Like many other people, I found myself unable to enjoy music in the days following September 11, 2001. Part of it stemmed from the need for information – I was just too busy listening to news on the radio and looking for it on the Web and TV to bother with music. A bigger part of it, though, stemmed from being too shell-shocked at what I was seeing and hearing and reading – there seemed to be no relief anywhere, particularly not in a shiny plastic disc. I had a two-year-old son, and the idea that I’d brought a child into a world so clearly dangerous, so very much out of its collective mind, weighed on me. I drank to be able to sleep. I teared up every time I read a newspaper.

The following week, while doing some research on the Web, I stumbled upon an MP3 of Dan Bern’s “Hometown of the World,” a brand new song he had played on a live radio broadcast just days before. It was the anthem I hadn’t known I’d needed, a new “This Land is Your Land” for a nation seemingly on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Slowly, music filtered back in; those sounds began to sound comforting. I shared some of those sounds with a handful of friends. I hoped we would all emerge stronger from that troubling period.

A decade on, I don’t think the nation has completely recovered from its 9/11-induced breakdown; we have lost much more than I think we’ll ever be able to regain. Whether terrorists ever manage to attack us again is almost beside the point; we’ve inflicted more damage on ourselves—in terms of intolerance, religiosity, and lives and families sacrificed in war—than any outside influence could inflict.

When I hear these songs, though—particularly in toto—I recall the sadness of those first weeks after 9/11, but I also recall the sliver of hope to be felt in the sight of total strangers coming together, comforting each other, standing vigil with one another, engaging in a shared sense of grief that for a moment seemed like it might lead to a long-term common purpose, a rebuilding not only of a few buildings, but of a fractious nation. Ten years have elapsed, and that sliver has never been smaller.

Dan Bern – Hometown of the World
Mark Eitzel – Proclaim Your Joy, from The Invisible Man
Guided By Voices – Hold on Hope, from Do the Collapse
Quasi – It’s Raining, from Sword of God
U2 – Walk On, from All that You Can’t Leave Behind
Beta Band – Won, from Hot Shots II
Weezer – Simple Pages, from Weezer (Green Album)
Whiskeytown – Don’t Be Sad, from Pneumonia
Spiritualized – Stop Your Crying, from Let It Come Down
Waterboys – My Love Is My Rock in the Weary Land, from A Rock in the Weary Land
Gillian Welch – Revelator, from Time (the Revelator)
Tori Amos – Time, from Strange Little Girls
Sarah Harmer – Uniform Grey, from You Were Here
The Orgone Box – Find the One, from The Orgone Box
Nick Drake – Things Behind the Sun, from Pink Moon
Peter Gabriel – Here Comes the Flood, from Shaking the Tree – 16 Golden Greats
Bob Dylan – Every Grain of Sand, from Shot of Love
Marvin Gaye – Save the Children, from What’s Going On
Aretha Franklin – Bridge Over Troubled Water, from The Very Best Of Aretha Franklin Vol. 2
Waterboys – My Lord What a Morning, from A Rock in the Weary Land

About the Author

Rob Smith

Rob Smith is a writer, teacher, wage earner, and all-around evil genius who spends most of his time holed up in his cluttered compound in central PA. His favorite color is ultramarine blue. His imaginary band Mr. Vertigo tours every summer. You can follow Rob on Twitter, if you desire.

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