Right now all I got’s this lonesome day

On September 14, 2001, three days after the 9/11 attacks, Bruce Springsteen was walking down the street in New Jersey, just across the river from Manhattan.  A man driving by slowed down next to him, opened his window, stared at Springsteen and said, “Man, we really need you now.”

Springsteen had been out of the limelight for several years at that point.  His last album of new music had been 1995’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” a critical favorite but a relative c121852__bruce_lommercial dud.  He and the E Street Band had parted ways in the late ’80s, and The Boss and his wife had turned their attentions to raising a family.

“That guy really stopped me in my tracks,” Springsteen recalled.  “The events of 9/11 had affected me profoundly, as it had so many others, but I’d been caught in a daze, wandering around those first couple of days, worried for my kids, worried for my country, not sure what to think.  When he said ‘We need you now,’ it snapped me back into focus.  I thought, ‘It’s time to get busy doing what I can do.'”

One of rock’s most prolific songwriters got busy, all right.  Over the next few weeks, he wrote nearly 50 songs in a burst of creativity, determined to come up with music that might help in the healing process.  He made a call to the boys in the E Street Band and said, “Guys, it’s time.  Let’s get back together and make a record.”  They eagerly agreed, and the result was “The Rising,” a triumphant rejuvenation of Springsteen’s career and a 220px-Springsteen_The_Risingmuch-needed shot in the arm for his legions of fans, many of whom were still grieving huge personal loss.

This week, as we marked another anniversary of that dark day in the nation’s history, I revisited “The Rising,” and also did some research to look for other noteworthy songs that were written in the aftermath of 9/11.  I found it challenging to immerse myself in these difficult emotions and painful memories, but ultimately, I came out the other end feeling stronger, as we often do when we face our fears.

Critics were nearly unanimous in their praise for “The Rising.”  Thom Jurek of AllMusic called the album “one of the very best examples in recent history of how popular art can evoke a time period and all of its confusing and often contradictory notions, feelings and impulses.” The British magazine Uncut called the LP “a brave and beautiful album of humanity, hurt and hope from the songwriter best qualified to speak to and for his country … A towering achievement.”

In particular, the lyrics to seven tracks dealt with the emotions felt in the aftermath:  the sadness for the loss of life, the gratitude for the first responders, the dark desire for revenge, the despair for the loss of innocence, the craving for closeness and community, the need to keep hope alive.

Some of these songs specifically address the events of 9/11.  “Into the Fire,” for instance, pays tribute to the firemen who headed into the towers as everyone else was evacuating:   “It was dark, too dark to see, you held me in the light you gave, you lay your hand on me, then walked into the darkness of your smoky grave, somewhere up the stairs into the fire, somewhere up the stairs into the fire, I need your kiss, but love and duty called MV5BMzY1ZThmYmUtZjZhYi00MTA1LTg3YTktMjk1Nzg4MzdjYWFlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTc5MDI5NjE@._V1_you someplace higher, somewhere up the stairs into the fire…”

The leadoff track, “Lonesome Day,” ranks among Springsteen’s finest efforts, a musically robust rocker that also warns about how a demand for justice needs to be tempered by a sense of collective calm that doesn’t escalate matters:  “Hell’s brewin’, dark sun’s on the rise, this storm’ll blow through by and by, house is on fire, viper’s in the grass, a little revenge and this too shall pass, this too shall pass, I’m gonna pray, right now all I got’s this lonesome day…”

Other album tracks demonstrate Springsteen’s deft ability at writing words that deal with emotions in a more general, universal way that could apply to other kinds of loss.  “You’re Missing” delicately speaks to the void that families felt when their loved ones didn’t return home that day, but it could just as easily refer to soldiers who died on the battlefield, or victims of mass shootings:  “Pictures on the nightstand, TV’s on in the den, your house is waiting for you to walk in, but you’re missing, when I shut out the lights, you’re missing, when I close my eyes, you’re missing, when I see the sun rise, you’re missing…”

The title song, “The Rising,” is a magnificent song of resolve and hope, with lyrics that apply in any situation when the chips are down and all seems lost:  “I make my way through this darkness, I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me, lost track of how far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed… a dream of life comes to me like a catfish dancing on the end of my line, come on up for the rising, come on up, lay your hands in mine, come on up for the rising, come on up for the rising tonight…”


In the wake of 9/11, several dozen songs surfaced, written and released by a wide range of artists.  I’ve selected a dozen that I found sufficiently moving to share with you on my blog this week.  I hope you absorb them in the spirit in which they were proffered to us.

