I remember that essay from years ago as well. The essay, obviously to me now, was not about Mahler as much as it was about fear, and fear in that historic context was someting that was being sold to the public on a daily basis. It kept me away from Mahler and a lot of other music for a couple of months.
Ofcourse, my life was one frantic, busy, busy time then. That was way back when the kids were small and demanding constant and total attention. Reagan was President, the Soviet empire was still a big threat and there were movies on television about nuclear holocausts and alien invasions. Everything was threatening back then. About the only positive thing I remember from the period was the fact that we all believed that Princess Di and Prince Charles were the lovematch of the century (talk about ironies, I still have the original copy of Patriot Games -- published a bit after the essay -- which is about the Prince and Princess of Wales escaping IRA terrorists with the help of Jack Ryan! Certainly that was changed in subsequent printings.). It was also the period that saw the first understanding of the Aids epidemic, before anyone had any inkling as to whether the disease could be controlled, let alone cured. I'm certain that the disease was of concern and interest to Dr. Thomas even if it's not mentioned in that particular essay.
Today, Mahler's 9th for me is not about fear, it's about transitions in life, their inevitablility and even their rightness. Rereading the essay I am really surprised to remember just how anxious about things I was and indeed everyone was in that period. Today, after 9/11, we are living in a far more uncertain world, but for some reason I'm not as afraid as I was then, and Mahler's 9th is a good friend.