Our hearts littering the topsoil

Jon Dahlager

Once Tuesday’s attacks began to sink in, all I wanted was to find the right album, the right song to play through my stereo. I needed to hear someone else’s pain, someone else’s hope, someone else’s expression rather than my own jumbled puzzle pieces of explanation.

I felt like a dot. My own words failed me, miserably. And it seemed that everyone else was having the same problem.

“This is like a movie,” one of my classmates said. “It’s unbelievable.” Tuesday was a day of clich‚s, because the right words just didn’t exist.

But music has helped me and many other people deal with their emotions and express the innate brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind.

It has been only 10 short years since the nation’s youth first heard a skinny bleach-blond kid from Aberdeen, Wash. scream a rallying cry for them, a generation disenchanted by a president who led the United States from victory in the Middle East to economic recession at home.

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” made kids feel like they were a part of something, especially when Kurt Cobain sang “Our little group has always been and always will until the end.” Cobain’s lyrics, music and passion combined in some perfect fashion, like black Converse One-Stars, ripped jeans and flannel.

All of the anger, sadness and confusion of United States youth was given voice through the shared experience of popular music.

Music, much like faith, seems to multiply as an effective method of coping and communicating in times of need and crisis. The arrangement of notes and interplay of melody and lyrics connects people in a way that mere words or images cannot.

This was never more apparent to me than on Friday, the day designated as a National Day of Prayer and Remembrance for Tuesday’s tragedy. I had driven to Madison, Wis. Thursday night to see emo-influenced rock band Jimmy Eat World play the Barrymore Theatre Friday.

Friday afternoon, around 12:30 p.m., I joined an estimated 20,000 University of Wisconsin students, faculty and community members on the Memorial Library Mall for the school’s Program for Reflection and Remembrance.

Merely seeing that many people gathered to share their grief and hope for the nation was powerful.

However, the gathered individuals still seemed to lack unity. Pockets of people talked about topics other than Tuesday’s attacks while UW-Madison Interim Provost Gary Sandefur and the leaders of Associated Students of Madison (similar to our Government of the Student Body) spoke.

The words crackling through the speakers were nothing new and sounded much the same as the statements from state and national leaders.

But then, the first song of the program began. The singer leading the piano-accompanied spiritual “We Shall Overcome” invited the assembly to sing along. That’s when something changed.

It took a few lines before the strength of the song picked up, but then almost everyone was singing or humming along, echoing the words and melody off the walls of the buildings that framed the mall. Many voices became one, and for the first time that afternoon, the members of the college community seemed unified by something that didn’t involve football or alcohol.

As the program continued, the crowd sang “Amazing Grace,” “America the Beautiful” and “The Star Spangled Banner,” songs that evoked tears and hugs in the groups of people near me.

Although these songs fit well with the ceremony, it was obvious they weren’t directly representative of our generation’s emotional undercurrent. Following a questionable presidential election, a dipping economic trend and Tuesday’s unprecedented attacks, I, and I’m sure a large percentage of my generation, am confused, saddened and angered.

We need an anthem of our own. We need our “Teen Spirit” or “My Generation.” And I quite possibly may have heard it performed live Friday night at the Barrymore.

After decent but uninspiring performances by opening bands Reuben’s Accomplice and Hey Mercedes, headliner Jimmy Eat World took the stage.

The once passive crowd woke up like a sudden tropical storm.

Jim Adkins picked up his guitar and tore into the opening riff of “Bleed American,” the first track of the band’s new album of the same name. Every ticketholder in the sold-out venue joined their voices with the band’s performance, screaming the words of the chorus, “Salt, sweat, sugar on the asphalt/ Our hearts littering the topsoil/ Tune in, we can get the last call/ Our lives, our coal.”

The band-crowd interaction was oddly reminiscent of video I have seen of Nirvana concerts. Adkins’ body moved little onstage, but his face contorted and shook with emotion that I have seen only in images of Cobain.

And the lyrics and driving melody seemed to fit the mood of the country in the wake of Tuesday’s events. What better way to express the national outpouring of love and empathy than “Our hearts littering the topsoil?”

Jimmy Eat World obviously did not write “Bleed American” in response to the tragedy, but for that night and perhaps the rest of my life, that song will be the pain, hope and expression I so desperately needed.

Jon Dahlager is arts & entertainment editor for the Daily. He is a junior in journalism and sociology from Cottage Grove, Minn. And finally, he is beginning to experience the teen spirit again.