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alive, patti smith group, roskilde, 2001


I couldn't listen. I couldn't listen to anything, let alone any Pearl Jam. It was like having no appetite. You're not hungry, nothing appeals to you, you are overwhelmed with having to make a decision -- so you eat nothing. I was too afraid to pick the wrong thing and then have to feel everything. Again.

I just couldn't face it, not even bland mindless radio. So I existed on silence and NPR. Mostly silence. This was the same person who two weeks earlier almost went berserk having to send my car stereo out for repair, leaving me radio-less for two weeks. ("Two weeks?!! You expect me to have no stereo for two weeks?")

But I knew I had to try. Try again. Listen again. There was no avoiding it, no way I wasn't ever going to listen to PJ (or anything) again. I just kept putting it off, making one excuse and then another: The silence is a good thing, almost zen-like. I'm catching up on current affairs. This story on the migration of the great whale is fascinating. Yeah, right.

Next step was when I moved to carrying Binaural with me. I actually picked up the CD and put it in my bag. There. I'll listen... maybe not this morning, maybe on the way home. Nah, maybe later tonight. Again putting it off. I just wasn't ready, I couldn't make that leap even though I'd begun to think once again about a tour, could look at pictures of the band, could read articles and reviews. I could feel myself getting closer.

I felt guilty. So many people out there were hurting. So many people equally weren't hurting and thought any expression of emotion regarding Roskilde was pathetic and attention-seeking. I swung back and forth on this pendulum of not knowing how I felt, not wanting to think about how I felt enough to come to a conclusion.

I started to catch up on email. So many people that you thought of but didn't write to because at that point what was there to say? In one of these emails, a friend said: don't wait until you are ready. Listening to it is part of the healing process. It will be hard but you have to do it.

Still, I kept putting it off. One night I finally said, well, I'll listen to it later tonight. Yeah right. I did everything but. Including paint my nails. Classic avoidance. And then I was going to sleep and thinking "well, too late to listen now, surely..." but something makes me look at the album, that big black cover sitting against the stacks of records, where I'd put it when I brought it home, right before I left for Europe.

And then it was like when you're getting into a pool and you're sticking one toe in and then another, and then you're on the ladder or the steps going in one at a time, and eventually you give up and just JUMP IN. Before I know it, the needle's in the groove: "Insignificance." It had to be "Insignificance."

Predictably, in a weird sort of comforting way, the tears come pouring out again, all this stuff I thought was gone, done, over with, how can I possibly cry any more over this and suddenly I am flashing to these vivid memories of the the European tour, what it was like to be there, to watch the band, another Pearl Jam tour underway. The fans, the blue sky in Lisbon, the shadows on the sidewalks, hearing your favorite songs sung with a foreign accent right in your ear. Lying on a hillside in the sun and listening to the soundcheck in Barcelona: "Timeless Melody" for the first time! Waiting in the cold and rain and wind in San Sebastian. Hearing the new songs begin to grow and change live.

And that last verse, that last verse:

bombs dropping down
please forgive our hometown
in our
oh in our
God, I'm there again, I'm there. Oh god I'm back. Again. Back to what it was like that first night home with the album, headphones on, lying flat on my back, eyes closed, letting the wash over me, the way I used to listen to records late at night when I was in high school. That feeling was back like a lost friend returning. And it was only in that moment when I realized how much it had been missing during those lost few weeks of numbness and despair.

I know this is about me, and perhaps selfishly, not about the fans we lost. But a little something in each of us was lost at Roskilde; a loss of innocence, of hope, of renewal. It will never be the same again, but it's not completely lost to us. We can reclaim it. I believe that.


I wrote the above (edited a year later for clarity) last July, after what I now consider the first period of mourning ended. I'd meant it for the site, and then it seemed too personal, so I put it away.

I believe in ritual, I believe in symbolism, and I believe in the power of reclamation. Reclaim what is yours, take it back, you can never lose it. It was with those thoughts in mind that I paid close attention to reports from the 2001 Roskilde Festival.

Neil Young went first and while I was surprised that he didn't make any reference, a friend pointed out that getting on that stage and playing "Hey Hey My My" was probably the best tribute he could have offered.

I'd forgotten that Patti Smith was playing Roskilde. Patti was my first rock heroine ever and is still first on that list for me. I started the Patti Smith mailing list on the net back in 1995. I know she feels a special kinship towards Seattle one of her very first 1995 comeback shows was here -- and toward Seattle musicians; "About A Boy" is probably the best tribute to Kurt Cobain that I know of (next to Young Neil's own Sleeps With Angels). And I smiled real big when, while sitting in front of the Moore Theater in 1999, waiting to get into Patti's show there that night, I saw Ed and Krist Novoselic cross the street and walk into the theater. (It could happen. Really.)

So perhaps it was inevitable and logical that the most obvious tribute that weekend would come from Patti, but never would I have expected her to attempt "Alive." If there is an artist who believes in ritual and symbolism and reclamation, it is Patti Smith. And reclaim it she did. For PJ, for us, for the fans who were killed, for the fans who made it back, for anyone anywhere who cared about what went on there one year ago.

"...the most beautiful moment at this years festival was when the Patti Smith Group near the end of an already impressive set, early Sunday evening on the Orange Stage, did the Peal Jam number "Alive." Smith was herself so moved that tears ran down her chin - she turned over singing of the verses to her bassist and guitarist while she sang with a full and strong heart the chorus "I'm still Alive" that in this special context resonated with a thousand meanings and connotations.

From my vantage point could this reporter see the first row of the audience where many stood and cried openly. Also I had a fist size lump in my throat as the wounds from last years calamity are still with us. It can be so hard to deal with such events without being pathetic, but without mentioning the accident with a word, managed Patti Smith and her band to set life, death, love, youth, and lost in an honorable focus without other means than music."

"Music's healing Power" (3 July 2001) taken from the Danish newspaper "Information" by Klaus Lynggaard and Paw Mathiasen. Translation by Hunter Desportes.

© 2001 Caryn Rose
Many special thanks to Pete Culliney