How Does Popular Music Depict the American Public’s Reactions to the 9/11 Attacks?

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The Basics:

 

Subject Area and/or Course Title:

How Does Popular Music Depict the American Public’s Reactions to the 9/11 Attacks?

Targeted Grade Level:

 11-12, AP US History/Honors American History

Time Required:

 4 Days

Related Standards:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.6

Compare the point of view of two or more authors for how they treat the same or similar topics, including which details they include and emphasize in their respective accounts.

New Jersey State Social Studies Standards:

6.1.12.D.15.d Analyze the reasons for terrorism and the impact that terrorism has had on individuals and government policies, and assess the effectiveness of actions taken by the United States and other nations to prevent terrorism.

6.1.12.D.14.f Determine the influence of multicultural beliefs, products (i.e., art, food, music, and literature), and practices in shaping contemporary American culture.

Author:

Rebecca DiBrienza, 2015

The Lesson:

Introductory Narrative/Overview:

Throughout American history, our nation has fallen victim to tragedy and terror, brought on by enemies from both “without” and “within”, both real and imagined, both nations and individuals. These events are now a part of the collective American memory, and have been swept into the general trajectory of United States History courses (the sinking of the USS Maine, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the shooting of John F. Kennedy all come to mind as examples). Of course, citizens tend to memorialize such tragedies in whatever way they see fit. The tragic assassination of Abraham Lincoln has been “remembered” (although not in the purest sense, because a memory is usually defined as a recalling of something one actually experienced) by generations of Americans who continue to read Whitman’s “O Captain! My Captain!” These cultural forms don’t necessarily need to be tragic in nature, either. The tone can be reflective, grateful, or proud. The American forces’ determination in the face of British aggression was fondly memorialized in the Star Spangled Banner long before it became our national anthem. Some pieces of art designed to “memorialize” (and here I use the term to mean “cement into the collective memory”, as opposed to “to honor” are even somewhat critical in their nature, questioning the United States’ governments actions and responses to certain challenges. It is difficult, for example, to read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible without considering the circumstances under which he wrote it, and the dark and shameful misjudgments of the McCarthy era.

When thinking about how to incorporate this phenomenon into my own teaching, my mind arrived at the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, which defined my own adolescence. My students weren’t alive on that day, and have no personal recollection of it. They must, therefore, rely on the “collective memory” that I refer to above, which is culturally charged and, in most cases, contains inherent bias. Every American is likely to “memorialize” 9/11 differently, based on who you are, where you’re from, what your political beliefs are, and how directly you were affected by the attacks. 9/11 has made its way into the arts, to be sure. The songs, movies, and literature that deal with the topic make up a rich and useful body of sources that are modern and accessible to students, but still very much “primary sources” in that they were created during the immediate aftermath, by Americans who had lived through that time. To demonstrate the way Americans responded to the events of September 11th, and the period of fear, uncertainty, and controversial foreign policy that immediately followed, I felt that an examination of cultural sources, especially popular music, would help to convey the varied moods of the nation at that time. What do the people who lived through 9/11 have to say about it, and how do the “messages” of particular songs differ based on who the songwriters are?

These lessons will also include an in-depth examination of what an “anthem” is, and how certain songs get the distinction of “anthem”. What similarities, both lyrically and musically, do national anthems tend to share? What purpose/function to they serve? In doing this, I will get the students to start thinking about the idea of an anthem that would properly “memorialize” 9/11. I will play them several songs about the attacks and we will look at the rich and varied “stories behind the songs”, but it will become very clear to the students that these songs are not anthems. They are all, to some degree, polarizing, whereas anthems are meant to unite. This is because they represent artists across different genres, with different messages, and from different walks of life, which changes the way they themselves remember 9/11 and significantly impacts the pictures they paint of it for students who would be far less acquainted with it. What social issues do these songs touch on, and what kind of imagery do they bring up? How does each song make the listener feel something distinct/different regarding what the country has just gone though? Students will consider why we don’t have an “anthem” for 9/11, and whether or not we should. Students will also connect the subject matter of these modern popular songs to the secondhand knowledge that they have about these terrorist attacks, in order to get a better sense of how our changed nation moved on to face September 12th.

