|It had been such a perfect summer. My wife Posie and I decided not to travel abroad this year but to stay local and make the most of all that New York and its surroundings had to offer - especially in the great outdoors. And with a series of picture-perfect weekends, it was truly a memorable season. From a musical perspective alone, we enjoyed an astonishing variety of entertainment: Basement Jaxx playing their first U.S. Concert free in Central Park; Moby's Area One Festival with Outkast, Nelly Furtado, Carl Cox and the Orb at Jones Beach; Cheb Mami and Transglobal Underground free at Prospect Park here in Brooklyn; the first ever Siren festival at the newly revitalized Coney Island, another free Brooklyn event on another glorious Saturday with Guided by Voices, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosions, Peaches and more; the Africa Fest in Prospect Park, the annual finale to the free Celebrate Brooklyn concerts, headlined by Baba Maal and a treat to take children to; the Warped Festival at Randall's Island and Rod Stewart at Jones Beach, two strikingly different Newsday assignments each enjoyable in their own way; and Radiohead and the Beta Band at Liberty State Park, one of the most beautiful locations I have attended given its backdrop of the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and, yes, the World Trade Centers too.
There was much other outdoor culture too: I visited the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx for the first time, and enjoyed it so much - especially the Children's Interactive Garden with all the model trains running through it - that I returned later in the summer. (With my boy Campbell in tow both times, of course.) Two separate weeks spent at an old converted inn in the Catskills, going on hikes, camping under the stars, having fun at the dilapidated old water theme park Zoom Flume. Djing at an annual party for Gig Records down in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, on another day of ideal weather. Making the most of our small backyard here in Brooklyn for meals outdoors with good friends and family. Spending the last two weekends of summer with in-laws down at the Jersey Shore, swimming and rowing and running and kayaking, delighting at feeling so fit and alive on the cusp of middle age. Stealing one more day of summer in after Labor Day, spending it on a beach that was both windy and deserted as if reminding us that we shouldn't be there. Even the one football ("soccer") match I watched all summer was too good to be true: England beating Germany 5-1 in Munich. Finally, on Monday September 10 I took my mother, who had been visiting for the last three weeks of summer, to JFK airport and onto a United Airlines flight back to England, then returned home looking forward to getting back to serious work, including updates for this web site and finally putting into place various book projects concerning New York City.
And then the terror struck, and this summer suddenly feels like a distant memory from another life. It was another life. For the world I am living in has irrevocably, inconceivably changed for ever.
|Memories of a happier time: Chris Stein and Joey Ramone at Liberty Island, October 3 1990. Picture by Neville Wells.
There are so many points I want to make, so many conflicting emotions to untangle about what happened on Tuesday and how it affects us all. As I detail my summer's itinerary, it's clear to me what an idyllic standard of living people can aspire to in this country, a statement my mother made frequently those three preceeding weeks. It's also painfully apparent that Americans always took this sunny and peaceful existence for granted, as if the horrors of the outside world - that which exists in other countries, overseas, in the middle east and in Africa -- could never touch the mass of people within the nation's vast borders. This overly confident sense of security had long been a painful defect of a wrongly isolationist people, and it's been exposed now to those of us who live here as an illusion, a dream we have been forced to wake up from.
If only I could wake up once more and see the World Trade Centers from my street and be told that the planes crashing into them was just a bad dream. If only I could wake up and be assured that the buildings had not come down, and that 5,000 people were not forced to prematurely end their lives to satisfy some fanatical sense of ... but what? Justice? Revenge? Freedom? There is no possible reason, no permissible explanation, for what happened. Throughout my life I have tried to see the other side of a political argument, especially where it concerns international politics, and often to the frustration of conservative American friends, but for as long as I live, I will never understand the thought process behind the so-called human beings who caused such despicable, violent deaths.
But at this point (writing and editing between Friday September 14 and Sunday September 16) I don't feel anger. I'm not there yet. I've been getting a constant stream of sympathetic and loving e-mails and phone calls from friends overseas - Britain, France, Australia - and, especially in the written observations, it's evident just how scared they are that the American Government will retaliate with such ferocity as to start a new World War. To which I must stress that those of us in New York City are too busy dealing with the reality of the horrors at hand to be thinking about retribution. If anything, the closer you get to the horror of Ground Zero, the less desire there is to inflict equal pain and devastation on other innocent people. It has felt since Tuesday as if there are two different countries in existence here - the nation of 250 million seething with anger and represented by career politicians and business men in Washington, D.C. (itself suffering from the devastating attack on the Pentagon), and then a smaller nation of several million here in New York, trying to dig itself out from the rubble, emotionally and physically, metaphorically and literally.
