Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Musical Memory of 9/11


A while back I had a request to play a song on my radio show that I didn’t have with me: The Who’s “Baba O’Reily”. So I planned to play it the following week.  As I made my way to the next show, I put “The Who’s Greatest Hits” CD on in the car and listened to “Baba O’Reily”.  It had been a while since I’d heard it.  I’m not what you’d call a major fan of The Who, or classic rock in general, but that song is one of my favorites from their catalog and that genre in general.
As I was listening I had a memory that pertained to 9/11, which I will forever associate with that song.

On October 20, 2001, Paul McCartney staged a benefit concert that he’d organized at Madison Square Garden, called “The Concert for New York City”. By that time, the smoke from 9/11 had begun to clear, but the wounds were still very fresh.

Many in attendance were New York firemen and police officers. Families of the victims of the attack and the heroes that responded after the attacks were also invited. Throughout the concert, people held up photos of family members they had lost. Many famous bands performed that night.

I caught part of it on TV and happened to tune in while The Who was playing. I remember when they launched into “Baba O’Reily”, the camera lingered for a few seconds on a man I will never forget.

He was in an area of the crowd populated by members of the New York Fire Department – most had their FDNY T-shirts on.

The man was very unassuming – he gave the immediate impression of a stereotypical blue collar, hard-workin’ man. He had a mustache, a big beer gut, wore simple jeans, t-shirt, and tennis shoes. He looked to be of very modest means.

But when The Who launched into the huge power chords that characterize “Baba O’Reily”, the impact on the fireman was unmistakable.

He raised his beer, he played air guitar, he pumped his fist, and screamed in joy.

And the reason that made such an impact on me was here is a man who has seen his world turned upside down. We all saw that happen on 9/11. But he lived in New York. He was closer to it. He worked for the FDNY. He knew men and women who were killed doing their job. He had probably worked in the days surrounding 9/11 to rescue people from the rubble. Who can forget the sight of firemen weeping, with bleeding hands, as people nearly forced them to stop digging, so they could take a break? Many went days without sleeping.

Those horrific events went on for days and days after 9/11. And this man surely experience all of those things on a far, far, far greater scale than you or I.

So, here was this man, attending a concert that a British pop star had organized in his honor – and in honor of his brothers. Must have been a good feeling.

I also got the impression from the man – and this may very well be just my own creative license – that he hadn’t had an experience like this before. As I mentioned, and I don’t mean this judgmentally, but he seemed to be of meager means. He reminded me of the hard working people I know who don’t treat themselves to special things very often. Who have a good work ethic. Who do what they have to do with no frills.

But I’ll betcha he grew up listening to The Who. He looked to be late forties or around 50. I bet The Who was a big part of his musical experience in life.

And when they launched into that big ol’ song…and he got caught up in the healing power that is rock-and-roll…and the adrenaline that always accompanies a live rock concert came over him…and he began to let go of over a month of the worst emotional stress one can imagine…

Just think of that feeling. The release.

Raise your beer and pump your fist, indeed, my friend. And scream your lungs out, hero. You’ve earned yourself a rock-and-roll night to remember.

I came away from that experience thinking that maybe a bit of healing had begun for that guy. And the concert actually seemed to do a lot of healing for a city that had been hurting. We were all New Yorkers for about a month, remember?

It sounds “wrong” to say I have a “favorite” one, but I don’t know how else to describe it. That is my favorite 9/11 memory. One that rewards heroes. One that highlights the importance of music in our lives. One that initiated a bit of healing.

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