Reflections on Writing About the New World

On the first morning of the new world, Sept 12, 2001, I awoke with these words in my mind: "There's this enormous gaping hole where the Twin Towers once stood, like someone punched out the nation's two front teeth." And I thought, "Hmm, do I get out of bed and try to pot this one, plant it, provide it with sun and water and try to nurture it into a real song, or should I continue to lie in bed and ruminate over the facts and rumors that captured our hearts and minds yesterday?" I chose the former and picked up my guitar and notebook, and within half an hour, I had completed three verses and a chorus of a song that titled itself, "Everything Changed." As with most of the 1,000 songs I've written in the past 40-plus years, upon a quick review I felt that it was completely finished, as is. A dotted "i," a crossed "t" -- but aside from that, this was a living, breathing song.

While once upon a time, for a very short while, I had made a living (living?) as a songwriter, working for the music publishing company of Don Kirshner (one of the biggest publishers in America), I fortunately was discovered by another music publisher while hawking my songs, who said, "I like your writing, but I'm going to start my own record company. It's going to be distributed by RCA, and I'd like you to come run it with me." With those words, I began my real career, first as a record executive with a string of hits, and then as an advertising executive with a 30-plus-year career developing and working with some of the biggest brand names in sports and entertainment.

But during my entire life, songs continued to pour out of me, as one did the day after "Everything Changed," as I thought about the concept of suburban life, its tranquility -- and its mundanity the day before 9/11. Suddenly I was face to face with a song titled "The Day Before," a panoramic view of a fellow going through his ordinary suburban life, reading the morning paper, driving the kids to school, wondering if Barry Bonds would hit 71 homers, if Gary Condit was through, whether Michael Jordan would be coming back and what the fall TV previews were like. These were among his deepest thoughts. And later that evening, as he ruminated over the four parties coming up next weekend while rearranging his sock drawer, he tucked his children in to sleep, with sweet dreams ahead, not knowing that they would all awaken the next day to the most horrible moment in the last 65 years of American history.

The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the crash in Shanksville had permeated the thoughts of all those navigating the planet -- including countless folks in New York City who had lost someone near and dear, lost their home, lost the ability to function as human beings and/or lost their ability to make a living.

While I was one who lived (and still do) in the Gramercy Park area, just a short distance from the World Trade Center, I found that the closer you physically were to the Twin Towers (and not having been affected by any of the four points noted above), the more profound the affect it had on your psyche. While this is not scientific research, it was interesting to note that people further downtown seemed much more consumed with the dread of "what was going to happen next" than people further uptown, or in the boroughs, or in bordering states.

One of the epicenters of the outpouring of emotion and grieving was Union Square. My wife Norine, my daughter Harper and I walked through this small gathering point off of 14th Street, bordered by Park Avenue and Broadway, and came face to face with a living memorial: candles, photographs, soft singing, hundreds of people mourning those who had died or were lost. Upon entering Union Square, I wrote down these words: "Photographs of those from doomed towers and downed planes adorn a mile of wire fences, in a brilliant macramé." I went back home, grabbed my guitar and wrote verses describing what I saw, and the song "Union Square" was created in less than a half hour.

As several weeks passed and we were coming to grips with our new reality, New York City was populated with tens of thousands of people wondering what was coming next: How were we to function? Were there more attacks on the way? Would life ever be as we once knew it? And I thought about another of our significant enemies: our imaginations. The next song that came tumbling out was called "The Enemy Within," and while it has descriptive lines like, "Emerging patterns from a different world, some flags are flying, some remain unfurled," unlike the others written during this period, this song had more oblique statements. Coupled with a gentle melody, this created a tone that "felt" exactly like many of us felt in those next several weeks. This song was quickly followed by one of optimism. "Let Freedom Ring," which describes putting our lives back together through our love of our family and friends, and how no matter what tragedy might confront us, with our strength and positive thinking we would always bounce back and persevere.

As noted, these songs were written 10 years ago. A year ago, I found them in a notebook, along with a few other songs I had written with a 9/11 theme. I starting going through my catalogue and came up with several more songs dealing with life and relationships -- songs that question the way we have lived since 2000 and the way our lives are today (and somewhat answer those questions). I realized that I had a genuine concept album or rock opera. I showed them to my wife and daughter and then brought them to my producer, who looked up at me and said, "I think you have something special here." After assembling my favorite musician friends and singers, within a few months we had recorded September, which came out last week on Razor & Tie Records. After having recorded two nationally released CDs with my band Loaded in the last decade, and having released a few years ago "The Tools of Ignorance" by Harry Spero and his Fabulous Friends, September is a bit more serious, reflective, mature -- yet it isn't until you zone in on the words that you can easily find yourself enveloped in a travelogue, into a world where our lives changed forever.

Music video for "Union Square":

Music video for "Let Freedom Ring":