Where Were You
Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster. Unfortunately that’s one of those events that will be etched in our minds as a “where were you” moment. Another, of course, was September 11.
To me Jackson’s song captures not only the essence of the event that changed our world but the feeling of remembering where we were, what we were doing during memorable moments.
I remember sitting in class when the principal announced that the Challenger had been lost. I remember waking up, thinking that it was going to be another day at work and seeing the planes slam into the World Trade Center over and over again.
What strikes me about Jackson’s song is that it doesn’t just dwell on how horrible 9/11 was. Jackson asks the listener what their reaction was.
Did you stand there in shock at the sight of that black smoke
Risin’ against that blue sky?
Did you shout out in anger, in fear for your neighbor
Or did you just sit down and cry?
He’s basically acknowledge those five stages of grief we know so well. Jackson continues with the mix of emotions that we experience when we’re in shock..
Did you weep for the children who lost their dear loved ones
And pray for the ones who don’t know?
Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble
And sob for the ones left below?
All the while Jackson is saying, “hey, I’m just an ordinary guy” (despite the fact that he’s one of the biggest stars in country music.. but we’ll forgive him for this omission)
I’m just a singer of simple songs
I’m not a real political man
I watch CNN but I’m not sure I can tell
You the difference in Iraq and Iran
So, while this singer is sharing the turmoil of feelings from this tragic event, he’s also got a message that’s buried there like slipping in a vitamin with the candy bar.
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love
It’s a skillful bit of messaging with meaning and purpose without being manipulative or preachy. Like most classic country songs Jackson is bringing up emotions with a mix of ballad lyrics and melody.
I’ll be honest — I used to hate country music. That combination of feelings and twangy sounds was sentimental mush to me. But somewhere along the way something changed, and I listened to this music again. Suddenly I heard things that I could swear weren’t there before.
Of course, I had changed, and country music had changed as well.
Now I know that some die-hards like Michael Perry of Truck: A Love Story will say that this new stuff isn’t real country. But to me art is about evolution — if it doesn’t change with the times, it’s just becomes not only stale, but less relevant. It’s the difference between living art and folk art.
For years we had this argument in Argentine tango when a small group of us started playing more modern music and dancing to this. The “Old Guard” shuddered at the audacity — the sacrilege of all that they held holy with traditional tango music.
Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE the classic stuff - even the scratchy, distorted recuerdo of a bygone era. But just like how not all modern music connects with the framework of dancing tango, not all old time tango music is really that good.
When Beyonce released a song “XO,” there was quite a bit of controversy about the sampling of NASA recordings moments after Challenger exploded. Of course, artists don’t need to cater to their audiences — and certainly making art for everyone is making art for no one.
But that’s the challenge — to make art that grows with us.. that remains relevant in a world that only changes faster each day.. that no matter what shape it takes with tomorrow’s technology — these words and pictures and music connect us with each other as humans.
Wow, Day 25 of #My500words challenge.. only 6 more days to go!
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