Finding New Solace in Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The Rising’ 20 years after 9/11

In the late afternoon of Sept. 11, 2001, Bruce Springsteen headed out to a coastal bridge near his home in New Jersey, where, on a clear day in the past, he could see the vertical lines of the Twin Towers. On this cataclysmic day, following the atrocities that appeared on his television screen that morning, he saw only “torrents of smoke lifted from the end of Manhattan Island,” as he recalled in his 2016 memoir Born to Run.

After sitting alone with his restless thoughts on a beach below the foot of the bridge, Springsteen started back to the parking lot. At that moment, a man drove by, with his window open, and yelled out — “Bruce, we need you.”

The week after, Springsteen headlined a national telethon to raise money for the grieving families who lost loved ones when the towers fell on 9/11, and was inspired to begin recording his 12th studio album, “The Rising.” With this 9/11-themed album, released in July 2002, the Boss was back: He was once again at the top of the charts, the band was rocking like it hadn’t since the 1980s, and the music was mournful and uplifting at the same time. The driver who called upon Springsteen at the beach, and seemingly every other fan, got the Bruce they needed.

I have to confess that I wasn’t looking for this Bruce, during the long aftershocks of 9/11.

Read my confession and why I believe we still need Bruce, 20 years later. See the full article.

What’s on Your Pandemic Playlist?

If you happened to be inside a hospital early in the pandemic, you might have heard these words floating through the corridors — “The smiles returning to the faces. Little darling, it seems like years since it’s been here.” They’re lyrics from “Here Comes the Sun,” George Harrison’s 1969 classic about resurrection from the dead of winter. Across the country, hospitals played the Beatles’ song over paging systems as a celebratory ritual when discharging a patient on the mend from the coronavirus. Many still do.

Music has been therapeutic for people outside hospitals, too, and more than a few of the prescribed tunes were written and sung by the “quiet Beatle,” also known as the spiritual one. Harrison, who died of lung cancer in 2001, continues to pop up on pandemic playlists during a dark winter that indeed “seems like years.” Among his most turned-to works are not only “Here Comes the Sun” but also other creations, including multiple tracks from his signature solo album, “All Things Must Pass.”

See the article about George Harrison’s coronavirus comeback, in NCR … 

Prince’s ‘Welcome 2 America’ Puts Faith and Politics Front and Center

A little over five years ago, the funk-rock icon Prince died, at the age of 57, from an accidental overdose of fentanyl. Much of the music he had been putting out was uneventful, though tickets to his concerts were prized (especially after an unforgettable 2007 Super Bowl halftime show, where he serendipitously performed “Purple Rain” amid a relentless downpour). His studio albums had been uneven for quite some time — which makes the latest posthumous release from Prince’s estate all the more stunning.

“Welcome 2 America,” released on July 30, is the first posthumous album by Prince made up entirely of unreleased material. The 12-song set was retrieved from the singer’s prodigious (and literal) vault of never-released music. Recorded in 2010, the album delivers some of Prince’s catchiest music in decades, while exploring big questions. It is an invigorating fusion of multiple genres, but also of two realms that Prince was not particularly known for mixing — faith and politics.

Read my review of “Welcome 2 America,” and why this album, though a decade old, is right on time.

Give Up My White Privileges? Sure. Which Ones?

Shortly after the resurgence of Black Lives Matter, I found myself connecting with friends and acquaintances who seemed prepared to admit that we’ve enjoyed privileges interlinked with race (and age), and that right about now would be a good time to start unhanding these privileges. For the most part, they’re people like me—white baby boomers, with a skew toward males who attended Catholic schools long ago. The feelings among them are genuine and might well reflect a moment of realization for many Americans, not just white liberals but also others.

Still, there are questions. What privileges are we talking about? And what exactly is it that we’d be giving up?

My friends and interlocutors are speaking of the now-familiar advantages. These include an assurance that I could approach authorities, including the police, and expect a fair hearing; that I could browse aimlessly in shops without clerks monitoring my every movement; that if I move to a new locale, the neighbors won’t eye me with suspicion; and many other privileges of membership in my race.

These are surely advantages (they’re also the more visible ones, catchable on video). But what would it mean for me to no longer have them? Recalcitrant cops aren’t going to start manhandling me just because they’ve decided to go easy on Blacks. My new neighbors wouldn’t look at me warily, by virtue of having lowered their guard against Black newcomers. Shopkeepers won’t start tailing me after they’ve turned their gaze off patrons of color.

