Like almost everyone, the days that culminated in this past weekend were spent sifting through a national 9/11 memorandum, and thinking about not only 9/11 itself, but also trying to come up with some sort of conclusion about the whole 9/11 "celebration". I guess I ended up deducing - typically - that there are millions of wasted words from TV and other news outlets regarding just about any occasion, and this was no different. I did watch news anchors try to fill up hours of TV time talking about whatever they could think of that had to do with the occasion. I watched those towers fall more times than I had in ten years, and I generally wished people with nothing new to say would shut up. Of course I speak not of the memorial services themselves, but just the whole...you know.
At the same time, though, something struck me. Peoples' stories are important, and people's stories from that day are very important, and they all deserve to be told. One way to see what makes a society what it is is to look at how its people react to things. Most people watch TV, read books, see movies. The Wire, Breaking Bad...Harry Potter even....all works of fiction designed to both entertain and - to a lesser extent - help us better understand our own selves as a people. What struck me amid all the cynicism pelting down over the 9/11 hoopla is that buried in there are severe works of non-fiction, of people at a real life 11th hour, and they are defining who they are, and who...people are. Not grand swathes of conclusion, but rather just...who some of us are. I felt that if I can devote 20 minutes to an episode of Law & Order, then I owe it more to myself to watch, read, or listen to peoples' stories from that day once again. People close to it, and people not as close. They are more important than Walter White's story, or Nancy Botwin's, and more revealing.
When I personally think back to that day, there are things are burned into my memory that will surely stay forever. I think about how I was - like most musicians - fast asleep at 9 am! But I remember the heart, fear, concerns, and cares - the calls coming through from friends, panicked calls that some had spend hours trying unsuccessfully to make, before finally getting through. I remember the feeling of helplessness I had standing in my Queens apartment, not 5 miles from the World Trade Center, wondering if a bomb was about to land on my very own roof. There is a lot I don't remember - only a few things remain between the time when I woke up and fazed into what had happened, and the time when the NY bridges and tunnels re-opened, and I could go be with my then-girlfriend, who lived on the Jersey shore. She and I had been on the phone until 6 am. She had an 11 am court date that day to settle some custody issues regarding her 7 year old son (she got him). I remember trying to get hold of her to find out what had happened, and - incredibly - wanting to make sure she knew what had happened up where I was (talk about losing perspective). I remember my roommate Aron - a wonderful dude who I've unfortunately since lost contact with - coming home covered in white, having walked his bike all the way from lower Manhattan, and how grateful I was to see him. Myself waking up at 11:30, trying to remember the haze of both of my parents' separate phone calls to me asking if I was alright (and their having to explain why they were asking)...I had collapsed back into sleep immediately after both phone calls ("Huh...what...zzzzz..."). I remember sending out emails to all my friends and family telling them I loved them, saying things like how I was afraid, how I didn't understand this world, and that I hoped I would see them all again soon.
*I remember not caring that Rudy Giuliani was a Republican or that I hadn't agreed with practically a single thing he'd done in his 8 years in office. It's true that we're all now aware that he foolhardedly decided to put his emergency response command office a block away from WTC, rather than downtown Brooklyn as had been recommended. And that if he hadn't put it there, we probably would have seen him carting it to Brooklyn rather than walking through the Trade Center ruins. Even still, a thing I remember is being awestruck and grateful at the fearlessness he displayed that day, the resolve. There I was afraid to leave my own apartment, and he was down there - trying to settle on a command post, but also surveying, helping, making decisions, representing our city, and saying "we won't back down". In that moment, I didn't know if anyone could not be terrified, or if anyone knew what to say, and standing there alone, I needed to hear that, and see that. Whatever feelings I've had for the guy before or since (there are a great many), he'll always have that asterisk next to his legacy for that in my book, a man who displayed courage and resolve that morning, and in the weeks to follow. I thank him.
When I look back on that time, much of what I think about is of how much I loved my city, and how much it meant for me to be there when it happened. It was in 1993, fresh out of high school, that I decided to leave my native Canada for New York. The years I spent there - I really can't believe now that it was as long as it was - but it was just something I did because I felt the need to. I was in love with it. All my heroes had excavated themselves from where they grew up to go New York City to make their name. Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen... And I had done the same. I remember my mother saying after the attacks, "You need to come home to Canada". I remember thinking no, there has never been a time in my life that I want to be here, and stay here, more than now. I wanted to do whatever I could for the other 9 million people who crowded those subways, rat-raced their way through each day, both loving and hating this place in which they'd they had chosen to dwell. It proved to be a defining moment, and also a final act for my life in New York. Only 4 months later, I would move my career to Austin, TX, meet by soon-to-be wife, and eventually end up here in Nashville. A lot of things have changed, but many have not. I still struggle and work as a musician, I still have guys named Charlie in my band, and I cherish my years in New York. I still wouldn't change anything. And all this hoopla helped make me remember the way I felt in the months after the attack - about myself, my life, and my then-city. You've all heard how nice people were to one another in the weeks after. Maybe not so much about how they soon tightened up, got cold, retreated into their prejudices and fears once the glow of brother-and-sisterhood faded. I guess it happens.
That night, at 5 or 6 o'clock, I got onto the 7 train and went to Penn Station to get the NJ Transit to Belmar. I lined up for my ticket, and an employee said to me, "Don't worry man, today it's on us". I could never have imagined that being said. I sat on the train with countless people covered in white, and got off at my stop. I was supposed to have a show with my band the next night - Wed the 12th - at Manitoba's on the lower east side, and I remember calling my guys and saying, "What do you want to do?". My friend Charlie put it in some perspective. "Dude, 5000 people just died". Yeah... I don't remember a lot of what Jenna and I did for 3 days - probably watched a lot of news - but I do remember driving back into the city and seeing the smoke coming out of lower Manhattan, and remarking that it looked like a massive campfire spreading its smoke over the entire city. I just couldn't get my head around it. I wished that we had spent those 3 days being down there helping people, like my friend Rob did - it's one thing I've always regretted.
We went out to a bar in Long Branch the night of the 11th. There was a band called Khantra playing - pretty young kids, maybe 21 or 22. One of the other things I remember about the day was something the Khantra singer said - profound and on point. Oddly, it was probably the first time in the day that I was able put anything in any sort of perspective. Before one of their songs, he said, "This next song is dedicated not only to all the people who died today, but to all the people who are gonna die still, as a result of everything".