Thursday, 8 September 2011

History Rhymes : PJ Harvey and 9/11

At the end of my blog on the riots (Schools Out For Summer) I jokingly suggested Ghost Town by The Specials would be the hit song of the moment as it was during the 80s riots.

Now it's September, with the ten year anniversary of 9/11 approaching, and after last nights Mercury Music Prize we now know what the sound of the moment will be. It's PJ Harvey's amazing Let England Shake.

As the first artist to win the award twice, she admits she is especially proud as exactly ten years ago she was prevented from picking up the award in person for Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea as, among other things, she was staring at a burning Pentagon through a hotel window.

"History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." said Mark Twain

Ten years ago this Sunday I was watching 9/11 from news websites slowly freezing into shock in an office in Barnstaple. Working on technical support for the newly Peter Goode-less Castlelinks Ltd we had hardly a moment to check news websites, but as the younger tech types slowly got more insistent I paid more attention.

Those buildings are going to collapse? Give over! New York, a city surrounded by about 5 busy airports, is going to have the modern skyscraper that would collapse if hit by one plane? Don't be ridiculous.

Ten years ago next Monday I listened again to the new winner of the 2001 Mercury music prize, PJ Harvey for Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, and was shaken to the the core at how prophetic it seemed. An album written in and about New York months before 9/11 seemed to predict events in the same city only a few months later.

Sample lyrics from Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea

"Look out ahead I see danger come
I wanna' pistol I wanna' gun
I'm scared baby I wanna' run
This world's crazy Give me the gun"
(Big Exit)

T"hrew my bad fortune Of the top of A tall building "
(Good Fortune)

"How could that happen? How could that happen again?
Where the fuck was I looking When all his horses came in?
And he built an army Of kamikaze
Ten thousand willing Pilots flying Interfacing Space and beyond
Built an army To come and find me"

 And afterwards living in my lonely cottage in Kentisbury I caught some of the fever that would overtake the U.S. I rang my friend Mike and predicted what  would happen next. "if they finally sort out Saddam and the Taliban it can be a good thing" I said, meaning that the world could finally end up respecting he United Nations, after Rwanda, Srebrenica and the humiliation of the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq.

What I (and evidently the entire Blair government) didn't realise then was that the new Bush/Cheney Presidency would do more to undermine the UN than the Taliban or Saddam could even dream of. If the U.N. was a sad disappointment in 2000, it really is a sad joke now.

"Let me take my problem to the United Nations!"

This is a bitter and climactic lyric from PJ Harvey's latest album, Let England Shake, which last night won the Mercury Music prize exactly ten years since she won for Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.

I'm already worried about her album for 2021.

I saw PJ Harvey live only six weeks ago at the I'll Be Your Mirror Festival in London. Report plus link to photo album will follow in next post on this blog.

1 comment:

  1. I thought the same thing about "Stories From the City... ..." right after 9/11 happened. I couldn't help but think that this album somehow picked up on what was about to happen to NYC just a few months after its release. Your post is the first time I've ever seen this line of thinking from someone else but me. Crazy. Thanks for sharing.