Andrew's Themes

Like it or not, as we survey the debris of shattered Dade, we must begin to mythologize the devastation of Hurricane Andrew. In the fledgling years of the next century, our children and grandchildren will clamor for stories of the Great Storm of '92. And because they'll be products of the media-saturated society we're unwittingly creating even as we speak, they'll want their stories the way we want our MTV -- in three-minute segments and with a pulsing soundtrack. Luckily, the rock era has yielded a bloated bag full of wind music. Dozens of artists have played tribute to the exhaling deities by recording songs named "Hurricane," including Neil Diamond, Nia Peeples, Bette Midler, See No Evil, and Y&T (yes, Bob Dylan, too -- just have patience). Then there's Peter Frampton's "Wind of Change," Jefferson Starship's "Winds of Change," Roger Hodgson's The Eye of the Storm, German Bowie-acolyte Peter Schilling's "Hurricane (Hammers on the Shore)," new jack king Bobby Brown's "Storm Away," Alice Cooper's "Hurricane Years," and Billy Joel's Storm Front. And who can forget Spinal Tap's sophomore LP, Break Like the Wind, which initiates the philosophical inquiry, "Why do these anemometers go all the way up to eleven?"

But South Florida has enough problems without lumping together all ill-wind songs in an undifferentiated mass. After you've been tossed like a salad at 150 mph, you can't be blamed for a certain fastidiousness. As survivors of Black Monday know, the wind isn't beneath anyone's wings, and it's certainly not crying Mary. Even the Scorpions' "Rock You Like a Hurricane," which has long been a favorite among UM football fans, has a potentially unpleasant resonance in the post-Andrew era. After combing the field of contemporary music with painstaking care and sensitivity, New Times has compiled the Hurricane Hit Parade, a baker's handful of pop songs to commemorate the gusts of August. As a result of their naked emotional catharsis, all blues songs have been disqualified (although Blind Willie Johnson's "If I Had My Way I'd Tear This Building Down" has a back-straightening Biblical chill). Naysayers are free to protest the exploitation of disaster for enjoyment, or the irresponsible trivializing of the worst natural tragedy since Pompeii. But culture can work a certain alchemy, and even Apocalypse Now had a soundtrack. So here are the pick six in no particular order, just like Miami's streets.

1. Neil Young, "Like A Hurricane." This eleven-minute guitar orgy is not only a rock classic but a towering monument to truth in advertising. From its first pealing notes to its marathon tailpiece, the song is Neil in full six-string regalia, conjuring up as near a musical approximation of the dreaded event itself as you're likely to find in classic rock, with the possible exception of "Sister Ray." "Like a Hurricane" has the additional advantage of couching its tumult in a goopy "Everyone Knows It's Windy"-style love story ("You are like a hurricane/There is calm in your eye") that puts an intimate spin on this whole macrodestruction business.

2. Parliament, "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker." George Clinton's crowning achievement, his most convincing anthem, and also a fitting description of the aerial view of everything south of Kendall Drive. Free your mind and your ass will follow, but free your ceiling tiles and the only thing that follows is that sinking feeling. Victims of Andrew who find Uncle Jam's bootyfest slightly too celebratory may substitute either Prince's "Sign o' the Times" -- in particular the lyric, "Hurricane Anne ripped the ceiling off a church/and killed everyone inside" -- or the Pretenders' taut, grave "My City Was Gone." Be forewarned, however: The latter concerns Ohio.

3. Tom Waits, "Blow Wind Blow." Taken from 1985's Frank's Wild Years, this ode to desperation finds its Lear-like protagonist challenging the oncoming storm with the defiant, if addled, boast, "I ride upon a field mouse/Go dancing in the slaughterhouse." It's a statement of sorts, that you can afford surreal defiance even when your neighborhood is being torn in half by a giant cough. Remember, if you can spit in the wind, you earn a host of other privileges, including the rights to tug on Superman's cape, pull the mask of the ol' Lone Ranger, and mess around with Jim.

