In retrospect, there is no one better to address the issues of 9/11 in song than Ani DiFranco. Yes, this Carnegie Hall show took place seven months after the infamous day, but as DiFranco says in her liner notes, seven months in New York City was like seven minutes in terms of emotional progress. This concert was the perfect choice for Ani to release as her ‘official bootleg.’ Every song that she chooses to play seems to somehow relate to the incident, or at least to the themes that revolve around it. But then again, most every song that Ani writes has to do with politics, broken families or emotional loss. Either way, this is one of the most special concert CD’s I’ve ever heard. Usually, live recordings are nothing special, just a stopgap measure to meet label quotas, and a document of one particular night in a string of similar nights. Ani has no label obligations, only to herself, and this concert was no ordinary concert. Ani’s performance here, thanks to the time, the location and her own feelings of trepidation, sadness and bravery, is astonishing and remarkable.
She begins, to thunderous applause as always because her fans are legion, with a song from an older album, “God’s Country,” and its central lyrics, “This may be God’s country, but it’s my country too / move over Mr. Holiness, and let the little people through.” “Subdivision” follows with the line “America gets its heart cut right out its chest.” “Angry Anymore” and “Educated Guess” address family and love appropriately with Ani making her usual off-the-cuff funny remarks that usually dot her live shows, yet this time they are a little less carefree. “Not So Soft” the poem from the album of the same name especially highlights the awkward feelings of the performer and the night, as she, before the invasion of Iraq, shakingly intones, “those who call the shots are never in the line of fire / and why when there’s life for hire.” It’s follow-up, “Two Little Girls,” has a central chorus invoking a 911 call.
“Gratitude,” a fan favorite from 1991, shows the dark side of hospitality, one that she discovered in England, shortly after she moved to New York City. A good portion of the songs that follow, and one poem called “Detroit Annie, Hitchhiking” by Judy Grahn, have to do with her first impressions of New York City after moving from Buffalo. It is one of those touches that make this document so special, she’s back in her adopted home after a tragedy, and the memories, the recent thoughts and anger all go hand in hand somehow to ring true in the hearts and minds of her friends and fans.
But the real highlights of the CD and the show, the tracks which everything had so far been leading up to, are two poem-songs that she hadn’t yet recorded, new for the audience, and alternately shocking and comforting. I say comforting because, for at least people like myself, it’s nice to know sometimes that I’m not the only one thinking something that could be considered unpopular or politically incorrect. “Serpentine,” which later appeared on Evolve, addressed politics, the ineffectiveness of mass media, the toothlessness of entertainment, and much more. In her liner notes, Ani claims that you can’t hear a fan’s sob during “Self Evident,” then called “Work in Progress.” But that’s not necessarily true. During the last 30 seconds, you can hear it, and if you weren’t already crying already, and I was, then you will at that point. I don’t think any newspaper or news report could ever top her description of the people lost in the World Trade Center when she says they were “3000 some poems disguised as people.”
If four plus years, the coldness of a CD and an entire country’s distance can’t shield me from the intense emotions revolving around this concert, then I can’t possibly imagine what the people who were actually there that night must have been feeling. One thing’s for certain, Ani DiFranco’s performance of “Self Evident” that night will go down as one of the bravest and most awe inspiring moments in recorded history. This was the moment when Ani went from fringe indie cult performer to the stuff of legend.
Allen Ginsberg- “America”
Utah Phillips / Ani DiFranco- The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere
Judy Grahn- The Work of a Common Woman