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Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11/2001 - Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?

Musically, I can't say that I've ever really been a fan of the genre known as country music.

To me, country music was always that twangy stuff that my parents and grandparents listened to. The songs where the artists who sang them kept moaning about how their wife left them and how their dog left them, and how they lost their truck, house, horse, etc. I can imagine that classic country music did have its place, and I admit that the genre is strong enough to have its fans (like every member of my family that happens to be over the age of fifty), but I'm sorry, I just cannot get into a lot of the earliest versions of it. It makes me cringe.

That being said, I'll also make a bit of a confession, especially with us being in what I consider to be one of the weakest creative periods of the music industry in recent years (at least according to my opinion). Some of the current country songs are quite powerful, emotional, and tell a story far better than anything that is being released by some of the artists considered to be Top 40.

I mean it too. If you take any country music song that was released over the past ten years, a lot of them really grab you, and make you feel all sorts of emotions. From feel good songs, to break-up songs, to empowerment songs, there really is a song for everyone out there. I actually shudder to admit this, but a lot of the stuff that they currently play on country radio, I'm actually beginning to enjoy.

This coming from the man who used to drown out his parents country radio by blasting Garbage, Barenaked Ladies, and R.E.M. from his stereo in high school.

My parents listened to it constantly. I almost think that my parents may have cried real tears when I was born because my birthday just happened to be on the same day as George Strait's. My parents would constantly be listening to Alabama, Randy Travis, Trisha Yearwood, Reba McEntire, and Dolly Parton all the time.

(Though admittedly, I find Reba and Dolly to be AWESOME! There. I said it.)

One artist who used to really annoy me in the country world that my parents absolutely adored was Alan Jackson. I don't know if it was the fact that his songs were annoyingly catchy, or whether they had terrible song titles (I mean, seriously, what kind of song title is 'Don't Rock The Jukebox'?), or whether they played his albums in the car 76,291 times in my lifetime. For years and years, Alan Jackson was a bit of a thorn in my side, because for years, it seemed like I could not get away from him or his music. Ever.

That all changed in the year 2001.

In fact, quite a LOT of things changed for millions of people in 2001. Specifically on one particular September morning.

It seems unfathomable to me that it has been ten years since the devastating terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington DC on the eleventh of September, 2001. Of course, back on that day, the idea of airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon seemed unfathomable as well.

Three thousand people ended up losing their lives in the attacks, which saw four airplanes being hijacked by terrorists, and using the airplanes as deadly weapons against well-known landmarks in the United States. Two of the planes smashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, both of them collapsing as a result. A third plane crashed into the Pentagon. The fourth plane, Flight 93, was hijacked as well, but ended up crashing in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania when the passengers on that flight attempted to take control back from the hijackers.

Ten years later, on the site where the World Trade Center once stood, a new complex is being built, with one building called the Freedom Tower currently under construction. Many of the survivors of those who lost their lives on that day have moved on with their lives as best as they possibly can, but like anyone who witnessed the day's events unfold as it happened, it's a day that nobody will ever forget.

As it so happened, this links to my opening paragraph about country music, and how I brought up Alan Jackson in particular. Alan Jackson ended up being moved and affected by the 9/11 attacks enough to want to write a song about the tragedy. He was conflicted about how to go about it. He knew that he wanted the song to have a powerful, yet positive message, and really wanted to honestly express how he and other people felt about the attacks, but didn't want to make it too patriotic or too vengeful. Considering the raw emotions and heartbreak that followed the devastation of that day, this would prove to be a real challenge for Jackson, who prior to the 9/11 attacks had written and performed mostly feel-good songs.

A few weeks after the attacks, while he slept, he kept hearing a melody, with the opening lines and chorus running through his head. Waking up at four o'clock in the morning with the lyrics, he jumped out of bed to find a handheld tape recorder and sang them into the recorder so that he wouldn't forget them. Later that same day, with the chorus and opening lines in place, he sat down and started composing the lyrics to the song.

Alan Jackson managed to finish the song that day, but felt uneasy about recording the track. He didn't want to be seen as someone who wanted to capitalize on a devastating tragedy. But with the blessing of his wife and his record producer, he ended up doing just that, and the song ended up on his 2002 album 'Drive'.

