Till My Head Falls Off 9.14.02: Now What?

For your listening pleasure: Various Artists: America: Tribute to Heroes

Airplanes as missiles, missing the point

Flying through hearts, hardly piercing souls

Fear and confusion, using tears to wake up

Run from surreal, merely wishing things whole

Comforting brothers, others try to forget

Bleeding ‘til tired, tied up to ideals

Hope for the answers, ask when it will end

Wanting excuses, escaping from what’s real

– mb, 9.11.02

Okay now that that’s out of the way…

It’s rather difficult putting together a music column with the anniversary of September 11 looming. When throwing around topics, the first things that came to mind were:

• “Hey, Matt. Everyone’s thinking about 9/11, so why don’t you just write about something completely unrelated, or wax philosophic about pop music again?”

• “Matt, here’s an idea: how about doing a ‘reader feedback’ column, where you copy-and-paste what everyone else thought about your last few columns?”

• “Why not just do a Top Ten list of some kind?”

Needless to say, all three sounded very appealing as I sat watching ceremonies, memorials, interviews, speeches and concerts commemorating the shit that went down a year ago.

I decided to put off the Top Ten list until next week (stay tuned, kids, ‘cause Matt’s “Top Ten Albums I Don’t Own” is on the way, complete with a link directing you to my Amazon.com wishlist!). And I realized that no one really cares about the feedback my mom emailed to me after my last column (“Matt, great work! I love you! Love, Mom”). What about the past year in pop music though? When I thought about it, it hit me. The “shift” I wrote about – that next big thing, if you will pardon the cliché – will probably end up being directly related to what happened on September 11, 2001.

Let’s see… what trends in art and entertainment have we seen over the past year? Do we want to watch Reality Television or soap operas that allow us an escape from reality? Do we want to see paintings and photographs or the World Trade Center in flames or of harmless celebrities and landscapes? Do we want to listen to punks screaming about conspiracy or Britney Spears singing about how no one loves her anymore?

Big social change always ends up being reflected in art and entertainment. One of my readers actually made a great point regarding this when responding to my pop column (okay, so I lied, here’s some reader feedback):

From: drumsac@hotmail.com

To: Moodspins@aol.com

I had a theory some years back that I often explained to my friends, which you have touched on: every ten years or so, usually but not necessarily in the middle of the decade, there is a major turning point in music, which usually coincides with some sort of shift in the world at large.

30s: the great depression and the rise of the swing bands.

40s: WWII and bebop.

50s: beginning of the cold war and rock and roll.

Turmoil/war of the 60s: Beatles, Dylan and acid rock.

In the 70s it was Altamont and heavy metal; Watergate, the oil embargo and punk rock.

In the 80s, while Wall Street boomed and the inner cities were falling prey to gangs and drug dealers, hip-hop was born.

The 90s gave us another recession, war and much darker music than the hair metal that came before. All of these things lasted for about five years before running out of creative steam and yielding to cheesy pop, whether it was Frankie Avalon in the 50s or Britney Spears in the 90s. Popular music, it seems to me, is a reflection of what’s happening in the world, and the circle still remains unbroken.

When we were in school, I watched the rise of the Spice Girls and all who followed, and wondered aloud, what will the stimulus be for the next changing of the guard? Great art comes from great adversity, or so it seems. Now here we are. None of us expected September 11th, but as soon as it happened, it was startlingly obvious that the mechanism of change in popular culture was set in motion once again. How could it not be? It can’t happen right away, of course. Britney will probably continue to have hits for a little while longer, just like Winger still stayed on the charts for a minute or two after Nirvana broke. The change starts underground, like you hinted at. The Strokes, the White Stripes, whatever – they are only the beginning. They were already at it before this happened. The real first wave of 9/11 bands are still in the garage, practicing their licks and writing their songs. But have no fear: they’re coming.

Well said, Jason, you’re definitely onto something.

I’m starting to feel that, initially, post-9/11 we went to what was comfortable… the old favorites like Bruce, U2, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, The Who, Billy Joel, etc. were doing the “feel-good” thing better than anyone else. These guys are pros as making the kind of music that ANYONE can embrace when in need of a pick-me-up; the “new acts” just aren’t there yet. Note to Ryan Adams: sorry, man, as cool as that video was, and has nice a hook your song had, you’re just not there yet.

No, not all of us wanted to feel good. We saw our country attacked for the first time in OUR lifetime, and wanted to scream our f*cking lungs off. System of a Down won album of the year from Spin Magazine for that reason, P.O.D. rocked out with songs that really helped a lot of us, and if Rage Against the Machine was around, well, it would have been a whole new ballgame. I personally dusted off my grunge CDs and called on some good old teenage angst from ten years ago…

As for albums released in 2002, to me, three stand out above the rest:

• Bruce Springsteen, The Rising – the man finally came out with something not only listenable (can you tell I’m not his biggest fan?), but his best album in years, and one that really hits the nail right on the head with respect to how an average American has felt over the last year;

• Eminem, The Eminem Show – as much of a jerk as he may be, Marshall’s got rage, passion, and heart… and the kids feel him. A great CD to blast out your windows when you want to just tell everyone else to f*ck off; and

• Joey Ramone, Don’t Worry About Me – it’s AMAZING to me how, practically on his deathbed, this rock icon was able to write such an incredible album, filled with feeling, fun, and hope. The one CD I bought this year that I can listen to over and over again.

Will there be a new crop of artists, a new genre even, directly impacted by 9/11, to break through from the underground in the next year? My guess is we won’t really know the true impact of this tragedy on music for a little while longer. What we do know is – even a year later – we’re far from a healed society, and we can use all the help we can get. God bless, and keep your ears open… something’s bound to creep in that’ll help you escape from everything, if even for three and a half minutes at a time.

peace. love. moe. paul.

– Matt

Send feedback to Matthew Michaels at moodspins@aol.com.

Matthew Michaels is one of the original editors of Pulse Wrestling, and was founding editor of Inside Fights and of Inside Pulse Music.