September 11th thoughts... Remember, I think many of them...

Annual September 11th thoughts and musings...

Like many Americans this weekend, I've been reflecting heavily on what happened 15 years ago and what it means to me; not in a selfish way, just in a personal sense as the events, like for most, are still vividly present, and always will be, in my mind.  I'm certain we all will, at some point, think back to where we were, what we were doing, what we felt, what we thought, how we held and supported those around us, how we tried to make sense of what we were seeing and experiencing, how we prayed for those in New York City living through this nightmare, but mostly, we were trying to figure out just how much this would help propel the career of a one Mr. Ryan Adams based on THIS.  OK, that last part was a joke, sort of.  Besides that, there are always a few things I can't help but be reminded of when September 11th rolls around.  Without irony (looking at you Hipsters), I'd like to say that I love my America, just like all those lame Country songs boldly proclaim while simultaneously giving off the impression they exist solely to capitalize on the sentiment rather than to present and celebrate it.  I truly feel blessed to live in this great nation, and though it has its FAULTS, I don't need fucking Donald Trump to make it "great again."  And, it's fucking offensive for him to say that it isn't great and he's the only fucking one who can do anything about it.  So, with that, Fuck Trump 2016 and here's my thoughts that I think:


The main thing I can't help but feel grateful for is the fact that I live in a country which not only allows, but also encourages, me to create, perform, record and release music of my own creation.  Now, I realize that America is not the only country to give its artists carte blanche but I won't ever forget the conversations I had with a woman named Ling I met in Seattle.  Ling was born and raised in China for the first 30 years of her life.  When she was young, she had an aunt and uncle of hers move to the United States, New York City to be exact, and she had always hoped to someday join them.  By her 30th birthday, she and her parents had saved enough money for her to go.  She arrived in New York wide-eyed and was dead-set on taking it all in.  At the time, I had never been to New York but was dreaming of moving there.  I asked her a lot of questions about the City and her experiences living there.  For instance, what was her favorite thing to do?  Go to Broadway shows, plays or live music performances, was her response.  She marveled at the diversity of subject matter and the celebration of art she saw.  She spoke of her homeland and how restricted it all was there.  No piece of music, art, performance, etc. was allowed to be presented publicly without governmental consent.  It was all strictly censored and monitored.  Most music was nationalistic in nature, as were the plays and musicals.  She even told me of a close family friend who was arrested after displaying a painting in a gallery without permission and then refusing to destroy it.  That's what she came from.  I can't even imagine how fucking mind-blowing New York City and its troves of art must have been to her.  She mentioned, many times, how it felt like she was living in a dream.  She said she could've spent a lifetime just taking it all in, and that she was trying her best to do so.  She lived in a tiny apartment and was frugal as fuck so she could spend all her extra money on going to the symphony and to art museums and Rock N' Roll shows (which she didn't actually like but was in love with the idea of).  It was inspiring to hear her talk of how much she loved America and how wonderful she felt it was.  Whenever I think of Ling and the conversations I had with her, I feel so blessed.  Here I am, some schmuck from a tiny town, population 3500, in Southeastern Wisconsin (Horicon, WI for those keeping score at home), who has been able to play my music at hundreds and hundreds of shows across this great country and back.  My whole life has been shaped and influenced by something that not everyone even gets to enjoy.  I can't imagine what my life would look like if it were not for music.  I don't think I'd even have one anymore, to be honest.  I think about that a lot, and about the men and women who volunteer to defend that privilege on my behalf...

The Armed Forces

I don't think many people understand just how close I was to joining the Army.  I was too young to join immediately after the attacks on September 11th, 2001 and after waiting the additional 4 years, I was, by that time, no longer in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I had a lot of friends who were a few years older than I who went and served their country.  When they came back, very few weren't greatly affected by what they had seen.  After a few cocktails, we would get snippets of what it was like over there.  I had a few friends who loved it and were destined to be in the military for life but most were happy to come home unharmed; although, only physically.  When they left Horicon to serve, I was jealous.  When they arrived home, I was grateful because they were OK (physically, at least) and for what they had done.  I ofttimes wonder how I would've done as a soldier.  I think I would've done a good job but I don't know how I would've handled things.  Mentally, I think I could've compartmentalized the violence I saw, and possibly participated in (thanks Asperger's!), but I also know that the hardest thing in the world for me to do is something I don't believe in.  If I had been sent to Iraq instead of hunting Osama in Afghanistan, I would have definitely had a hard time with it.  Ultimately, I think I made the right decision but it's not hard to imagine my "Alternate 1985" in which I enlist and have an entirely different life's story.  

