Usually, early in June, I start listening to Nanci Griffith’s “Other Voices, Too–A Trip Back to Bountiful.” My music listening tends to be seasonal depending on when I first got familiar with a recording. Griffith’s was the soundtrack of my summer of 2002.
Besides the summer association, I also tend to listen to the album because of a particular song: “Wall of Death.” (I blogged here about “Wall of Death” previously.) It became my anthem for any kind of travel, especially by plane. Vacations with Diamondqueen and the Hooligans usually take place in June, as did the conferences for the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (NFSPS). (I got to attend three while I was editor of Poet’s Market.) Before 9/11 I’d been an avid air traveler; afterwards I shied away from taking a flight anywhere until the 2007 NFSPS Convention in San Antonio, Texas. “Wall of Death” not only braced me for the trip, it made me eager for the journey.
I need very badly to listen to “Wall of Death” right now. For one thing, Diamondqueen, the Hooligans, and I are boarding a plane on Sunday–for Orlando. We’re visiting Universal Studios/Harry Potter World and Disneyworld. We never envisioned the kind of shadow that would fall over us as we make final preparations for our trip. A singer shot while signing autographs, a mass slaughter in a nightclub, a toddler being grabbed by an alligator–any of these stories by themselves would bring their own horror and depression. That they all happened where we’ll be in a matter of days adds an immediacy and a personal association that’s hard to put aside.
I could go on and on, especially about the Pulse massacre, but I have nothing to add to my expressions of anguish over other recent tragedies. I’m not getting jaded and I’m not getting used to it. You finally reach a point where you’re stewing in your same bitter sorrow; expressing it doesn’t do much good.
I think we were all a little jittery about the trip to begin with, mostly because of the flight. Neither Diamondqueen nor I have been on a plane in years; the Hooligans have ridden only in a small local touring plane (actually, small plans frighten me almost more than passenger jets).
Last week That Poor Man was telling Diamondqueen about current aircraft, how old some of them are, the lack of updates, etc. Diamondqueen requested that he knock it off since it wasn’t helping her peace of mind. J.Hooligan shouted, “I’ve been nervous enough about this trip as it is!”
The pall cast by murder, a terrorist assault, a fatal attack by a wild animal against a child is hard to dispel. It’s not that I think we’ll die in a plane crash or have to duck bullets in a public shooting, but it’s potent fertilizer for paranoia (especially for me, christened “Worst Case Scenario Bitch” by Diamondqueen decades ago).
Which brings me back to “Wall of Death.” On the surface, the lyrics are about going on an amusement park ride that holds the most danger–and makes the rider feel most alive. It’s a heartening metaphor for life and not withdrawing from the ugliness and risk. It makes me feel like, “Hell, yeah! Let me on that plane. I’ll sit in that sidewalk cafe if I feel like it, terrorists be damned!” (It does NOT make me want to risk a dip with alligators, but you get the idea. The grimness of that incident isn’t that an alligator attacked; it’s that a child died. However, if I were still of childbearing age, all the horrible ways children can die wouldn’t keep me from having one.)
So, we’ll continue to feel bad about the tragedies and go on packing for our trip. And even though I’ll continue to look around restaurants and imagine where to hide when the shooting starts (I’ve been doing that for decades as well, ever since those incidents at the cafeteria in Texas and the McDonald’s in California), I’ll enjoy my meal and toast the joy of existence.
I’d rather take my chances on the Wall of Death than sit at home, safe but still afraid.
In the blog post linked above, I have a video of Nanci Griffith and Richard Thompson, the song’s composer, singing a duet of “Wall of Death.” This video show’s Thompson’s solo version, plus on YouTube this post shows the lyrics.