By Martin Barna, Eric Choy, Cary Hughes and Tim Perzyk
Last week, in the midst of terror and destruction, Americans shared their sorrow through the media. For several days, television and radio joined forces to provide a constant and immediate source of information. Toward the end of the week, as radio stations slowly started to play music again, they carried regular newscasts and other special reports. But something was different. Not only were there news breaks containing sound bites of survivors' tales and updates on Bush's next move--the music had changed too.
The Backstreet Boys were no longer flanked by Britney Spears and Mandy Moore--instead, ancient U2 blared across the airwaves. "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" probably played more last weekend than at any time since its original release. But now, the opening lines seem to speak the sentiment among Americans: "I can't believe the news today/ I can't close my eyes and make it go away."
A flip of the dial might have brought another oddly resonant '80s theme, the Talking Heads' "To Life During Wartime." Soon, it became clear that the role of music and radio is changing in the wake of the crisis. No longer simply something to break the silence, it is offering commentary on the way Americans are thinking and feeling, a role many believed had been lost amid the banal chorus of bubblegum pop.
We are now at war and our lifestyles seem to be changing by the minute. The Talking Heads tune and others verbalize the feelings and fears many still harbor days and weeks after the attack. The bright artistic complacence of economic prosperity is fading quickly.
Last Tuesday morning, lives changed and music found a way to become culturally pertinent again. During Vietnam, Creedence Clearwater released "Fortunate Son" and David Bowie offered "Space Oddity." Of course, the difference today is that young, hip, politically-minded musicians seem harder to come by, so we must steal from our parents.
Yet news and politics are finding ways to creep into pop music, though not in true musical compositions. Songs with "actualities"--those containing voice overs and sound bites--are proliferating daily. Dozens have flooded the airwaves, from U2's "Peace on Earth" to Jewel's "Hands." Some feature our nation's leaders while others focus on survivors, but each tells the story of Sept. 11 with a stirring and heartfelt mix of patriotism and loss.
Once again, people are looking to music as a source of comfort and inspiration, so perhaps it's not surprising that Americans have turned off Sugar Ray and turned on U2. As more tragic and trying events unfold, a further deluge of radio reality will undoubtedly appear.
"And I think it's gonna be a long, long time, before touchdown brings me Oround again to find, I'm not the man they think I am at all, I'm a rocketman."--Elton John, "Rocketman."
Don't tell Clear Channel Communications, the owner of more than 1,000 domestic radio stations, that you read those lyrics in print. In the wake of last week's terrorism, "Rocketman" has been temporarily banned from airplay. We know what you're thinking--most Elton John songs should be banned from airplay, but this is different.
Effective Sept. 12 until who knows, Clear Channel has distributed a list to radio disc jockeys of 162 songs (more if you count the en todo ban on anything by Rage Against the Machine) that are not to be played. In the case of some songs--for example Metallica's "Seek and Destroy" and R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World As We Know It"--the ban on radio airplay makes some sense, and it could widely be viewed as not an act of censorship, but an act of tastefulness (the kind of thing that Sen. Joe Lieberman always complains about).
However, there are some very strange entries in Clear Channel's list. There are the ironic: John Lennon's anthem about peace and pacifism, "Imagine," is among the barred; U2's 1984 rock song, "Sunday Bloody Sunday", about the tragedy of religious-based violence in Northern Ireland, is also on the chopping block. And there are the weird: Dave Matthews' Band's "Crash Into Me," James Taylor's "Fire and Rain" and Simon and Garfunkle's "Bridge Over Troubled Water." When the songs of hippie liberal pacifists are being censored, one begins to wonder.
No one at Clear Channel is certain when the barred songs will be allowed to air again; also, many of the selections for censorship were done so by Clear executives--not exactly the kind of people who have their pulse on the heartbeat of America.
Then again, the list of banned songs does include Alanis Morissettes' "Ironic" and Oingo Boingo's "Dead Man's Party." For that, we can be thankful.
While continuous news reports dominated the established broadcast networks and their cable compatriots, a different type of coverage appeared on Music Television. MTV and its all-music sister MTV2 initiated demographically-savvy live programming for their teenage and twentysomething audiences. Ironically, Total Request Live host Carson Daly, MTV's central personality, assumed the role of pseudo-therapist to the masses of young people who tuned to Music Television for support.
Throughout the week, the twin networks periodically went silent, displaying messages about the tragedy from viewers and music personalities against bluescreen backdrops. Acts like Blink-182 and Alien Ant Farm provided posts. The quietude seemed quite powerful on the music-devoted networks, which have built a franchise from the marriage of sound and video.
Total Request Live, filmed in the heart of New York City's Times Square, presented uncharacteristically somber broadcasts. The usual crowds of screaming fans in the street below were missing, though the wall of flags covering the building facing MTV's studio bore testament to resurgent patriotism. Exemplifying the power of television, MTV became a communal meeting center for the young, a "town hall" for the grieving. Thousands of teenagers logged on to MTV's website to post responses to the tragedy, many of which appeared in the network's blue-screen moments of silence.
As on radio, older and established hits like Oasis's "Wonderwall" emerged in the video rotation. Gone (temporarily) were the booty jangles and pop standards that normally dominate broadcasts. The result was a montage of introspective and largely mellow tunes that quite appropriately embodied the tenor of the events.
The key to MTV's success was the absence of pretense: By avoiding a hard news perspective it couldn't handle (John Norris is no Tom Brokaw), the network served its niche and served it well. Sadly, in one of the nation's darkest moments, MTV enjoyed one of its best.
The tragic events of last Tuesday are no less apparent on the Internet. From online news sites to personal webpages, people and organizations around the world have been reacting to the events and mobilizing to help those in need.
The online community's response and range of activities are changing the way people communicate and deal with crises. From extensive news coverage and online chat forums to electronic relief funds, the landscape of the web community has undergone a major shift in focus over the past two weeks. People are using the tremendous power of the Internet and its technology to reach out, share and learn.
Mobilizing aid programs for victims in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania has been a major focus. You'd be hard-pressed to find a site that doesn't feature the tragedy or sponsor a link to organizations like the American Red Cross.
The response has been tremendous. According to the Red Cross, they have raised over $92 million in online donations since Sept. 11. Many other organizations have enjoyed significant, but less substantial, success.
This past week, President George W. Bush encouraged Americans to "continue giving through websites" in a speech in the White House Rose Garden. The president also announced the creations of "The American Liberty Partnership," a consortium of several high-tech leaders, including AOL/Time Warner, Microsoft, Amazon, eBay, Cisco Systems and Yahoo. The group has encouraged online giving and created libertyunites.org, a site dedicated to educating the public on how they can help those who have been affected.
The unprecedented role of the Internet in conveying news and motivating collective action marks another step in the web's rapid development. As the online movement strengthens, one thing is certain: Americans will keep logging on and tuning in.
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