One of my best friends is an ex-Marine.  He came to this country from Scotland and enlisted to become a citizen.  Like most Marines, he was eventually called to action overseas.  I can't imagine what he experienced.  I've never explicitly asked much about it because I don't think I really want to know.  I can say though, that I feel like he's more of an American citizen than I am because of his service.  I have so much respect for what he's done for our country, and conversely, he has so much respect for what I do as a musician.  We both see the opposite as something we could never be, but trust me, his decision was much harder.  After all, ANYONE CAN PLAY GUITAR...

New York City

When I think of September 11th and what that date means to me, I'm always instantly reminded of two stories from my time in New York.  I moved there in 2006, so these stories are from 5 years later, but the attacks are still very fresh in everyone's minds.  It's so hard to imagine what the people living there at the time went through.  It was unlike anything that had happened to our country for 60 years.  Obviously, I don't have the same connection to that day as those New Yorkers, but twice I felt as though I at least understood some of what they went through.

Tale #1

I had been in New York for about six months and things were going well.  I worked at the Office Depot in Times Square (my 5th different Office Depot store.  I owe Office Depot a lot for allowing me to have a job wherever I decided to move, all across the country) which was pretty fucking cool.  I had a great group of friends, had a good grasp of the geography of the City and was starting to feel like a real New Yorker.  Life was pretty fucking awesome, for once.  That's when I got a small taste of what the events of September 11th had done to the greatest city in the history of mankind.

We were a good 4 or 5 blocks away, on 41st and Broadway, but we both heard and felt it.  The ground shook and there was the sound of a dull explosion.  Immediately we could hear the screams.  Without thinking, many of us ran outside to see what was happening.  When I got over to 6th Ave., I could see the crowds of people streaming through Bryant Park.  You could tell by the way the were running, scattering like buckshot, that they were running away from something but didn't know exactly where to go.  Then I heard another someone shout the word "bomb" and quickly turned to join the crowds.  I made it back to the store and found our buddy Kenny, who worked at the Staples a couple blocks from Grand Central, standing there in the doorway.  He was visibly shaken and hyper beyond belief.  The adrenaline had taken over his body and he couldn't stop moving.  He was talking a mile a minute and we could hardly understand what he was saying.  All any of us heard come out of his mouth was the word "bomb" and then we all started to panic a bit more.  We asked why he came here.  "I don't know," he said, "It was the only place I could think of after I started running."  We went downstairs.  Our Office Depot was a two-story building, the bottom of which was technically a basement, which felt safer to us.  We went to the TV display section and flipped on the news.  The police had cordoned off the streets around Grand Central and the bomb squads were searching the area.  We saw lots of images of dogs sniffing around and people in ridiculous padded uniforms that might protect you from a paintball attack but not a bomb.  A million things raced through our brains but I could tell right away that there was this sense of terrifying familiarity with what was going on.  "It's happening again!" someone shouted, which only enhanced the feeling of dread spreading throughout the room.

My boss and I ran upstairs to help pull people off the street into the store; neither one of us knowing if that was any safer for them, but the streets were a fucking mess and at least no one would get trampled in here.  After a while, things started to calm down.  All of the sudden, the streets turned from a madhouse to a ghost town, without a soul in sight.  I was glad of that.  I went back downstairs where everyone was crowded in front of the TV's which were on full volume.  Everyone was silent.  Whenever a small group would start to build themselves into a fervor, they would be told to quiet down.  Everyone's rapt attention was to be kept on the screens.  Every once in a while you'd hear a "What did they just say?" followed by a "Hey, shhh," followed by a hushed recap of what had just been reported.  After what seemed like an hour, but could've been a matter of minutes, they finally revealed what we had been waiting to hear:  what caused the explosions and whether or not it was terrorists.  It turns out it was not terrorists at all, it was the fault of the terrifically old plumbing and sewage system in the City.  An old water pipe had burst and exploded through the pavement.  There was no bomb, the water had been shut off in that area and there was nothing more to be worried about.