“Let’s Roll,” Neil Young, 2001

Pegi-YoungYoung chose to focus on the amazing, harrowing story of the brave souls on United Flight 93 who stormed their hijacked cockpit and prevented the plane from reaching its intended target in Washington, D.C.:  “I know I said I love you, I know you know it’s true, I’ve got to put the phone down and do what we got to do, one’s standing in the aisle way, two more at the door, we’ve got to get inside there, before they kill some more, time is runnin’ out, let’s roll…”

“Tuesday Morning,” Melissa Etheridge, 2004

hqdefault-17Etheridge also addressed those on United Flight 93, with an added edge.  One of the heroes on board was a gay man who had faced injustices that prevented his ability to marry or be a school teacher.  Etheridge defiantly asked us to consider the freedoms and rights that are still denied to some of our citizens:  “He stood up on a Tuesday morning, in the terror, he was brave, and he made his choice and without a doubt, a hundred lives he must have saved, and the things you might take for granted, your inalienable rights, some might choose to deny him, even though he gave his life, stand up, America, wake up, America…”

“Prayer,” Disturbed, 2002

maxresdefault-28This Chicago-based heavy metal band found controversy when they filmed a riveting video for this song that appeared to be a re-creation of the Ground Zero area (view it on YouTube at your own risk).  The lyrics take Evil’s point of view:  “Another nightmare about to come true will manifest tomorrow, another love that I’ve taken from you, lost in time, on the edge of suffering, another taste of the evil I breed will level you completely, bring to life everything that you fear, live in the dark, and the world is threatening, let me enlighten you, this is the way I pray…”

“Hole in the World,” The Eagles, 2003

61cXDyMwScL._SY355_As part of the 2003 release of the 2-CD package “The Very Best of The Eagles,” Don Henley and Glenn Frey wrote this new track to weigh in with their thoughts on 9/11: “They say that anger is just love disappointed, they say that love is just a state of mind, but all this fighting over who will be anointed, oh, how can people be so blind?, there’s a hole in the world tonight, there’s a cloud of fear and sorrow, there’s a hole in the world tonight, don’t let there be a hole in the world tomorrow…”

“Sacrificed Sons,” Dream Theater, 2005

maxresdefault-26Influenced by British prog rock bands like Yes and Pink Floyd, the Boston-based Neo-progressive group Dream Theater turned a few heads with its 2005 release “Octavarium.”  Of particular interest was the 10-minute opus “Sacrificed Sons,” with lyrics by vocalist James LaBrie that recalled the 9/11 attacks:  “Heads all turning towards the sky, towers crumble, heroes die, who would wish this on our people and proclaim that His will be done, scriptures they heed have misled them, all praise their sacrificed sons…”

“Illume (9-11),” Fleetwood Mac, 2003 

500bf53780eead0482a1671f086520d5.800x800x1Stevie Nicks wrote this poignant piece less than two weeks after 9/11, but it didn’t see the light of day until Fleetwood Mac reconvened to record the 2003 LP “Say You Will.”  Nicks reflected on how difficult it can be to overcome deep heartbreak:  “What I saw on this journey, I saw history go down, I cannot pretend that the heartache falls away, it’s just like a river, ooh, it’s never ending, I cannot pretend that the heartache falls away, because it’s just like a river, it’s never ending…”

“Hey Ma,” James, 2008

HeyMaAlbumArtThe British band James offered another perspective, looking at 9/11 as a fork in the road where unfortunate choices with long-lasting global consequences were made:  “Now, the towers have fallen, so much dust in the air, it affected your vision, couldn’t see yourself clear, from the fall came such choices even worse than the fall, there’s this chain of consequences, within, without, action, cause and reaction never follows to plan… Please don’t preach me forgiveness, you’re hardwired for revenge, war is just about business, within, without…”

“When New York Had Her Heart Broke,” John Hiatt, 2011

john-hiattVeteran songwriter Hiatt came up with this tearjerker on his 2011 LP “Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns,” on which he ruefully recalled the mood of New Yorkers when their city became the focal point of the 9/11 attacks:  “And the daylight fell dark, F-16s over Central Park, when New York had her heart broke, we were dazed in the streets, from the blood and dust and heat, when New York had her heart broke…”

“Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” Alan Jackson, 2001

dam_asset_image-26864920180714-21667-10qsscyJackson found it hard to write a song about how he felt in the wake of 9/11, but he forged ahead and came up with this moving track.  After debuting it at the Country Music Awards less than eight weeks after 9/11, it was released as a single, topping the country charts for five weeks and reaching #28 on the pop charts.  The lyrics present a series of thought-provoking questions:  “Did you stand there in shock at the sight of that black smoke risin’ against that blue sky?  Did you shout out in anger, in fear for your neighbor, or did you just sit down and cry?  Did you weep for the children who lost their dear loved ones, and pray for the ones who don’t know?  Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble, and sob for the ones left below?…”

