Interpol and Remembering NYC on 9/11


For whatever reason, one of the things I think of when being reminded of 9/11 is the band, Interpol. Obviously, not the first thing. But although I wasn’t in NYC on 9/11, I had been living there just prior to 9/11 and started imagining how it was changing in response to the horrible day, and Turn on the Bright Lights symbolized for me the sound of that change. It was very New York in that it was self-conscious and pretentious, claiming to be new based on sounds totally old, boldly declaring its own importance before anyone even had a chance to listen. Interpol, like me, was at the center of the universe, and I wanted to be surrounded by others who understood the brilliant centrality of my own, and my community’s importance in the world. But it was also depressed and angsty, weirdly self-reflective of the moment, the past, the future, which is the kind of thing that living even a short while in NYC can do to you. It’s also the album I heard over and over in hipster alphabet city bars and it sounded cool and profoundly New York in that environment.

Mostly it just sounded rightly sad and a bit beaten down by the events of the world. No matter where you live, you can feel like your life is impenetrable to the outside world and being young in NYC only heightens that. So, 9/11 wasn’t just horrible for all the ways it was ghastly horrible, it was horrible because it popped that false balloon. This especially resonates on the song “NYC.” Paul Banks can’t write words for shit. He’s almost ruined some amazing interpol songs with cringeworthy lyrics, and you know I like Interpol when I add the word “almost” before ruined. And the lyrics in “NYC” aren’t great either; but sometimes, between the atmospheric Interpol sound and a few words here and there, he captures something.

I had seven faces
Thought I knew which one to wear
But I’m sick of spending these lonely nights
Training myself not to care

Subway is a porno
The pavements they are a mess
I know you’ve supported me for a long time
Somehow I’m not impressed

Don’t read the lyrics too closely because like all Banks lyrics, they work best on feeling more than actual linguistic communication. But the song really captures, for me, the dueling anxieties and excitements and profoundly despairing loneliness of living in New York, especially post-trauma. LCD Soundsystem did it even better in “New York, I Love You, But You are Bringing me Down,” but this was pretty close. I like too that the song makes NYC sound proud but also sad and a bit beaten. NYC represented too much, it was too grand, too full of itself, and 9/11 was making it not just so justifiably angry and distraught, but reflective that maybe it had been too stridently egotistical, too much in other people’s faces without thinking about the world around it. “NYC” captured all of this in a song for me, and the overall album just fleshed out the different facets of NYC.

Interpol isn’t in my head just because of 9/11. They have a new album out, El Pintor, which does exactly what an Interpol album is supposed to do. It has a great moody sound, lots of criss-crossing guitars, drums, and base, and an occasional good line like on “Anywhere” when he sings, “we tried to invade but some of us in each,” which I thought–when listening to it–that Banks sings, “we tried to invade the sum of us in each,” which I thought was really cool. Actually, I have no fucking clue what the line really means.

Karen O, singer of another 9/11 NYC band, the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs also has a new album out. As does U2, a band I frequently like and frequently hate (perfectly summed up by Steven Hyden’s review), and a band that I felt both towards when they sang triumphantly to Americans of moving forward post-9/11 at the Superbowl half time. I joined in the triumph and exhilaration of their performance that day, and sang along to their anthems from my couch. But, I also preferred Interpol’s more sullen representation of 9/11 and felt that U2s triumphant-ness, like George Bush’s bullhorn at ground zero, reflected a bravado that had its moment and place, but also was trying too hard to make us forget about what we ought to be sad about and stay reflective about for a little longer. Interpol let us wallow for a bit in the sadness of the moment with a bit of disaffected pretense mixed in to remind us that we aren’t sad bastard country song fans, we’re sophisticated urbanites that can feel sad with the knowing self intelligence that we understand it better than everyone else.


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