Another pipe would burst nearby later that summer but hardly anyone cared.  It was old hat by then.  As soon as we heard it, someone quipped, "Probably another one of those old fucking pipes," and that was that.  But I won't soon forget the all-too-familiar fear and panic I saw when that first pipe burst.  

Tale #2:

When I moved to New York, I was broke as fuck.  I was lucky because my buddy, A.J. (or Austin, as he preferred to be called as an adult, though I always called him "A.J." the same way he always called me "Brad") had a lot more money saved up than I, as he had moved back to Horicon (he previously moved to San Francisco with me after Jake backed out do to his cardiac ablation surgery.  That ablation was fuckin' everything up...) to work, save money and try and fuck this chick he'd wanted to bang since High School.  I think he was successful though he was always coy about it, which, conversely, made me think he somehow never got there.  Either way, while he was back, he and his dad met this guy, Michael, at a car show in Chicago.  A.J.'s dad made custom parts for Porsches.  Michael just so happened to live on Staten Island.  After talking for a while with A.J. and his dad, he agreed to put us up while we got our shit together in New York.  I can't thank him enough as I don't think we would've been able to move to New York without him agreeing to put up a couple kids in his basement for a few weeks.

Michael and his family were some of the nicest people I've ever met in my whole life.  They were so generous towards us and were like a TV-version of a New York/Italian family, in the best possible sense.  They cared deeply for one another, and even for us, who they had agreed to put up sight unseen.  And, of course, both Michael and his wife were terrific cooks.  I can't thank them enough for how kind and giving they were.  Part of me wished I could just stay with them, but after a couple weeks of getting our work situations figured out and then finding an apartment we actually could afford, we were ready to move out.  Michael offered to give us the extra mattresses we had been sleeping on while staying in their basement and to deliver them to our new place.  We happily obliged.

I'll never forget the drive we made that night.  We loaded up Michael's SUV with the mattresses and what little A.J. and I had brought with us to New York, a couple of duffle bags full of clothes and a guitar, and headed across the Verrazano.  Michael told us how he used to drive this route everyday when he was firefighter; he was now retired.  He worked in the Red Hook/Gowanus area.  He said how happy he was that we had found a place in the City, as he mostly knew Brooklyn before the current wave of gentrification had taken place and he didn't want two young kids from a small town in Wisconsin living there.  As we drove, he pointed out a few landmarks and picked out his old firehouse.  As we drove north, he grew silent.  After a short while, we could see the Brooklyn Bridge.

Back at the house before we left, when he told us he would take us across it, his wife was sort of taken aback.  A sullen look came across her face as she said to Michael, "Are you sure?"  It was an odd moment that A.J. and I clearly didn't understand, but there was no explanation offered.  Michael nodded and off we went.

With the bridge coming better into view, Michael broke the silence that had taken over the car.  He said, "I haven't been back over this bridge since that day..."  He took a long pause.  "I'll never forget the scene," he said, "cars were backed up and everyone was in a panic to get out of the City.  The other side of the bridge was a nightmare but our side, the road we're on now, was wide-open.  No one was heading into the City.  No one had any idea what the fuck was going on.  All we could see was the panicked people trying to get away, the towers which were, by then, smoking and the dust.  The closer we got, the worse the dust got.  The first building had already gone down by the time we got there.  It was just people screaming, covered head to toe in dust.  Then, the second one came down.  I lost some good friends that day.  We were all just so scared..."

We drove in silence the rest of the way.  Neither A.J. nor I knew what to say.  What could we say?  We had no way of knowing how he must have felt at that moment, reliving that day.  We found out later that after September 11th, 2001 the family always drove up to Jersey City and through the Holland Tunnel to get to the City, though it added an extra 30 or so minutes to their trip.  The whole family had explicitly avoided the Brooklyn Bridge for years.  Taking that drive with Michael really made me realize and appreciate what was given and sacrificed that day by all those brave men and women of the FDNY.  It's impossible not to tear up when I think back on Michael's words that night...

So, that's it.  I felt compelled today to express what I've been thinking about for the past week.  This day always weighs heavily on my mind and on my heart.  Oh yeah, and before I forget, GO PACK GO!!!