War on Terrorism: Voices. In the 21st century, music can, and prefers to stop


From National Post (September 22, 2001)

by Douglas Coupland

I've spent the past week stranded in Madison, Wis. In the midst of a terrorist epidemic it's as nice a place as you could ever hope to be stranded -- not quite New Zealand, but serene and boring and blond and far away from big ticket U.S. targets like NASA, Disneyland and Mount Rushmore.

Across the past week, as air travel or escape seemed ever less possible, and as I became acclimatized to Madison, I had this creepy feeling, the feeling that I might have fallen into a science-fiction dream, one in which everyone on Earth was forced to stay where they were on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 -- forever -- a cosmic game of musical chairs. From this new sci-fi viewpoint it turned out I was fated to remain in Madison, to live and work there and build a new life from scratch, my past falling away from me like so much pulverized drywall, splintered glass and inter-office memos. Eventually I would forget who I was or where I came from, and the planes would never fly again.

But in one way, this isn't sci-fi fantasy. Many ecologists say the best thing that could happen to Western society would be for everyone to stay where they were for 20 years -- no travel allowed. This way people would be forced to commit to local communities and issues and be forced to establish roots. A corollary is that the era of socially and politically disengaged middle class roaming needs to end before true lasting ecological change is possible.


So I thought about this and sat beside a downtown Madison construction site hole -- a new arts centre being born, like something out of a Kurt Vonnegut novel. I stared at the noonday corn-nourishing sun burning down on a world that now seemed so utterly new. I squinted and thought of the skies gone temporarily silent -- it was possible to believe, however briefly, that a sort of ecological sanity had been legislated onto us from wherever, whomever, and that it was indeed all a game of musical chairs, one which, depending on your viewpoint, I'd either won or lost being stranded in Madison. Nature, through whatever channels, had imposed her will, and in doing so christened the official start of the 21st century, a century whose first new rule is that the music can, and actually prefers to stop.

Black & White Photo: Edward Keating, The New York Times / Members of the New York National Guard search a pizza shop in the concourse under 5 World Trade Center last week.