Terror, War and Rock ‘n’ Roll

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On the way to the Concert for New York City, my husband and I were waved through the checkpoint at the entrance to the Holland Tunnels, probably because we were perceived as too old and vanilla to be terrorists, but since Sept. 11 I’ve wanted to become a terrorist myself and have begun carrying a box cutter in my bra on the off chance I’d run into an Islamic terrorist. Since the Twin Towers fell, I’ve been scaring myself, wondering whether I have Tourette’s syndrome, yell- ing outrageous things like “kill a Taliban, show your tits.” Heading up the New Jersey Turnpike on the way to New York City, I was fantasizing about what I’d do to an Islamic terrorist who got the idea that he could kill Mick Jagger at the concert. Meanwhile, the darker-skinned young were being pulled over by police and having their trunks searched.

Riding across the Pennsylvania Turnpike, we played CDs and guessed which songs would be sung at the concert. We both guessed The Who would sing “We Won’t Get Fooled

Again,” the rousing song George W. Bush used last year on his presidential campaign stops. I knew “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Gimme Shelter” would be out _ Jagger would have no sympathy tor the current crop of devils, and “Gimme Shelter” is a make-Iove-not-war song written during Vietnam. I thought Jagger would choose “Paint It Black,” one of my Stones favorites, a serious and highly dramatic song that is mostly forgotten except by fans heard on live albums yelling, “Paint it black, you devil!” With wild guitar and drums, black mood, and grand finale of agonizing screams, the song, though written nearly 30 years ago, had enough gravitas for the occasion, capturing strains of the shock and horror of Sept. 11.

I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black. . . .

I see people turn their heads and quickly look away. . . . I look inside myself and see my heart is black,no colors anymore

I want them to turn black.

Maybe then I’ll fade away and not have to face the facts,

It’s not easy facin’ up when your whole world is black. …

I could not foresee this thing happening to you.

If I look hard enough into the settin’ sun, my love will laugh

with me before

the mornin’ comes….

I want to see it painted, painted black, black as night, black as coal.

I want to see the sun, blotted out from the sky.

Paint it, paint it, paint it black.

Songwriter Gene Ellsworth, writer of “The Fool,” sung by Lee Anne Womack, and “The Visit” by Chad Brock, and who hangs at our bar between trips to Nashville, said “Paint It Black” was too dark and pessimistic for Oct. 20. New York had moved past Sept. 11, and into a spirit of resolve and rebuilding. He was right. Along with “Miss You,” Mick and Keith sang “Salt of the Earth” in tribute to. the firefighters, police, rescue, and construction workers who were clearing the still-smoking debris. Bon Jovi sang “Wanted, Dead or Alive” and “Livin’ on a Prayer,” and the Goo Goo Dolls sang “1 Just Want You to Know Who I Am.” A beautiful assemblage of stars if there ever was one!

We arrived in Manhattan on a beautiful sunny day and heard on the car radio that at the Philadelphia Greyhound station a bomb the size of a bar of soap, packing enough firepower to level the station had just been found in a locker. Though hotels were, and are, discounting – the Waldorf Astoria, usually $400-500 per night, was going for Thanksgiving weekend nights for $150. Upper and Midtown Manhattan were bustling. Business was thriving at the Uptown restaurants like the Cafe Pierre and the Boat House in Central Park, where we sat outdoors by the lake and, following a half-hour wait, lunched on frittatas topped with asparagus spears and warm goat cheese. We rode bikes in the park with thousands of others, and rode a carriage decorated with plastic bouquets pulled by one of the horses lined up along the curb outside of the Plaza. The driver said business was down by half, and after eight years in the United States, he was planning to return with his wife and children. to his native Brazil, where the standard of living was easier. He scoffed at the American bombings of Afghanistan: “They are bombing caves.”

There was a media swarm in front of the building that houses Fox News and the New York Post where anthrax had

Heading up the New Jersey Turnpike on the way to New York City, I was fantasizing about what I’d do to an Islamic terrorist who got the idea that he could kill Mick Jagger at the concert.

 

been discovered, and the Manhattan post office was cordoned off, guarded by soldiers. The Oct. 20 New York Post carried a front-page anthrax story with a full-page picture of a Post employee with skin anthrax on her middle finger. ” Anthrax this!” was the banner headline above the woman’s raised middle finger.

Feeling a bit apprehensive about how difficult it would be to provide adequate security when bombs the size of soap bars had the firepower to destroy large buildings, and about how vulnerable a target-rich gathering of politicians and rock stars would be at Madison Square Garden, built on top of a train station, I was glad to see a busload of soldiers in camouflage arrive on the afternoon of the concert and head downstairs to Penn Station. My husband asked them if they were here to attend the concert or provide security. “Both,” they answered.

