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20th Anniversary Commemoration: 9/11

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 07: A person watches the Tribute In Light shine into the sky from Lower Manhattan during a test on September 07, 2021 in New York City. Honoring the victims of the September 11, 2001 attack that killed almost 3,000 people at the World Trade Center, the Tribute in Light is a commemorative public art installation that was first presented six months after 9/11 and then every year since on the anniversary.

September 11 was traumatic for the entire country, particularly if you were in the New York area. One thing that helped us to get through it was unity and solidarity, watching everyone come together to pull through a horrifying crisis. But another thing was music, whether it was songs from the era, songs recorded in response to the day, or older songs performed at various benefits and tributes that took on a new meaning, post-9/11.

I was stuck in New York City that day; I’d just started a new job at VH1. We all evacuated our building as most offices did. I lived (and still live) in New Jersey, and didn’t really want to attempt the trip home. Being on a bridge or in a tunnel didn’t seem safe at the time, and I think most mass transit had shut down. I had a friend downtown and she and her husband invited me to stay at their place. Walking downtown (I definitely wasn’t going to take the subway) was surreal: I was walking in the opposite direction that most people were. Going towards that huge column of smoke was horrifying, obviously. I had a “Discman” in my backpack and three CDs. One was an advance of Slayer’s album, God Hates Us All, which — bizarrely — was actually released on September 11. I couldn’t listen to that one that day, or for a long time afterward. I also had an advance of Bob Dylan’s “Love And Theft” which was also released that day. The album had a weird sense of foreboding, particularly on a song called “High Water,” about an impending disaster.

U2’s latest album, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, was an album that I had been constantly listening to at the time, almost a year after its release. It worked for me on my long, strange and scary walk from midtown to downtown. “Beautiful Day,” the opening track and first single, felt bizarre given the circumstances but also had a sense of optimism that I needed, and ditto for “Elevation.” But some of the other more meditative songs — like “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” “In A Little While” and “Grace” actually helped. Some hit a little too hard: “Peace On Earth” and “New York” felt different than they did when I listened to them on September 10.  I remember listening to “Walk On” a few times. Twenty years later, we know what locations were attacked, we know who died. But that morning, we didn’t know what was happening, or why, or when it would end. Somehow, Bono singing “And if the darkness is to keep us apart/And if the daylight feels like it’s a long way off/And if your glass heart should crack/And for a second you turn back/Oh no, be strong” was something I needed to hear. Every year on 9/11, as I process that day and the weeks after, I always listen to that album. Here are some other songs I inevitably turn to, every September 11th.

  • Stevie Wonder featuring Take 6

    Stevie performed this song on the “America: A Tribute To Heroes” telethon on September 21. The song was a quarter of a century old — it was originally released on Stevie’s masterpiece Songs In The Key Of Life — but it felt different this time. “The force of evil plans/To make you its possession/And it will if we let it destroy everybody.” It was an important reminder then and now.

     

  • Alan Jackson

    Whether or not you were a country fan — or had heard of Alan Jackson — this was a relatable song for much of America.

     

  • Sheryl Crow

    “Safe And Sound” wasn’t written about 9/11 — the song was dedicated to Owen Wilson when it was released on her 2002 studio album C’mon C’mon — but ten days after 9/11 it obviously took on a different meaning.

     

  • Ryan Adams

    Ryan Adams was a new name to most music fans in 2001, and his second solo album, Gold, featured this classic. The song took on a new meaning after 9/11 — and so did the video, which was shot on September 7, 2001, with the Twin Towers seen clearly in the background.

     

  • The Beastie Boys

    This came out a few years after 9/11 – the Beastie Boys’ entire 2004 album To The Five Boroughs was a love letter to NYC and their meditation on the aftermath of of the terror attacks. On this song, they celebrated what makes New York great: “Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten/From the Battery to the top of Manhattan/Asian, Middle-Eastern and Latin/Black, White, New York you make it happen/Brownstones, water towers, trees, skyscrapers/Writers, prize fighters and Wall Street traders/We come together on the subway cars/Diversity unified, whoever you are!”