My mental and emotional soundtracks tend to run toward the very seasonally suggestive. While George Winston’s December album never works for me beyond its titular month, Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns lags after Labor Day.
September rolls around and it’s hard to ignore the imminence of Autumn. The last days of August were grey and partly gloomy as the eastern-most remnants of Hurricane Laura passed through northern Alabama; other storms followed in her wake. Fall college football season will be so depleted as to create anxiety and despair rather than jubilation; it’s hard to work up the usual enthusiasm for a Kentucky Derby on Labor Day weekend without crowds. Even so, I want Bob Baffert-trained horses to win.
Back in the early summer, four packets of flower seeds arrived in my mother’s mail with a charitable solicitation. They sat around for a bit and, one day, when I had the luxury of working in my yard, I popped them in four separate pots without great expectations.
Ultimately, most of the seeds have sprouted and grown with varying levels of success, but the only ones to bloom so far are the vivid blue forget-me-nots. The garden table and surrounding yard where they sit is laden now with leaves from the cherry tree in the neighbor’s yard. That tree is always the first to shed its leaves, but also among the first to herald spring a few months later.
Short days and cooler weather often have a negative effect on my mood, but a suggestive impact on my inner soundtrack. I will swear that yesterday, on the first morning of September, I woke up with Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September” running constantly through my head.
As I got more awake, “Try to Remember,” from the Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt chamber musical The Fantasticks, began to dominate with its recurring motif of words that rhyme with September and other infectious internal rhyme and wordplay.
More fully awake, the tune that haunts me is Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” a song that, like all universal literature, morphs depending on the moment. Written in response to a parent’s death from cancer, it has dealt with the tragedy of 9/11 and war and the loss of life and dignity after Katrina.
My most visceral musical response to this particular September of 2020, however, is Rosanne Cash’s haunting duet with her father, Johnny, in her song “September When It Comes,” a plaintive song of memory, pain, and reconciliation. She sings:
Well first there’s summer, then I’ll let you in.
September when it comes.
These past six months have done a number on all of us. The pervasive pandemic and its still-indecisive outcomes and after-effects have worked on all of our nervous systems, regardless of our political affiliations. The fact that it has become political adds to the undeniable and needless tension and stress.
I have chosen to minimize my intake of “news” for a while. I need to step back and more judiciously protect the information I consume. I need to halter the despair.
The writer, Verlyn Klinkenborg, whose contemplative essays often provide balm in times of stress, remarked on the over-saturation of media coverage in the aftermath of 9/11 almost nineteen years ago. He calls 9/11/2001 “that sudden Tuesday.” Could it ever be summarized more perfectly?
Reacting to the saturation of media coverage of that event, and to the fact that we Americans were re-playing the tragedy over and over on our screens, Klinkenborg wrote:
It’s hard to know, just yet, whether for each of us this witnessing has caused an erosion or a sedimentation, a stripping away of the skin or a callusing. But paradoxical as it may sound, to continue to bear witness, in conscience, it may be necessary to stop watching for a while, to turn off the television, to break what for some people has become a self-reinforcing circle of despair.
In those stoic days after 9/11, I was working at Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery. Our theatre complex was located in a pastoral park, across the lake from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts. A couple of days after “that sudden Tuesday,” I escaped to the Museum for a quiet lunch away from the news reports that permeated every space I encountered.
A group of older ladies was seated at a table near me. As I eavesdropped on their chatter, I discovered that they were from all over the country — stuck for a while at a hotel in Montgomery, waiting for the airports to open and for travel to resume. Periodically, during the conversations, I heard references to the tragedy that had left them all stranded for a moment in time. Mostly, however, I heard the resolute and determined voices of American women who were forced together in the most unlikely of circumstances and were making connections and “making do” until they were able to move on with their lives. They were awaiting the break in the clouds that engulfed us.
Might that “circle of despair” be somehow broken in this current moment?
As a congenital sufferer of SAD (September Affective Disorder), I spark to your catalog of September songs. Might I add a couple to the list? The eponymous Kurt Weill classic you take as your title is wonderfully interpreted by Lotte Lenya; she croaks it out with just the appropriate amounts of rasp and regret. I regret not saving a couple of albums of hers that I bought sometime after college in the 70s. Of course, I no longer have the means to play them. So.
And while the chestnut September in the Rain is not a favorite of mine, I do like the Annie Lennox cover.
Yes, impending shorter, darker days of autumn promise to be even darker this year thanks to the potent mix of plague and politics. This means severely limiting one’s media intake and setting aside extra time to smell the forget-me-nots. On a related note–related to the beautiful, not the
the bruiting–any inside intel on when the B’ham Museum of Art will reopen IRL? It’s my favorite in the Southeast and regularly serves to soothe my soul. I’m going to run up to the Hunter in Chattanooga this weekend in search of similar balm. Sending good wishes and hopes that you find similar soothing and balm, Nancy
Thanks, Nancy, for the thoughtful comments. I’m a fan of Weill’s “September Song,” too, I started to mention it in the actual text but decided I didn’t want to turn the essay into a music column and hoped some astute reader like you would catch the reference.
I am with you in missing the Birmingham Museum of Art. And I haven’t a clue when they’ll open their doors again. They’re working hard to have an online presence but there’s nothing like being there. It is the museum I grew up with and I miss being there.
As I said in a recent message to John T. — “I miss everything!”
Be well. EJ