Sunday, June 5, 2011

Apples in Stereo -- "Open Eyes" (2007)

Now you lie here with open eyes and
Now you sleep by the phone
Now you lie here with open eyes and
Now you weep on your own
Now you lie here with open eyes and
You know you're not alone

We'll get to this song a little later, but (as my grandmother used to say) we've got bigger fish to fry first.

Legendary country music star Waylon Jennings was a 21-year-old guitarist for Buddy Holly's band who initially had a seat on the airplane that Buddy Holly chartered to fly from Clear Lake, Iowa, to Moorhead , Minnesota in February 1959.  But Jennings gave up his seat to J. P. "Big Bopper' Richardson, who was suffering from fly symptoms and didn't want to ride the bus that would carry the rest of the musicians who were touring with Holly to Moorhead.  

When Holly learned that Jennings was going to ride the bus instead of flying with him, he said, "Well, I hope your ol' bus freezes up."  Jennings responded, "Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes." Those words, though said in jest, haunted Jennings for the rest of his life.

Jennings had one of the most notorious cases of survivor's guilt, he was far from the first person to suffer from feelings of guilt after surviving a traumatic event when others did not.  "Survivor syndrome" is sometimes called "concentration camp syndrome" because many who lived through the Holocaust reported experiencing a variety of symptoms -- including anxiety, depression, and sleep disturbances -- resulting from the guilt they felt about surviving when family members and friends did not. 

One of my Joplin friends who survived the May 22 tornado that killed over 140 people, injured almost a thousand others, and destroyed about 2000 homes and businesses told my daughter (who is a newspaper reporter) that she was feeling overwhelmed by survivor's guilt.  I'm sure she's far from the only survivor in Joplin to have such feelings.

I was feeling guilty last week as well, although my guilt was something different from survivor's guilt.  I spent the Memorial Day weekend on Cape Cod, where my wife's mother and late father bought a beach house over 60 years ago, and where we go every Memorial Day with our kids.  I was born on May 30 -- which used to be Memorial Day every year -- so we usually celebrate my birthday there as well.

My 85-year-old parents, who live in Joplin, survived the tornado without injury.  Their house (which is only a few blocks from 20th and Range Line Road, where the tornado peaked in intensity) was damaged but remained essentially intact.  They could have stayed there if they hadn't lost electricity and water.  Fortunately for them, they were able to secure a hotel room the next day.

After monitoring the situation for a couple of days, my sister and I agreed that she would go to Joplin the Friday after the tornado struck to be with them for a few days, and that I would visit them the following Friday to help them fix up the house and do whatever else I could do for them.  That meant I could still go to Cape Cod with my family.

So I wasn't really feeling guilty last weekend on account of not being in Joplin to help my parents -- my sister is at least as capable of handling whatever needed to be done as I am, and it made more sense for us to go at different times than be there together.

What I was feeling a little guilty about was enjoying a gorgeous Cape Cod weekend in a very comfortable beach house with my kids -- riding my bike on the Cape Cod Rail Trail every day, filling up on the local seafood, and just enjoying the beautiful old houses and colorful flowers.  

I devoted a fair amount of time to watching the television coverage and searching for newspaper articles, photos, and videos online.  The Facebook group that was created for our 40th high school reunion in Joplin last summer was the place where I spent the most time.

Click here to read what I think is the best newspaper article written about the Joplin tornado.  (The New York Times sent several reporters to Joplin, including A. G. Sulzberger -- who father is the newspaper's publisher, and whose grandfather and great-grandfather were the publishers who preceded him.)

Click here to read the second-best article on the tornado.  (Sorry, Caroline -- I can't play favorites here.) 

Fortunately, it appears that most of my classmates and friends came through the tornado in reasonably good shape.  But I have no doubt that even those who live a good distance north or south of the storm's path were traumatized by the experience, and that the damage the city has suffered will make everyday life very difficult for them for a long, long time.

I moved away from Joplin after finishing school.  My parents never left, so I go back once or twice a year to visit them.  Losing so much of the city where I spent the first 18 years of my life and that is still my home in a way that no other place will ever be has certainly affected me.  But whatever distress I am feeling pales in comparison to what the people who live there are suffering.

Ordinarily, I post a lot of photos to Facebook when I'm on Cape Cod -- everything from beach scenes and sunsets to pictures of 200-year-old churches and houses.  But I didn't do much of that this past weekend.  It didn't seem quite right to be posting photos depicting my carefree vacation weekend in such a lovely and comfortable locale.

So this post contains only pictures of wildflowers I saw growing near the bike trail I rode on -- bits of beauty that owe nothing to humans.  

I spent more time that I should have trying to come up with a song with lyrics that said something about the Joplin tornado.  There are plenty of obvious choices -- "The Wind Cries Mary" by Jimi Hendrix, or the Doors' "Riders in the Storm" or even Sinatra's "Summer Wind."  Or I could have picked a song like "The End" by the Doors, which is not literally about wind or stormy weather, but which is suitably creepy and apocalyptic.

But no song can do justice to what happened in Joplin on May 22, so I'm not going to try to find one that does.  On the other hand, I'm going to be looking at the world through Joplin-colored glasses for a long time, and there are a lot of songs with lines into which I could read a Joplin-related meaning.

"Open Eyes" is a good song that I rediscovered while riding my bike this past weekend.  Let's just leave it at that, and not try to read too much into the lines I quoted above.  This song is part of this post not because it has any particular relation to what happened on May 22, but because every post on this blog starts out with a few lines from a song, and ends with links to that song.  

I rediscovered several other really good songs on the Apples in Stereo's New Magnetic Wonder album while riding my bike last weekend, and I'm going to write about a couple of other ones (as well as introduce you to the band) in my next couple of posts.  Those songs won't have anything to do with the tornado either.  As Freud once said that sometimes a cigar is just a good smoke, and sometimes a song is just a song.

Everyone I've spoken with who was in Joplin when the tornado hit or has visited since then has told me that it's impossible to describe what the city looks like today -- that you simply have to see it for yourself.  As of right now, my curiosity is running very high.  But I've heard enough to feel considerable dread of what I will see when I arrive there.

Here's "Open Eyes."  The music video features video of NASA's "Helios" aircraft, an  experimental unmanned solar-powered flying wing that once reached an altitude of almost 100,000 feet.  I have no idea why.

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from iTunes:

Open Eyes - New Magnetic Wonder

Here's a link you can use to buy it from Amazon:

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