Instructional Goals/Objectives:

The students will be able to

  • Describe the events of September 11th, 2001, and how they changed the mindset of the American public and impacted the collective American psyche.
  • Explain/justify their own personal opinions regarding what are appropriate responses in the wake of tragedy (this can include, but is not limited to, issues of censorship, propriety, security, and the politicizing of the entertainment industry).
  • Summarize the foreign policy actions taken by America in the wake of the attacks, how they were viewed by Americans with varying political views, and the larger impact those decisions may have had on the global geopolitical climate.
  • Analyze various songs produced in the post-9/11 world, paying attention to the songwriter’s tone and intended message, and to pick out some similarities and differences between the songs.
  • Draw conclusions as to why the attacks of 9/11, as well as the related military engagements that followed (the “War on Terror”) are not memorialized in the same ways as other significant events in American history have been.
  • Define the term “anthem”, identify some characteristics that make songs anthems (using our national anthem as context), and apply the definition to a specific song that captures the overall mood of our country in the aftermath of 9/11.

 

                                                               

Procedures (each “day” should take 1 hour):

Day 1

  • Do Now: Students will be asked to list what they know about the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, and what they want to know more about, to establish historical context.
  • The students will watch a Nick News special about 9/11 and its aftermath, while answering comprehension questions on a “guided viewing” handout. When the video is over, the teacher will engage the class in a discussion of what happened, why it happened, how people felt about it, what was done in the wake of the attacks, and how they changed both foreign and domestic policy. Teacher should record key points on the board, or, if the technology is available, students could use a device connected to Schoology to post their responses and the teacher could project them in real time, which might serve to increase “time-on-task” and engage all the students more deeply.
  • The teacher will tell the students that, as the public was faced with a great deal of uncertainty in the immediate post-9/11 period, many controversial issues surfaced regarding which responses were “proper”, and which were not, in this new climate of terror. I will tell the students that they are going to examine some real issues from that time period, and discuss them with a partner, making sure that each person in the pair gets a minute to share their opinions on each issue. The teacher will handle the moderating and timekeeping. The issues are: should avant-garde musician Laurie Anderson have canceled her Chicago concert on the evening of September 11th, 2001, in light of the day’s events? Should the wider community of country-music fans have boycotted the Dixie Chicks because they spoke out against the military invasion of Iraq that occurred post 9/11? Should the Dave Matthews Band have changed the single off their new album, due to be released that day, to a song with a less-ominous title? Should Dream Theater have been forced to cover the album art for their “Live Scenes From New York”, released that morning, which depicts the New York City skyline in flames? Should Clear Channel radio stations have circulated a list of songs that were temporarily banned from their airways due to references to potentially upsetting topics like buildings burning or planes crashing? The purpose of this activity is to show how music shapes our culture, and suggest that musicians are powerful participants in society and thus have the ability to alter the national mood. To what extent should that be “reigned in” when we’re dealing with extenuating circumstances such as these? Activities like these get the students talking, both about the attacks and about music-related topics, which will be valuable as this 4-day learning experience continues.
  • The teacher will inform the students that, after the attacks, many attempts were made by musicians across a variety of genres to commemorate the attacks in song, and to express their feelings of grief, loss, confusion, and anger. We will be examining more examples of this over the next 2 or 3 days. This song, however, was written earlier, and the video was filmed a few days pre-9/11. The teacher will tell the students that they are going to listen, watch, and read along with the lyrics, paying specific attention to how the singer seems to feel about the location he’s singing about. After the video plays, students will be put into groups of four to answer the discussion questions (see above).
  • Students will be given a homework assignment that consists of listening to an NPR podcast on the idea of war monuments and “memorializing” certain events, and answering some questions related to it via “Google Forms” for assessment purposes. This is to get them thinking about the purposes of memorials, why we build them for some things and not others, and about how a song, perhaps, or another similarly non-tangible thing, could serve as a “memorial” in its own right.

