Thursday, September 10, 2009

GMVW # 88: "This Machine Kills Fascists"

Gem Music Video of the Week # 88:  This Machine Kills Fascists
Song:  Where  the Streets Have No Name by U2
(Songwriter: Bono)
September 10, 2009

Few historical events in a lifetime are so extraordinary that they induce instant recall when reflected on.  Going back a generation or four, I’m willing to bet there’s a near unanimous ability for Americans of those bygone eras to nail down the time and place they were when they heard the news of Pearl Harbor, VJ Day, and JFK’s assassination. 

Eight years ago, September 11, 2001, most of us had our first encounter with an event of this magnitude.  There was nothing even remotely comparable.  It shattered our sense of reality.  Life has not been quite the same since.

The days and weeks immediately following 9/11 were, to put it mildly, intense.  Everyone seemed to be walking on eggshells.  Little flags decorated most cars in a display of patriotism.  Normally comedic talk show hosts were devoid of humor.  Days seemed dreary and nights felt darker than before.  Despite the efforts of Hollywood types, musicians, and political leaders it appeared nothing could be done to help us recover from what happened.  The country was in universal mourning and on the brink of despair.

At the same time, there was plenty of debate about how to respond to the attacks.  I was driving down Rte 128 later that fateful month, when I spotted a pickup truck with a large handmade banner in the flatbed reading “Kill all Arabs!”.  I looked over at the guy driving the car as I passed him by.  He stared at me as if to say “you got a problem with that?”.  It was a tough pill to swallow:  I was on the same team as this guy?

The experience got me thinking: 9/11 was horrible in so many ways, but as happens with all crises, it brought out either the best or worst in us.  What I really saw in that man was fear, and it was something I saw and heard from others in not so blatant ways over those weeks and months following the tragedy.  I admit to some of it myself.  But fear is a dangerous thing.  It stems from ignorance and often leads to vengeance and hatred.  Yes, there no doubt was a need for justice….but not hatred.  That’s what those who aimed the planes and coordinated the attack had in them.  To react in a similar manner would make us no better.  ** Side note: I once heard it said that the term ‘hate crime’, used by media types is a misnomer.  The suggested replacement:  ‘ignorance crime’.  I concur **

It’s difficult, but not impossible to rise above fear and hatred in such times.  The USA had done it before in its history.  Since the repercussions of 9/11 still linger, I think it’s too soon to tell if we will do it again.  The country is way too polarized today.  Joe McCarthy-like finger pointing and mistrust is standard fodder on our airways.  Hopefully, rational, well meaning, peace loving minds will ultimately prevail.

Healing and unity were a long time coming after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington D.C.  The first ray of light for me was a month later, when the ‘Concert for New York’ took place.  Most of the acts were not quite ready for prime time yet, but The Who were.  Their four-song set (one of Entwistle’s last shows) in front of the surviving NY Police and Fire Departments (taking up all of the first 20 or so rows) was exceptional.  The Madison Square Garden crowd reaction was uplifting to those of us who watched on TV.  Once again, the music prevailed.  It seemed the healing had begun, but there was still a long way to go.  Several more months passed, and expectation of a truly uniting moment passed with them. 

This brings me to football. 
Yes, football. 

First I need to rewind.  After a one week hiatus immediately following 9/11, the NFL kicked its schedule back into forward motion.  For New Englanders, the 2001 NFL season was to prove far from business as usual.  The Patriots, with a history more bizarre than the Bad News Bears, were climbing the ladder of success, lead by an amazing coach who ran a team that insisted on being introduced…. as a team.

After a great regular season run and two action packed playoff games (including the unforgettable ‘Snow Bowl’ game against the Raiders and the Troy Brown-dominated AFC Championship game against the Steelers), the Pats found themselves in the unlikeliest of places: The Super Bowl, against the heavily favored St. Louis Rams (“The Greatest Show on Turf”).  The Patriots surprised everyone, dominating most of the game.  The final score was not a true barometer of the lopsided play, with the Pats winning on a last second field goal.  Football’s ugly duckling reigned supreme! (much to the disgust of the powers-that-be).  ‘Team’ and ‘Unity’ were the key themes in this story.

But what was almost as memorable as the game itself (perhaps more memorable for those who were not fans of the Rams or the Pats) was the half-time show.  Most Super Bowl half-time shows up to that point were, for the most part, forgettable, over dramatized events. 

Not this time. 

With the names of the September 11 victims scrolling on a Twin Tower-like screen behind them, U2 performed ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ (this week’s Gem) with all the emotion and passion a band can bring to the stage.  As the song reached its climax, the names listed on the screen collapsed in an eerie but powerful moment of flashback.  The performance was intense, classy, and unifying.  These 4 lads from Ireland hit all the right notes, showing their respect, admiration and solidarity for the United States in 11 short minutes (which included a second song ‘Beautiful Day’).  Strangely enough, an unlikely event (The Super Bowl) and an unlikely group (a band from another country), allowed us to emerge from darkness. At least that’s the way I felt. 

There’s a great old photo of Woody Guthrie with a guitar slung over his shoulder on which are written the words: “This Machine Kills Fascists”…..that’s what U2 pulled off that day.  At the very least, they made democracy a little stronger. “Where the Streets Have No Name” is a song U2 have played at virtually every one of their shows since they penned it.  The song was written at the height of unrest in Northern Ireland, and envisions a Belfast where street signs do not distinguish Catholic streets from Protestant ones.  It’s a song that tries to break down prejudice-centric barriers between people.  Love thy neighbor.

After the Super Bowl, Bob Kraft, the Pats owner, said to the crowd “We are all Patriots here”.  One pundit rhetorically posed the question: “What if the Rams had won?  Would their owner have stated ‘We are all Goats here’?”

I guess even the wonderfully warped American sense of humor started making a comeback around that time too.

The Gem Video link is of U2’s performance at the Super Bowl that year.  The second url link is a ‘Thank You’ of sorts from the NY Police and Fire Departments to The Who at the Kennedy Center Honors last year (if you have not seen this, you have to wait to the end of the song to see what I mean). 

- Pete

Gem Video: U2: ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’

Rob Thomas (and guests) performing ‘Baba O’Riley’ at the Kennedy Center Honors last year.  His performance of 'Baba O'Riley' is the fourth and last of the partial Who songs covered in tribute to The Who, all on this link (I could not find the isolated Thomas cover of 'Baba O'Riley).  The 3rd tribute song was an earlier Gem.

About the Video: U2 Live at the Super Bowl, Feb, 2002

Video Rating: 1

Best Feedback: Dad

And Steve:

Great write up Pete! Today we pay our respects to those that fell on 9/11. You are right, the world has changed since then.

Take care,

And Pat (Steeves):

Pete - that was great.  Thank you.

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