September 11 Songs

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Jack Hardy. Suzanne Vega and other New York songwriters recorded September 11 songs for the benefit CD Vigil.

Songwriter Jack Hardy, whose brother Jeff died on September 11, wrote nine songs about the attack, even though he had no plans to record them. "It was impossible not to write about it," he has said. Two of Hardy's songs, along with pieces by Suzanne Vega and others from Hardy's songwriters collective the Greenwich Village Songwriters Exchange, were recorded and released in a benefit CD called Vigil. His song "Ground Zero" captures his guilt at being a survivor:

Down to ground zero / with a rust colored rose / trying hard to close / that door / what have I opened / what have I done / that I'm not the one / it's for.

Bruce Springsteen read obituaries about memorial service after memorial service where family members played his songs in tribute, and was moved to write an album's worth of songs about September 11. The Rising spent two weeks at number one in the charts, and songs like "You're Missing" and "Into the Fire," written from the perspective of a fireman's widow, led critics to call the Boss our "poet laureate of 9/11." In "You're Missing," Springsteen sings:

Coffee cups on the counter, jackets on the chair / Papers on the doorstep, but you're not there / Everything is everything / Everything is everything / But you're missing

Springsteen has been deemed the "poet laureate of 9/11."

Country singer Toby Keith wrote an angry fighting song, called "Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (The Angry American.)," that has captured patriotic support, if not critical acclaim. At the last minute, ABC did not include Keith in the lineup for their Fourth of July special. After Keith said he was removed because the song was not positive enough, Oklahoma DJ Crash Poteet told his listeners to send their boots to Peter Jennings in protest. Outraged fans mailed 400 pairs. The song, addressing the unnamed enemy, celebrates revenge:

Soon as we could see clearly / Through our big black eye / Man we lit up your world / Like the Fourth of July

That is just the beginning. Last fall's tragic events have been written about in songs by artists in nearly every genre, from Sleater Kinney's punk rock "Far Away" to the Wu-Tang Clan's "Rules." Some are thoughtful, some are angry, some are prayers, and some, like Steve Earle's song in the voice of American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh, try to understand the incomprehensible.

This list, which includes links to lyrics and audio clips, will grow with your help. Please send songs that could be added to rebuilding@gothamgazette.com.


The List

You can sort the list by clicking on the categories at the top of the list.
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Song Title Artist Album Genre Audio Clip
A Well Dressed Man
Daw Landes
Vigil
Folk

The song takes on a heartbreaking part of the attacks: when people jumped from the buildings.
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Been Around
Jill Gerwitz
Vigil
Folk

Gerwitz wrote this song two days after the attacks.
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Boxcutters and Knives
Ina May Wool
Vigil
Folk

"A plea for a reaction that wouldn't be just a useless show of force," Wool says about her song.
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Build Back Up
Joseph Arthur
Wish You Were Here: Love Songs For New York
Rock

Arthur sings, "You can't destroy our love / New York is tough." The Onion's reviewers call the song "all the more endearing for its clumsiness."
No lyrics available for this song

Communists
Bob Hillman
Vigil
Folk

Hillman's song suggests that the government is fighting very different enemies now.
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Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue (The Angry American)
Toby Keith
Unleashed
Country

A jingoistic tune about getting revenge, with Keith singing, "Soon as we could see clearly/Through our big black eye/Man we lit up your world/Like the Fourth of July.". "Apparently, Keith has mistaken the War on Terrorism for a bout staged by the World Wrestling Federation," writes Jim Derogatis in the Chicago Sun-Times.
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Empty Sky
Bruce Springsteen
The Rising
Rock

"I woke up this morning to an empty sky," Springsteen sings. The song "acknowledges the fury that welled up in many bereft New Yorkers after the destruction of Manhattan's two most towering landmarks," writes Kurt Loder in Rolling Stone.
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Far Away
Sleater-Kinney
One Beat
Rock
No audio available

Corin Tucker sings about watching TV that morning: "And the hardest hit are innocent and far away but it feels so close/And the president hides while working men rush in and give their lives." "Carrie Brownstein's air-raid guitars and Janet Weiss's primal drumming strain to evoke the obscene horror on the screen," writes the Village Voice.
No lyrics available for this song

