Mournful tunes

Quite without meaning to, I’ve built up a liturgy of mournful tunes and made a habit of listening to them every year on the eleventh of September.  Three of them are from Tom Waits; I listened to both “The Fall of Troy” and “Yesterday is Here” on 11 September 2001, and was struck by how well lines like “There’s a world where nothing grows” (from “The Fall of Troy”) and “Today’s grey skies, tomorrow is tears,/ you’ll have to wait til yesterday is here” (from “Yesterday is Here”) fit the events of that day.  I also tried to listen to “Jersey Girl” that day, but it hit a bit too close to home; I still cry when I hear that song, but not so hard that I can’t hear it.

Two other songs I listened to that day have also become part of my annual liturgy.  One is by Phranc, the “all-American Jewish lesbian folk singer.”  It’s her remembrance of her brother Gary Gottlieb, who was murdered in 1997.  Another is “Deportee,” with lyrics by Woody Guthrie and music by Martin Hoffman, about a group of people who died in a plane crash in 1948 while being deported from the USA.  That day I played an old record I had of Guthrie himself singing it; I can’t find that recording online, but here’s a link to Joan Baez doing her version of the song.

Twice already on this site I’ve posted about Martin Espada’s poem “Alabanza,” a tribute to the 43 members of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 100 who died that morning after reporting to work at the Windows on the World restaurant in the World Trade Center.    I still think it is the best 9/11 poem.  Since most of those 43 had Spanish names, the chorus of “Deportee” (“Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,/ Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria “) reminds me of them, and of Mr Espada’s poem.

My favorite patriotic song, aside from “The Star Spangled Banner,” is “The House I Live In”; Paul Robeson’s recording of it usually helps me to remember that September 11, 2001 was a day when ordinary citizens rose to extraordinary challenges. That’s a lesson the USA’s political leaders, military officer class, and securocrats of various stripes have spent the last eleven years working feverishly to obscure, but the record of the day’s events is unequivocally clear.  American national treasure Rebecca Solnit and Tom Engelhardt wrote admirably succinct articles about this a few years ago, which I noted at the time and which repay reading today.

It may not qualify as patriotism, but it is at least stereotypically American to commemorate sad public events with a performance of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings.  I’m particularly fond of this recording of the piece, from the Los Angeles Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

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