 

Day 2

  • Do Now: Students will complete a short reading on how the “Star-Spangled Banner” became our national anthem, some background on the song, and what was going on in America at the time it was written, as well as at the time it was named the national anthem. Clearly, it is a song that is no stranger to tough times. The teacher should ask the class how they feel about all of this. Does any part of the historical narrative surprise them? What is the purpose of a national anthem? Does the fact that it was randomly decided on by Congress, and not by the people of the nation, it make it less valuable, somehow?
  • The students will do their first song activity of the day, using the “I Can Hear It Now” strategy. They will listen to the Star-Spangled Banner and read the lyrics the first time, and the second time they will close their eyes and pay attention to the mood that the song evokes for them. Under which contexts would you hear this song? How does the song make you feel, and what did you visualize as you listened? We will also talk about the meaning behind the other three verses, which are rarely heard and students may not be familiar with. (See above for side-coaching script suggestions.) It might also be interesting, particularly if working with a population of students who struggle more, academically, to ask them to draw an illustration that comes to their mind when they hear the song, rather than to craft a written response.
  • The teacher will then ask the students to think for a moment about what qualities/characteristics make a song a good candidate for being chosen as a national anthem. What should the lyrics be like? Simple or complex? What should the song sound like? Long or short? Fast or slow? High-pitched or low? They can jot down some ideas in their notebook. Teacher will call on students to share, and compile a list on the board of some similarities and themes across the students’ responses. The teacher can then share with the class, via the projector, the scholarly definition of a national anthem from the Oxford Music Dictionary. It would also be interesting/useful for the teacher to point out to the students that, among western nations, the use of national anthems began to proliferate during the late 1800s (what historical factors might this coincide with?) but weren’t used commonly in eastern countries until well after the 1950s (why might that be?).
  • Because national anthems have some pretty basic goals that are widely considered to be universal, many parallels can be drawn when comparing national anthems from culturally and ideologically different nations, even when it would seem that the two nations have nothing in common. The teacher will remind the students that, after 9/11, the United States took the controversial action of militarily invading Afghanistan, even though they were not responsible for the attacks, because our country felt as though the repressive fundamentalist Taliban regime bred anti-Western sentiment in the country and had looked the other way as terrorist groups established training grounds there. Give some brief background on the U.S.-Afghan relationship.
  • The teacher will supply the students with an English translation of the lyrics to the Afghan national anthem, and the “I Can Hear It Now” strategy employed in Step 2 will be repeated once more. How did they feel listening to a very unfamiliar national anthem? Did that change the context under which they visualized this song in their minds? What emotions might this song evoke for Afghan people?
  • Finally, students will use a graphic organizer to analyze what specific aspects of each of these songs fit in with the definition of an “anthem” we discussed earlier.
  • To close out the day, the teacher will ask students if they can come up with any songs that have become “anthems” for specific events throughout history. They will likely be able to come up with the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as an anthem for the Civil War, “Yankee Doodle” as an anthem for the Revolutionary War, and “Over There” as an anthem for WWI. Why are these songs important, and what purposes have they served over time? Do students feel it’s important for the U.S. to have a similar “anthem” for 9/11? How can anthems help nations in times of struggle?
  • Their homework will be to read the article above, about the difficulties of choosing a 9/11 anthem, and to listen to a Spotify playlist that will be posted on the class website, containing a select few songs specifically mentioned in the article, and to record, in their notes, their initial reactions to the tone of each song and whether or not they feel it would have accurately represented the emotions of the whole country in the wake of the 9/11 attack. Is there any “anthem potential”?

