Tall buildings shake
Voices escape singing sad sad songs
Tuned to chords strung down your cheeks
Bitter melodies turning your orbit around
Jesus, Etc. by Wilco – Jay Bennett, Jeff Tweedy
Catastrophic events – like tall buildings shaking on 9/11, like losing a loved one – turn your orbit around with their “bitter melodies”, don’t they? I mean, one moment you’re here, doing this, then BAM! You find yourself over there doing a much less enjoyable thing.
Critics of the album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, on which the song “Jesus, Etc.” is found, thought the reference here was to the attacks, but no. Although released on the band’s website just one week following 9/11, recording sessions were completed in early 2001. But Wilco’s label Reprise Records “refused to released the album as they felt unhappy about the end result” according to Wiki. The band eventually signed with Nonesuch Records and the album is “widely regarded as one of the greatest albums of the 2000s”, again according to Wiki.
Which goes to show. Not only were Bennett and Tweedy prophetic, they were also discerning with their art, confident they had created something worthy.
Try it. If you haven’t already, listen to this song once – Norah Jones has an excellent version too if you don’t care for Tweedy’s voice – and tell me you don’t go around the rest of the day with “Tall buildings shake” repeating sweetly in your head.
Of course, if you were alive and old enough to be aware on 9/11, you no doubt have powerful memories of exactly where you were, what you were doing, and what your mindset was at the time. I was working with my late husband Hugh that morning in the office of our roof truss manufacturing plant. Mom called.
“I’m watching Regis and Kelly,” she said. “A small plane just flew right into the World Trade Center. It’s just awful Rita. I’m scared.”
That’s what the world first thought. “A small plane.” A horrific accident. As my mom had a tendency toward hyperbole, I said reassuring words to her, hung up and went back to work. My mom did not tend to scare easily though, so I did bring up the news – I believe on MSN – on my giant old computer monitor. And there was the grainy image of one tower burning. It was not long before word came – I believe through news on an office radio – that a second plane had hit the other tower, eliminating all possibility of a “horrific accident”. And sure enough, when I refreshed my newsfeed, that grainy image showed both towers burning.
The crunching of numbers, the designing of roof structures, lost all urgency. Hugh notified the plant manager what was happening and they no doubt discussed what needed to be built that day, or not. The entire office (about eight of us) powered down our computers and headed to the Oar House to watch in stunned silence as the towers fell, the Pentagon was hit, and UA93 plunged into that field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania after heroes onboard overtook the hijackers.
I don’t know about you, but I still find myself gobsmacked by the calmness displayed by many of the flight attendants and some passengers. According to The 9/11 Commission Report, on American 11, the first plane to crash (into the North Tower), attendants Betty Ong and Amy Sweeney “calmly and professionally relayed information about the events taking place aboard the airplane to authorities on the ground.”
On UA175, which hit the other tower, Brian Sweeney (I believe no relation to Amy Sweeney), 38, called his wife Julie from the back of the plane and left this voice message: “I’m on an airplane that’s been hijacked. If things don’t go well, and it’s not looking good, I just want you to know I absolutely love you, I want you to do good, go have good times – same to my parents and everybody – and I just totally love you, and I’ll see you when you get there. Bye babe. I hope I call you.”
The first time I heard the log of this call was when it was released on a news show on TV several years after 9/11 and after Hugh died, suddenly and unexpectedly, in the fall of 2004. He’d had no opportunity to say good-bye.
I sat in our darkened living room alone that evening and let out a huge sigh of relief. Ahhh. I heard, “I just totally love you” and “I want you to do good, go have good times” and I thought, Yes! That’s what Hugh would have said! I love you. Go. Have good times. Give ‘er.
9/11 marked an end of a collective innocence. A time when we were all blissfully unaware that four planes could be simultaneously hijacked and cause such terror, such loss of life and material destruction in just over one hour.
And 2004 marked an end of a personal innocence. A time when I was blissfully unaware that a mother could die suddenly in January and a husband in November.
As the 20-year conflict in Afghanistan winds down, the Watson Institute at Brown University estimates that 801,000 people have been killed by direct war violence in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan.
9/11– amazing 2002 documentary Jules and Gedeon Naudet
Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror– five-part series streaming now on Netflix
Website photo: Chicago Board of Trade, one of my favourite tall buildings