The deluge of 9/11 reflections and editorials on the aftermath has been overwhelming. It is tempting to contribute more commentary on how the US has responded to terrorism and what the government has treated as “terrorism” since the attacks. It would be easy to go through incident by incident and point to atrocity after atrocity, loss of liberty after loss of liberty to show that the US has responded in a way that likely brought joy to Islamic extremists seeking to wage war against America. But, as I sit and think about 9/11, how it defined my teenage years and transformation into the writer I am today, I find it more appropriate reflect through some the music the event has inspired.
This song about Flight 93 is pretty well known. Young, backed up by Booker T & the MG’s, tells the story of passengers on board the airplane that crashed in Shanksville, PA, because passengers were able to fight back and prevent the plane from reaching its intended target.
“On That Day”
Leonard Cohen wrote this song inspired by the event. The opening lyrics hint at the possibility that the 9/11 attacks was blowback for “crimes in the world.” But, then with restraint, Cohen briefly describes why those who attacked us for America’s freedom. It’s the kind of introspection that touches upon the range of reactions people had to 9/11
By Sleater-Kinney, the song may be one of the few that mirror the raw emotion felt after seeing the towers fall. The lyrics are incredibly visceral. Listen to the manic drums and the guitar that accents the vocals. Of course, there’s also this line: “And the president hides/While working men rush in.”
“Ashes to Ashes”
This song comes from Steve Earle’s album Jerusalem, which produced quite a good amount of controversy because of his song “John Walker’s Blues” that reflected on the psyche of American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh, It centers on Earle’s concern that people weren’t asking the real question, which is what would make people hate America enough to fly a plane into a 100-story building? It is about America being the most powerful country in the world and whether it has to go the way of the Roman Empire.
“Bomb the World”
Michael Franti & Spearhead wrote this song in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. “You can bomb the world to pieces, but you can’t bomb it into peace,” sing Franti & Spearhead. It is one of the most eloquent antiwar songs of the past decade.
Rapper Sage Francis’s song shows empathy for the pain and suffering the victims of 9/11 experienced while at the same time commenting on how the event was exploited by the media. As he says, angst was being provoked. The song also gets at the continued justification for US actions by constantly citing 9/11.
“Know Your Enemy”
This song doesn’t make the list not because Dead Prez is suggesting that 9/11 was a conspiracy perpetrated by the US government and not bin Laden. I have many questions about 9/11 but I don’t think Bush made the towers fall. However, this rap song boldly addresses the crimes and failures of US government, the way government perpetrates violence and does little to address the poverty of Americans. And, each and every line packs a punch that gives voices to Americans who are often marginalized.
“Devils and Dust”
Bruce Springsteen did a full album, The Rising, which drew inspiration from what happened on 9/11. “The Rising” and “My City of Ruins” are two songs that have gained notoriety for their reflection on the event. But, on a solo album released in 2005, Devils & Dust, Springsteen’s title track reflects on the emotional struggle of a soldier deployed in the Iraq war. Without 9/11, it would have been much more difficult to justify the invasion of Iraq. And, the song may contain the best chorus to address all that has been wrong with the US response to 9/11: “Fear is a powerful thing/It’ll turn your heart black you can trust/It’ll take your God-filled soul/Fill it with devils and dust.”
I encourage you to share any songs you remember listening to in the past ten years that were inspired by 9/11 or made you think about the event, especially ones dealing with the US response to the attacks. I’ll add a few readers’ picks to the end of this post if I get some good ones.