Saturday, September 10, 2011
10:22 PM Christian Lamitschka No comments
COUNTRY ARTISTS REFLECT ON 9/11
The singer, who had returned late that evening after playing a children’s home benefit in his native Georgia, got out of bed and went down to his office. He recorded the melody and lyrics on a tape recorder and went back to bed.
“The chorus pretty much word-for-word ended up on the record, and the melody, too,” Jackson says. “I’ve had songs come to me before like that, but nothing seems as clear as this. The next morning, I started putting all the verses together about things I had seen or heard about.”
“Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” was one of many country songs that came out in the months after 9/11, giving voice to the tragedy and to the sentiments of survivors and fellow Americans.
At the forefront, Aaron Tippin’s “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagles Fly” surged to the top spot on Billboard’s country songs chart after the attacks. Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” re-entered the charts in the Top 20, 17 years after its initial release. “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” was out by early November that year, and over the next year, even more country songs emerged that were either ripped from the news headlines of the attack or shaded more subtly by the impact the events had on the nation.
Toby Keith’s chest-thumping “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)” went to No. 1 in 2002. Randy Travis came out with “America Will Always Stand”; Hank Williams Jr. recorded “America Will Survive”; Craig Morgan released “God, and Country”; Charlie Daniels stirred up controversy with “This Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flag”; Ray Stevens made people laugh with “Osama Yo’ Mama”; and Darryl Worley’s “Have You Forgotten?” topped the charts in April 2003.
“I think that if people who observe country music had thought that country had lost its touch in terms of being able to grasp the moment and really give voice to people’s emotions, I think we learned from 9/11 that wasn’t the case,” says Wade Jessen, Billboard’s senior chart manager in Nashville. “Country radio really pushed that message out, and really in a lot of ways, along with the artists, helped people sort that out in the short term, how they were supposed to feel about it.”
Why they wrote the songs they did
Tippin says watching his record label at the time, Lyric Street Records, snap into action to get “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagles Fly” onto country radio as fast as it did was the proudest moment of his career.
“These people couldn’t pick up a rifle so they picked up what they had,” Tippin says.
Tippin recorded the prideful the weekend after 9/11, delivered it to the label first thing Monday morning, and it was on the radio within days. The musicians who played on it donated their time, and all of Tippin’s proceeds went to support the victims’ families.
Stevens wrote a comedy song because “if you can invoke a smile or a laugh it makes what you’re saying more palatable to a lot of people,” he says. And 10 years later, Daniels still makes no apologies for “This Ain’t No Rag, It’s a Flag,” which some people found offensive.
“I wrote it because it’s my way of saying, ‘This is America and we’re not going to put up with what you did to us,’ ” he says. “We’re coming after you and there ain’t no place you can hide, and we proved that a little while ago.”
Worley was fresh off a trip to play for the troops and disheartened by a lack of visible military support stateside about a year after the attacks when he and co-writer Wynn Varble set out to remind people of what was lost.
“This is one of those events we need to remember and our need to remember. We need to never forget this. If you think about it, this song could span all of our history as a nation. We set out to write a song that would be timeless, and I think we did,” Worley says of “Have You Forgotten?”
Alan Jackson reluctant to cut 'Where Were You'
However, Jessen feels the message that still endures is found in “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).”
For many people, the song became a comforting and uniting voice of the tragedy giving credence through a series of questions to a wide range of emotions spanning anger, fear, sorrow, confusion and national pride.
But for a while, it looked as if no one would hear it.
Jackson had serious reservations about playing or recording the song because he felt it was wrong to benefit professionally from a song born out of the tragedy.
“I didn’t really want to write something for it or feel like I should, but this song just came out of nowhere,” he says. “I played it for my wife, Denise, and she thought it was special, and then my producer and record label and everybody said I should record it, but I was reluctant.”
Jackson relented and performed the song live for the first time in November 2001 at the CMA Awards, which were held under tight security at the Grand Ole Opry House. Jessen wept with the rest of the audience as Jackson strummed through the verses.
“That’s not something that happens in mass at the CMAs,” Jessen says. “(The song) is what really allowed people to let it all out, and to me, I think the underlying message at the time was, ‘It’s OK to not you feel about it,’ and that, ‘It’s OK to feel more than one emotion about it,’ and that was a tremendous relief. I think a lot of the tears we saw at the Opry (House) that night were tears of relief because somebody said it, somebody actually stood there and told us what was in our hearts.”
“Where Were You” has become another career song for Jackson. He has played it at the Pentagon for 9/11 survivors, some of them still bandaged and disfigured from their injuries, and on the streets of New York City.
“It’s just something you can’t hardly describe, to be able to sing that in some of those locations with people who were involved so directly and see their reactions and all,” Jackson says. “It makes me feel really good about being able to share that music with them and see it make a difference to them.”
Now Jackson is set to play the song on Sunday night at Washington National Cathedral for the nationally televised A Concert for Hope. President Barack Obama will attend, and he will be the fourth president for whom Jackson has performed. The singer is nervous and still eschews any credit.
“Like the song says, I’m just a singer of simple songs,” Jackson says. “I’m nothing special. I ain’t no prophet. God sent the stuff down here, and I just wrote it down.”Cindy Watts
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