Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11: The Life/Art Confluence

Note: The following, cross-posted at my other blog, does not have much to do with cycling per se, but I include it here in part because of the day but also because I mentally composed a large part of this post in my head as I rode to and from McConnell back on Tuesday.

The cover art for Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, originally scheduled for release on Reprise on September 11, 2001. Wikipedia. Image found here.

I have posted before about this day: the usual sorts of posts one has seen or will see on the anniversary of this day. In rereading my versions of those sorts of posts, I see no need to add to them.

Instead, I want to simply note a couple of musical moments that are especially striking for their timing and place and that for me, seven years on, still resonate powerfully.

I'll just let you ponder the eerie confluence of cover art and planned release date for Wilco's album. But the music, too--not just lyrically but sonically as well--is a powerful irruption of our usual ways of thinking about what our expectations and assumptions are regarding "pop music." Just what does it mean when Jeff Tweedy, in "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart," sings, "I am an American aquarium drinker/I assassin down the avenue"--and in that wavering nasal-y voice of his, no less? And how is it that that tinny electric piano riff in "Poor Places" nevertheless manages to sound so grand? No matter. Whatever Wilco is selling in this album, I'm still more than willing to buy.

Here are some selections to listen to:

"I Am Trying to Break Your Heart"
"I'm the Man Who Loves You"
"Poor Places"

The other moment I want to mention is Laurie Anderson's performances in New York on September 19-20, 2001. Though she was ostensibly on tour in support of her lovely August 2001 studio release Life on a String, those songs, in combination with older material (1980's "O Superman" most especially), become quite powerful in this moment. Yet she makes no claims to know or see anything more than anyone else does, as you'll hear in her spoken intro to "Here With You."

Here are those tracks:

"Here With You"
"O Superman"

And here is the first paragraph from her liner notes for this album:
Playing my music on September 19th at Town Hall was one of the most intense evenings I've ever had as a performer. Live music is about being in the present and many people had been living almost exclusively in the present since the 11th of September. The atmosphere in the city was eerie, like during a strange holiday. The driven people in New York had all suddenly experienced enormous fear and uncertainty. Unable to predict, we were simply looking and listening.
Even if you're not a fan of Anderson's music, there's little sense, listening to this, that "you had to have been there." At that point in time, we all were there.

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