In other words, I can lose all of these privileges, at no cost to myself. They’re easy to renounce (if not necessarily change at the social level). Could the same be said for some other advantages, harder to see and therefore acknowledge? I’m thinking mainly of the pecuniary benefits made possible by systemic racism, or what the Latin American liberation theologians call “structures of sin.” Here’s one little corner of a structure: how my whiteness affects my property taxes. It’s something I scarcely thought about until seeing a Washington Post article under the headline, “Black families pay significantly higher property taxes than white families, new analysis shows.”

…read more

The Song of Mary

The setting is Nazareth, in ancient Palestine. A devout Jew, Mary is a rural peasant — “young, female, a member of a people subjected to economic exploitation by powerful ruling groups,” renowned Catholic theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson writes in her book about Mary, Truly Our Sister. Like other Jewish girls of her class, she’s most likely illiterate, though she knows the Hebrew Scriptures from oral tradition. Those girls were typically married off at around 13 years old, bearing children soon enough, and there’s no reason to believe Mary was any different. In the New Testament’s Gospel of Luke, she suddenly finds herself pregnant, and Joseph, the carpenter with whom she’s betrothed in an arranged marriage, knows he’s not the father.

See the article in public radio’s Cognoscenti blog …

Thank You, Black Families, for Subsidizing my Property Taxes

Here’s something I never thought about: how my whiteness affects my property taxes. My introduction to this question comes by way of a July 2 Washington Post article under the headline, “Black families pay significantly higher property taxes than white families, new analysis shows.”

I’d have thought Black homeowners pay less in property taxes than their white counterparts, relative to home prices. That’s because the value of their homes tends to appreciate more slowly, in neighborhoods often viewed as less desirable. So, local tax assessments ought to be lower. In fact, Black families pay more, adjusting for market value—13 percent more than white families, according to a new study of 118 million homes nationwide by Indiana University and University of Utah economists. Though the causes are varied, it’s reasonable to conclude that assessors haven’t been particularly worried about overtaxing Black families.

My takeaway: I’ve likely reaped a white-family discount on property taxes, and have done so through 31 years of homeownership, thanks to a heavier burden on Black families. And does that even graze the surface of white, middle-class privileges? Don’t bet on it.

Forthcoming—an opinion piece on what it would mean to really “give up” white privileges.

Master Teachers

Inside the classrooms of six Boston College faculty

At 8:15 one Wednesday morning last January, most of the 40 students in G. Peter Wilson’s 8:30 Financial Accounting class were already present. Wilson waited a minute or two longer, surveyed the lecture room occupied mostly by freshmen in Boston College’s Carroll School of Management, and said: “Let’s do it.” All heads turned toward a bingo cage on a wooden bench at the front of the room. The professor gave the toy a spin and yanked out a numbered yellow ball—indicating the study group that would report on its research momentarily. Then he rolled a red dice. “And the lucky number is two,” he announced, signaling the student who would deliver the group’s brief presentation. In the back of the room a young man pumped his fist and exclaimed, “Yes!” … read more

The Peace Front

Religious groups stake out a wider role in violent conflicts.

On Sept. 11, 2001, a cadre of young Muslim men hijacked planes and, perhaps with visions of black-eyed virgins in Paradise, crashed them into the Pentagon and the twin towers of the World Trade Center, acting supposedly in the name of their religion. Within hours of these atrocities, Top 40 radio stations across the United States began playing John Lennon’s anthem “Imagine,” which supplied what many saw as a soundtrack of hope and harmony in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. The lyrics longingly envisioned “all the people, living life in peace.” But with a disquieting relevance to the suicide attacks, Lennon had also pondered, “Imagine there’s no heaven…and no religion, too.”

Since then commentators have fleshed out this contemplation of a religion-free world. “Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11…no Crusades…no Israel/Palestine wars…no Taliban,” wrote the prominent atheist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins five years after the towers crumbled. This past December, 30 years after the ex-Beatle was gunned down by a deranged fan, the comedian and television personality Bill Maher, alluding to religious strife in general, sent a message to his fans on Twitter: “Remember Lennon said ‘Imagine NO religion.’ Honor what he wrote—it holds up.” These and other secularist screeds have tapped into a larger feeling that religion usually is a cause of violence rather than an agent of peace helping to resolve and heal conflicts. …read more