Monday, August 3, 2009

'A dream of life comes to me..'

When I first moved to New York, in May 2000, I lived downtown for a couple of months while I looked for a permanent apartment. My Subway stop was Fulton Street, and as I went into the station every day to go to work, the sky would be dark because the World Trade Center towers were just a couple of blocks away.

By the time September 11 happened, I was living across the river in Hoboken, whose community suffered proportionally more than many other suburbs. For the first few weeks after I moved, I'd take the PATH train into the WTC station and connect uptown, before deciding that the bus to the Port Authority was a quicker option.

On the day itself, at the moment the world changed, I was in the air.

I'd been in London visiting my kids. It was my younger son's birthday on September 7, and I'd never not been with him for his birthday. I was flying back to JFK on a United flight that morning, and about an hour out of Heathrow, the captain announced that we were turning around. He said there was "a problem with US air traffic control" and that was the last official word until we landed.

Passengers in first and business class started to use the in-seat phones to talk to people on the ground - with the initial intention of rearranging travel plans - and news started to seep through about what had happened.

As phones were pressed to ears, hands were raised whenever anyone managed to get through to someone stateside. Other passengers then gathered around the caller, who would relay snippets of information, often punctuated by "oh dear God.."

We had no idea what was truth and what was fiction. And, like the rest of the world, we had no idea when it might be over.

Although I was heading back to my kids - I learned later that the flight ahead of us had been diverted to Canada - I've never felt further from the people I loved.

Like everyone else, I was glued to the television for days until flight restrictions were lifted and I was able to return to New York. I remember the night I got back, being in a cab coming around the corner into Washington Street in Hoboken, and seeing the bus shelters and light poles plastered with "missing' posters. It was heartwrenching and humbling.

In the rush and mix of emotions over that next few weeks, I found a profound grief was mixed with an incredible pride in how my adopted city responded. This helped. And then so did this.

Somehow, music became even more meaningful as life and love became more precious.

A piece I wrote for Forbes in 2005, about the 30th anniversary of Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run, drew a line connecting that album with 2002's The Rising:

"In the three decades since its birth, the album has endured as the characters who inhabit Springsteen's poetry have grown older, possibly wiser, possibly richer or possibly more disillusioned with society and their place in it.

These themes - personal triumph over adversity, blue-collar honesty, joy in the human spirit and the possibility of a second chance - are revisited throughout his subsequent work: Darkness on the Edge of Town, The River, Born in the USA, the emotionally bleak but musically beautiful Tunnel of Love and right up through The Rising, his very human response to the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

In many ways, The Rising - one of the most articulate and sympathetically resonant artistic reflections on the attacks - is a perfect bookend to Born to Run, with its now middle-aged protagonists working hard to get by in the real world, and having the unreal thrust upon them.

The kids who fought in the streets in the stanzas of "Jungleland" were now cops and firefighters - working-class heroes with real drama in their lives - or grew into the white-collar commuters who came to work in Lower Manhattan.

Yet while the message of Born to Run is rooted in a basic individuality and self-confidence, The Rising ultimately delivers the listener to a place where, even when we cannot always comprehend why the world is how it is, faith in one's fellow human beings helps us to reach for what is best in all of us."

It was a short set today, as I broke another string. But I made $3 in about 40 minutes, bringing the running total for Robin Hood to $78.56.

Today's songlist:

The Rising - Bruce Springsteen
Waiting For My Real Life To Begin - Colin Hay
Galway Girl - Steve Earle
Rise - Eddie Vedder
100 Miles - Catie Curtis
Brown Eyed Girl - Van Morrison
Peace Love And Understanding - Elvis Costello

BuskerCam today is a respectful version of the only song it could possibly be.

And here's how Bruce performed it at the Lincoln Memorial on inauguration weekend this year; one of the most redemptive musical performances I have ever seen.

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