September 11, 2006

“The church door’s thrown open, I can hear the organ’s song. But the congregation’s gone.”

Even though I didn’t personally know anyone affected by the attacks five years ago on September 11th, it was personal. I grieved that morning as I woke up early to a phone call and stared in disbelief at the TV, as if I knew each person killed or trapped, burning or jumping. I watched the first tower fall, then the second, and all I could think about was all the firefighters and police officers who had rushed in to save people they didn’t even know. As I watched the towers fall and the massive dust clouds rise, I felt like I was going to throw up in the face of such unabashed evil.

Ten days later all the major U.S. television networks aired the America: A Tribute To Heroes telethon to raise money for those left behind in the wake of the attacks. It had some stellar, simple, heartfelt musical performances that touched me, and today I wanted to share.

My City Of Ruins – Bruce Springsteen
This was the first song of the program, and for me it just cracked open wide all the emotions that many of us were feeling in the days following the event. As many times as I listen to this song, which Bruce penned in the year before 9/11 about the deterioration of Asbury Park, New Jersey but that fits unbelievably well in this context, it still gets me. There are few who can pen a lyric of loss like Springsteen. In addition to the haunting imagery of the words in the title of this post, there’s also this line, which comes after a wheezing, lonesome, wrenching harmonica solo: “Now there’s tears on the pillow, darlin’ where we slept. And you took my heart when you left . . . “ The simple chord progression there on the last six words is heartbreaking — how do I explain that? Just listen.

As Bruce performs this, he stares off into nothing as if seeing the images from the last week and a half play over in his mind. At times his lips curl in an angry defiance, a rebellion against the destruction. And I’ve always thought that the way he furiously sings “Come on, rise up” over and over almost seems as if he is willing the dead to come back, the towers to rise. It reminds me of the futility of the lyrics in the U2 song “Wake Up Dead Man.” As Bruce nears the end of the song, his determined pleas to rise up take on an air of resignation as he stares off into the blackness of the studio.

This song turned up the following year on Springsteen’s stunning disc The Rising, along with many other songs he penned about the losses on 9/11. Hands down the other track on there that is the most devastating is You’re Missing,” about a house and a family waiting for someone to come home (who will never come home). Lyrics like, “Coffee cup’s on the counter, jacket’s on the chair, paper’s on the doorstep, but you’re not there” and this, the clincher: “Morning is morning, the evening falls, I have / too much room in my bed, too many phone calls . . .”

Peace On Earth/Walk On – U2 (VIDEO)
I was deeply touched by the show of solidarity and understanding from Irish boys U2 to their American friends with this song. The whole All That You Can’t Leave Behind album makes me think of the period following 9/11, probably due in part to this performance. I just watched it again tonight on DVD and my eyes well up when the gospel salvation of the “Halle-halle-lujah, halle-halle-lujah” addition kicks in, and then the tears tend to spill over when Bono starts shouting, “See you when I get home! I’ll see you when I get home, sister!” I also appreciated Bono’s confidence in delivering the lyrics about what they can’t steal from us.

There Will Come A Day – Faith Hill (VIDEO)
Whether you like country or not, you have to listen to this because it ain’t country, it’s some gooood gospel. I love this song as Hill performs it, with a full, enthusiastic backing gospel choir. The video always strikes me moreso than listening because it is hard to stay blue when you see the choir wiggling and shaking their arms in unison, jumping on their tiptoes in anticipation as the song nears it’s moment: “Song will ring out down those golden streets, the voices of earth with the angels will sing (pause) – HALLELUJAH!” Chill-inducing.

Imagine – Neil Young (VIDEO)
Young sits in front of the grand piano with his cowboy hat and sets into Lennon’s chords that somehow always evoke this sense of sadness and a weight of longing in me. Even though I’ve always found the utopian/socialistic lyrics of this landmark tune to honestly be a bit stupid (if there’s nothing that you feel is worth dying for, then what of value do you really have?), that melody always gets me, and Young turns in an impassioned and delicate performance here.

The Long Road – Eddie Vedder, Mike McCready & Neil Young (VIDEO)
This is such a simple song, and so lovely, really. From Pearl Jam’s Merkinball EP (1995), I love the different melodies and harmonies that Vedder rotates each time he approaches the refrain “I have wished for so long, how I wish for you today.” Neil only comes in vocally on the final refrain and response, “We all walk the long road.”

