What Music Do You Play After a Tragedy?

Written by

On the day after the bloodbath in Paris, I’m listening to KCRW music as well as FIP (France Inter Paris) online radio. Anne Litt started out her Saturday show with “Peace Piece”, a long, subdued,  and beautiful Bill Evans classic. FIP played a lovely song by Piers Faccini called “Three Times Betrayed,” then “Protection” by Massive Attack, a song I remember playing after 9/11. I also played the group’s song “Safe From Harm” from their debut album. Both are great songs, although it’s pretty ironic that the group’s name is completely opposite of the song themes of its two biggest hits. (During the Gulf War of 1991 the group shortened its name to “Massive”).

I don’t think either radio stations — FIP or KCRW — sound subdued because of Friday’s tragic events in the City Of Lights. Should they be? Should radio hosts tailor shows to fit the national mood or is it just business as usual? Do you adapt your playlist to reflect the zeitgeist? I suppose it depends on whom you ask. Can music help heal?

I remember playing some powerful music after 9/11 and, although the playlists are long gone, I can remember some of the music: Groove Armada with Richie Havens with “Healing,” music from The Prayer Cycle by Jonathan Elias, some Arvo Pärt, Henryk Gorecki, Massive Attack, Coltrane, Bob Marley (“So Much Trouble in the World”), some roots Mississippi blues (Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night”), and some gospel — maybe Mahalia Jackson, too. Her song “How I Got Over” resounds with hope.

Soon I might play Herbie Hancock’s beautiful version of “Imagine,” and probably something from Ludovico Einaudi’s new album Elements. I would play the Richie Havens/Groove Armada again for sure, and also James Taylor’s moving song on the Elias album. The whole Elias album is very fitting for this time of reflection and healing.

Again: can music help heal? Yes, no doubt about that.