September 11-Plus-One approaches. And so does remembrance and commemoration. Media envoys will visit with survivors and relatives of those murdered that awful day. Video footage will air, and towers and bodies will fall once more. President George W. Bush will, according to the White House, “talk to the country in a way that is serious” (and do so exclusively on 60 Minutes II with correspondent Scott Pelley). Firefighters, police officers, rescue workers will retell harrowing tales. Rudy Giuliani will shine once more. The traditional start of the off-year congressional campaigns will be overshadowed; politicians will steal what they can of this God-bless-America moment. Some might wonder–but not too many people will do so aloud–what happened to US efforts to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. Commentators will share their thoughts–wise and foolish, meaningful and Hallmarkian–on what the attack wrought, how the country has been altered, how the war on terrorism has fared and what lies ahead.
In the shock-ridden and depressing days following 9/11, there was talk that the horrific event would transform the country. That Americans might embrace a stronger sense of community. (Drivers did seem less aggressive for weeks.) That Americans might gain a newfound appreciation for union workers and public servants, after watching firefighters and police officers lose their lives in gallant service to others. Some left-of-center, politically-minded people hoped that out of the ashes and rubble would rise an environment friendly to progressive and populist politicians who pitch for-the-common-good government activism.
Evidence of such change, though, is not abundant. In fact, it is damn hard to find proof that American life–whatever that may be–is much different. Sure, Bush was reborn in the polls, and the political equation shifted. The military budget has become even more untouchable and bloated. In Washington, there are more concrete flowerpots, and the nervous jokes about living in a bull’s-eye city remain. But are people in Cincinnati still on-edge? There are indeed new laws, new regulations, new precautions. Several hundred non-citizens apprehended in post-attacks sweeps by federal officers saw their lives dramatically altered. As did Afghan civilians struck by errant US weapons; as did the relatives of US military and intelligence personnel killed overseas. But has 9/11 changed us? Snatched children, corporate scandals, Wall Street’s wild ride, rescued miners, Ted Williams’ frozen head–American life is, in most ways, what it would be without 9/11.
Which brings us to Bruce Springsteen. Six weeks before the first anniversary, Springsteen and his E Street Band have issued a new album, The Rising, an explicit response to 9/11. With this effort–launched with a multimedia blitz including a Time cover story and appearances on the Today Show, Nightline, and Letterman–Springsteen is getting a jump on the 9/11 recallathon to come. And he has chosen a quotidian route to challenge an impermeability that, with time, can conquer even an event such as 9/11. Song after song details the loss of that day. Springsteen focuses upon individuals who woke up on September 12–assuming they were able to sleep the previous night–and realized their love-partner was gone forever. Across most of the tracks, his protagonists crave one more kiss, one more touch, one more taste. And the dead wish for the same. With this series of songs–some gritty and gripping, a few sappy and sentimental–he has produced an epistle of yearning. In doing so, he reminds his listeners that 9/11 did spark desires among those not directly hit by the assaults–yearnings for family, for community, for safety, for connection, for time. As Bob Dylan once wrote, “Either I’m too sensitive, or else I’m gettin’ soft,” but for a while after the assaults, it was my belief (or was it a wish?) that a collective yearning of this sort did arise.