Author: Daniel, Bert

Tragedy and Infamy

December 7th. September 11. In our country we remember these two dates as shocking moments of disaster caused by some of our fellow human beings. Human beings who calculated destruction for those of us who did not share their particular view of what the world should be like.

Someday, maybe someone will write a Bluegrass song about the tragic events that happened ten years ago today. For all I know, maybe somebody already has. But, even if it were a great song, I don't think I would want to listen to it right now. Those events are still just too disturbing in my mind. They seem to be an altogether inappropriate subject to be set to music. How do you commemorate the callous murder of thousands of innocents? Perhaps a moment of silence is the only way that will ever fit.

There are lots of great songs about tragedies. Some of them are even about murder but few of them are about mass murder. Bob Dylan's song about seven people dead on a South Dakota farm is the highest body count I can think of offhand. I've heard versions of the Wreck of the Old Ninety Seven in which fourteen people die, but that's not an act of murder. It's more like a natural disaster and natural disasters are different in the way they affect our psyche:

Wasn't that a mighty storm?
Wasn't that a mighty storm in the morning?
Wasn't that a mighty storm?
It blew all the people away.

Just a few days ago on the calendar, September 8 to be exact, the great hurricane of 1900 hit Galveston, Texas. The residents of Galveston were just as unprepared as people in New York and Washington a hundred and one years later. And the Galveston hurricane killed at least twice as many people. We remember the song today and we remember the event, but perhaps only because of the song. We remember the flood of '57, thanks to Ralph Stanley, but that wasn't a tragedy even close to the scale of September 11 or Galveston. Or the recent Hurricane Irene.

The floods in China in the 1930's killed literally millions of people but there is no song about it that I know of. When we listen to familiar tragedy songs, do we really think about the immensity of the suffering the people actually went through? Nowadays these tunes are mostly just good songs, but for the people who wrote them, they must have been a way of coming to grips with the sense of loss that such inexplicable events bring.

It's not just musicians though. Philosophers have struggled with the disturbing implications of how tragic events can happen in a universe that supposedly has God watching over us all. How do you understand an earthquake that totally destroys Lisbon in 1755? Or a tsunami that pummels Japan in 2011? Somehow we have to at least partially process the reality that such terrible events can actually happen in our world. A world which could be so much more perfect if we would only let it. A psycho blows up 168 people at an Oklahoma federal building. Another madman guns down scores of children in Norway. Such is our world.

I mourn for the victims of 9-11 and for their families who still suffer. But I don't only think about the senseless loss of life. I think about the heroism of those who responded to the tragedy. Like the doomed passengers over Pennsylvania who banded together in their finest hour and averted even more tragedy. The firefighters and police in New York who valiantly responded to situations they could never have dreamed of. The bravery of soldiers who traveled half way around the world and took out the villain responsible. The others who died trying or who still struggle to ensure the safety of all of us who remember that horrible day ten years ago today.

There's a good song there somewhere. Some day maybe we'll be able to sing it.

Posted:  9/11/2011

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email