On November 7, 2001, the CMA Awards were to be broadcast on CBS, and Alan Jackson was a scheduled performer at the show. He was originally intending on performing the song 'Where I Come From', but at the last minute, the decision was made for him to sing the new song he had written in tribute of the 9/11 attacks. And so, on that night, Alan Jackson debuted this powerful and moving single.

ARTIST: Alan Jackson
SONG: Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)
ALBUM: Drive
DATE RELEASED: November 26, 2001

The song ended up getting Alan Jackson a standing ovation at the awards ceremony, and when the song was officially released on November 26, it immediately shot to the top of the country music charts. Even ten years after the fact, it remains one of Alan Jackson's most remembered and loved songs in his whole career.

So, let's take the main question in his song, and ask it here.

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

I can tell you exactly where I was. And I can tell you that my story is filled with a lot of tragic irony in a sense.

On September 11, 2001, I had woken up early that day. I think it must have been around 8:00am. I was a young man of twenty back on that day, attending classes at a university campus in Ottawa, Ontario. That particular day, I had a film studies class at approximately 10:30 that morning, so I had some time to kill. My film studies class luckily enough was in the same building as the journalism department, and that building happened to have a student computer laboratory there. Since I didn't own a computer at that time, and since the Internet was free for university students to use at any time, I figured that I would spend some time at the lab while I waited for class to start.

So, I happened to come across a forum for a website I used to visit called Yesterdayland, which was a site that celebrated retro fads from various eras. Kind of almost like what this blog is trying to do in a way. Only this blog is a lot more personal.

Anyways, the one thing that I couldn't get over was how unseasonably warm it was in Ontario, Canada that morning. It was September 11, and it was already in the upper 20s in Celsius for temperature (and yes, in Canada we measure our temperatures in Celsius, and don't even ask me to convert that to Fahrenheit, as I don't do well with scientific math). I was in shorts and a T-shirt.

The weather was absolutely beautiful. Warm temperatures. Sunny day. Just beautiful.

It was so beautiful that I decided to talk about it. So, that particular day, I posted the forum question 'Isn't today a beautiful day?'

It seemed like such an innocent question at the time. Nothing too out of the ordinary. I even got a couple of responses to the topic, saying that they wished they had a window to see the beauty of the day, or how they needed coffee, and how other posters had told the coffee drinkers to stop being drama queens. You know, silly things like that. It all seemed so innocent...

...but here is where the tragic irony takes place.

That message that I posted about it being a beautiful day had the time stamp of 8:45 am Eastern Standard Time.

Less than one minute later, another poster had popped up with a thread of her own. This thread was more direct, to the point, and much different in tone than the one that I had posted just seconds earlier.

The post read 'World Trade Center Attacked'.

That's when I figured out that the day that was once beautiful would not end that way.

So after reading that post, I attempted to find out some more news on the attack, but almost all of the news sites at the time were so heavily bogged down with traffic that some sites actually crashed. I managed to get on Yahoo's main news page briefly to see the pictures of the World Trade Center on fire, but when I tried to click on the links, the site continued to crash.

I then realized that if I was going to follow this news story, the best place to be was Yesterdayland's web forum.  It was on that forum that we learned about the additional attacks on the Pentagon, as well as the fate of Flight 93.

Immediately, the one thing that I did notice was the absolute panic and fear that a lot of the members had. Keep in mind that the forum was comprised of hundreds of people from various areas all over the world. In fact, there were quite a few people from both the New York City area as well as the Washington DC area that a lot of us were incredibly worried about. I can even remember one person who visited the forum quite frequently who actually worked on the 95th floor of one of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and we had absolutely no idea if he was there or not. Luckily, he was nowhere near the building at the time of the attacks, but it was of great comfort knowing that people from all over the world came together to see if everyone was all right, and seeing if there was anything that they could do.

Despite the sadness of the day in general, it was really great to see so many people come together in the wake of a huge tragedy such as 9/11. It really made one realize that we could all put aside our differences with each other and really bond with each other in hopes that we could somehow make sense of what happened.

I actually got so caught up in what was unfolding on the Yesterdayland forum that I almost ended up missing the class that I was supposed to take at 10:30. By then, the journalism students were gathered around the television on the second floor lounge watching the whole thing unfold, and watching in horror as the towers of the World Trade Center broke apart before their frightened and horror-filled eyes.

