Three days from now, many of us will spend some time remembering where we were and what we were doing on that day ten years earlier.  I remember learning that two planes had crashed into New York City’s World Trade Center at a morning department meeting, then passing on the news to my 10:30 am sociology class.  On a residential college where 10:30 am is an “early class,” and before there were iPhones, Facebook and Twitter, few of my students heard the awful news from another source before I broke it to them; it’s with a heavy heart that I realize mine is a face they’ll associate with that “where I was” memory.

But in case you’re having difficulty remembering that day, it’s fairly easy to find a steady media stream of news specials and opinion segments commemorating the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  On most of these we’ll see Ground Zero before and after 9/11; be reminded how promisingly warm and sunny that late summer day was; review the iconic plane crashes into the twin towers from several vantage points (the moments of impact at the Pentagon and Shanksville, PA were never filmed); watch once again as the towers burn, collapse, and spew their cloud of smoke across downtown Manhattan; and see the faces of NYC residents, emergency crews, workers and visitors twist with horror, grief, and confusion at the unfathomability of the event they’re living through.

And then of course we’ll be treated to the subsequent events that provided the dominant definition of 9/11: the lengthy digging out and search for casualties at Ground Zero; the international outpouring of grief and sympathy; the response of Mayor Giuliani, President Bush, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld  et al; the introduction of “al Qaeda” and “axis of evil” into mainstream news vocabulary; the War on Terror in Afghanistan; the War on Terror in Iraq; Guantanamo Bay; Bush’s 2004 re-election; and on and on into the present day of routine anxiety and war without end.

But the events that occurred on the specific date of September 11, 2001 are of such magnitude, they deserve to be isolated from their subsequent redefinitions into (what my Dunkin Donuts calendar reminds me is) “Patriot Day” in the U.S.  That date should be remembered in its original incomprehensibility.  And it certainly doesn’t need the musical soundtrack that the news specials will invariably give it—no mournful wordless vocal of a wailing woman (a la Dead Can Dance or Peter Gabriel’s “Last Temptation of Christ” soundtrack), no cues for Bruce Springsteen’s “The Rising,” no nothing.  Here are some reasons why I won’t be listening to music to remember 9/11:

1) 2,977 unsuspecting people died in the attacks on 9/11.  They’re no longer around to hear the music, which we play to dramatize, aestheticize and maybe anesthetize our own grief.  Let’s honor their memory on this day, not soothe our own.

2) 9/11 was for many Americans, myself included, the day we discovered the geopolitical context for this inexplicable horror: our country’s support of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere that fueled grievances which in turn lit the spark of terrorism.  Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi and Afghan civilians who died in wars not of their choosing.  These other unnamed, innumerable deaths and lives wasted also deserve their moment of silence, no matter the fact that it took an unimaginably evil act to reveal them.

3) Needless to say, the unprecedented global outpouring of empathy and reflection that 9/11 brought about—a cathexis that, among world cities, perhaps only New York City can support—soon devolved into a very precedented wave of American exceptionalism and crackpot realism.  And if 9/11 has no musical soundtrack, the tragedy of subsequent events has one in the Concert for New York City.  This was the October 20, 2001 charity concert organized by Paul McCartney that featured the cream of British classic rockers, a mixed bag of American popstars, and American comics and filmmakers, all to pay tribute to the NYFD, NYPD, and other first responders who gave their lives or lost co-workers and family.  If I recall correctly, the audience was heavily composed of these NYC employees and their families, plus the odd celebrity here and there (the rest of us watched it on live cable broadcast).  The participation of a diverse set of artists, from Elton John to Spike Lee, underscores the extent to which genuine respect and honor was paid across a wide sociocultural and political spectrum to New York’s police and fire departments.

Probably the song that most people remember from the Concert for New York City is the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”  It was an electrifying performance, maybe the best the band ever played after the members turned 50, as the song became a raw, tangible vessel for the audience’s emotional projections.  This may not be everyone’s favorite Who song, but it was clearly the right song for the moment, simultaneously sublime and in your face.  The camera pans over the audience: beefy policemen and firemen in uniform bouncing around, air guitaring, and generally losing their shit with joyful abandon to this most ambiguous and malleable of rock anthems.  In retrospect, the visuals projected on stage are demagogic—the Who’s Union Jack flag sandwiched between two Old Glories, eagle-eye views of a pristine World Trade Center and Statue of Liberty—but in that moment it seemed that almost everyone, TV viewers included, couldn’t help but submit in good faith to the collective wave of unity and reverence.

Maybe we had cried for so long, gone too long without celebrating.  Maybe the song just really is that good.  The Who’s performance epitomized a rare moment of international unity under grave and uncertain circumstances.  Yet tragically, it couldn’t prevent our collective failure to honor the promise of that moment.  In symbolic ways, the Who’s performance even sets that failure in motion.  Maybe we should have suspected it that evening when we made the audience in Madison Square Garden—a predominantly white, blue-collar NYC municipal workforce known to many locals largely for their ethnic exclusiveness —9/11’s symbol of sacrifice and deference.

Ten years later, watching this performance is a thoroughly uncomfortable experience.  It reminds us of music’s collective force—indeed, it summons that power still—and of our genuine desire for the oceanic feeling that nationalism and militarism can exploit.  This 9/11, let’s reflect soberly and give the dead their due.  Turn the music off.