“New York, New York”

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It’s that time of year again.  Fifteen years later, and I still cannot wrap my head around what happened.  I’ll never be able to.  I’ll never understand why anyone would hate so much that they would kill themselves just to try to destroy the thing they hate.  I’ve been angry; I’ve even hated some people and ideals.  But I will never comprehend that level of pure, unadulterated hate.

I do not believe politics and religion should have anything to do with each other (and neither did America’s Founding Fathers), but this op-ed from the Los Angeles Times today tries to clarify why many Muslims do.  There is no separation between civic law and religious law for them.  That’s cool.  That’s why Muslim countries are what they are.  But it doesn’t explain why some zealots decided to impose their version of Islam on everyone else, why the destruction of everything they did not agree with became their sole cause.  Blaming every other Muslim for these lunatics is not the way to end terrorism.  That is just more hatred I do not understand.

On this day fifteen years ago, the United States was ushered into a world that most other nations had been living in for decades.  It is a world of fear and worry and, yes, hatred.  It is poisonous, and you only have to look at the current election cycle to see what it has done to us.  I am ashamed of all the people who think the Republican candidate is right.  They are giving in to their anger and hatred.  They are letting their fear win over any possibility of hope or peace.  They are the most un-American Americans I have ever seen.

It’s hard to remember the world before 9/11.  It’s hard to remember a time when a football player’s peaceful protest became headline news (seriously, there are WAY more important things going on).   It’s difficult to visualize a world where we weren’t looking for bombs in every forgotten bag and backpack.  It’s hard to picture the New York skyline without that huge scar of blank space on it.  (Yes, they’ve built a new tower, but it just isn’t the same; it never will be again.)  That’s partly why I chose Ryan Adams’ “New York, New York” as my song this year.  It was filmed right before the attacks, and you can see the World Trade Center towers standing tall and proud.

But there’s another, more important reason I chose this particular song.  It’s one of two that thoroughly embodies my emotions surrounding 9/11–the other is Bruce Springsteen’s elegiac “My City of Ruins”.  A huge part of my love for this song is tied up in its connection to this life-changing event.  But unlike the Springsteen song, it is not filled with sadness, it is not mourning what is gone.  It is full of optimism and joy and life.  Adams wrote the song long before 9/11; it has absolutely no thematic connection with what happened.  The video was filmed before the attacks; the only reason a disclaimer had to be added was because it was obviously released after everything was irrevocably damaged.  “New York, New York” is a love song–although whether it is for a person or the place is both unclear and irrelevant.  Yes, the singer had his heart broken, but he isn’t going to let that stop him.  He isn’t wallowing in his grief and pain.  He declares “hell, I still love you New York.”

“Love won’t play any games with you any more if you don’t want ’em to.”  Love does not lie.  It can be a little misguided, and it can hurt sometimes.  But it is the only truth any person will ever need in this, or any other, lifetime.  Love builds space inside your heart for the whole universe.  Love lets you see the world from all other perspectives.  You might get angry sometimes.  You are definitely going to be sad and scared.  But love will always shine a light that leads you out of the darkness.

So I wish for the same thing I wish for every year on this day: that we all just love each other.  Don’t give in to hate and fear.  Don’t build any walls.  Don’t stop people from coming to this country.  Don’t ban ideas.  Stop bombing people.  Stop shooting people.  Just stop.  Listen to what the other side says.  Learn about their culture and religion, and teach them about yours.  Prove that you are not trying to destroy them.  Prove that you really believe in the Enlightenment ideals this country was founded on.  If we handed out food and books and medicine more often, maybe the kind of hatred that flourishes in some places would just die out.  Because nothing kills hatred like love.

I’ll always love you New York.  I’ll always love the whole world, no exceptions.

 

“Wonderwall”

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This is simply a great song.  The original Oasis version was released in 1995, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s the only song Noel Gallagher wrote that was worth anything.  It is a soaring, searing tempest-in-a-teapot of a song.  I’m not sure if I’m supposed to feel hope or despair, if this is song about salvation or destruction.  There’s an edge in Liam Gallagher’s voice, a longing in the acoustic guitar and strings.  It’s the phone call you just missed, the connection cut just as you said hello.  Nothing feels resolved.  “And all the roads we have to walk are winding.  And all the lights that lead the way are blinding.  There are many things that I would like to say to you, but I don’t know how.  Because maybe, you’re gonna be the one that saves me.  And after all, you’re my wonderwall.”

Usually, the original is the best version, although occasionally the cover supersedes it for some reason.  Rarely does it become a different song altogether.  But that’s what happens here.  In 2003, Ryan Adams released a cover of “Wonderwall” that rivals the original.  Adams strips it down, layers it with echoey, ghostly strings/synths that fill his version with dread and desperation.  (Okay, the dread and desperation are in the original, too, but Adams takes out the anger and pushes these feeling to the forefront.)  The best word I can think of to describe Adams’ version is spooky.  This is the long walk through the dark woods of the soul.  Lying in the dark at 3:00 AM, the only light in the room from a half-moon and the cigarette you’re smoking.  Thinking about all the things you fear and regret.  “And all the roads we have to walk are winding.  And all the lights that lead the way are blinding.  There are many things that I would like to say to you, but I don’t know how.  And after all, you’re my wonderwall.”

“New York, New York”

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Just before the world changed, a mostly unknown young musician stood in front of the New York Skyline to film a video for his love song to the city so nice they named it twice.

I don’t know if this is apocryphal or not, but I heard somewhere that Ryan Adams and the video crew spent the entire day at that spot under the bridge making that video.  Showed up a sunrise, stayed well into the night.  Even if it’s not true, it makes a great story.  The video itself captures a day in the life of New York City, all the glory of its wonderful chaos and confusion.  People living their lives and going about their business, unaware of how much those lives would change.

I still think the skyline of the city looks weird without the WTC there.  Even though there are memorials and tributes and space being taken up, it’s not the same.  Nothing about the world ever quite felt the same after September 11, 2001.  I still can’t quite wrap my head around what happened.  There’s still something empty inside.  I feel like I’m in the extreme minority of people who can’t understand our response to it.  I’ve never understood how curtailing our own civil liberties, wearing little American flag pins, or waging war on an idea makes us any safer.  We’re not any safer.  We just have an appearance of safety, and a memory of what it was like to feel safe.

Weirdly enough, that’s kind of what the song is about.  It’s the memory of a time that seems better than it really was compared to the way life is now.  Maybe it really was better.  Maybe the love was pure and real.  Maybe the sun was warmer, the food tasted better, and you never woke up hung over.  Maybe not.  Does it really matter in the end?

“Hell, I still love you New York.”