Reflecting on musical responses to 9/11


Shannon Neu
  A&E Editor

Since 9/11, a variety of artists have created some extraordinarily diverse and moving music in response to the tragedy. Artists in genres from country to rap to indie rock have created artistic responses to 9/11, and their works have played an important role in the United State’s healing process.

Artists released new songs, performed in events to raise money for victims of the attacks and explored a range of reactions experienced throughout the world.

The first large-scale event in which musicians banded together to help victims of the attacks was the “America: A Tribute to Heroes” telethon held on Sept. 21, 2001.

The telethon raised over $200 million for United Way’s Sept. 11 Telethon Fund and featured performances by Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, U2, Faith Hill, Wyclef Jean, Alicia Keys, The Dixie Chicks and many other national and international artists.

“The Concert for New York City” was a benefit concert founded and organized by Paul McCartney, featuring Jay-Z, The Who, Elton John, Billy Joel, David Bowie, Destiny’s Child and others. It was held on Oct. 20, 2001 at Madison Square Garden.

The audience included surviving members of the New York City police and fire departments, other emergency services and families of those killed in the attacks.

Events such as these brought musicians and individuals struck by the tragedy together to use music as an outlet to grieve and inspire hope for the future.

Albums such as Jay-Z’s “The Blueprint,” Bob Dylan’s “Love and Theft” and “Glitter,” by Mariah Carey were released on Sept. 11, 2001. However, other songs were born out of the tragedy and became foundations for reflection, inspiration and hope. These songs included “The Rising,” by Bruce Springsteen and Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).”

A variety of different musical responses were created by many different artists, reflecting the wide range of Americans’ reactions to 9/11.

“Courtesy of the Red White and Blue,” by Toby Keith, for example, was a country hit that strongly took the side of pro-war patriotism. The Black Eyed Peas’ “Where Is the Love?” on the other hand became an influential pop song that aimed to heal listeners by encouraging unity.

Jadakiss, a rapper from New York, released a song called “Why,” during which he asked, “Why did Bush knock down the towers?”

He later clarified that the line was meant to be a metaphor for the way President George W. Bush failed to respond to the attacks. However, the line inspired truther Immortal Technique to expand it into an entire song, promoting his belief in 9/11-based conspiracy theories.

Other songs were released years later and explored the 9/11 events and aftermath more in-depth. One example of this is “WTC 9/11,” a string quartet written by minimalist composer Steve Reich.

Composed in 2009-2010 and premiered in 2011 by the Kronos Quartet, “WTC 9/11” also incorporated voice recordings from the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), as well as clips from recorded interviews with friends and neighbors of Reich who lived in Manhattan during the time of the attacks. Though the piece can be disturbing, it encourages listeners to face the tragedy from a new perspective.

While new songs were released in response to 9/11, previously released songs also took on new meaning. These songs included “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” by Five for Fighting, which was released in 2000, and “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias, which was released on Sept. 3, 2001. Both songs became unofficial anthems for the 9/11 first responders.

Not only were songs that reflected on 9/11 created during this time, but songs were also temporarily banned from the radio.

Over 165 songs were banned from Clear Channel-operated radio stations for being “lyrically questionable.” Songs that were temporarily considered to be in poor taste included Alien Ant Farm’s version of “Smooth Criminal,” “Crash into Me,” by Dave Matthews Band and The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”

Through the many musical reactions to 9/11, Americans found a transcendental outlet in which they could grieve and heal.

Musicians’ immediate and long term artistic reactions helped to revitalize and rebuild the American spirit after the tragic events of 9/11.

Categories: A & E, Arts & Entertainment, Visual & Performance

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