But isn't that how it's always been? Back when I moved to America, to a certain amount of bafflement and consternation from rabidly anti-Yank Brit associates (Reagan was still President), I used to excuse my choice by stating that "I don't live in America, I live in New York City." I still feel that way - and yet for the first time I am forced to confront myself as an adopted American too, and to state for the record, that I love this country. The United States of America is by its very name and nature a complex conglomeration of many different (stars and) stripes, and it has a history every bit as noble as it is occasionally regrettable. It was built on principles of freedom that necessitated ridding the country of its British overlords (and then, sadly, all but rid itself of native Americans too). It shed enormous rivers of blood to preserve that freedom for itself and other nations - especially in the two World Wars, a fact I believe the Europeans have always found hard to admit because those wars were never fought on American soil. It is a country that, especially since that last World War, has often wrongly equated the concept of continued freedom with rabid anti-Communism and pro-Christianity, and which has frequently and patronisingly imposed its sense of justice on others only to react with indignant arrogance when it isn't immediately thanked for doing so. And yet it remains a country full of extraordinary physical beauty - from the cities to the deserts, "from the mountains to the prairies" - and exceptional kindness. It produces extraordinary talents in all fields of art and commerce. And it offers financial and creative opportunity, along with freedom of expression and religion, to immigrants on a scale simply unmatched elsewhere in the history of the planet. I don't know I have ever met a visitor - especially a European one - whose cynicism has not been replaced by ardor following a stay here.
|What's wrong with this picture? Nothing at all. Posie and Campbell on the Brooklyn Bridge, with downtown New York and a couple of memorable buildings in the background, circa 1998.
Still, anyone who lives in this city thinks of themselves as a New Yorker first and foremost, and it seems to me so unjust - I would use the word laughable if anything about this horror was funny - that Manhattan should be the target of such colossal terrorism. For there simply is no other Island on earth that, every single day of the year, packs in more people from more different countries speaking more different languages, all of them tolerating, communicating and often openly sharing love with each other. One only had to watch the sad reports from the area hospitals of people trying to find their missing loved ones to see who were the real victims of this tragedy: they were people of African descent, of Asian descent, of Arabic descent, cruelly united that day for daring that day to be American - or at least New Yorkers.
During the late '90s, I felt a gradual distancing from the New York City I had always loved. Some of that was a result of my own lifestyle changes - retreating from Djing, nightclub promotion, constant gig-going and clubbing, to concentrate on writing, having a child and leaving Manhattan to settle in Brooklyn. (Just a mile or two over the river, but over the river nonetheless.) Some of it was due to the economic boom that saw the lower paid artistic types who had always made New York the capital of creativity shunted off to cheaper outer boroughs, their low-rent communities and inexpensive cafes replaced by high-flying young execs and stratospherically priced restaurants. And some of it, without doubt, was the result of a Mayor who, in his second term especially, declared a war on our beloved nightlife and so desperately wanted to see crime reduced to statistically impossible non-existence that he gave the police force near carte blanche with the inevitable ugly results. Knowing that life is short (oh, and how evident that is now), and how there may be other locations I could happily call home, I had begun seriously considering the possibility of moving on.
|"I have never felt more proud of being a New Yorker than I do right now, and I know the watching world understands why myself and the several other million that claim this title simply by living here should feel this way."
But not now. Not at this moment. I have never felt more proud of being a New Yorker than I do right now, and I know the watching world understands why myself and the several other million that claim this title simply by living here should feel this way. Perhaps it's the nature of dealing with such a stressful city on a daily basis, but New Yorkers always knew how to handle themselves in a crisis - and have now had the unfortunate opportunity to prove as much to an admiring world. The vast majority of people here proved themselves cool, calm and collected in evacuating their work places, the transport system, the schools and their houses. Firemen and police rushed into action, sacrificing themselves by the hundreds to save others. Citizens aided each other wherever and however possible. People of all ages and persuasions rushed to volunteer. The Mayor proved what was never doubted of him - that he thrives in a crisis - and set a standard for leadership that Bush could never aspire to were he to remain president for life. (And how ironic Giuliani should get to shine so brightly on the very day we were meant to be voting to choose his successor.) In my own community, I have seen phenomenal out-pourings of support in the form of donations and physical assistance; in Manhattan I have seen the young and old offer up their services in every which way they can; on the radio and television I have seen our leaders prove why we actually go to the polls and elect them. I've seen a city that refuses to cow down, a city that knows it will rebuild, a city whose inhabitants may have been growing further apart these last few years but who now have a common reason to come closer together again - their love of that magical melting pot known worldwide as New York, New York, so great they named it twice.
CONTINUE TO SECTION 2 OF MY PERSONAL MUSING ON A SEPTEMBER MOURNING
PART 2: MESSAGES FROM FRIENDS AND FAMILY OVERSEAS
and REACTIONS TO THIS ESSAY
PART 3: THE OBSERVATIONS AND QUOTATIONS OF OTHERS.
PART 4: LINKS
PART 5: COPING