Saturday, September 13, 2008

On Terror

Steinski- "Number Three on Flight Eleven"

I‘ve been thinking about September 11th recently. The seven year anniversary recently occurred, of course, and with it came a slew of execrably silly tributes, from Second Life to a silver $20 commemorative bill. I’m not from New York. I grew up in Northern Arizona, but, like probably everyone in America, I remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard what was going on. It was a school day. I was a freshman in high school and my father grabbed me as I was getting out of the shower and told me that something had happened. That we needed to turn on the news. Initially, when only the first plane hit the first tower, the situation was still very unclear. Most people were under the impression that it had simply been an accident, and that was that. But then the second tower was hit. And I remember distinctly being in my living room, listening to a report from someone inside the Pentagon when there were conflicting stories as to whether or not a plane had crashed there, as well. Of course, as we all now know, it had.

I went to school that day. What else was I to do? My friends and I all stood and talked in hush tones before class. We knew that something big was happening, but we weren’t exactly sure what this would mean. Every class watched the news all day. There was nothing else to do.

Again, I am from a small town, and while I’ve been to New York a number of times when I was younger with my parents to see the requisite Broadway show, I don’t necessarily feel a deep connection to that city. But that’s really beside the point. What matters is that the meaning of New York changed along with the skyline, and I feel that the United States is still in a process of understanding what that means. Every time I watch a movie or TV show set in New York that was filmed before 2001 I also notice how the towers are still in the frame. It’s always a conscious thing that I watch out for. Which is ironic, honestly, because before Sept 11 I wouldn’t’ve been able to name those buildings. Now all one needs to say is “the towers” and the nation – if not the whole world – knows what is meant.

I know people, though, who grew up in the city, and I’ve heard stories of men walking up from downtown covered head to toe in ash. About how the subways and busses weren’t running because no one knew what was going on, and how every missed call seemed like an emergency where families would be lost. Even in my small town, panic had set in. People at school were worried that a terrorist attack would happen at the local university’s sports dome. It’s actually silly, but no one knew what was going on. It wasn’t really a sense of terror, but instead a sort of realization that bad things could happen. Something unknowable had been made real, and in the face of that no one really knew what to do.

I’ve been listening to the Steinski song that he made as a tribute to Sept 11, “Number Three on Flight Eleven”, which used the voice recording of an airline stewardess on one of the flights talking about what’s going on. It’s a poignant, terrifying piece, and it’s really affecting. It’s interesting to note not just the extent to which Sept 11 changed the national-political worldview (in terms of rhetoric as well as foreign policy) or subtly changes cultural pieces (where art starts developing new themes of paranoia and fear of the Other), but also how pieces explicitly about Sept 11 are framed. From The Rising to Pete Miser’s “Might Be” to Talib Kweli’s “The Proud” (which places Sept 11 in a narrative of the breakdown of the American conscience stretching through the Oklahoma City bombing through the murder of Amadou Diablo by NYPD), not to mention things like United 93 or The 9/11 Commission Report, the outright confrontation of a specific moment in our history is usually treated with mourning and sadness.

A common trend in our contemporary historical narrative which I personally cannot stand is to look at historical moments as breaking points; to assume that the there was a “pre-event” and a “post-event” world, and that one specific incident caused a rift. Of course history is contingent on a multitude of factors (in this instance the US hostilities that arguably led to Sept 11, the institution of FAA flight regulation, the establishing of an Israeli state, etc…), but that doesn’t change the fact that cultural products still function this way. History is seen and interpreted as a series of moments that change the course of life in between them.

What I really want to say here, though, is that before Sept 11 New York, to me, was Lou Reed and the Ramones. It was CGBG and the Factory scene and club kids and the Lower East Side. Afterwards it was gentrification in Brooklyn and Vice Magazine. These things, probably, are independent of the events of Sept 11 (in the way that anything can be independent of anything else), but to me, as an outsider, a teenager at that, only looking through a narrow window of cultural production, New York changed. Through !!! songs and, yes, Vice Magazine I hear about the glories of “Old New York,” before Giuliani and the cabaret laws and the lack of hookers on 41st streets (is that where they used to be?). I heard “53rd and 3rd” and “Waiting for the Man” and Biggie and heard about Basquiat and Bob Dylan’s Village and thought that that’s how the city used to be: a treasure trove of independent artists and thinkers and drugs and parties and it’s scary and it’s threatening but it makes you real. Now all I hear about is that LCD Soundsystem song “New York I Love You” (the next line to which is, of course, “but you’re bringing me down”) and about how I’ll never be able to live in Manhattan because I can’t afford it, and even most of the rest of the city is off limits. I hear about Marc Jacobs stores and how they’re closing McCarren Park Pool to (OMG Can You Believe It?!?!?!?) make t a pool again. New York has changed, from my perspective. And though I’ve never lived there I’ve seen it crumble.

How I long for New York.

1 comment:

Gretchen said...

1st period, German class with Mr. Effingham at South Oldham High School, freshman year. He made some joke about how we'd all better sign up for the army or go to Canada (something about a draft).

Hmm, for some reason the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are what I think of when I hear NYC. I always forget that Dylan and The Beatles (or Lennon at least) lived there. Even bands that I know live there, who have albums named after boroughs (like They Might Be Giants) don't make me think of New York.