Last Friday was the nineteenth anniversary of the September 11th (or 9/11) attacks, four near-simultaneous aircraft hijackings by terrorists in the US that resulted in an enormous loss of life, and has since stood as a marker of our age, and that has influenced US foreign and domestic policy ever since.
/Tuesday Ten/426/War on Error
/Tuesday Ten/War and Politics
Like pretty much anyone of our generation, I can remember exactly where I was when it happened, as I watched the second tower hit by the plane live on TV in shocked and horrified silence. The loss of life was horrifying, as was what happened after. But also horrifying was the reaction to it. A shocking close-mindedness seemed to wrap many in patriotism rather than rational thought, as knee-jerk reactions caused unnecessary loss of liberty and a further enormous loss of life as military campaigns were unleashed.
The result has been a pandora’s box known as the Global War on Terror. This has unleashed war, death and destruction on Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Syria – turning all five into differing levels of failed states – and affecting a great many other countries near them, not least by drawing other countries into proxy wars, most of which still continue to rage.
Thus, this week is songs about those events. They come from a broadly “liberal” standpoint – from appalled observers like myself, I guess – and I make no apologies for my views and comments here. They are my views alone, and if you disagree, and choose to comment, please be civil about. Any comments about 9/11 conspiracy theories, in particular, will be deleted outright.
What was really interesting, as I dug into my records for songs on the subject, was how almost all of them concentrated on the invasion of Iraq, almost entirely ignoring the invasion of Afghanistan (something that there had been moves toward prior to 9/11, and indeed the country had been the location of a somewhat proxy war between the US and USSR in decades prior).
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/B.O.B. – Bombs over Baghdad
Actually released and written the year before 9/11, it became an uncomfortable “anthem” for those supporting what the US was doing in Iraq – to the clear distaste of Big Boi and Andre 3000 of Outkast. But even then, when commenting on it in 2003, Big Boi had to couch his words very carefully indeed – presumably, lest he was blackballed for daring to criticise what was going on. The song itself remains one of the most thrilling songs by a hip-hop duo in years – blasting through at a breathless pace, covering a host of social ills in the dense lyrics, and inadvertently turning a torch onto what was to come that decade.
Adding one more letter to their titular acronym than OutKast, System of a Down were no strangers to politics and war (staggering first album highlight War? for a start) by the time of the release of Mesmerize, but even so, the lead single B.Y.O.B (Bring Your Own Bombs) was a bracing statement. Here amid melodic breakdowns and frantic mosh-down sections, the band dug into the view that the USA relied on poorer recruits (and indeed ethnic minorities) to fight their wars, and particularly in Iraq, which was still raging at the time of the release of the song.
Intriguingly, as I write, none of the last four Presidents of the US have served in the Military in theatres of war (George W. Bush was the only one with any military service record, and even that was disputed). It took a little while to find data that could prove or disprove what the band were talking about, but in 2018, it is certainly clear that officers are mainly white, while the middle class seem to make up the bulk of recruits – and over the past couple of decades, there have certainly been more minorities serving. Back in Vietnam, the reliance on the poor and minorities was really pronounced.
/Hail to the Thief
Interestingly, there weren’t too many bands in the UK who were willing to stand up and question – at least in the mainstream – what Tony Blair’s Government were doing getting involved in what was increasingly understood to be an illegal invasion of Iraq in the aftermath of 9/11. One band who were, was Radiohead, whose album Hail to the Thief seethed with rage at US and UK actions overseas. The title both refers to a slogan from 1984, but also to how Blair’s Government misused data from a dossier to justify their invasion, something that will stick to Blair’s reputation as long as he is remembered.
/Light It Up
The final full-length album from Stromkern, as it turned out, Light It Up, turned out to be an exceptional, furious retort to the wreckage of US politics and overseas reputation as it stood in 2005 (and despite an improvement during the Obama years, has since plummeted again in the age of Trump). Perhaps the key track was Reminders, where Ned Kirby poured out his frustration at such speed that I’ve never quite been able to work out all the lyrics (particularly as he has never published his full lyrics, either). It begins with cleverly cut-up samples of George W. Bush, reminding the damage that his “retaliation” has done – not least over 200,000 civilian deaths, a military occupation that installed a new Government that then unleashed sectarian strife, and a flood of refugees out of the country.
