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[whitespace] Rude Awakening

As a nation stops and mourns, how can music forge on?

By Gina Arnold

TUESDAY MORNING, 6:30am. The phone rings, and I think, "God damn it! Who'd call me at this hour?" I didn't answer--too pissed off. The message was from my cousin in London, saying something about calling him back, it was urgent. I'm thinking, "How urgent can it be? I'm nursing, for God's sake!"

But when the phone rang again a few minutes later, I figured I'd better pick it up. It was my sister-in-law, assuring me that, as of a few moments before, my brother--who works at the American Stock Exchange next door to the World Trade Center in New York City--was fine.

Well, thank God for cell phones--an invention I had previously despised--for not even leaving me in doubt for a single moment. By the time I heard about the disaster, my brother was already walking up the West Side Highway, covered head to foot in dust.

As an offering, my little family went to the blood bank to give blood. Two of us weren't allowed to give, but it felt good to be there anyway. At one point some bummy-looking guy with three-day stubble approached us and started babbling, rather amusingly, at my baby. It took me a second to realize it was Robin Williams.

That day, Sept. 11, felt a lot like the day after the Loma Prieta earthquake. My neighborhood cafe was as crowded as it is on Saturdays. Buses kept coming by as full as at rush hour--only going the wrong direction for the time of day--transporting people sent home from work.

Later on, I took the baby for a walk in the park and it was full of joggers and bikers and such. People sat on their stoops chatting to their friends, or went visiting for reassurance, because no one really wanted to be alone.

Work was out of the question. There was no way, for instance, that I could write pithy little sentences about Bob Dylan, nor could I call strangers up and interview them about the future of Internet radio. These days "the future" is way too loaded a term.

I WASN'T THE ONLY ONE who felt that perhaps rock music was kind of a trivial thing to be thinking about. The band Weezer, which was scheduled to play in San Jose Tuesday night, did too.

Here's what the band posted on its website the following day: "Like you, we've all been following the story of these horrifying acts of terrorism, and we are all just as stunned and shocked as you. Normal life stuff, including the very act of being in a touring rock band, seems incredibly strange. Everyone feels terrible for the victims of this, and a sense of frustrating anger over an inability to do anything about it. It certainly felt proper to cancel the San Jose show and hopefully reschedule it for an upcoming date."

The band goes on to say that it isn't sure whether it should play the next night's scheduled Oakland show, assuming it was allowed, but that it had decided that "the show must go on."

The post continues: "I think Rivers summed it up best, when he said, 'I want to do something about all this, but the only thing I can do is play music.' ... We all feel sad, we all feel terrible for those who have been lost and those who lost them, but it feels wrong to just do nothing. So, again, assuming Oakland allows for it, we will be there, rocking for you as hard as we can. We hope you can join us, and we understand and apologize if you can't."

And it's true. What can one do under the circumstances but forge on, forge on? But it's hard, after years of living a frivolous life, to suddenly become serious and sensitive. Everyone has their little selfish thoughts (mine was, God, I hope the diaper service comes to us tomorrow as usual).

Some people's selfish thoughts are dumber than most. The stupid rock musician who lives next door to me was so worried that his tour would be canceled, or that no one would show up to the shows anymore.

I was disgusted by that attitude, and I doubt he has much to worry about, anyway: There's a theory in the world that hard times are good for entertainment and for art, as people drown their sorrows in escapism. Movies thrived in the Depression, and the Vietnam war sure bumped up the quality of rock & roll, as did the Reagan-Bush era's anti-working-class policies and the subsequent Gulf War recession.

HEY, MAYBE we're in for another creative period, music-wise, although, if so, I bet it comes from hip-hop, not folk or rock. Maybe music will even get political again, but I don't know: It seems to me that it's a cowardly new world where all bets are off.

Everything might be different this time, now that we're at war with an enemy we can't fathom, a war we can never win. I'd like to think that rock will comfort and assuage us in the coming weeks and months, but the truth is it sort of turns me off right now, born as it was of 50 years of peace, frivolity, willful ignorance and disengagement.

I imagine life in these United States will become much like what it was in England until the most recent cease-fire: bomb scares at the airport, on the Tube, in Harrods and in the pubs all the time; abandoned purses and suitcases blown up by the police; a general feeling of unease in crowds and airplanes, for life everlasting, amen.

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From the September 20-26, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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