It was a Tuesday.
The day we’ve come to refer to as simply ’9/11′ was the second day of the working week. Back in 2001 my job was working as a musician and music promoter in London, England. Every Tuesday I presented a singer-songwriter night called Acoustic Trip.
In Camden, upstairs at a pub called The Lock Tavern, songwriters from around the world gathered to play three original songs to an eclectic audience of Londoners, transients and tourists. I’d start and finish with a song of my own, then introduce anywhere from five to twelve (once we had sixteen acts in one night) songwriters who would take to the ‘stage’ (front of the room) alone or with one other.
And that’s what I did on the day thousands of innocent people died, on the day hundreds jumped off a burning building in New York to their deaths.
On that day, I sang songs. And I wasn’t alone. There were others who chose not to watch the towers on fire on television, there were others who needed to go on as normal despite the terror.
It may be over simplifying to say my reason for not canceling Acoustic Trip that historic day was because I followed the showbiz motto of ‘going on with the show’ but maybe that’s all I did. To me, whatever was happening in New York, whatever the images I witnessed in an electrical appliance store on the High Street meant to the world, all I could do was continue doing what I believed in, all I could do was to keep singing my truth.
I didn’t want to let the fear stop me.
Most acts booked in to play Acoustic Trip on the 11th of September 2001 pulled out. I got quite a few calls from up-and-coming musicians who were of the viewpoint it would be inappropriate to make music while such a tragedy was unfolding over the Atlantic ocean. Personally, I didn’t see it that way at all. To me it was precisely because such tragedy and needless loss occurs that we must ‘sing it loud’ (as K.D. Lang says). If music ever has meaning surely it is at a time when spirits need lifting? So me and a handful of other songwriters kept singing. We didn’t let the terrorists—wherever they came from and whomever abetted them—silence us, not even for one night.
For me, and particularly at that time in my life, music is and was a way to express something about the injustices of life and something about the yearning in my soul for a simple yet elusive thing: Love? Peace? Truth?
Much of the subject matter of my first album (Bliss) had to do with my struggle to become independent in mind and spirit. The songs I wrote before moving to London told a story of a boy leaving home for the first time, a story about a boy realizing true freedom can only be achieved alone; the heart may be tied to those we love but those ties must be cut if we are ever to truly love unconditionally.
Perhaps the songs on Bliss could be described as personal protest songs. Again, I am not alone in needing to express such sentiments. Since the sixties, troubadours have sung of the futility of war, the seduction of corruption and the power of peaceful questioning of abusive authority. But as much as I admire John Lennon, Bob Dylan and their ilk, I have always been more interested in personal hypocrisy than worldly duplicity.
I may get angry about the injustices I perceive some in power (governments, religious groups, corporations, individuals) perpetrate but all I can really take responsibility for is my own hypocrisy; my own abuse of power; my own lack of courage and transparency.
But perhaps I can do more? Perhaps I can speak for those who cannot speak for themselves? Perhaps I can ask questions many are too busy, afraid or unwilling to ask? Maybe I can sing a song for the innocent who live and die in a world of lies because they trust the wrong people? Maybe I can sing a song for the unwitting players sacrificed in the power brokers game of control, information manipulation, and big, big lies.
What will the lyrics to this new protest song be? Let me see…
Can we ask what happened on that day,
Without being scared of being locked away?
Can we ask questions for the innocent who died,
Without finding out somewhere, someone lied?
Is it enough to say “I stand up for the truth”
And sit in my chair doing nothing of much use?
Is it enough to turn the television off,
To get to the truth when the lies never stop?
Clearly my song needs a lot of work. But I’m willing to put this rough draft of possible lyrics out there for the lives of people who jumped from a burning building. I’m willing to be accused of theorising about something I can never know all the facts about for the sake of my soul and what it still yearns for.
N.B. Since the events of that Tuesday in September 10 years ago 1500 architects and engineers concluded that WTC Building 7 was a controlled demolition (which takes experts weeks to set up) and not caused by falling debris from the Two Towers as officially reported. It is a good starting point for anyone interested in a version of history not often televised.