9/11 and the healing power of song

Pat Benatar performs in Union Square Park in Pat Benatar performs in Union Square Park in Manhattan. (May 27, 2004) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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The 9/11 terrorist attacks inspired a greater sense of how music unites people and helps them express their feelings -- anger, sadness, fear, hope and gratitude, sometimes all at once.

Pat Benatar remembers feeling all of that on the night of the attacks. The rocker from Lindenhurst, an icon of empowerment known for the swagger of "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" and the barriers she broke down as one of rock's first female superstars, recalls shaking so much on her way to a Napa Valley, Calif., stage that night that her teeth were chattering. She worried she couldn't talk, much less sing.

Nevertheless, Benatar stood in front of a crowd waving flags and "God Bless America" banners, trying to figure out how to handle herself. Just like everybody else.

"I've never been a political activist ever," recalled Benatar. "But I knew I had to do that show. I had to do it for our collective soul."

Benatar, who wrote extensively about the night in her autobiography "Between a Heart and a Rock Place," said she decided to perform after learning that her fans wanted the show to go on. "Politics aside, we were all together in this circumstance," she said. "We saw the healing power of music."

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There have been all sorts of musical responses to the attacks -- from Alan Jackson's poignant country ballad "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" to Jadakiss' accusatory conspiracy-theory rap "Why," from Toby Keith's raging "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" to Neil Young's poetic tale of the heroics on Flight 93 "Let's Roll." But the most frequent reaction has been to promote healing.

Bruce Springsteen, one of the few big-name artists who dealt with the aftermath of the attacks, said he started work on the 2002 album "The Rising" after a fan in a passing car shouted at him, "We need you now."

Paul McCartney, who organized "The Concert for New York City" fundraiser, told television critics last month that he felt he needed to act because "there was fear in the air and I had never experienced that in New York."

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"It was a great feeling," said McCartney, who came up with the idea for the Oct. 20 concert while staying at his home in East Hampton after his plane was grounded at Kennedy Airport during the attacks. "We actually felt like we were doing a bit of good. . . . One of the things I am most proud of is that I have lucked out and am in a profession like this that can help heal and help people get in touch with their emotions."

"The Concert for New York City" felt like a pivotal moment in the nation's grieving process, said Lee Rolontz, who was VH1's executive producer of the Madison Square Garden event. (The concert will be rebroadcast Sunday at 4 p.m. on VH1 for the first time since 2001.) "It allowed us a moment of time to unite, when we could scream, yell and cheer for the first time," she said. "It gave the country the strength, a little spirit that we were all desperately needing."

Stevie Nicks said the title track of her recent "In Your Dreams" album was about the comfort that her sound mixer gave her in the days after 9/11 so that she could continue her tour to comfort others.

"When it happened. . . . I was having a very hard time," Nicks said. "I was very close to going home. My friends Don Henley and Tom Petty told me, 'If people aren't asking for their money back, don't you even think about coming home because that means that they need to come and see you. They need a break.'

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"I was pretty freaked out," Nicks continued. "Every day, they were saying, 'Don't gather in big groups. Don't go to the mall.' And I'm thinking, 'There's 8,000 people out there.' My sound mixer would come back to me every night and say, 'It's gonna be OK. I'll get you through this. If you can't sing, don't worry about it. . . . You'll be OK. You're doing something good here, Stevie, so let's go with that. We're out here, we're making people happy. We're getting them away from 9/11 for a bit, so let's live in that world.' "

For the next generation of rockers, the rage and sadness of that post-9/11 world only intensified the devotion of fans in the existing emo scene of Long Island and northern New Jersey, which would break through nationally two years later. By 2003, bands such as Taking Back Sunday, Brand New and My Chemical Romance, who mixed hard-core punk music with emotional lyrics, were on massive national tours and eventually in the Top 10.

Andy Greenwald, columnist at the sports and culture website Grantland.com and author of "Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers and Emo" (St. Martin's), said that there were many factors that led to the rise of emo from the underground to the mid-'00s mainstream, including the Internet and teenagers' perennial desire to feel connected. "Emo was certainly well-positioned for popularity, for being written about in the context of 9/11," Greenwald said. "There's no doubt that emo would not have reached the level it did without 9/11."

The 9/11 attacks didn't only inspire mainstream movements and grand gestures. There were small, personal changes, as well, like the way people think of Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind" or Enrique Iglesias' "Hero" or U2's "Walk On" in entirely new contexts.

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Jay-Z has said he wants to take the 9/11 remembrances a step further -- to turn them into celebrations. In 2009, to commemorate the release of his album "The Blueprint 3," the rap mogul held a concert at Madison Square Garden on Sept. 11 to raise money for the New York Police & Fire Widows' & Children's Benefit Fund.

"It just felt right to bring it full circle," he said. "Now, it's time to recognize the date and recognize that we can celebrate without forgetting."


Telling 9/11 stories with their lyrics

BY GLENN GAMBOA, glenn.gamboa@newsday.com

Everyone has a 9/11 story. Musicians are no different. Here's a look at how some of them conveyed their stories in their music:

"Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day?

Out in the yard with your wife and children?

Working on some stage in L.A.?

Did you stand there in shock at the site of that black smoke rising against that blue sky?

Did you shout out in anger in fear for your neighbor?

Or did you just sit down and cry?"

-- Alan Jackson, "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)"

"I know I said I love you

I know you know it's true

I got to put the phone down and do what we got to do

One's standing in the aisle way

Two more at the door

We got to get inside there before they kill some more

Time is runnin' out, let's roll."

-- Neil Young, "Let's Roll"

"Sky of blackness and sorrow (a dream of life)

Sky of love, sky of tears

(a dream of life)

Sky of glory and sadness

(a dream of life)

Sky of mercy, sky of fear

(a dream of life)

Sky of memory and shadow (a dream of life)

Your burnin' wind fills my arms tonight

Sky of longing and emptiness (a dream of life)

Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life (a dream of life)"

-- Bruce Springsteen, "The Rising"

"Why did Bush knock down the towers?

Why you around them cowards?"

-- Jadakiss, "Why?"

"Through the darkest night, see the light shine bright /

When heroes fall, in love or war, they live forever"

-- Cher, "Song for the Lonely"


A Seaford songwriter with a message

BY GLENN GAMBOA, glenn.gamboa@newsday.com

You didn't need to be an international superstar to make a difference after 9/11. Seaford singer-songwriter Gerald Bair says he wrote the song "This Changed Everything" for himself, finishing it in time for a memorial service two days after learning his friend FDNY Battalion Chief John Moran had been killed in the attacks.

"It helped me cope to write about my feelings," said Bair, who turned the song into a fundraiser for the Rockaway Tribute Park, built as a memorial to those who died on 9/11, and has re-released the song on iTunes this month to raise more money. "It was great that something that was healing for me became useful to so many others. I think people help other people cope. I'm not sure that songwriters and musicians can really help more than anyone else, but we can provide the music that helps bring people together."