Any question about whether pop music had an appropriate place in how Denver would mark the 10th anniversary of the 2001 attacks was answered long before the Beach Boys took the stage for Sunday’s “Colorado Remembers 9/11″ concert at Denver’s Civic Center Park.
Pop music has been salving broken hearts since puppies first found love. It allows us to wallow in the depths of loss — then brings us back to life and helps us to feel pure joy again.
The communal power of music, pop and otherwise, was felt from start to finish at Sunday’s “remembrance ceremony,” which drew an estimated 35,000 concertgoers from wildly different eras and life experiences.
You felt it in your bones from the Emerald Society Bagpipes. While the Colorado Symphony Orchestra thundered through the war-inspired “Fanfare for the Common Man” as powerfully as the obligatory fighter-jet flyover. When Denver first lady Mary Louise Lee sang “Amazing Grace.” Even the mere recorded playing of Toby Keith’s angry response to the attacks, “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,” inspired a fomented singalong.
And that was all before the Beach Boys were sent in to lighten the mood.
Sunday was about grieving the loss and the lost, respecting the living and dancing into the future. It was about replacing fear with fun.
And that’s the way it should be, said Denver’s Billy Hart, a free-spirited 63-year-old draped in a red-white-and- blue boa with matching sequined sweatbands (for starters). “We paid our respects, but you can’t let them keep you down forever,” he said. “Life goes on.”
It was remarkable, really, how quickly the tone shifted Sunday from elegiac to euphoric once Mike Love and his six bandmates tore into all the expected favorites, with very little specific acknowledgement of the significance of the day. But by then, that aspect had been more than sufficiently covered.
It was a day filled with visual anachronisms: It was the flag-draped World Trade Center carnage on one side of the concert stage; the endless loop of patriotic big-screen visuals on the other. It was Taps and “California Girls.” It was the sea of American flags making room for beach balls and Beach Boys. It was many hippies (both very young and very old), swiveling hip-to-hip alongside military servicemen (both very young and very old), policemen, firemen, paramedics and even a small pocket of conspiracy theorists.
Whatever brought them here, they all came to dance. Like Kevin Wagner, a developmentally challenged 31-year-old who parked himself front and center. “I am here for my country, and I am here for the Beach Boys both,” he said.
Some questioned whether a feel-good concert was a proper way to mark this somber occasion. But just four songs in (“Surfer Girls”), it was obvious why the Beach Boys were the perfect choice: They are comfort food, with their ageless songs of cars, endless waves and the most patriotic thing there is in America, Love said: “Cheerleaders.”
The Beach Boys are a symbol of America itself, at its squeaky-clean, teenage best.
The crowd danced with a kind of defiant free-spiritedness, as if to will us back into a time in America that was never as innocent or real as these frozen-in-time songs suggest. Theirs was the time of Vietnam, Manson and Watergate, after all.
But their songs aspire to a more ideal kind of existence. More peaceful, as earlier implored by Colorado Symphony conductor Scott O’Neil, in emphasizing the closing line from “America the Beautiful,” to “crown thy good with brotherhood.”
Wouldn’t it be nice?