Why Haven’t There Been More Songs About 9/11?

As I read and watched all the 10-year commemorations of 9/11, I kept wondering why more music hasn’t come out of the events of that horrible day.  And I’m not talking about songs that comment on the political fallout and everything that came later; I mean music that deals with the events and people of September 11th itself.

When Neil Young released “Let’s Roll” in November 2001–the title is based on the last words of United 93 passenger Todd Beamer–I expected more people to take up the narrative.  Maybe there’d be a ballad written from the perspective of an emergency response team.  Perhaps something based on a desperate phone call from the 98th floor of the North Tower.  Or a poetic elegy about when the buildings came down.  Nope.  

In fact, not a lot of art period has been inspired by 9/11.

Sure, there have been movies (United 93 and Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center) and books (Saturday by Ian McEwan is very good as is Don DeLillo’s Falling Man and Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland).  Denis O’Leary’s TV show, Rescue Me dealt with the issue.  And yes, there have been various bits of sculpture and mixed media inspired by 9/11.  But music?  Not so much.

Bruce Springstreen’s “The Rising” (released in July 2002) is an exception.  He wrote that as a direct response to that day.  Any others?  Some comments:

 

  • Overcome” by Live became part of the 9/11 soundtrack, but the song had long been recorded when the attacks occured.  It’s a single from their V album, which was released on September 18.
  • Yellowcard has a song called “Believe” on their 2003 album, Ocean Avenue.  It pays tribute to the police and firefighter victims of 9/11.
  • Falling Man” by Marc Jordan (2007) certainly fits the bill.  It’s based on the Don DeLillo book.
  • U2’s “City of Blinding Lights” has been correctly interpreted as a tribute to New York in the days, months and years after 9/11.

 

Those songs were generally well received.  Some works were not or had to be altered.

 

  • WTC/9/11 is an album by Steve Reich and Kronos Quartet that’s tough to listen to.  The music features a mix of emergency dispatches from September 11 along with interviews with survivors and people who lost loved ones in the tragedy.  The original cover featured a smoking tower with the other about to be struck by the second plane.  It had to be redesigned after a public outcry.
  • An Athens, Georgia, band called I Am the World Trade Center had to change their name after the attacks for obvious reasons.  They’ve since gone back to that name.
  • Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American, which came out in July 2001, had its title changed to just Jimmy Eat World in the aftermath of the attacks.  In 2008, the original title was restored.

 

Beyond that, though, I’m at a loss (although there may be some country songs and some tracks adopted by the 9/11-was-an-inside-job people).

Perhaps the trauma is still too great.  Perhaps no one wants to been seen as cashing in on the tragedy.  Or maybe this is just one of those events that cannot be (or should be) captured in song.

Still, I find it strange.  Lady Di dies in a car crash and the world goes apeshit with a repurposed “Candle in the Wind.”  An event that forever changes the political, social and economic landscape of the world is barely worth a note.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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