“Courtesy of the Red White and Blue (The Angry American),” Toby Keith, 2002

Angry_American_Single_CD_CoverAlways a political conservative, Keith came up with this inflamed diatribe that stoked the rage amongst his audience and soared to #1 on the country charts upon its release in May 2002.  He has said it was written in support of the U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, but it was interpreted to reflect his generally hawkish views:   “Now this nation that I love has fallen under attack, a mighty sucker punch came flyin’ in from somewhere in the back, soon as we could see it clearly through our big black eye, man, we lit up your world like the 4th of July… Oh, justice will be served and the battle will rage, this big dog will fight when you rattle his cage, and you’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A, ’cause we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way…”

Skylines and Turnstiles,” My Chemical Romance, 2002

GettyImages-85033606-1560026014-1500x1000Gerard Way was so saddened and outraged by the events of 9/11 that he was inspired to form the emo/post-hardcore punk group My Chemical Romance.  The debut LP “I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love” includes “Skylines and Turnstiles” with its brutally graphic lyrics:  “Steel corpses stretch out towards an ending sun, scorched and black, it reaches in and tears your flesh apart as ice cold hands rip into your heart, that’s if you’ve still got one that’s left inside that cave you call a chest, after seeing what we saw, can we still reclaim our innocence?…”

“Exodus Damage,” John Vanderslice, 2005

71KAl4fX77L._SX355_Indie rock singer/songwriter Vanderslice produced ten albums out of his San Francisco-based studio/record company.  His 2005 album “Pixel Revolts” had a decidedly political bent, with several tracks about 9/11 and the Iraq War, especially “Exodus Damage” with its highly provocative lyrics:  “So the second plane hit at 9:02, I saw it live on a hotel TV, talking on my cell with you, you said this would happen, and just like that, it did, wrong about the feeling, wrong about the sound, but right to say we would stand down, an hour went by without a fighter in the sky, you said there’’s a reason why, so tell me now, I must confess, I’’m not sick enough to guess…”






Take these broken wings and learn to fly

On our patio in the Pacific Palisades, we have a small fountain and pond that seem to attract a wide variety of feathered friends.  I’ve never been much of a bird watcher before, but now that I’m observing them often and in close proximity, it occurred to me that it was time for me to examine a selection of classic rock songs about birds.

I came up with about four dozen songs that focus on birds in general or specific types of birds, and my job was to whittle that list down to 15 for my blog post, and another dozen or so as “honorable mention” designees.  There’s a Spotify playlist at the end so you can listen as you read.

Wings up — here we go:


“Blackbird,” The Beatles, 1968

paul acoustic shirtless 68One of McCartney’s simplest melodies and prettiest acoustic guitar playing features lyrics with a serious yet uplifting message.  He said the words were inspired by his hearing the call of a blackbird while on retreat in Rishikesh, India in early 1968 with the other Beatles and, alternatively, by the unfortunate state of race relations in the United States in the 1960s.  “It wasn’t really about a blackbird whose wings are broken.  It’s symbolic of  black people’s struggle in the southern states,” said McCartney years later.  “You were only waiting for this moment to be free, blackbird fly, black bird fly into the light of the dark black night, blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly, all your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise…”

“Canary in a Coalmine,” The Police, 1980

ob_516a8f_canari-mineurIn a primitive attempt to monitor how lethal the air quality was becoming in their working environment, coal miners routinely took a caged canary with them.  When it keeled over, they knew the time had come to exit for a while.  Police songwriter Sting found that an intriguing subject for a song, comparing the canary to a timid woman who became afraid at the first sign of trouble.  Their track appeared on their 1980 LP “Zenyatta Mondatta,” which reached #5 in the US and #1 in their native UK:  “First to fall over when the atmosphere is less than perfect, your sensibilities are shaken by the slightest defect, you live your life like a canary in a coalmine, you get so dizzy even walking in a straight line…”

“White Bird,” It’s a Beautiful Day, 1969

cover_2827152752018_rIt’s a shame we never got to hear more from this San Francisco-based group, but their manager chose to squirrel them away in a Seattle apartment to write songs and play small clubs there.  By the time they’d returned, they had grown tired of each other and split up, but not before writing and recording this stunning tune, which was an FM radio favorite of the era.  “We were like caged birds in that attic — no money, no transportation, and the weather was miserable,” said singer-songwriter David LaFlamme.  “We were just barely getting by.  It was quite an experience, but it was very creative in a way.”  “White bird in a golden cage on a winter’s day in the rain, white bird in a golden cage alone, white bird dreams of the aspen trees with their dying leaves turning gold, but the white bird just sits in her cage growing old, white bird must fly or she will die…” (I can’t seem to find the original version of “White Bird” on Spotify, so my playlist has a live rendition that isn’t as good…)