Fired Up
Moe Tucker
Wish You Were Here: Love Songs For New York
Rock

Velvet Underground drummer Tucker sings "I'm fired up, pissed off / I'm tired and I'm mad."
No lyrics available for this song

Firehouse
Christine Lavin
Vigil
Folk

Lavin sings about "saying a prayer" while walking past her Upper West Side neighborhood firehouse: "Reality sliced cleanly through/that slender thread of hope/the digging went on and on/some snapped/most of us still cope."
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For Your Heart
Tim Robinson
Vigil
Folk

Robinson wrote the song for a friend whose brother died in the attack.
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Freedom
Paul McCartney
Single
Rock
No audio available

Sir Paul debuted this during the "Concert for NYC" in Madison Square Garden. "I will fight/For the right/To live in freedom," sings McCartney.
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Ground Zero
Jack Hardy
Vigil
Folk

Hardy, whose brother Jeff died in the attack, writes about feeling guilty to be alive: "down to ground zero/with a rust colored rose/trying hard to close/that door/what have I opened/what have I done/that I'm not the one/it's for."
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Hello God
Dolly Parton
Halos & Horns
Country
No audio available


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Into the Fire
Bruce Springsteen
The Rising
Rock

From the perspective of a fireman's widow, Springsteen sings, "The sky was falling and streaked with blood. I heard you calling me, then you disappeared into the dust." The song "expresses something every New Yorker has felt walking past the local firehouse since last fall," writes A.O Scott in Slate.
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It Hit Home
Suzanne Vega
Vigil
Folk

Vega sings, "I am no great patriot/I never wear the flag/and I only sing the songs that I'm supposed to in a crowd/but if I travel to Chicago or just take the train downtown/I see the grace that's under pressure, that's what I report out loud. "
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John Walker's Blues
Steve Earle
Jerusalem
Country
No audio available

The song, written from the perspective of American John Walker Lindh, who fought for the Taliban, has been both widely praised by music critics and attacked as treason, with the New York Post shrilling, "Twisted Ballad Honors Tali-Rat." The Nation wrote, "this is storytelling." The song, "seeks to understand how Lindh viewed himself. It praises neither Lindh nor his choices. "
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Let's Roll
Neil Young
Are You Passionate?
Rock

In his song about Todd Beamer and the passengers of Flight 93 who fought to take back control of the plane from the hijackers, Young sings, "Let's roll for freedom/Let's roll for love/Goin' after Satan/On the wings of a dove." Amazon reviewer Kim Hughes was not impressed: "Sounds like a guy who's spent more time watching CNN than honing his lyrics."
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Lonesome Day
Bruce Springsteen
The Rising
Rock

"A vivacious rocker with a soaring cello and violin hook" that "makes ominous allusions to vipers in the grass and a dark sun on the rise," writes Salon.
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Louisa, from Her Window
Tim Robinson
Vigil
Folk

A woman in Redhook, Brooklyn watches the aftermath of the attacks.
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lovehatetragedy
Papa Roach
lovehatetragedy
Rock
No audio available

The song "totally stemmed from September 11," singer Jacoby Shaddix told the BBC. "I just wish that people really kept that spirit going. "
No lyrics available for this song

Mary's Place
Bruce Springsteen
The Rising
Rock

Springsteen sings from the perspective of a woman who lost a loved one in the attacks, "your favorite record's on the turntable/I drop the needle and pray."
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Never Forget
Amy Marie Keller
Vigil
Folk

Keller says she tried to write a prayer "to remind us of where we are and why."
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New York City
Suzzy Roche
Zero Church
Folk
No audio available

"New York City is down on her knees/ Prayin'/Together with you," sings Roche. Roche says that the song was written for the family members of victims from Squad One, "the firehouse in Park Slope that lost 12 men, fathers to 27 children."
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No Song
Richard Julian
Vigil
Folk

About how hard it is to try to capture September 11 in a song.
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No Sure Way
Loudon Wainwright III
Wish You Were Here: Love Songs For New York
Folk

Wainwright sings about riding the New York City subway after the attack. "Now you have to take the A train/There's no more service on the C." Called an "unadorned folk song about the way lives have changed since Sept. 11."
No lyrics available for this song

