor
    in Dylan's lyrics. What cuts through now is the sharp ring of apocalypse,
    like these lines in "Floater (Too Much to Ask)": "They say times are
    hard/If you don't believe it/You can follow your nose." That was literally
    true in Manhattan. When the wind shifted in those first few nights, the
    acrid smell of ash, scorched metal and electrical fire passed through my
    windows uptown like a parade of ghosts.

    Dramatic circumstance has made a lot of big records feel small-minded. I
    will find it hard, for a while, to give half a damn about Eminem's gangsta
    angst or the thundering self-obsession of the new metal. But how we define
    the healing and unifying properties of music - any music, from national
    anthems to death metal - in the wake of September 11th will in no small
    part determine our future as a democracy. In our political system, the
    majority rules. But in anger, fear and sorrow, we each have to negotiate a
    separate peace.

    Free speech is an absolute: You either have it or you don't. Amid the war
    drums beating in the White House and our massing of men and armaments in
    the Persian Gulf, Dylan's "Masters of War," Metallica's "Harvester of
    Sorrow," Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" and Rage Against the Machine's
    "Killing in the Name" are not blasphemy. They remind us of the blood we too
    have spilled in blindness and arrogance, amongst ourselves and abroad, and
    of the price we will pay for vengeance without wisdom.

    Even the songs that bind us come with private tensions and mixed messages.
    Francis Scott Key wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner" not in bloodlust but
    lonesome relief, while being held prisoner by the British as they bombarded
    Fort McHenry in the War of 1812. In 1972, Ray Charles closed his album A
    Message From the People with a reading of "America the Beautiful" that
    transformed the song with black-church and soul-shack celebration. But
    Charles also sang it as a declaration of inclusion, a refusal to accept
    anything less than the song's full promise of universal bounty. The fight
    in his voice was as deep as the allegiance.

    I understand the need in others right now for the epic lift and warm sugar
    of a knockout power ballad. I've had to look elsewhere. It took me three
    days, well into September 13th, before I could bear to listen to a single
    note of music. But when I did, it was the melancholy poise of the horns in
    John Coltrane's 1957 beauty "Blue Train" and the blue-sky joy of a live
    Grateful Dead set, One From the Vault, recorded in San Francisco in August
    1975. The sound of Jerry Garcia's wobbly, paternal voice, singing Robert
    Hunter's lyrics in "Franklin's Tower," was the decisive kick-start: "If you
    get confused/Just let the music play." So I did. These are some of the
    things that pulled me out of the silence: the live version of Bob Marley's
    "Redemption Song" on the Songs of Freedom box, recorded at his final
    concert in 1980; a long, howling "Rockin' in the Free World" by Neil Young
    and Crazy Horse on their 1991 concert set, Weld; the locomotive,
    resurrection psychedelia of Vision Creation Newsun by the Japanese band,
    the Boredoms; The Music of Arab-Americans on Rounder Records, a wonderful
    collection of 78s recorded in the first half of the last century and a
    potent memento of that community's long, vital history here.

    In my lowest moments, though, I keep turning to something without words:
    Jimi Hendrix's performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Woodstock in
    1969, a fireball of confusion, distress, bloodied optimism and questions,
    played early one morning over a field of debris for a raggedy band of
    survivors walking, exhausted, into a new, uncertain world. I play it, soak
    in it. Then I get up and just keep walking.

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