It's an image that I will never forget.

As it turned out, our film studies class was cut short because of the attacks, so after the class ended, the first thing I did was log back onto Yesterdayland, to keep updated on what was happening. The residents of New York City and Washington DC really were up to the minute on the news, and through them, we learned that all of our members in those areas were accounted for, and we got up-to-date information on what was happening minute by minute a lot quicker than MSNBC, CNN, or any of the major networks. It was absolutely fascinating to see in such a bittersweet way.

One other thing that I can remember about that day was the vast variety of emotion that people felt as it was happening. There was anger from a lot of people, wanting to seek justice against those who caused the tragedy, and who wanted some form of revenge against it. There were similarly other people who thought that revenge was not a valid solution, and that they wouldn't want anything like that to happen to anyone else. Sometimes these conflicting opinions could cause some of the people on the forum to clash with one another, but as more news came out from the locations of the attacks, and more and more people logged on from the areas to let everyone know that they were okay, the conflicts were squashed fairly quickly.

Mostly though, there was a lot of sadness. Sadness for the family members of those who lost their lives. Sadness for the children who would grow up without their parents. Sadness for the whole world.

September 11, 2001 was a day that anyone who lived through it couldn't possibly forget. It will forever be a date that will be in history textbooks for years, decades, and even centuries to come. Whether you were in the heart of the disaster, or thousands of miles away watching the coverage on television, it really did affect all of us in the world in many different ways.

I know that it opened up something inside me. And I knew that people would be inspired by a whole Internet forum coming together to support each other, check in to see if all members were accounted for, and to just be there for each other during that day.

As I had expressed a desire to write for my school newspaper, I figured that this would be a great piece for the newspaper. I wanted it to be an article that talked about the tragedy of the attacks, but also provided some positivity in the fact that this event could bond so many people together. As terrible as that day was to so many people, it was a really beautiful thing to see.

I knew that I wanted to capture that in an article.

So, three weeks after the attacks, on October 2, 2001, my article for the school newspaper on how the Internet came together to support each other on that day was published. I have the article up above this paragraph, but I regret that it is hard to read because the pictures automatically shrink to fit the parameters of the text boxes. Basically how I went about the creation of the article was simple copying and pasting quotes typed in by various members and using them to illustrate points that I wanted to bring forth. One quotation really stood out for me was the one that I concluded the article with.

Everyone has different ways of dealing with their pain...we just need to stay positive.”

And that is exactly what we need to do. In the first few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, I think for the most part, we all were lost and left wondered what anyone had done to justify the destruction that the attacks left behind. But on a brighter note, I think that people in general (especially in the United States, where all of the attacks took place) started being kinder, and more respectful towards each other. I think that the tragedy had every potential to rip everything apart, but it is to everybody's credit that it ended up making people stronger. It made people stand together to make sure that they were not going to let this tragedy stop them from living.

It's hard to say what this tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks will bring. There are some who vowed to never forget what happened, and others who don't want to be forced to have to relive what happened.   But I am the type of person who wants to make this a positive blog with mostly positive feelings. I don't want to make this an anger piece or a piece where I point fingers of blame towards anybody. There's too many news sources and personal blogs that do enough of that as it is.

Instead, I wanted to do with this blog entry the same thing that I attempted to do ten years ago with that article I wrote for my school newspaper. I wanted to try and make sense of this tragedy just like everyone else in the world, and I wanted to do it in a way that brought even a glimmer of hope to people that they would come out of this tragedy a little stronger than before.

I just hope that in both cases, the message came through.

1 comment:

  1. I was in a car, in the parking lot of Disneyland, waiting to get in so we could get our tickets. They came out and told us Disneyland was now staying closed indefinitely. We panicked when friends told us to get out of LA because it would be next to be attacked. We drove to Vegas, finally saw the horrible images on the TV we had only listened to on the radio in the car. Horrible.

    Later I found out Disneylamd reopened a few hours later and then I was pissed because we could have gone in and at least felt better with the frivolity of the theme park.

    I am not sure how I would have dealt with the whole thing if I had been in Edmonton instead of the states when it happened. I do know that I blocked most of it out because after watching some YouTube videos a few days ago on the towers, it flt like I had never seen it before. I guess that's what anniversary's are for, remind you of what has been.