Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dark & Lovely: The Sound of Hard Times

I'm not sure how yesterday managed to slip my mind.

That's not why I'm writing about it one day late. I did eventually get around to remembering that yesterday was September 11, and technically, when I did, it was still September 10... in New York City. That's one of the beautiful things about living in Bangkok, where it's 11 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. I can remember important days when they're nearly half over and still be pretty much ahead of everyone else back home.

Unfortunately, it didn't really matter that it was well before noon Bangkok time when the significance of the day dawned on me. The gaffe that made me remember it would have been just as embarrassing at any hour. Another ex (not the one who saved my life a few nights ago) was checking in with me on Facebook just as I noticed a reminder in the margin of my homepage that it was his birthday.

"Happy birthday! Do you have any big plans for today?"

I ignored his concern about the latest goings on in my life. It was his day. I was expecting him to tell me about some big bash he had in the works. Instead, he dropped a bomb on me: He stopped celebrating his birthday 11 years ago!

"Why?" I was clueless, in more ways than one.

Then as I was multi-tasking while waiting for a reply, it dawned on me. Finally. It was September 11. For 10 years, I never failed to make the connection, even though he and I broke up in 1999, two years before 9/11. Then the one time when I really needed to remember, I completely blanked. How could I not have known why he would stop making a fuss about his birthday in 2001? It's not like September 11, 2001 is a day I'll ever forget, and not just because of my proximity to Ground Zero at the time.

The aftermath was just as indelible. Of all that I saw and heard and smelled in the weeks that followed, one of the things that still stands out most is an offhand comment made by my friend Dave, who was touched by the outpouring of fraternity and solidarity and appalled by the gross opportunism. I mean, the very idea of selling souvenirs commemorating a day in which so many lives were lost!

"This tragedy is really bringing out the best and the worst in people," he declared, hitting home. He was right. I thought of what he said again 10 days later while I was watching America: A Tribute to Heroes, a celebrity telethon providing relief to victims of 9/11. In this case, tragedy was bringing out the best in everyone, and most importantly, the best in music. Songs always have been a healing force in my life, but music is perhaps most powerful when it serves as a universal healer, as it was on the following special occasions.

"Wish You Were Here" Fred Durst and Johnny Rzeznick I was never a fan of Limp Bizkit or Goo Goo Dolls, so I had absolutely no reason to expect that the teaming of both bands' frontmen on a Pink Floyd classic would provide my favorite moment of America: A Tribute to Heroes.

"One" U2 and Mary J. Blige Another unexpected teaming floored me four years later on Shelter from the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast, another celebrity telethon, this one benefiting victims of Hurricane Katrina. Listen closely. Despite the misleading title, the 1991 U2 hit has nothing to do with the brotherhood of man. The angry, biting, withering indictment that are its lyrics completely went over my head until the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul had her way with them.

"You'll Never Walk Alone" Barbra Streisand The only two things I remember about the delayed Emmy Awards telecast after 9/11 are that Ellen Degeneres hosted it and Barbra Streisand stole it.

"What a Wonderful World" Esperanza Spalding Speaking of thieves who steal the show... I didn't think I needed to hear another cover of the Louis Armstrong classic or anything by the 2011 Best New Artist Grammy winner until they both gave everyone watching the In Memoriam segment at the 2012 Oscar ceremony the best reason possible for holding the applause until the very end.

"Take My Hand, Precious Lord" Mahalia Jackson The one great thing about growing up going to a black church was the "song service," which, every Sunday, I never wanted to end. It's probably one reason why I have such a huge appreciation today for gospel music and the immense talent of its greatest ambassador ever, Mahalia Jackson, who sang this classic hymn at the 1968 funeral of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"We Are the World" USA for Africa Nearly 30 years later, Ray Charles still kills me at 6:30.

"Why Not Smile" R.E.M. I always thought this offered a much stronger incentive to live than "Everybody Hurts." My ex reminded me of its powerful opening line yesterday when our conversation shifted to R.E.M.'s Up, an underrated 1998 album that flopped several months after we met. "The concrete broke your fall." Positively chilling.

"Bridge Over Troubled Water" Aretha Franklin A similar sentiment first expressed by Simon & Garfunkel in 1970, then totally nailed the following year by the Queen of Soul.

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