4. Public Enemy, "Welcome to the Terrordome." Though quite a stretch thematically -- it's a song about Chuck and Flavor being scrutinized by media devils -- this jam is right up Andy's alley sonically, as it slams relentlessly, thumps, bumps, pounds, and resounds. In rap, when people get blown away, it's more likely to be a semi-automatic than a Class Four doing the blowing, but "Terrordome" is still a masterpiece of unstoppable force (cf. PE's own "Raise the Roof" and "Megablast"). Postmodernists will thrill to the way that sampling simultaneously mirrors the fragmentation of society and conceptualizes the debris of the storm-torn terrain.

5. Graham Parker, "Howling Wind." One of the most menacing and bracing songs ever written, Parker's Vituperama was an instant hot-under-the-choler classic when it was released in 1976, and its incisor-chorus ("A howling wind blows through here/Almost every day/A howling wind blows through here/Takes your breath away") still holds up today. "Howling Wind" has several spiritual cousins in the music world, chief among them John Fogerty's "Change in the Weather," the best song of the ex-Credence leader's solo career and a truly menacing trip through the dark recesses of emotional meteorology.

6. "Stormy Weather." Andrew is destined to become a classic, setting the standard for decades of hurricanes to come. So why not include this time-tried ballad? It doesn't have to be the immortal Lena Horne version -- just about any half-assed lounge stab will do. It's smooth, turns tragedy into romance, and is easy to sing in the shower, assuming your water pressure has been restored. Those of you who prefer to characterize Andrew with a harder sort of edge might opt for the Pixies' "Stormy Weather," or Pere Ubu's. And if you were completely screwed by the Aeolian assault and battery, you might want to scrap this whole "Stormy Weather" tactic and instead echo the dignified sentiments of the indomitable Mr. Zappa, whose rock opera Joe's Garage includes the stirring refrain, "give me that, give me that/blow-job." Of course, we don't all have to be that Frank.

Of course, it wouldn't be fair to harp on the havoc without also commemorating the spirit of community unity, the kindness and extended hands of South Florida -- or, as poet Dan Rather put it, "the way people are the best in the worst of times." For this we turn to Bob Dylan. Through his 30 years in the recording industry, Dylan has had quite a history with wind, from "Blowing in the Wind," to "Idiot Wind" -- "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows" and "two riders were approaching/and the wind began to howl" are only the two most famous of literally dozens of wind lyrics. Dylan even wrote a song about a hurricane, although it was Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, the middleweight boxer who was wrongly convicted of murder. Topicality aside, the song's stirring chorus of "Here comes the story of the Hurricane" should bring tears to the eyes of South Floridians for years to come. But for insight into the grace and magnanimity of area residents, the nod goes to "Shelter from the Storm," an unpretentious song of emotional redemption from Blood on the Tracks.

Music may have charms to soothe and all that, but can it possibly help Miami as the city faces weeks without power followed by months of powerlessness? Perhaps the county will be the beneficiary of a Randy Newman America-in-decay anthem, the same beautifully bitter ballad-treatment given to the great flood of 1919 ("Louisiana") and the Cuyahoga fire ("Burn On Big River"). Or maybe we'll get a Hurricane rock relief effort. It happened after Hugo, with artists such as Mick Jagger contributing singles to a charity LP. So why not Miami? But what do we have in the way of immediate salve to apply to our bruised spirits? What will end this high-concept conceit on a high note? Billy Joel's "Second Wind"? Nah, too sappy. Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy"? Too condescending. Pretenders' "Stop Your Sobbing"? Too brusque. Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now"? Too naive. South Florida needs a sublime dose of honest uplift, music like Van Morrison's "The Healing Has Begun." Van's pure Caledonian soul, dripping piano, and soaring vocals keep alive the possibility of community repair without resorting to Pollyanna crap. And if there's anything we need in these dark times -- besides electricity -- it's a little faith.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ben Greenman