The Day After

I don’t mean to be insensitive. Sometimes I get so busy that I don’t even look at the date for days at a time. This can’t be good, but I was surprised when the anniversary of 9/11 caught me completely unawares this year. That’s the kind of summer it’s been. Not acknowledging 9/11 to New Yorkers is like making ethnic jokes—it’s inherently offensive. The City is always subdued on this date of infamy. Coming the same week as Labor Day this year, I think my timing was just off. In my family, September was always the month of birthdays. My present to my brother of the 12th was late in 2001. I wanted to find something old. Something solid. Something time-honored. I wanted a sense of stability to return to a chaotic world. Being an inveterate fossil collector, I went to a local rock shop and bought him a fossilized cepholapod shell. It wasn’t much, but it was a message and a metaphor.

Today, being a birthday and a day after, feels a little like an apology to me. At the time of 9/11 I knew a few colleagues teaching in New York, but in 2001 I’d not really known the city. I’d visited a few times. I was still employed, although my personal career trauma was, unknown to me, already underway. And looking at the state of the world some fourteen years later, I wonder how much better things are. We haven’t suddenly improved, and as a nation we seem more deeply divided than ever. Candidates who resemble their caractitures more than actual people frighten me. The rhetoric is a sermon of doom. Have we all forgotten how that morning felt?

Television reception was poor, or it may have been the tears falling from my eyes as I watched, at the safe distance of Wisconsin. We’d just sent our daughter off on the school bus and now wanted her back home. I called my brother in Pittsburgh in a panic. The news had said a plane had crashed in southern Pennsylvania somewhere. It seemed the the possibilities of horror were endless that day. And yet. I awoke yesterday fretting over work. My mourning routine was harried and frantic. I didn’t even know what day it was. I glanced a paper headline on the way to work and realized that I’d overslept a tragedy. Some scars never heal. Those wounds cut by religion are the deepest. So we find ourselves on the nexus of a tragedy, a birthday, and a new year. How we respond is entirely up to us.


Good Book, Bad Seeds

A gray day in September. Nowhere to go, nothing to do. A stark melancholy races on the winds of a distant nor’easter. It is a perfect day for The Boatman’s Call.

Searching for land

Searching for land

I have to admit up front that I found out about Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds from the Shrek movies. The soundtrack crew from the first two movies did their homework exceptionally well, tapping some truly desultory, lugubrious tunes from artists who don’t make the top twenty. I was so taken by “People Ain’t No Good” that as soon as I could afford it I purchased the album (The Boatman’s Call, not Shrek II). The album begins with the line “I don’t believe in an interventionist God, but I know darling that you do . . .” Throughout the album the achingly sacred and profoundly profane are blended in an eerily subdued way. The music is haunting and thought-provoking. Almost each track on the album has a biblical reference, but these references are mixed with what would be crude if handled with any less artistry.

All that I know about Nick Cave is what I’ve read on Wikipedia, but it is clear that he is well versed in the Bible and makes effective, if dark, use of religious imagery. Perhaps the reason I admire this album so much is that Cave’s ambivalence toward religious structures is so honest. He isn’t out to convert anyone, nor is he willing to let go of his religion. The religion that wafts out of the drafty attic of this disc mirrors the complexity that faith ought to possess. Especially on a dark and rainy autumn day.