Hank Steuver on “Who Wants To Be A Superhero?”; Michael Brick on a police shooting; and if you missed it, Dan Barry reviews Springsteen doing Seeger: THIS is what you would do. Close the bedroom door to the quiet indignities of childhood. Unclasp a small but hefty box to reveal a now forgotten device called a portable record player. Plug it in.
Make a selection from the albums your parents bought when they used to listen to music. No, not Mitch Miller and his Gang. No, not Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Where’s the skinny guy with the reedy voice, always singing about freedom? Here. Pete Seeger.
Place the needle down on a disc now spinning in promise, catch the groove, and allow old words and ancient melodies to seep in until they could never be removed. The skips and hisses on the scratched records are as ingrained as the choruses in memory.
You did not listen to be cool; in this age of the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, you were unlikely to impress a girl by singing the opening lines to ”Erie Canal” (”I’ve got a mule and her name is Sal ”). Not that you ever summoned the nerve to speak to girls, much less sing to them.
No, you listened because you found something affirming in songs that honored hard work, struggle and standing up for what you believe. You felt connected to your immigrant roots, to your African-American neighbors and to your country, of which you sang with innocent pride. You felt connected to your father, to your mother.
In the era of King and Kennedys shot, you would sit beside the record player and sing, ”Oh Mary don’t you weep don’t you moan, oh Mary don’t you weep don’t you moan. Pharaoh’s army got drowneded, oh Mary don’t you weep.” And feel the consolation.
In the era of Vietnam and civil rights battles, you would sing, ”We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome someday.” And believe it.
Then you grew up. Vietnam ended like an unfinished sentence, and King and the Kennedys settled into the abstraction of history. Your mother died and your father stopped singing. The albums went to storage.
Nearly 2,800 people died a couple of miles from where you worked; for weeks the smell of the pyre wafted through your Midtown office window. Your country went to war. Hurricane Katrina crushed one part of the South, and Hurricane Rita crushed another.
You sensed the unimpeded march of Pharaoh’s army.
The other night you went to a Bruce Springsteen concert at Madison Square Garden. Some celebrities sat a few rows behind you, and a group of older women, including the singer’s mother, sat beside you. You feared your own presence constituted a security breach, but the lights dimmed, no one tapped you on the shoulder, and so you stayed.