Last night, I spent quite a while in my living room with my headphones on, an act I usually reserve to tune out of my present surroundings in order to be overcome with the distraction and emotion of music. Earlier, I had no need to tune out as I spent the evening actively working in my house. The rain spilled across my roof and down my windows as I scurried about, cleaning carpets, doing laundry and wiping down countertops. General busy work. But I kept coming back to the rain, it’s sound, soothing, yet reminding me of something. I continued with my household diligence, the rain relentlessly droning in the back of my mind. And then I realized what it was.
It was a song, one I haven’t visited in a long time. It’s Sting’s “Fragile”, and that’s when I stopped what I was doing, went straight to my headphones, and pulled up the live album, “All This Time”. I could have retrieved the studio version, but not tonight. Tonight, I felt compelled to listen to this live version, the rendition recorded at Sting’s home in Tuscany on Sept. 11, 2001 in front of a small crowd of close friends and fans. September 11th: the day that changed the world, and brought about a range of emotions that can never be defined in a single word, all in a matter of hours.
As I listened to this opening tune for the first time last night, I was glued to the lyrics, and the irony, mixed with appropriateness, they hold with that tragic day as the backdrop for this recording. “If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one, drying in the color of the evening sun. Tomorrow’s rain will wash the stains away, but something in our minds will always stay. Perhaps this final act was meant to clinch a lifetime’s argument that nothing comes from violence, and nothing ever could, for all those born beneath an angry star, lest we forget how fragile we are”. Wow! And then comes the part that drew me to the song in the first place, the refrain: “On and on, the rain will fall, like tears from a star, like tears from a star. On and on, the rain will say how fragile we are, how fragile we are”.
I replayed the song over and over, and as I listened, I sat and reflected on that day. I remembered how paralyzed we were as a nation, and even as a human race. In New York City, so much was happening and not happening. In Washington, DC, we, too, were licking our wounds. All of us, nationally walking through our day like zombies, numb from the top down. Speechless. So much negative and magnified emotion – sadness, anger, fear, uncertainty – total devastation – physical and emotional – it was too much to process in the short span of hours.
My mind tried to imagine the conversation that took place in that villa in Tuscany after the performers learned of the tragedies. Many of them were from New York City, stuck across an ocean and unable to reach their own loved ones. But they decided to go ahead with the show. They must have felt blind as they walked onto that stage, not knowing how they would perform, or how they would be received on that grievous evening. After all, there was no protocol to follow, should someone find themselves in this sort of harrowing predicament. In the United States, Major League Baseball canceled games – out of respect and in reverence to those lives lost and missing. Even the Army Band canceled their concert series. It seemed like we needed to grieve as a country, and hold imaginary hands from east to west, as we figured out what to do next, waiting for guidance from our leaders, our parents, our spouses, our friends, our bosses, even our children.
Now, over a decade later, I think I finally understand what compelled this group of musicians to move forward with their concert plans. Besides the logical fact that people were traveling to see the performance, there was more to the decision. Terrorists created the sullen aura that blanketed the earth that day. Terror is meant to deter forward motion, stop us in our tracks, paralyze us, strike fear. What better way to defy the monstrous acts and villains of that day than to do what we do, and play music? Of course! Music is impenetrable. How incredibly beautiful is that? In a single opening tune, “Fragile” spoke of the reality of the past event, and digging deeply, Sting addressed what no one knew how to say. And the continuation of the concert therapeutically took the band and the audience through the remainder of the night, minute by minute, song by song, gaining strength and confidence as the performance progressed. What began as uncertainty transformed into unity, and then utter defiance, as the music continued to speak and touch everyone there. You can’t kill it – It is eternal, and how beautiful is that? On such a gloomy and despondent day, we fought through the darkness and presented what is globally indestructible: Music. This recording is such a reminder of the human condition, and the strength we can draw from deep within, when we’re beat up and destroyed. When we have to delve so far down, we are always surprised at what we find as musicians, as artists, as humans. Raw emotion, while it can be rough around the edges, is so, so beautiful. There is always vitality in music – Well done, Gordon Sumner and cohorts!
And only after I satisfied the reflection could I take my headphones off and listen to the rain fall ever so softly upon my roof, my children safely slumbering away as the rain’s lullaby assured they will remain in their innocent dreamland. I do love the wonderful rain!