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Music of 9/11

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

Here on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Free Ride blog muses on the epic Live Scenes from New York, by the progressive metal band Dream Theater. The 3-disc live performance piece was released on September 11, 2001. It was quickly recalled and later re-released with a different cover, because, eerily, the original artwork depicted the New York City skyline in flames. I’ll confess that until about a year ago I was woefully ignorant of the prog metal genre, and had never heard of Dream Theater. It was in Cuba that I got my introduction, as the young people there are enthralled with the American metal scene. In fact, as a guitarist, I’m ashamed to say that I knew nothing of the shredding phenomenon (the ultra-fast solo technique associated with heavy metal guitarists), and it was Orestes Roca, the young pastor of the church where I was staying who, with great enthusiasm, introduced me to the remarkable skills of Dream Theater’s John Petrucci. He played me several videos of Petrucci performing with fellow shredders on the G3 tour. I had apparently slept through a pretty impressive set of creative leaps and bounds when it comes to sheer technical skill on the guitar. These guys make Al Dimeola and Paco Delucia sound like they’re playing with thick gloves on.

At any rate, I did some quick listening to come up to speed, so to speak, in my understanding of progressive metal, so I could appreciate some of what the Cuban teenagers were talking about and what they were listening to when they went to the underground clubs. And in my quick study, I came across Dream Theater’s larger than life concept album, Live Scenes from New York, that incorporated some of their earlier work in creating this storyline that competes with a Russian novel for its complicated plot. It’s all about a man who meets his self in a past life through hypnotherapy, and he discovers her part in a murder. The hypnotist was the murderer in his past life, and winds up repeating the act by murdering the patient. A fascinating rock opera, to be sure. Equally fascinating to me is discovering just how many young people in our country were following this story as they simultaneously followed the real story and watched the real live scenes from New York.

For a connection to the Free Ride theme, the second disc from the Live Scenes from New York project gives us the 10 minute plus Finally Free, a conversation between the hypnotist, the patient (Nicholas), and the past life character (Victoria). Both these latter characters have verses in which they sing:

This feeling inside me
Finally found my life, I’m finally free
No longer torn in two

Now, you don’t have to be an adherent to the belief system of reincarnation to connect with the characters here. I was just at a church workshop where a friend was sharing something that most people could resonate with, a feeling of being torn into on the inside, somehow disconnected from an elusive, more authentic self. The events of September 11, 2001 and the ensuing decade has contributed to a growing sense of disconnect for many people, as we have become more and more consumed by terror and divided from one another. It is uncanny to me how Dream Theater was able to touch on our angst before these events ever unfolded. The ending to Finally Free is more than uncanny, as they sample some snippets of news reports: News in London, France, Russia and Italy have deleted their lead story. . . And as you can imagine, as the skies have grown darker here over Washington, the mood has grown darker as well and people here are beginning to resign themselves to the possibility that they are witnessing yet another tragedy. . . Reaction from everywhere, from Washington and certainly from around the world. . . Crazy stuff. It all leaves me scratching my head a bit, wondering what this music that had such a following in the fall of 2001 is all about. Perhaps Dream Theater is speaking to a dream that we can one day be free of our divided, disconnected, torn apart lives. Instrumentally, the shredders certainly are trying to prove that we can be free of any restraints or limits when it comes to technique and technical skill. It’s not the kind of music that I gravitate toward, but at least now I can have a more intelligent conversation with my young Cuban friends.

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