September 11th 2001
I wasn't in town when 9/11 happened; I was down at the Jersey shore with three friends, Eric, John and Aimee. We'd rented a house for a week (post Labor Day at the beach is cheap and peaceful, plus the water's warm). On the morning of the 11th, I heard the telephone ring at about 9:00. Then the tv was on and suddenly there was alot of commotion and activity in the house.
The first tower had been hit and it just seemed like a weird accident -- then, as we watched, another plane, horribly, materialized out of the bright blue sky and exploded into the second tower. It was unbelievably shocking. Then the reports started coming in about the Pentagon and the plane going down in Western Pennsylvania. Our stomachs collectively plummeted.
When the first building slid sickeningly to the earth like a giant elevator whose cord had been cut, the horror of it was unbearable. We all assumed at first that it was a demolition. When the second tower went down in exactly the same fashion, folding almost neatly down on itself, we just watched hopelessly. It was like watching someone get raped.
From the coast of South Jersey, we were able to see the smoke on the horizon to the north -- it was like a little black smudge on the bottom of the sky. Where we were it was quiet and tranquil, a stunning day -- and it was fucked up knowing the absolute chaos, destruction and misery that was going on up there under that smudge.
The rest of the week was pretty subdued at the shore house. When we drove back home the following Saturday, I remember coming to an opening that would normally have let on to a vista of the World Trade Center and of course the towers were gone, were really gone, as if someone had just erased them off of the skyline. At that very moment, Madonna's "Material Girl" was playing in the car..."we are living in a material world..." As silly and whimsical as that song is, the line suddenly had weight. It seemed like everything had all this extra gravity and pathos.
It felt weird not being in NYC for the event and then coming home to a bruised and battered city, a war zone, an entirely different place from the one I'd left behind a week earlier. The flyers of all the missing people were heartbreaking. They were everywhere; they papered the city. Color photos of people who'd been in the towers when it all went down. Their families desperately trying to find them...it was so sad.
The city was on edge, me included. Every backfiring tailpipe made me jump. I remember being in an outdoor garden having lunch with Scarlett on 1st Avenue and 11th Street. We heard a plane fly overhead, then a sudden roar of screaming. My blood froze -- I thought, "oh shit, they're going after the East Village now!" I looked around and all the other patrons had the same terror on their faces. Only the waiters and employees seemed calm. It turned out that someone had just put on a concert CD over the restaurant's sound system and the opening burst of cheers and screaming had coincided with the airplane. Man, people were tense.
My band had a show booked for September 21st and for awhile we thought we'd just cancel it. Somehow it seemed disrespectful to put on a rock show in this climate. The atmosphere in the city put everything in a totally new light.
We ultimately decided to play the show, hoping that by then the most intense part of the mourning period would be past and people would want to blow off some steam. There were songs we had to drop from the set: "Jumbo Jet," "Do the Crash;" even "All Broke Down" seemed to be pushing it. Everything was really touchy and we didn't want to do anything that could be construed as disrespectful. I think a year went by before we felt comfortable enough to play "Jumbo Jet" again.
I wasn't sure how the show would go and everyone in the band was a bit nervous. But by the time we went onstage, the venue was packed to the gills and there was a really electric energy. People were really happy to see eachother. We played the show and people were bursting at the seams, screaming and dancing and singing their heads off. I don't think I've heard a more deafening crowd at one of our shows than the one who turned up to our September 21st gig in 2001. I still have a recording of that show.
Five years later and the city's healed to a certain degree, despite the fact that the killers are still at large and nobody feels exactly safe. To me there are still alot of things about 9/11 that don't make sense, there are questions that haven't been answered satisfactorily. I'm not into conspiracy theories but I do believe alot of stuff has been covered up, for whatever reason. I don't know how the planes' black boxes were completely destroyed -- something that has never happened before in airplane crash history -- yet the terrorists' paper passports survived (and were found!!?) in the rubble at Ground Zero. Talk about a needle in a haystack. Some of the recordings of the cell phone calls that were supposedly made from the planes sound very staged and weird. For that matter, I don't know how cell phone calls were received from those altitudes. I don't know why the FBI went around Washington DC just a couple of hours after the attacks and confiscated surveillance camera footage from all the gas stations in the Pentagon area, footage that would have captured the plane crash in living color. Especially considering the strange lack of airplane wreckage at the crash site. Why, why, why? I don't have any answers, just questions.
In late 2001 I was behind the president and trusted him to do the right thing. I supported going into Afghanistan. The whole world was on our side and it was a very unique moment in history. Unilateral, bipartisan, international support. It makes me furious how badly Bush has blown it; not only did he squander this rare opportunity, not only did he manage to turn universal sympathy into global resentment, but he's used 9/11 to attain maximum political leverage. The Bush White House has turned the tragedy of three thousand civilians murdered on American soil into a political tool, used over and over again to justify reckless warmongering and Big Brother-style surveillance tactics. 9/11 is the president's blank check. Thousands more are now dead in the Middle East, anti-American sentiments are brewing hotter than ever and Bin Laden's still out there. But we're supposed to feel safer. What a mess.
I feel for the victims of 9/11 and their families. I hope the ones who were killed are in a better place. They're probably looking down on us now and shaking their heads.