Musings on Rock and Roll
by Ken Shimamoto





Posted October 4, 2001


I got a call last Thursday from my sweet friend Peta in Sydney. She was in tears; her friend Anne, the same Miss Anne who wrote a book review for this very Bar awhile back, a journalist who'd lived in Hong Kong and was planning to go to New York, had died in her sleep a coupla nights before, and she'd just found out. They'd spent time together Monday night, then evidently after Peta dropped Miss Anne off at home, she passed away.

I tried sending e-mail to my Bar brother-in-arms John McPharlin, suggesting he try and contact Peta (whom he knew from meeting her at shows around town), but by the time he checked his e-mail, she was on her way out of town on a trip to Queensland that she and Anne had originally planned to make together. I'm not sure exactly why I tried to make Brother McP. my agent in this particular connection, but since the jets hit the World Trade Center a coupla weeks ago, I guess I've been wanting to feel like part of a community, even one as tenuous as that forged by rock'n'roll and the Internet. This has had some mixed results.

Previously, I'd heard from Peta in the wake of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. (How can you not love someone who calls 'cos she's worried when there's danger three thousand miles from where you are? Impossible!) She wrote me that her 10-year-old daughter was mad at the terrorists and wanted to hurt them, "but that's not the job of a little girl in Australia." I couldn't agree more.

I was at work when it happened, and one of the managers on my floor came running by with the news. I continued the conversation I was engaged in with a coworker when someone came with the news that another plane had hit the other tower. There was a TV on in the lab next door, and we all gathered 'round and watched in horror as the towers burned, then collapsed.

The attack on the twin towers and the Pentagon was shocking, but not surprising. Two weeks after I started my current employment in CorporateAmerica, six months after separating from the Air Force, came the first attack on the World Trade Center which ONLY killed six people and was a comedy of errors that caused folks here to seriously underestimate the terrorists. At the time, I remember telling a fellow veteran I worked with, "This is only the beginning." The last couple of years I was on active duty, we were hearing more and more about the possibility of domestic terrorism. This latest attack is not a beginning; rather, a continuation of the campaign against the United States that began with that 1993 attack and continued with the the attacks on our troops in the Khobar Towers, our embassies in Africa, the U.S.S. Cole. Nothing new, it's just harder to ignore.

Discussing the telethon for the survivors and rescuers that pre-empted every network here in the States (a first), the Barman asked me how it was that no one in this country can see a camera anymore without breaking into "God Bless America." I responded that this is the first time Americans have gotten our asses kicked on our own ground since 1865, and the first time we've been forced to unite to do something as a NATION (not a collection of demographics or special interests) since 1962, maybe 1945, and as such, we need to remind ourselves who we are.

In recent days I've spent a lot of time explaining to various rock'n'roll Netbuds that no, our government isn't going to "bomb starving Afghanis," that we're taking a very measured approach in which military force will be only one (and perhaps the LEAST important) of several instruments, including diplomacy, economic action (such as freezing the assets of the terrorists' bankrollers here in the States and elsewhere), sanctions, intelligence gathering, and more. The war against terrorism WON'T be a big-unit action like the Gulf War, or a series of "surgical" airstrikes like those we attempted against Sudan and Afghanistan in the wake of Bin Laden's bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. It will be a protracted process without media-friendly decisive battles. Whether or not we as a people have the stomach for it remains an open question.

All of this is extremely difficult to process. A young woman I work with, who had her baby on the same day as my granddaughter was born, says that while she would have been a strong advocate against retaliation a few years ago, the thought of her daughter being hurt by terrorist action gives her a different perspective on things. An old drug buddy of mine, now a yoga instructor, wrote an eloquent plea for people here not to let their hearts be filled with the kind of hate that possesses the terrorists who committed this atrocity.

Mick Farren, an artist whose work (musical and literary) I admire greatly, sent some wrong-headed screeds to the effect that when "they" arrest Bill Clinton (who that morning was in the National Cathedral, praying with George W. Bush along with the rest of the ex-Presidents), he was heading for the British Consulate. James Williamson, whom I am now ashamed of having referred to in print, regularly and frequently, as "The Junkie Skull," responded to a comment I made while forwarding a request for information from a European Stoogefan with a link to information about how to talk to kids about the tragedy. Frank Meyer of the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs wrote to solicit opinions for and made me aware of Johhny Hef, guitarist of a New York punk band called the Bullys, who was one of New York's bravest, a firefighter by profession and a member of one of the first companies to respond to the disaster, lost when the building collapsed.

I have been asked to consider whether my politics, as manifested by my support for our government in this crisis (and my service in its military for 18 years, active and Reserve) entitles me to listen to the music of the MC5 and the Stooges, revolutionaries and nihilists that they were. The individual in question responded to a reference I made in an e-mail to "collective security" (one of the nominal purposes of our government) by asking whether I meant "peace and freedom to drive your SUV into your gated community." I responded that no, what I meant was the ability to go to work without having to worry about the imminent danger of being dropped 105 stories, immolated in JP-5, suffocated by smoke, or crushed under tons of debris.

It's taken me a real long time to be able to write this column, but I felt like I needed to say something. The first week after the attack, I spent a lot of time glued to the TV. I'd watch it until I saw the same story three times. Numbed by the horror of the images, humbled by the courage of the police and firefighters and the passengers who fought back on the flight that crashed in rural Pennsylvania, moved to tears by the stories of those who lost loved ones, still desperately wandering lower Manhattan with their photos and stories a week after the event, when hopes of finding any more survivors were dimming.

It's been hard to give a shit about rock'n'roll in this climate. I find I'd rather spend time with people who are important to me (my children, my ex-girlfriend who had to fly to Anchorage eleven days after the attacks and was feeling not too good about it). I couldn't listen to music for a coupla weeks.. That didn't last; life has to go on. But the world I live in is definitely a different place than it was before 9/11/01. I'm more sure than I was before about what's really important, and what's dispensible. Uncertain about what's to come, but determined not to surrender to fear and despair.
- Ken Shimamoto