 

Day 3

  • Students will reflect on their homework by responding to some “Do Now” questions in their notebooks: Which song from last night’s playlist was the most appealing to you, and why? Which song was the least appealing to you, and why? Do you think the author’s suggestion for a 9/11 anthem is a good one? Explain?
  • The teacher will ask students about some of the challenges of representing 9/11 with one “anthemic” song. They will likely bring up issues like everyone in America liking different music, people who live closer to new York City perhaps being more personally affected than those who live father away, and the fact that some Americans supported all government actions and decisions post-9/11 whereas some Americans were more critical. It also may be helpful here to touch on a variety of emotions, and the fact that they were all valid: it is easy to see how some could be more scared, some could be more sad, some could be more angry.
  • The teacher will tell the students that they are going to be hearing 4 different songs that all were written in the post-9/11 world and were directly influenced by the tragedies of that day. It may also be helpful to give the students some background on each of the artists here, as well as a packet with the lyrics and the discussion questions (This day’s lesson is split up into 4 different “Story Behind the Song” segments).
  • The teacher will play the first song, Empty Sky by Bruce Springsteen, and will have students answer the discussion questions while the song plays through a second time.
  • The teacher will play the second song, Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue by Toby Keith, and will have students answer the discussion questions while the song plays through a second time.
  • Before moving on to songs 3 and 4, students will partner up and complete a compare and contrast graphic organizer helping them identify some of the similarities and differences between the messages in these two songs. The teacher can call on a few students to share some highlights of what was discussed in pairs.
  • The teacher will comment on the fact that Bruce Springsteen and Toby Keith were significantly older than the next two artists when 9/11 occurred (both were over 40). Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day, and Rapper , however, were under 30. The teacher will tell the students to keep this in the back of their minds as they listen to songs 3 and 4, to see how the attitudes of the youth might differ from the attitudes of older Americans towards to attacks. These songs bring up a new set of social issues.
  • The teacher will play the third song, American Idiot by Green Day, and will have the students answer the questions as the song plays a second time.
  • The teacher will play the fourth song, and will have the students answer the questions as the song plays a second time.
  • Once again, students will get back with their partner and fill in a compare and contrast graphic organizer seeing how these two songs are similar and different. It can be discussed as a full-class discussion when the pairs have finished. The two songs sound very different from each other, but do they share some central themes? How might issues of race factor in here?
  • To close out the lesson, each pair of students will combine with another pair of students, to form small groups. The teacher will ask the students, in their groups, to come to a consensus regarding whether or not each of these songs could serve as a universal 9/11 anthem. Do they have any characteristics of an anthem, like the national anthems we learned about yesterday? If they are not suitable, what about them makes them unsuitable? After the groups discuss, they will submit their judgment on a “ballot sheet” (which the teacher can look at later, for the purpose of formative assessment), and the teacher will tally the ballots up.
  • Unsurprisingly, these songs will likely get very few “yes” votes. So the teacher can tell students that it is now their job to hunt down a suitable replacement to serve as a 9/11 anthem. This allows the teacher to present the final homework assignment of this particular mini-learning-experience: students must go select (or create in the form of a contrafactum, by putting their own lyrics to an existing tune) a song that they feel exhibits the right qualities for an anthem to memorialize the September 11th terrorist attacks, and must come to class prepared to talk for a minute about why, justifying their choice by referring to specific details in the song’s music and lyrics.

 

Day 4 (Closure)

Students will be put into groups of four to share their 9/11 “anthems”, mostly just to streamline the process and promote more engagement, discussion, and “time on task”. Each student will explain a little bit about the song they chose or created, and why it strikes them as an appropriate 9/11 anthem. The other three group members will have a chart to fill out as they listen, and a question sheet to complete independently about one of the songs their classmates shared (this will be collected for assessment purposes, as it will help me to see how well the students understand the idea of an anthem, if there are any common misconceptions that I need to address/correct in my teaching/re-teaching, and if the students were able to successfully apply their knowledge/understanding to a real-world example and offer evidence to support their ideas/claims. (See Appendix)

Reflection:

