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December 23, 2002

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There was an article in the December 23, 2002 edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune that looked at how various music artists spent 2002 celebrating life by singing about death. Part of the article discussed Tori and Scarlet's Walk. You can read it online at signonsandiego.com or below.


Days of darkness

When death became personal, rockers gave us songs that spoke of renewal

He was just a hard-working musician signing off for the evening. But when Neil Finn said goodbye to the 4th & B crowd after his July 2 show, he became the perfect spokesman for our bittersweet rock 'n' roll year.

"Remember death every day," Finn said before leaving the stage. "And then you'll remember love."

Still shaken by last year's terrorist attacks and sobered by their own brushes with mortality, some of our best and brightest rockers spent 2002 celebrating life by singing about death.

Bruce Springsteen, Sleater-Kinney and Tori Amos met our 9/11 demons head-on, making emotionally charged music that was as topical as a headline and as personal as a diary.

Neil Finn, the Flaming Lips and Los Lobos turned the loss of friends and family into songs of Zen-master wisdom and hard-won resiliency.

And in an eerie stroke of artistic prescience, Wilco released a long-delayed album that both anticipated the horrors of Sept. 11 and provided musical balm for a bruising assortment of psychic wounds.

In other words, these musicians did an artist's job. They wrestled with private fears, assimilated public nightmares and tried to create a sense of community out of the rubble of tragedy. In the process, they made the most soul-satisfying albums of the year.

On "The Rising," Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band explored our grief with typical directness and surprising grace. There were stories of smoky death and fleeting thoughts of revenge, but there were also hushed hymns and roof-rattling songs of redemption. And with "Mary's Place," Springsteen let his widowed heroine sum up the year's rock 'n' roll creed in one hopeful line.

Your favorite record's on the turntable , she reassures her husband's ghost. I drop the needle and pray.

That spirit of pop salvation permeated Sleater-Kinney's "One Beat" album, which took on fossilized governments ("One Beat"), community empowerment ("Light-Rail Coyote") and knee-jerk patriotism ("Combat Rock"), before deciding that the best defense is free speech and a killer groove.

Why don't you shake a tail for peace and love, singer-guitarist Corin Tucker shouted in the riotous "Step Aside," which concluded with a squall of guitars and the following call to arms:

When violence rules the world outside/And the headlines make you want to cry/It's not the time to just keep quiet/Speak up one time to the beat .

While the members of Sleater-Kinney were shaking their tails and blowing out their amps, Tori Amos was wandering the metaphysical map in search of her own truths. Amos was in New York on Sept. 11, and her "Scarlet's Walk" album found the singer-songwriter ministering to a broken country with compassion, while admitting she was just as scared and mixed-up as everyone else.

Messiahs need people dying in their name/You could have spared her/Oh but no, Amos sang on "Pancake." After that swipe at political and religious zealots, Amos moved on to songs of poetic bewilderment ("I Can't See New York") and righteous fury ("Taxi Ride").

Like a rock 'n' roll medium, Amos spent much of "Scarlet's Walk" in a trance, as if she could decipher in dream-time what could never make sense in broad daylight. Her journey ended with the resurrection promise of "Gold Dust," as Amos found hope and redeeming power in the birth of her daughter.

That same life-affirming charge coursed through Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot." Completed in the summer of 2001 but not released until this year, Wilco's wildly beautiful album featured songs about war, fallen patriots and last cigarettes. It also included a jaunty tune reminding us that, You have to learn how to die, if you wanna, wanna be alive .

Maybe Jeff Tweedy and the band were listening to secret broadcasts from the heart of darkness. More likely, they were absorbing the waves of fear, paranoia and danger that have been eddying around us for years. Fortunately, they were also tuned in to the unstoppable beat of the human heart. So when Tweedy sang, Don't cry/You can rely on me honey/You can come by any time you want, you knew Wilco's music would be your port in this ongoing storm.

While these artists offered commentary and comfort in the wake of a global tragedy, others struggled with death closer to home.

The loss of a Japanese friend and fan inspired the Flaming Lips to record "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," a trippy, warmhearted album that reveled in the messy stuff of life even as it acknowledged that The universe will have its way, too powerful to master .

After his mother's death, singer-songwriter Neil Finn emerged from mourning with a renewed lust for life. His lovely "One All" album hit its glowing peak with "Anytime," which balanced cool acceptance (I could go at anytime/There's nothing safe about this life) with a giddy determination to go out with a smile. (The world is all around us/The days are flying past/And fear is so contagious/But I'm not afraid to laugh.)

The murder of guitarist-vocalist Cesar Rosas' wife wasn't addressed directly on Los Lobos' "Good Morning Aztlán," but the band's determination to forge ahead gave the album a gritty vibrancy that trumped the sorrow. You can't run and try to hide away , David Hidalgo sang on the thumping title track. Here it comes/Here comes another day.

In rock's year of reckoning, veterans and punks alike remembered the souls of the departed, the ones they knew and the ones they had only read about. They ranted, they raved and they threw some wild parties. When they were through, they left us with music that reminded us to love our lives and the people in them.

Here it comes. Here comes another day. With music like this, we might just be ready.



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