The Friday Morning Listen, 9/11 Special Edition: Greg Brown - In the Hills of California (2004)


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By Mark Saleski

OK, so tomorrow is the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. This has been approaching and I'd been hoping to have something enlightening to say about it, but so far...well...let's just say that I'm still waiting for some inspiration.

Also, let's just say that current invents in this country have not exactly been helping matters.

But before I get to that, let me refresh my own thoughts from that day. I was at work and an email flashed up (from a colleague who was working at home) that a plane had hit one of the towers. My first mental image was of a Cessna-type craft with its nose poking through one of the building's windows. I thought, “How the hell did that happen?" A while later, another email reported the second impact. There was obviously something big going on. I stayed at the office until about four in the afternoon, alternating between work tasks and attempts at gleaning more information from the faltering Internet. The photos were stunning. The surreal level increased as the day went on.

During the days that followed, I was even more stunned by the sense of togetherness. People were banding together, encouraging donations of all sorts, from money to supplies to blood. We actually drew together as a nation. It was an odd and rare feeling.

But then...other things started to happens. Cries for death to the “towel-heads." There were pickup trucks in my town driving around flying both American flags and anti-Arab slogans.

That was when we took down the American flag from the corner of the house. Obviously, something else was going on.

All of these years later and those feelings are discordance and disharmony are stronger than ever. To describe the political climate as “polarized" doesn't really come close to the truth of the matter. I am told that things are no worse than they were a couple of hundred years ago. That might be true, but even if the rhetoric was as bad then as now, we did not have the Internet back then. We did not have the 24/7 “news" cycle. Maybe we had the cynicism. I don't know.

What I do know is that some of the current political sentiments, events, utterances, and attitudes have me embarrassed to be from this country. I sort of hate to say that, but it's true. The anti-everything blather, the ignorance, the abject disregard for the truth...it's sickening. Politics? Leave me out of it. I used to think that voting made a difference. I bought the line about the privilege. Now I look at how campaigns are run, with the influence of money and the “successful" outcomes derived from “going negative..."and I want nothing to do with it. Last week during my drive to work, I saw a man who was running for office, standing on the sidewalk in the middle of a bridge holding his sign and waving to all of the passing motorists. I realized that I had no respect for what he was doing. It seems that when you run for any office, you'll put up with a certain level of dishonesty to get what you want. Again, please leave me out of it.

There has been a lot of ranting recently about “taking back" the country. The irony level is off the charts. At a rally at the Lincoln Memorial, a feat of political alchemy was performed, restoring honor to the country with equal measures of ignorance, arrogance, and spit. I was born here and yet I feel like an alien.

All of this reminds me of how I felt on the night of the start of the war in Iraq. I was at a Greg Brown show on the New Hampshire seacoast. Word reached the theatre that military actions had commenced. Greg played “Homeland (I Want My Country Back)." It made us all shake. It still does:
I want my country back
and a good dream to stand up for.
Got my hand over my heart,
but I don't feel at home here anymore

Big, big flag above the big, big mall,
and the shake rattle and roll to the core.
Things sprawl after they fall,
and I don't feel at home here anymore

Homeland of Sojourner Truth
and Chief Joseph before,
Many quiet words of wisdom drowned out by TV
and I don't feel at home here anymore.

Blind engineer, war train on the track,
many many a heart is sore.
We want our country back;
we want to feel at home here once more.

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