Monday, September 11, 2006

Gotham Artists

When the World Trade Event occurred, 911, or whatever you want to call it, we stood on the roof of 21st and Broadway where we owned a music production company. My business partner, Michael, and I had gotten to work early because we had two tasks to get done before the start of the business day. I think we were working on one music project for McCann-Erickson, an ad agency, and another for Sesame Street. Then another early bird neighbor on our floor ran in and told us that one of the towers had been hit. We were far enough away to consider ourselves safe, but after the second tower was hit, it felt like planes might be falling out of the sky at random, and you didn't know if the next one would drop right where you were standing. I recall seeing specks tumble out of the tower, every few seconds it seemed like. I turned to Michael and confirmed what I assumed we were both thinking, "Y'know, those are people.”

I called my parents and a couple of friends for information, because our TV reception was intermittent. It was a couple of hours before we understood that what we had witnessed was a terrorist attack. The first reports we got were that an accident had occurred between a jet and a smaller private plane. And as dramatic as the scene was to behold, no one stayed on the roof very long before going back downstairs to continue working. I think that's what most New Yorkers did, so used to being part of the machine. I even called a messenger service and asked them if they were still delivering packages to midtown (had to get that package to McCann) –and of course they were! It seemed like nothing, short of the world's end, was going to stop our great metropolis from working.

Among others, we shared the floor with an architect who drew a diagram on a piece of paper explaining why the towers, although injured, would not fall, he said. Afterwards I went back up to the roof in a curious attempt to fit what I had just been told with the ominous black cavity that now bore through the top of the north tower.

And as I stood there, the south tower fell. But I didn't see it, because I experienced its disappearance almost like watching a magic trick: First there was a tall building. Then a puff of smoke. And as the smoke dissipated I realized I could not possibly be seeing what I was seeing, so I strained my eyes, looking for the building that was supposed to be, but of course, it was no longer there. Instead in its place, the unimaginable, nothing, and I too, also felt hollow inside.

I ran downstairs and told my everybody within hearing to stop working, that one of the towers had fallen. Amazing, maybe some people were in shock, but it seemed to me that even then, a few were reluctant to push aside the work at hand.

Later, when the second tower fell, the following words peel off my brain and burn themselves into my consciousness:

Two arms
Stretched towards God
They pulled them down
And our spirits with them

My girlfriend and I lived down by Washington Square Park, within the border cordoned off by the military, and well within the sad and acrid smell of the two broken buildings. Our next door neighbor worked for Cantor Fitzgerald & Co. and he lost hundreds of friends and colleagues. Another neighbor who lived across the hall, David Crafa, was not only the owner of The Cutting Room Recording Studio, but also a welder, it turns out. As such, he had been called down to work in Ground Zero in order to assist in the search for survivors. And I, too, like so many others I knew –artists, musicians, singers– wanted to do something to help, but what could we possibly offer?

A song to help heal our souls, and our wounded city, too, perhaps?

So on October 3, 2001, myself, and a few of my friends, all of us session musicians and music production types, assembled at The Cutting Room Recording Studios in order to record a memorial song. It sounds insignificant in retrospect, but when I think back to those times, I realized the writing process was part of working through my own grief. And I think those who participated in the recording also saw in it a way to move through their own pain.

I wrote the following passage in the liner notes of the memorial CD:

Via television broadcasts spanning the globe, the entire world was a witness to the incomprehensible events of September 11th, 2001. A shared feeling of utter senselessness permeated the planet the moment towers fell. Our initial shock was immediately followed by frantic questions: Where are my loved ones? Where are my friends? Did I know anyone who worked at The World Trade Center? Did I know anyone traveling from Boston or Newark that day? Whom do I know in Washington? At the end of it all, another question surfaced: What could we do to help? We are simply musicians, singers, and artists who happened to have made our lives in New York City and the surrounding areas. Understandably, the city needed more rescue workers at Ground Zero than musicians, and more welders than singers. Not being pop stars or famous movie actors, there seemed like little that we could do, except pray. Then, through the sheer effort and good will of so many kind people, a momentum started and we all found ourselves in a recording studio for one long day with an idea that we could help, and that we could do so by using our own modest talents... It’s the least we could do.

And at the time, it's all that I thought we could do.

'911' was originally posted in the old site where it found a receptive audience, before CNET bought the domain name and dispensed with the assets circa December 2003.

In the beginning I also wanted to present 911 as a benefit song, and raise money for the American Red Cross. But in those days priced all CDs, whether fully loaded or merely singles, at around $8.00 a unit. I tried to promote the music as best I could, but of course it was overpriced, and I was not experienced in other avenues of distribution. I personally bought one for everyone who participated, and I think our engineer's sister actually bought our only real sale. Naturally, for a couple of years after, I felt like our efforts, or rather mine specifically, amounted to little more than a well intentioned failure.

But then an amazing thing happened, around 2005, I started to get email from all over the world from people who wanted to catch up with me and tell me how much our song still continues to resonate for them.

And so today, I do feel believe that the 'Gotham Artists' tribute song actually did succeed in its mission of providing comfort and consolation, and that we did help a number of people get through that time, myself included, as it happens. For many, it turns out, this music served to make some sense of what once was and still is an incomprehensible thing. But then, that is what art does. Art provides context; it comforts the senses, and it puts one's brain and heart back into working order.

After that, a lot of what I was doing –producing music for TV commercials– seemed meaningless. And it took a while to bounce back. But I did, of course. The world didn't stop that day, and the city marches forward.


The Original September 11, 2001 Memorial Song '911' can currently be heard by clicking on the following link:

Gotham Artists – 911


These are the people who graciously gave their time, talent and resources in order to participate and performed under the auspices of 'Gotham Artists':

Drums: Joe Bonadio
Percussion: Erik Charlston
Electric Bass: Will Lee
Keyboards: Charles Giordano
Electric Guitar: Larry Saltzman
Strings: Sandra Park, Jungsun Yoo, Sarah Seiver, Eileen Moon, Krysztof Kuznik, Ann Kim
Singers: Craig Chang, Tod Cooper, Jo Davidson, Jenny Douglas-McRae, Tabitha Fair, Morley Kamen, Gary Morris, Jenni Muldaur, Jason Paige, Sophia Ramos, Eugene Ruffolo, Stephen Scarpulla
Singers contracted by Valerie W. Morris, Val's Artist Management
Strings and Orchestral Percussion contracted by Sandra Park.
Arranged by Tony Finno.
Engineered & Mixed by Michael Sweet/Blister Media
Asst. Engineer: Steve Schopp
Special Thanks to David Crafa who generously helped us with studio time and resources.

‘911’ was recorded and mixed 10/03/01 at The Cutting Room Recording Studios/NYC
Mastered by Larry Lachmann/Absolute Audio
CD Art & Promo Design by Quiet Man: Amy Taylor: Exec. Prod./Jason Sienkwicz: Designer†

†Special kudos to Design Creative Director, Amy Taylor, and Designer, Jason Sienkwicz, who's powerful design of the song title, '911', uses a sans serif font to create two translucent rectangles that reference the Towers as they once stood, and as I hope that they will continue to stand in our collective memory. The combination of the date, whose numerical result parallels the US emergency telephone number, and the twin tower iconography, all together, creates  a semiotic masterpiece which we are happy to employ as the logo for this music. Thanks Jason and Amy!

Update: The folks at Landor seem to think so, too:

 "Finding a balance between a compelling visual style and the proper tone and mood for the memorial was important. Combining the date with the building silhouettes creates an essential connection in people’s minds."

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