As problematic musical responses to September 11 go, I'll take Alan Jackson's disarmingly honest "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" over Lynyrd Skynyrd's probably truth-stretching "Red White and Blue" any day of the week, since Jackson doesn't shut the door in anybody's face and opts for down-home sentimentality instead of tough-guy swagger, which we get enough of from the tough guy most of us didn't elect awhile ago. (Not the Governator, silly, the other one.) Yet compared with the ignorant, reactionary bluster of crap like Toby Keith's "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue," both songs throb with a heavyhearted emotion that at least begins to acknowledge the complexity of post-9/11 geopolitics: Jackson admits that he's "not sure I can tell you the difference in Iraq and Iran," but doesn't sound the least bit proud of it; Johnny Van Zant cleverly draws a line from Old Glory to his whitening hair, his red neck and his blue collar, inviting anyone with soul to hang out (unless you've got plastic L.A. friends or follow those popular trends). Musically, too, each tune is filled with long, melancholy melodies that suggest a sadness that can't be resolved with the simple sticking of boots up non-American asses; Skynyrd even hauls out the Hammond organ for extra ooze and trickles a Bruce Hornsby piano line over Gary Rossington's freed-bird leads, saving the staccato guitar attack and Southern-rebel sass for the Kid Rock-featuring remake of "Gimme Back My Bullets" that closes new album Vicious Cycle. (Jackson saves his own sass for the limp work-sucks harangue "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere," a new Jimmy Buffett duet he tacked onto his recent Greatest Hits Volume II.) I'm not sure that these relatively considered portraits of bewilderment provide the kinds of answers we'll ultimately need, but I suppose they make getting there seem like something we can do.
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