Sounds of Catastrophe

Recently I was invited to go on Contact on PBS-FM (our fabulous public broadcaster). It is an overnight show, hosted by the fanatastic Adrian Meade, which explores ambient music. WE had an hour long chat (at 5am!) about disasters, trauma and the role of music in helping, understanding and healing.

This is a topic that, as people who will know me, is very close to my heart. I have been running a little project to document “disaster songs” for a few years now, and have collected a few. Some well known, some obscure. We forget now that music was the way of transferring knowledge and history in the preliterate days (which for some of our parents and grandparents, that wasn’t that long ago). For some cultures this is still a way of passing on wisdom. All people had was the song.

Most of us wouldn’t know about the 1927 Mississippi Flood were it not for Randy Newman’s Louisiana 1927. They are, as Paul Kelly calls them, newspaper songs. I am very interested in the role that music plays in disasters, in documenting, in comforting, in healing, and plan to write a lot more on this topic (maybe there is even a book in it!)

If you are interested in listening to the show, and have a spare hour, you can hear it here you will need to scroll through to the last hour.

And in case you don’t know the Randy Newman song, here it is

and just in case you think I might be a sentamentalist, Public Enemy on Katrina

or the dirty dozen brass band

Got any disaster songs, let me know!

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