/Now You’ve Got Something To Die For
/Ashes of the Wake
It long surprised me that there weren’t more metal bands that took on the horrors of what were being perpetrated in their name during the first decade of the Millenium, but one that did was Lamb of God. Their savage single Now You’ve Got Something To Die For was perhaps their best statement on the subject, as Randy Blythe roared his fury at both the religious elements of the invasions, but also that privatisation and profit seemed to be the watchwords of the invasion of Iraq (this intriguing report details just how many private companies were “assisting” the US Government and making fortunes doing so).
There’s been a meme kicking around recently about how a number of prominent, original punks have now lurched to the Right, while Green Day – dismissed as punk upstarts earlier in their career – have been busy donating vast sums to charities and getting involved in politics. They really elevated themselves to that prominence – even though they’d been wildly successful by that point – with American Idiot, where they put into words what many had already been saying: what the fuck had America done in voting in George W. Bush? Head of an administration that was more bothered about settling scores overseas in countries like Iraq than dealing with natural disasters within their own borders, and one that seemed to find adherence to their views more important than facts. Sadly, nothing has changed in the years since, now Trump is in the White House.
For a considerable period in the years after 2001, any comment by anyone that questioned actions that were being taken by the US (and their allies, too) was shouted down by what often felt like blind patriotism. Bands touring the US bore the brunt of this – as did bands like The Chicks, an American trio who dared to speak out and saw themselves effectively blacklisted from radio and TV – and Shihad, a forceful New Zealand rock band, was one such band. They proclaimed their distaste for US actions overseas post-9/11, to find themselves booed and jeered, which only seemed to fan the flames of their ire, and hence this raging song.
One of the darkest stains on humanity from this period – and frankly, it is one of a few – is that of the use of extraordinary rendition, secret detention and torture by the CIA and other agencies assisting them – with the Guantanamo Bay detention camp being the core location for detention and torture. The Rendition Project has done great work in pulling together the various strands so that the full story can be told, along with naming all the names involved.
An element that came out of this appalling chain of events was the use of music – anything from Barney & Friends to Metallica – as an instrument of torture, and it was also revealed that Skinny Puppy’s music was being used. This outraged the band, such that they sued the US Government for $666,000 in a symbolic gesture, and their album Weapon that came out around the same time was seething with political fury – particularly this song, whose refrain noted “This is the criminal age“. Quite.
/Pearls 2 Swine
Another band who in more recent years have been able to assess recent actions from a distance are 3TEETH, although it must be said that they have been perhaps more oblique in their comment than others. That said, their worldview is some way removed from the politics of US leaders in recent years, which they’ve made clear particularly in their videos and imagery, and this really early single from the band – one of the first couple they released – made some jabbing points. This retro-industrial stomp (with a fantastic depth to the production, with stabbing synths and processed guitars set to stun) simply snarls “TERROR” as the chorus, and coupled with the video – images of US military actions overseas, as newscasters and politicians cheer them on and shout “Terrorist!” – pours scorn on the “shock and awe” tactics that did little more than enrage and kill civilians.
/An Evening of New York Songs and Stories
There aren’t many songs that proclaim themselves as being about the aftermath of 9/11 in New York City in particular, but I was struck by this song on Suzanne Vega’s recent and elegant live release, that is themed around her many songs of her adopted home city. I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like to be in the city in the immediate aftermath of what happened, a city covered in dust and in deep shock. Stories of selfless heroism and extraordinary community engagement seeped out amid the chaos, as the residents and workers of that city did what they could to deal with what they were faced with, and helped a city to heal and move on.
This song feels like it skirts around the edges (it was written the year after the event, as I recall), unable to take the enormity of the subject head-on. I’ve visited New York just the once, in late 2016, and we walked around the 9/11 Memorial in silence, overwhelmed by the vast space and seemingly endless list of names of those that perished. But, as well, it was also a time to remember the vast loss of life that this senseless event triggered elsewhere, too, effects that are still being felt in other countries and will do for many years to come.