I will engage the students in a short discussion in order to elicit their feedback, encouraging them to think metacognitively about their learning. They have listened to some sources that were potentially unfamiliar to them, and have had a chance to internalize them and digest them. How has participating in these learning activities, and being exposed to these songs, changed your understanding of the role that the 9/11 attacks play in American historical memory? In what ways did the musical component deepen your understanding of the public’s reaction to this event in ways that a simple narrative would not have done? I would also be curious, in terms of informing my own future practice, which songs “spoke” to the students more than other ones, and why. How did each song make them feel? Which ones do they think best “memorialize” the event (using the exploration of the idea of “monuments” mentioned in the homework podcast for context), the ones that make a stronger and more aggressive political statement, or the ones that are simpler and more somber? Can they give an example of a song that reflects on the event, and was clearly informed by it, but does not “memorialize” it?

If desired, the teacher may also wish to ask students to discuss one of the songs they’ve heard with a family member who was alive during 9/11, and can vividly remember the day. Can this adult relate/connect to what’s being discussed in the song? Do they have an opinion on it? How do they feel that entertainment, music, and culture in our society have changed sing 9/11? I may not do this due to time constraints, but it’s a nice option to help illustrate how the songs impacted contemporary Americans who experienced the event. These could be posted in a virtual forum such as Schoology, and students could comment on each other’s posts to increase peer-to-peer interaction and allow them to pick out some differences and similarities in the ways their older family members felt about this 9/11-themed music.

 

Resources/Materials:

Linda Ellerbee’s background video on the attacks of September 11th and their aftermath, which includes firsthand accounts from children who were attending New York City schools on that day: http://www.podcast.tv/video-episodes/what-happened-the-story-of-september-11-2001-15862017.html

An NPR article on war monuments and the ways in which our society memorializes tragedy (or doesn’t), for homework on Day 1: http://www.npr.org/2015/05/25/409531197/why-have-we-stopped-building-war-memorials

Short background reading on the story behind our National anthem (for Day 2’s Do Now)

Some large chart paper, for recording students’ initial reactions to the songs during Day 3

A few laptops (one per group) to facilitate the presentations of the student-selected “9/11 anthems” on Day 4

The following reading, which is homework for Day 2 and introduces the idea of deciding on an “anthem” that effectively captures the public mood in the aftermath of 9/11:

“In Search of a 9/11 Anthem” Washington Times, October 9, 2002.

(http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2002/oct/9/20021009-092101-3876r/)

 

 

Songs:

“Star Spangled Banner” In terms of recommended recordings, a teacher might wish to play, for the sake of having a point of comparison, and then play several other versions that are recognizable but make use of different instruments, tempos, and keys, such as Jimi Hendrix’s electric version. I recommend a more traditional recording for the “I Can Hear It Now” activity, though, such as http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/loc.natlib.ihas.100010383/default.html Some questions that the teacher might wish to ask the students are:

  • What was going on when this song was written? How does the action change/thicken from verse to verse? What is the songwriter’s perspective?
  • What item is the subject of this song? How does Key describe it?
  • Who is the “foe”, and what happened to them (pay specific attention to verse 3)?
  • What sorts of emotions might the song stir up for Americans? Where would you be likely to hear this song, and why?
  • How does the 4th verse differ in focus from the other three? Why might that be?
  • What typical characteristics of a national anthem are demonstrated in this song? Is it a hymn, a march, an operatic, a folk song, or a fanfare (the five categories we mentioned in class)? National anthems generally pay homage to a monarch or head of state; what/who does this seem to pay homage to?
  • How does this song relate to the idea of patriotism?
  • Many national anthems, including our own, talk of struggle. Why might that be?

 

As an optional extension, students could “plot” the story on a flowchart-style graphic organizer, in order to make sure that students understand the sequencing of Key’s tale.

“Milli Surood” (the National Anthem of Afghanistan)

Recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gs9y-P0FdOo

Translation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Afghan_National_Anthem

After students have listened, the teacher can ask them:

  • How is this song similar to our national anthem? How is it different? Even though these two countries have very diverse cultures, in what ways do the two national anthems serve similar purposes?
  • How does it make you feel when you listen to it? What emotions do you think it might make an Afghan person feel, and why?
  • After listening to these two national anthems, can you draw any conclusions as to why the United States & Afghanistan, historically-speaking, do not get along?
  • What do you know about the country of Afghanistan, its culture, and the way their government is run? What information could you perhaps add to that knowledge based on things mentioned in this song?
  • Allāhu Akbar is a phrase that the government required to national anthem to contain when it was officially adopted in 2006? What might that line refer to?