Because of the passions they inspire rock stars have always been vulnerable to attack, and though no one said so, I would expect that rock stars like Mick Jagger might be somewhere on the Taliban’s long hit list of decadent freewheeling American infidels. Jagger hired the Hell’s Angels as security at a Stones’ .concert at Altamont Speedway in 1969, and the resulting mayhem and murder was hailed as the end of the ’60s. On tour shortly after the assassination of John Lennon, Jagger was asked if he had upped his own security. He responded that nothing could protect him from some “nutter in the third row” with a gun. Since Sept. 11 it has been brought home to me that no amount of security can protect any of us from a nutter with a gun.

The Concert for New York City opened to a full house of 19,000 people who had paid anywhere from $250 to $5,000 each, with David Bowie sitting quietly at a piano on a darkened stage singing Paul Simon’s “America.” “They’ve all come to look for America,” he sang, a simple and beautiful beginning for a beautiful night of unity and resolve; except for the jarringly out-of-sync moments when politicians like Hillary appeared on stage. She, at least, was booed on sight.

Bowie’s second song was “Heroes”:

Though nothing

nothing will keep us together

We can beat them forever and ever Oh we can be heroes just for one day. Though nothing will drive them away We can

be heroes

Just for one day

We can be us

Just for one day.

I can remember

Standing

By the wall

The guns

Shot above our heads

And we kissed

As though nothing could fall

And the shame was on the other side. Oh we can beat them

Forever and ever

Then we can be heroes

Just for one day.

It’s quickly become a cliche that Sept. 11 has changed all

of us. Molly Haskell writing in the New York Observer says, “I find myself responding to threats to our country with feelings of non-pacifist aggression I didn’t know existed.” Even Rosie O’Donnell has switched, taking her son to a Yankee game to see George W. Bush, whom she says she now loves, throw a pitch. There are still goofball pacifists around like Richard Gere,·booed at the concert for saying we must be careful hot to let “this horrendous energy turn into revenge,” and silly lovesonger Paul McCartney who winded up the concert with the words, “Let it be America, let it be.”

Let it be? I don’t think so.

Or Joe Biden, who swishes over the political landscape faster than a windshield wiper in a blizzard, saying things like we don’t want to be “high-tech bullies.” High-tech bullies? Would Biden prefer that we, or the young soldiers sent to do our dirty work, be low-tech victims?

During Vietnam I was “peace activist and protester, which I would be today if circumstances were the same. No, I am a would-be terrorist. I warily agreed with President Bush in Desert Storm because· I thought Saddam Hussein was· Hitlerlike with grand designs to take over the Middle East, one country at a time; empowering himself with time, money, and oil conquests. I believed that he would eventually use biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons against the United States, and we needed to stop him. But at what point can a civilized people decide to pre-empt a Hitler on the move? Before Sept. 11 we had the luxury of doubt, the possibility that time would change things, the hope that he would fall from power, that everyone would come to his senses. There was the ever-present heartbreaking specter of body bags if the United States invaded Baghdad. But now the danger is imminent and real; one way or another there are going to be body bags, the question is whose.

Having never before known any real Islamic people, since Sept. 11 I have been seeking them out, wherever I find them, to see what they think. In New York we ran into two Pakistani cab drivers and an Islamic maitre d’. They all seemed nice enough, but right under the surface were some very weird beliefs. The Pakistani cab driver who picked us up at “the site” where the World Trade Center had once stood, was passionate about his ideas. We had gotten to the point in the conversation where I could ask if his wife wears a veil. “Of course, of course,” he said. “Look at those two Americans right there,” he said, pointing to a plain-Jane, innocuously dressed, middle-aged, unsexy couple strolling along the sunny New York streets in sleeveless jerseys and shorts. Their shorts were modestly cut as were their shirts.

“What if you saw a young man with big, big muscles and no shirt here,” he said, making the gesture that men usually make to demonstrate a woman with large breasts. “It would give you bad thoughts.” He argued passionately, waving away a woman who wanted to get into the cab now that we had parked at our hotel curb. “Take the next cab,” he told her, “I want to finish this conversation.” I began now to babble as my brain began going faster than my tongue. My thoughts raced. The veil and all those robes constrict movement, I babbled, they restrict freedom,· there’s nothing bad about sexual thoughts, it’s like Chinese foot binding, it cripples women and men, there is nothing to be so terrified of and, finally, I just couldn’t deal with what was nothing less than terror of the bared arm, a terror more primitive and puritanical than I could ever imagine.

When I got out of the cab I thought what I should have said: The main reason I was in New York was my magnetic and magical attraction to an aging rock star who, by many people’s standards, was laughably ugly with skinny arms

People hear a few chords of Mick and Keith playing “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” or “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” and they fall in love.

