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