 

“New York, New York” by Ryan Adams

Official Video (recommended): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmHgY_J63Ik

Lyrics: http://www.metrolyrics.com/new-york-new-york-lyrics-ryan-adams.html

This song was actually not written as a response to 9/11, as it was released that morning. Even though it is before the fact, I like the idea of using it on Day 1 of this lesson to show how connected New Yorkers are to their home city, and to show the regional aspect of how this tragedy affected different people in different ways. Students will be able to hear how much the area means to him, and the fact that many of his positive life experiences are tied to this place that is almost personified in the song, as it’s very much a love song. The Twin Towers feature very prominently in the video, so in the post-9/11 world, many had a particularly emotional response to it. Adams has mentioned that the timing was coincidental, and the video was inspired heavily by his love for the TV show Friends (yet another example of New York as a prized cultural commodity). He added a disclaimer to the video explaining that it had already been produced, and finished, before the attacks.

 

  • How would you describe the songwriter’s experience with New York? How does he feel about the place, and how do you know?
  • Adams has called the Twin Towers (before their demise) “omnipresent”. How does the video convey this? Does the video infuse the song with more power?
  • How do you imagine he was feeling at the end of the day on this song’s release date (9/11/2001)? How might the song’s significance have changed for him?
  • Do you think this song would speak as powerfully to someone who has never been to New York? Why or why not?

 

http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/467563/ryan-adams-on-911-and-his-reluctant-new-york-anthem

“Empty Sky” by Bruce Springsteen

Lyrics: http://brucespringsteen.net/songs/empty-sky

Recommended Recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9b-zxmuhfS8

This is a literal reflection of what Springsteen saw after the attacks, when looking toward the NYC skyline from his home in Rumson. Like the Ryan Adams song from Day 1, it does a good job of conveying how one’s “regional identity” can impact the way in which they respond to these attacks. Although the phrase “eye for an eye” is used, the tone of the song is not necessarily angry or vengeful, and this is something worth exploring with students. The title track of the album, “The Rising” (which is a concept album, in which every song relates to the 9/11 attacks and their aftermath), would also be a valid choice, but I was concerned that it conveys a bit too much biblical mysticism for students to see the parallels between song and event as easily and clearly as “Empty Sky”, which has simpler lyrics. My personal favorite track on the album (“My City of Ruins”), however, would not be the best choice. It is commonly believed to be about New York City, as Springsteen performed it at a televised benefit concert less than two weeks after the attacks, and that powerful video is widely available on YouTube. In actuality, Springsteen himself has explained that the song was really written two years earlier, and it was about the economic struggles and the desperate attempts to revitalize his beloved, run-down Asbury Park, New Jersey. Springsteen did, however, slightly alter some lyrics when he performed it live. This song came much later than that, and is more specific.

 

  • What effect does the vocals, and the tone/speed of the music, have on this song?
  • If you did not know this song was about 9/11, what/who might you guess that it’s about? Why?
  • What does the phrase “eye for an eye” mean? Why do you think Springsteen chose to use it? How would you describe his emotions in this song? Is he angry?
  • How do you think the repetition of certain lyrics changes the listening experience?
  • How does the sound of the saxophone at the end reflect the song’s overall mood?

 

Yates, Brad. Healing a nation: Deconstructing Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising. Thesis, University of West Georgia. Carrollton: 2005.

“Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” by Toby Keith

Lyrics: http://genius.com/Toby-keith-courtesy-of-the-red-white-and-blue-the-angry-american-lyrics

Recommended Recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ruNrdmjcNTc

This song was written, according to Keith, as a piece to support and raise the morale of U.S. troops being sent to Afghanistan. The artist has claimed that it was taken as more political than was intended, and that he was writing it for a very specific audience. That being said, however, the song attracted a great deal of attention. It captured country music fans, invoked a retaliatory spirit, and gave those outside the country the impression of America as a particularly jingoist nation. Keith was known to be a supporter of George W. Bush, and spoke in favor of ousting the Taliban, but later mentioned that the song should not have been taken as a cry to invade Iraq. It is a protest song, of sorts, but a militaristic one, protesting the lack of American will to see a conflict all the way through.

 

  • What emotions do you think the songwriter was experiencing as he wrote this song? How do you know?
  • How does this song relate to the idea of patriotism? What imagery does the songwriter call on?
  • How does it differ from the Bruce Springsteen one we listened to earlier in its mood, tone, sound, and message? Which one is more retaliatory and why?
  • Does this singer seem to have a personal connection to New York City? How does his own personal life experience play a role in what he’s chosen to include in this song?
  • What specific interest groups might have had a negative reaction to this song and why?

 

Waddell, Ray. "Red White & True Blue." Billboard - The International Newsweekly of Music, Video and Home Entertainment Jun 18 2005: 58. ProQuest. Web. 16 July 2015.

Willman, Chris. Rednecks & Bluenecks: The Politics of Country Music. The New Press: New York, 2005.

“American Idiot” by Green Day

Lyrics: http://genius.com/Green-day-american-idiot-lyrics

Recommended Recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ee_uujKuJMI

              American Idiot is a concept album grounded in a specific sociopolitical context, a “rock opera” of sorts, which follows a character named Jesus of Suburbia. A key theme is political discontent in the post-9/11 era, and the sense of frustration that nothing can be done to speed the healing or half the changes that keep coming. The lead singer of Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong, has explained that when he wrote the title track, he was moved by a feeling of general confusion that he and so many other Americans were experiencing at the onset of the War on Terror, made worse by a biased media with a political agenda. Students may point out that the song sounds somewhat negative or pessimistic, and it does. The song on the album that most people think specifically references the 9/11 attacks, “Wake Me Up When September Ends”, was actually written earlier, about someone grieving after the loss of their father, so although the proper sentiments are there, I don’t think it’s the best choice.

 

  • What impact do you think the events of 9/11 have had on the American psyche, according to this songwriter? How is the public feeling, and why?
  • Which repeated phrases in this song do you feel and the most significant and why? How do they help convey a certain attitude about the perceived state of the nation at that time?
  • How do certain musical aspects of this song, like the tempo and the instruments chosen, help to reflect the mood/message of the song?
  • What opinions do you think this songwriter holds regarding American leaders and governmental authorities? Is he confident in the country’s ability to lead its people, and does he think that people should place a lot of trust in it? Explain.

 

Wang, Emily. “Growing Up With Green Day: Millennials and 10 Years of American Idiot”. The Institute of Politics at Harvard University. 2015.

“Know Your Enemy” by Dead Prez

Lyrics: http://genius.com/Dead-prez-know-your-enemy-lyrics

Recommended Recording: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTy-w2qsU2E

It’s interesting to look at post-9/11 rap, because it brings in the element of deeply-rooted systemic racism that is undoubtedly present in society, even in times of grave national tragedy, yet mainstream White artists usually have no reason to touch upon it in their songs (even songs meant to serve as social commentary). This song contests the notion that the War on Terror was as necessary as Bush portrayed it, and it also highlights some of the struggles of the African-American community that have nothing to do with terrorism and are not getting any attention from government authorities. One of the most interesting lines in the song, that makes it unlike any of the other ones, speaks about stopping terrorism by stopping U.S. imperialism. It’s interesting to see that this song goes beyond the idea of not placing blame for the attacks on a particular entity (Springsteen’s song doesn’t blame, either) and suggests that our country should perhaps be accepting some of the blame. Some background on U.S.-Middle East relations might help students better understand this song.

