Michael Stipe: 9/11 ‘Changed My Notion of Home and Safety Forever’

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Today is the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. To commemorate the day, The Guardian has published an excerpt from Everywhere is Anywhere is Anything is Everything, a new book featuring artwork depicting “the 21st Century condition” by Canadian author and artist Douglas Coupland.

The excerpt, written by R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe, a NYC resident, features Stipe’s assessment of Coupland’s 9/11-inspired black-and-white graphic art, as well as his thoughts about that fateful morning itself and its political and cultural aftermath.

It’s all pretty unwieldy, as Stipe’s writing tends to be, but it’s also thoughtful and engrossing. A few choice cuts below.

On “home”:

On the morning of 9/11, I was asleep in my apartment on Jane Street in the Meatpacking District, just north of Ground Zero. I received a phone call saying New York was under a terrorist attack and that I needed to leave as soon as possible. I sat up in bed and heard the sirens outside my bedroom window. I looked down at my naked legs, and said out loud, “Oh fuck.” My notion of home had suddenly changed. But what is home, anyway? Cue the Gang of Four song, At Home He’s A Tourist. I’ve felt that way about everywhere I’ve lived since the age of seven, when I first moved from the States to Frankfurt, Germany, with my military father and family. My life has been nomadic by both necessity and choice. I’ve looked at my homes as “bases” –places I return to when I’m away from a home-like base. I know that sounds Arthur C Clarke, but it’s true.

On history:

There’s another way I look at the Twin Towers that’s perhaps more specific to myself. Every time I look at where they used to be, I try to think about New Yorkers in the 1960s and 70s who were horrified when they were built. The towers that were going up must have destroyed not just the skyline but, in their minds, also what the downtown stood for. So, I guess, historically speaking, I feel sad about the towers being there in the first place, although architecturally they were pleasant enough to look at from my late-70s forward perspective. And if nothing else, the Twin Towers helped the direction-impaired (me) know which way was north and south. And there were some great, wild dance parties at the rooftop restaurant. It was a moment and that moment is gone. But I am being nostalgic here and romantic.

On the future:

In my mind I’m seeing unblinking eyes: HAL 9000 surveying Dave the astronaut; I’m seeing Doug Coupland surveying the 21st-century world; I’m seeing video surveillance everywhere. I’m seeing ourselves watching ourselves and it’s deeply frightening, as a new form of infrastructure that relentlessly monitors and peels back our privacy, our mysteriousness, our individuality, in every way. Do we all need to feel like we’re living in a movie, thousands of unseen cameras invisibly choreographing scenes with our words, our actions, our movements? And are we almost to the point, thanks to the internet, of providing ourselves with our own laugh track? The googly eyes on Coupland’s Osamas lead me to think that one day we will.

Read the whole thing here.


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