Nothing Man
Bruce Springsteen
The Rising
Rock

Sung from the perspective of a rescue worker.
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On A Clear Day
Jack Hardy
Vigil
Folk

"I'll never not be mindful/never not be mindful/that it was on a day like this/on a clear day," sings Hardy, whose brother died in the attacks.
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Paradise
Bruce Springsteen
The Rising
Rock

The song begins from the perspective of a suicide bomber and later shifts to the point of view of a woman whose husband died in the Pentagon attack, writes Time magazine. "The first verse was inspired by the newspapers, the second, a phone conversation Springsteen had with a Washington widow."
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Peaceable Kingdom
Rush
Vapor Trails
Rock
No audio available

Canadian rock group's take on September 11. "Talk of a Peaceable Kingdom/Talk of a time without fear/The ones we wish would listen/Are never going to hear."
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Rules
Wu-Tang Clan
Iron Flag
Hip-Hop

Ghostface Killah screams: "Who the f*** knocked our/buildings down?/Who the man behind the World Trade Center/massacres, step up now."
No lyrics available for this song

September in New York
Masterminds
Stone Soup
Hip-Hop

Over a vicious drum-and-bass beat," writes Rap Reviews.com, they "convey the urgency of the hour."
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Shoot the Dog
George Michael
Single
Rock

Song takes a critical look at the "War on Terror" and England's role, singing "People did you see that fire in the city/ It's like we're fresh out of democratic/ Gotta get yourself a little something semi-automatic yeah." The video shows Tony Blair as George Bush's lap dog.
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Spoonfed
Andy Germak
Vigil
Folk

A song from the point of view of the Afghani people, being bombed and getting food drops at the same time.
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The Beauty of the Day
Jon Albrink
Vigil
Folk

When trying to write about September 11, Albrink kept returning to the fact that "that day was rare and beautiful, a perfect day. If not for the unfolding horror, it seemed destined to be forgettable, a lazy, late summer day."
No lyrics available for this song

The Fuse
Bruce Springsteen
The Rising
Rock

"Juxtaposes images of death and dread with the life force of sex," writes Joyce Millman in Salon.
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The Rising
Bruce Springsteen
The Rising
Rock

"The narrator is a dead firefighter or rescue worker whose soul transcends the carnage to receive a heavenly reward," writes Salon.
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The Skyline
Brian Rose
Vigil
Folk

"The city my arrow, my compass and grid," sings Rose about finding his way in a changed city.
No lyrics available for this song

Today
Noam Weinstein
Vigil
Folk

"Everyone's asking if I am alright/I wish I could speak for us all," sings Weinstein.
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We're All New Yorkers Now
Chris Barron (formerly lead singer for band Spin Doctors)
Single
Rock
No audio available

Proceeds from the sale of the single go to the Twin Towers Fund.
No lyrics available for this song

What More Can I Give
Michael Jackson
Single
Rock
No audio available

Jackson recorded this for-charity single, hyped as the "We Are The World for September 11, with Mariah Carey and Ricky Martin. Sony Music has still not released the track, despite protests and petitions.
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When Mohammed Came to the Mountain
Frank Tedesso
Vigil
Folk

Suzanne Vega calls the song "an apocalyptic vision of the violence and obscenity of the act, and the devastation left in its wake."
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Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)
Alan Jackson
Drive
Country

"I'm just a singer of simple songs/I'm not a real political man," Jackson sings, asking that question we all have heard so many times: "where were you?"
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World Trade Center
Bob Hillman
Vigil
Folk

New Yorker Hillman was in California on Sept. 11, and writes about experiencing the tragedy from afar.
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Worlds Apart
Bruce Springsteen
The Rising
Rock

The song's use of qawwali, the "intense, God-conjuring, life-affirming vocal music of the mystical Sufi sect of Islam," underneath Springsteen's vocals is a "truly soul-stirring experience," writes Kurt Loder in Rolling Stone .
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You Never Know
Wendy Beckerman
Vigil
Folk

Beckerman sings about how the attacks made her realize how impermanent things may be.
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You're Missing
Bruce Springsteen
The Rising
Rock

As Time reported, Springsteen telephoned family members of September 11 victims who loved his music after reading about them in the New York Times' "Portraits in Grief" obituaries. "I found those to be very, very meaningful--incredibly powerful," Springsteen said.
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