 

and little legs, big lips, a long, stuck-out tongue, and a lot of wrinkles. I am attracted to his spirit, his life force, to his defiance, his competence, his lyrics, his guitar and harmonica skills. I love him, though he is not my husband, for his accomplishments, for the music and the joy he brings, more impressively at near-60, because he is, in my view, a genius, a maverick, a triumphant individual with a smart mouth and staying power and an irrepressible love for freedom. He shows us what we are capable of. I love him because he is funny. He laughs at himself, making fun of his own face by sticking it two inches away from a television camera and singing, “people think I’m cra-a-a-zy.” I love him because he’s rich and cocky and determined, and I knew he wouldn’t stick around at the Concert for New York City to be Paul McCartney’s backup singer. He did his two songs and was gone. Between songs he said we have learned one thing from all this: “Don’t fuck with New York!”

I love him because he defied Bill Clinton and was a no-show for an appointment at the White House. I love him because he said England’s two best assets were himself and the queen. I love that he runs ten miles a day to keep in shape for his concerts. He is totally disciplined wildness. He is an achiever. He is not afraid of sex nor of strong women. Probably because I am large and heavy, I love his agility. I would pay anything to watch him dance. His music soars and he makes my spirit soar, and I would never resist sleeping with him if I had the chance, and I think God wouldn’t give a shit. He has more important things to worry about, like radical Islamics who dream they are going to see Allah and want to take the whole planet with them. People hear a few chords of Mick and Keith playing “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” or “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” and they fall in love. So what are you going to do about that, Muhammad? Are you going to outlaw dancing and music and skinny arms and humor and wit, genius, achievers and freethinkers and rebellion, and the life force itself that causes sexual attraction in the first place? Yes, of course you are, you already.put all that under wraps. I saw the cassette tapes hanging from the Taliban’s trees in Afghanistan. I saw the veiled women, some

Are you going to outlaw dancing and music and skinny arms and humor and wit, genius, achievers and freethinkers and rebellion, and the life force itself that causes sexual attraction in the first place?

 

of them doctors and lawyers, being stoned by what in Afghanistan passes for grown men and shot in the head in soccer stadiums by brainwashed punks. Your veiled women speak volumes. Those shrouded females are monuments to your cowardice, you who are so weak you quake before your own bodies. Now New Yorkers are buying canaries to check for things amiss in the air, and terrorists say they want to see the White House painted black. You want to turn us into the wreckage that you are. Yours is a sick religion, a crippled, dead-end culture, caught up in destruction. You really need to rethink, re-evaluate, throw off the mind chains of the Islamic religion which is nothing more than a little cult that grew, start building instead of destroying, build a culture and get a life. And now I’ll tell you what I really think.

If you threw off your mind chains, Muhammads (are you all named Muhammad?), you would have to stop acting like kindergarten bullies kicking over other kid’s towers of blocks and begin facing all the complexities and challenges of adult life. Yes, sexuality is a powerful, dangerous thing, like fire, that can be used both to create joy or cause destruction. Free adult people make fine-tuned judgments about managing and channeling their sexual desires rather than trying to obliterate temptation in the world around them. When you obliterate temptation you are obliterating the life force itself. It is who we are, how we are made. It is inborn. If you try to obliterate greed, you obliterate ambition. Human drives should not be.annihilated from existence; it is up to each of us to channel and manage our own destructive proclivities. To do otherwise is to kill human life itself, which is precisely what you are trying to do.

A few weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center, Salman Rushdie, whose Satanic Verses inspired crowds to pour into the streets of Teheran, burning books and calling for his death, wrote about Islamic fundamentalism in the Washington Post:

The fundamentalist seeks to bring down a great deal more than buildings. Such people are against, to offer just a brief list, freedom of speech, a multiparty political system, universal adult suffrage, accountable government, Jews, homosexuals, women’s rights, pluralism, secularism, short skirts, dancing, beardlessness, evolution theory, sex.

There needs to be a thorough examination, by Muslims everywhere, of why it is that the faith they love breeds so many violent mutant strains. If the West needs to understand its Unabombers and McVeighs, Islam needs to face up to its bin Ladens.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan has said that we should now define ourselves not only by what we are for but by what we are against. I would reverse that proposition, because in the present instance what we are against is a no- brainer. Suicidal assassins ram wide-bodied aircraft into the World Trade Center and Pentagon and kill thousands of people: I’m against that. But what are we for? What will we risk our lives to defend? Can we unanimously concur that all the items in the above list – yes, even the short skirts and dancing – are worth dying for?

The fundamentalist believes that we believe in nothing. In his world view, he has his absolute certainties, while we are sunk in sybaritic indulgences. To prove him wrong, we must first know that he is wrong. We must agree on what matters: Kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world’s resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love. These will be our weapons. Not by making war but by the unafraid way we choose to live shall we defeat them.

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