September 12, 2001
|The question of where were you when…? is a familiar component of the most notable catastrophes. I know where some of you were, because you called me from you homes and said, "A plane crashed into the Pentagon," or zipped past my desk and said, "Tower One has just collapsed." So those of you know I where I was, but maybe not that you gave me the only news I had. Ordinarily, I get news on the radio and internet, but the radio was in car and the internet news services were jammed with inquiries from people like me-except presumably, some of them got updates instead of "this page cannot be displayed" warnings. "There are jets in the air right now that can't be accounted for," said The Man. "Should I come into work?"|
In between brief and terrifying updates, I listened to a cd I had burned for Cap'n Wiffle. (Cap'n Wiffle was formerly known as Aureng Zebe, and he actually changed his handle for reasons of political and moral sensitivity and not just to give me the good snicker it has in these difficult times.) That cd, typical of my creations, was packed with great songs and interesting artists, but one tune in particular kept grabbing me by the throat-"To Sir with Love" written by Don Black and Mark London, and sung by Lulu.
As an open-hearted tribute to a schoolteacher, "To Sir with Love" is an anomaly in pop (I'm not counting "Hot for Teacher" for a reason). Lyrically, the song flirts with teacher-student transgression; but while a schoolgirl crush is clearly in evidence, the singer knows that to pursue it would be to betray what she learned under his tutelage. "If you wanted the sky, I would write across the sky in letters/ That would soar a thousand feet high, 'To Sir, with Love.'" Who would have thought this would be the making of the 17th most popular song of the 1960s? Still, it's grand, it's generous, and…just so pretty.
If this were a normal September,
"To Sir with Love" would have a lock on Cobra Song of the Month, but my official
choice beat it by a nose. It isn't as different from Lulu's hit as you might
at first think. Both reflect hopefulness and security won at a critical hour,
and both are vested with a fresh daring and eagerness to aspire. But "The
Star Spangled Banner," written during an early crisis in US history, is the
one to hum as the flag flies over New York City, Washington, DC, and all over
the nation, and as it is desecrated in hostile precincts. And though only
the first verse is typically sung, please note that it is a cliffhanger-it
ends in a question mark. In its entirety, the song is revealed to be a drama
in four acts, full of meaty words like "gallantly," "ramparts," "dread," "vauntingly,"
and "heav'n-rescued"; and the last of these verses ends in a triumphal question
mark tempered by an all important "when." Sing it and see.
can you see, by the dawn's early light,
shore dimly seen thro' the mists of the deep,
is that band who so vauntingly swore
be it ever when free-men shall stand