Some Songs Remain

9-11 flag memorial display from 2006
9-11 flag memorial display from 2006

With the 9-11 anniversary upon us again (Hard to believe it was seven years ago already…), I tried to come up with a list of the best songs written about the event itself. What I discovered was a lot of well-meaning yet mediocre patriotic tribute material, most of it written in the months directly afterward; there were only a handful out of hundreds that I’d consider worthwhile and truly lasting works of art. Here they are, in no particular order:

“Far Away,” Sleater-Kinney: Funny that one of the best came from a Canadian band, not an American one. Corin Tucker sings about watching the reports on television, and it’s a sharply critical analysis: “The President hides while working men rush in and give their lives.” The visceral, bombs-away sonic attack of guitars is a perfect complement to the horrific nature of the event.

“Firehouse,” Christine Lavin: From Vigil, a full-length compilation of New York songwriters released a year after 9-11, this is one of the most poignant songs on it, without resorting to melancholy or overly sentimental tactics to get the point across. It’s a testament to how the survivors are still coping with the events of that day.

“Let’s Roll,” Neil Young: It’s a little jingoistic and simplistic, but it’s also one of the few songs to address the third plane, Flight 93, and the hero’s last words before taking on the terrorists in the cockpit.

The Rising
, Bruce Springsteen: The only full-length attempt to address the various issues surrounding 9-11, and while it doesn’t succeed completely, there are moments like, “Empty Sky,” where Bruce hits the proverbial nail right on the head. As the otherwise throwaway tune “Mary’s Place” says, to cope with tragedy and loss, celebrating life is sometimes the best remedy: “Drop the needle and pray.”

“No Song,” Richard Julian: Another one from the Vigil compilation mentioned above, it’s my personal favorite more for what it doesn’t try to say than for what it actually conveys, which is the sense that there are no words to express the horror, sorrow, and other feelings experienced by those who were, and still are, affected by 9-11. I’ll close with the lyrics below, if you want to hear a clip of it and some of the other songs on the compilation, there’s a link at the bottom of this post.

“No Song”: Richard Julian

the stark
reality
defies
poetry
it mocks
this melody
there is no song
there is no song

murder
in the air
you can’t escape
it’s everywhere
it’s more
than the senses can bear
there is no song
there is no song

no, not this time
no, not this time
no scheming rhyme
not this time
not this time

as sure as time
passes by
this pall will lift
and singers will try
but they will fail
and their songs will lie
there is no song
there is no song
no not this time

Vigil CD Website

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