“Hummingbird,” Seals and Crofts, 1972

Hummingbirds 2011

Jim Seals and Dash Crofts, in addition to being talented singers and musicians, were devoted followers of Baha’i, a monotheistic faith founded in the 19th Century that teaches the essential worth of all religions.  The hummingbird is a metaphor for the Persian named Baha’u’llah, who founded Baha’i.  The follow-up single to to Seals & Crofts’ Top Ten hit “Summer Breeze” was this inspirational ode to Baha’i’s founder, which reached #20 in 1973:  “Oh hummingbird, lend us your wings, let us soar in the atmosphere of Abha, lift us up to the heaven of holiness, oh source of our being, oh hummingbird…”

“Seagull,” Bad Company, 1974

Bad-Company4Solid hard rock was the recipe for the bulk of Bad Company’s impressive debut LP, which reached #1 in 1974.  The sleeper tune on the album was “Seagull,” which used acoustic guitars in its comparatively gentle approach.  Said songwriter/vocalist Paul Rodgers, “‘Seagull’ was written sitting on the beach.  Music is about atmosphere, and an effective way to create the atmosphere you want is to actually be there.  You don’t have to imagine it — it’s right there.  You could see the horizon.”  The lyrics, penned by Rodgers, wax philosophically about the cosmos:  “Seagull, you fly across the horizon into the misty morning sun, nobody asks you where you are going, nobody knows where you’re from, here is a man asking the question, is this really the end of the world?  Seagull, you must have known for a long time the shape of things to come…”

“Bluebird,” Buffalo Springfield, 1967

R-3921624-1349306968-1112.jpegStephen Stills was entering his most remarkable, prolific songwriting period when he came up with this amazing song on the Springfield’s best album, “Buffalo Springfield Again.”  The original version (heard on my playlist ) uses a banjo in the final moments, but on the extended rendition found on a later collection album, Stills takes off on a soaring electric guitar solo that Joe Walsh tried to emulate on the cover version he recorded with The James Gang in 1969.  “Listen to my bluebird laugh, she can’t tell you why, deep within her heart, you see, she knows only crying, just crying, there she sits, a lofty perch, strangest color blue, flying is forgotten now, thinks only of you, just you…”

“Black Crow,” Joni Mitchell, 1976

2045Joni’s 1976 LP “Hejira” is a song cycle about traveling and searching, part of the ongoing self-analysis she has done throughout her extraordinary career.  “Black Crow,” with its superb acoustic guitar rhythms and soaring vocals, offers amazing imagery that equates her relentless search with that of the crow, looking for the next important morsel:  “In search of love and music, my whole life has been illumination, corruption, and diving, diving, diving, diving, diving down to pick up on every shiny thing, just like that black crow flying in a blue sky…”

“Vulture Culture,” Alan Parsons Project, 1985

Unknown-42The phrase “Vulture culture” is about a love and appreciation of the natural world and animals, and how vultures keep an animal’s spirit alive by keeping its bones and celebrating its beauty.  The Parsons Project album of that name, and its title track, twisted that reference to describe unworldly people steeped in the arts and the ever-increasing ruthlessness of mankind in a world of stark economic reality: “Vulture culture, use it or you lose it, vulture culture, choose it or refuse it, Hollywood is calling, won’t you join the dance, moving onto Wall Street, why not take a chance, it’s a vulture culture, never lend a loser a hand, just a vulture culture, living off the fat of the land…”

“High Flyin’ Bird,” Elton John, 1973

hqdefault-14One of my favorite deep tracks from the first and best phase of John’s extraordinary career is this final tune from his 1972 LP “Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player.”  Bernie Taupin wrote it about a young woman he knew who had become involved in drugs and ended up committing suicide.  “My high-flying bird has flown from out my arms, I thought myself her keeper, she thought I meant her harm, she thought I was the archer, a weatherman of words, but I could never shoot down my high-flying bird…”

“Free as a Bird,” The Beatles, 1995

THE_BEATLES_FREE+AS+A+BIRD+-+DISPLAY+FLAT-56777In 1993, when the massive CD/DVD/book project “Beatles Anthology” was underway, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr convened in a home studio with producer Jeff Lynne to record the first new Beatles music in 25 years.  As a way of involving the spirit of John Lennon in their work, they used the rough demo of a song Lennon had written and recorded in 1977, and the result was a #6 hit in the US.  The additional lyrics they added to Lennon’s framework referenced their 1969 breakup:  “Where did we lose the touch that seemed to mean so much?  It always made me feel so free as a bird, like the next best thing to be…”