Finally, two songs that were not on the telethon but that could have been if I were programming it:

My Blue Manhattan – Ryan Adams
(from Love Is Hell, check out rbally’s live R.A. post)

America The Beautiful – Ray Charles

Walk on.


  • Wow, Heather, couple of great posts lately. Keep up the good work.

    I echo your comments about Bruce’s City in Ruins version on the Tribute show. It is superior to the Rising version (which was recorded later). The gospel treatment and earnestness is sincere and heart-wrenching.

    Also, You’re Missing is devastating to me. Those poor people who were left behind.

    I agree with you about Imagine lyrically and I am also hooked by the melody.

    One more thing, Neil Young who has written a 1,000 songs, many which would apply to 9/11, comes out and plays a Lennon number. He’s a class act. Amazing!

    Matthias — September 11, 2006 @ 8:04 am

  • Great post. Hard to believe it’s been 5 years already…but I remember all of it like it just happened every time I see one of these clips…

    Chad — September 11, 2006 @ 9:50 am

  • My choice cuts from The Rising are, well, The Rising, and Lonesome Day. My birthday is 9/10, and I had a very sobering morning five years ago today. I bitch and moan about turning 29 and losing my twenties in 364 days, but at least I’m still here to celebrate that. See ya round Heather….

    bryce — September 11, 2006 @ 10:12 am

  • Great! I am sure you can add some more to these – just off the tomh – Ryan Adams’ New York, New York from his album Gold. I don’t know if you remember that Ryan filmed the video for this on 9/10/01 and a portion of the video shows the WTC behind him as he sings.

    Dan — September 11, 2006 @ 10:49 am

  • You picked a bunch of great numbers from the telethon. “My City of Ruins” still gives me the shivers. I should be ashamed to admit this, but I think Johnny Rzeznik and Fred Durst’s austere duet of “Wish You Were Here” was beautiful.

    CLARE. — September 11, 2006 @ 2:34 pm

  • this is a great post. thanks for Bruce’s “City of Ruins”, i’ll never forget the impact that song had on me as i watched it broadcast on the telethon 5 years ago.

    Matt — September 11, 2006 @ 2:54 pm

  • I was in NYC on 9/11, and although I echo your thoughts on “My City Of Ruins,” the song that always brings that day back for me — and another that is eerie because it was written well before the event — is “Jesus, Etc.” by Wilco:

    Tall buildings shake / Voices escape singing sad, sad songs / Two, two chords strong down your cheek / Bitter melody / Turning your orbit around.

    Frank — September 11, 2006 @ 3:11 pm

  • Thanks for this. I forgot how moving Bruce was that night and why I love that song so much.

    Mike — September 11, 2006 @ 6:48 pm

  • Very thoughtful post. Thanks. Music keeps us together.

    Bruce — September 11, 2006 @ 10:00 pm

  • Great post. My favorite off The Rising is the title track, which always brings tears to my eyes. My favorite part of the U2 performance is when Bono sings the “whoa oh ohs” at the beginning, and the last one turns into this great big cry of rage and sorrow.

    alicia — September 12, 2006 @ 10:20 pm

  • yeah, what alicia said ^^

    also, tom petty singing “don’t back down” that day was amazing. bruce was all elegaic, bono was like compassionately sad and enraged and petty was just total angry stare defiance…..

    c — September 13, 2006 @ 10:12 am

  • c, Yeah. I was gonna post that video too – Petty just looks absolutely steel-eyed pissed. Like “F-you terrorists, I WON’T back down.” I thought that was cool.

    It’s here, if anyone wants to watch it:

    heather — September 13, 2006 @ 10:30 am

  • I was in an anti-war march while the concert was aired. A cop who had penned us in sort of spitted out at us: “you people make me sick.” I remember asking him why peace made him sick. Meanwhile, the concert was being played on all of the large monitors in Times Square where the march ended, maybe Bruce, maybe Neil and Eddie were on, not sure. It was a bit surreal. Thanks for the post.

    lbc — September 15, 2006 @ 11:40 am

  • Haven’t you died for something you believe in yet?

    Do you have nothing worth believing in? I guess not.

    From armchair warriors to Sophomore workstation warriors. Progress. God help us.

    Chromatius — September 16, 2006 @ 2:30 am

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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