Because this song does contain some profanity, a teacher may wish to use the rap song “September in New York” by Masterminds instead, which is an incredibly powerful tale of a young African American New Yorker experiencing the events of 9/11. Students would need some context on the death of Amadou Diallo (a young Black immigrant who was killed by four New York City policemen in 1999), however, as the song makes several explicit references to that event in between discussing the city’s response to the terrorist attacks and how members of the rapper’s own community were reacting to the tragedy.

 

  • What significant social issues does this song touch on that may be related to the events of 9/11, but also bring in the broader context of what else is going on in the post 9/11 world?
  • Which of the issues mentioned in the rap might be of particular significance to the African-American community, and why?
  • Why might George Bush be “worse than bin Laden”, according to this songwriter? In what ways is this song a criticism of government policies and government actions?
  • Who do you think the “enemy” in this song is? Is it the terrorists responsible for 9/11? Explain.
  • Does this singer feel that fighting the war on terror is a worthwhile effort for his community to get involved in? How do you know?
  • How does this song relate to the idea of patriotism? Cite and explain a specific lyric to illustrate your thoughts.
  • Both this song, and the Greed Day song that we listened to previously, mention the role of the media, government surveillance, and government propaganda in the post-9/11 world. What conclusions can you drawn on that topic based on the lyrics of both songs?

 

https://tropicsofmeta.wordpress.com/2013/03/04/911-and-its-aftermath-in-hip-hop-culture-the-hip-hop-critique-of-911-and-the-bush-administration/

Also, if students are struggling with the final capstone part of this learning experience, the teacher can suggest that they give a listen to some of the following songs, all of which were written about or inspired by the attacks of September 11th, according to their artists:

 

My Blue Manhattan by Ryan Adams

An Open Letter to NYC by The Beastie Boys

Undivided by Bon Jovi

The Last Fallen Hero by The Charlie Daniels Band

On That Day by Leonard Cohen

Out of Our Heads by Sheryl Crow

Tuesday Morning by Melissa Etheridge

Tuesday by Five For Fighting

The Innocent by Goldfinger featuring Mest and Good Charlotte

When New York Had Her Heart Broke by John Hiatt

Bin Laden by Immortal Technique

Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning) by Alan Jackson

The Proud by Talib Kweli

Empire State of Mind by Jay-Z and Alicia Keys

Skylines and Turnstiles by My Chemical Romance

Jihad by Slayer

Far Away by Sleater-Kinney

Believe by Yellowcard

Other Bibliographic Resources:

This detailed definition of a national anthem, taken from the Oxford Music Dictionary: http://www.national-anthems.org/origins.htm

This general article on how the music community responded to the 9/11 attacks:

Jeffrey Melnick. "9/11." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 17 Jul. 2015. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/A2226761

 

 

Appendix:

9/11 Anthem Presentation                                                  Name: __________________

1. What does the song SOUND like? What characteristics of the MUSIC relate to your understanding of an “anthem”? Find a specific example in the song, and use your reading to help you explain/support your selection.

Group Member 1:                                                    Song Name:

 

Group Member 2:                                                    Song Name:

 

Group Member 3:                                                    Song Name:

 

2. What is the SUBJECT MATTER of the song? What characteristics of the LYRICS relate to your understanding of an “anthem”? Find a specific example in the song, and use your reading to help you explain/support your selection.

Group Member 1:                                                    Song Name:

 

Group Member 2:                                                    Song Name:

 

Group Member 3:                                                    Song Name:

 

3. If the song was recorded post-9/11, what can it tell you about American society since that time? If it was recorded prior to the attacks, (or not all), how does the subject matter fit in with what you already know about the attacks and America’s response to them?

Group Member 1:                                                    Song Name:

 

Group Member 2:                                                    Song Name:

 

Group Member 3:                                                    Song Name:

 

4. What do you feel the country NEEDED after 9/11? Which of the three songs presented to you would best provide that support, and why? Why might that song be a better choice than the ones we listened to as a class? (If you feel NONE are better choices, say why.)

 

 

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