“Bird on the Wire,” Leonard Cohen, 1969

lc2-750x500Cohen had been an accomplished poet and writer who began composing songs at age 30.  He suffered from occasional bouts of depression, but his ladyfriend at the time, Marianne Ihlen, helped him by urging him to pick up his guitar as they sat in their apartment on the Greek island of Hydra.  Outside the window, telephone poles and wires were being installed, and a lone bird came to rest on a wire there, inspiring Cohen to write what became one of his signature songs, later covered by the likes of Judy Collins, Joe Cocker, Joe Bonamassa, Jennifer Warnes and k.d. lang:  “Like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir, I have tried in my way to be free….”

“When Doves Cry,” Prince, 1984

096bfffa-5a23-41d9-b046-18c7b7656d27Prince wrote this song upon request from “Purple Rain” director Albert Magnoli, who wanted a tune to accompany a scene that intermingled parental difficulties and a love affair.  “When Doves Cry,” by the way, is almost an anagram for “When love dies”:  “How can you just leave me standing alone in a world that’s so cold, maybe I’m just too demanding, maybe I’m just like my father, too bold, maybe you’re just like my mother, she’s never satisfied, why do we scream at each other, this is what it sounds like when doves cry…”

“Three Little Birds,” Bob Marley, 1977

5df13f667a06699b49d6393b72493026Marley, like most songwriters, was inspired by the things he saw around him every day.  Outside his Jamaica home, three canaries made their nest and were regularly within earshot and eyeshot of Marley, so naturally, he wrote what became one of his trademark songs about them.  Three women who sang in concert with him claim the lyrics also refer to them, as he would ask, ‘What is my three little birds saying?”  “Rise up this mornin’, smile with the risin’ sun, three little birds pitch by my doorstep, singin’ sweet songs of melodies pure and true, sayin’, ‘This is my message to you-ou-ou,’ singin’, ‘Don’t worry ’bout a thing ’cause every little thing gonna be all right’…”

“Mockingbird,” Inez & Charlie Foxx, 1963

22900The brother-sister team of Inez and Charlie Foxx wrote and recorded this R&B track as a novelty song in 1963, playing on the nursery rhyme “Hush Little Baby,” and to their surprise, it reached #7 on the pop charts that year.  It was soon covered by Dusty Springfield and Aretha Franklin, among others, and finally by then-husband-and-wife James Taylor and Carly Simon, appearing on Simon’s 1974 LP “Hotcakes,” where it reached #5 on the pop. charts:  “Everybody have you heard, he’s gonna buy me a mockingbird, and if that mockingbird don’t sing, he’s gonna buy me a diamond ring, and if that diamond ring won’t shine, he’s gonna surely break this heart of mine…”

“Free Bird,” Lynyrd Skynyrd, 1973

4eece46a-0d69-44ea-a3b4-0c8053a54642_1.0e5fbc6f1c10d2547d672f8e5a6434bdLynyrd Skynyrd guitarist Allen Collins came up with the chords to this iconic power ballad and was searching for the right lyrics to accompany them.  One day his girlfriend Kathy, whom he later married, asked him, “If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?” He was struck by her words and used it as the opening line to “Free Bird.”  Singer Ronnie Van Zant, who co-wrote the lyrics, said the song is “what it means to be free, in that a bird can fly wherever he wants to go.  Everyone wants to be free.  That’s what this country’s all about.” “If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?  For I must be traveling on now ’cause there’s too many places I’ve got to see, but if I stayed here with you, girl, things just couldn’t be the same, ’cause I’m as free as a bird now, and this bird you cannot change…”


Honorable mention:

Songbird,” Fleetwood Mac, 1977;  “Skyline Pigeon,” Elton John, 1969;  “Bluebird,” Paul McCartney & Wings, 1973;  “Rockin’ Robin,” Bobby Day, 1958;  “Fly Robin Fly,” Silver Convention, 1975;  “Fly Like an Eagle,” Steve Miller Band, 1976;  Sparrow,” Simon and Garfunkel, 1964;  The Vultures Fly High,” Renaissance, 1975;  “And Your Bird Can Sing,” The Beatles, 1966;  “Sweet Bird,” Joni Mitchell, 1975;  “Albatross,” Judy Collins, 1968;  “Little Bird,” Annie Lennox, 1995.