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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2001/09/19
by Mike Gruenberg

Modern Patriotic Songs

As was the case for all America and the world, I will never forget last Tuesday, September 11th. As usual, I went to work to my office in New York City. The events that followed certainly have changed all our lives. When the second plane hit the WTC, it was obvious that I had to figure out a safe way to return to my home and family on Long Island. I tried to call every one of my family members, only to find that the phone lines were operating on a very limited basis. For a free society such as ours, the most basic of freedoms, such as making a phone call being taken away was most disconcerting. Fortunately, my daughter, Erica and stepson, Iain were able to call me and I assured them of my safety. Since Iain also worked in the city, we decided to meet and plan which course of action we would take to leave the city to go home.
Finding a friend or relative in the wake of the confusion of the bombings was not as difficult as I thought. I met Iain and his wife on 38th Street and Madison Avenue. We realized that going to Penn Station was probably a mistake. We therefore decided to walk across the 59th Street Bridge along with thousands of other people. Impressive to me was the behavior of all the people crossing the bridge. There was no fighting, pushing or even loud noise. People were focused on getting home to safety and being with their loved ones. It was ironic to me with the bad reputation that New Yorkers are characterized as having, that at this horrible point in the citys history, the populace was behaving far above those expectations.
As we crossed the bridge, I constantly looked over my right shoulder to where the WTC towers used to stand. Prior to Tuesday, the view from the 59th Street Bridge to the towers was unobstructed and quite beautiful. Instead of seeing them, clouds of smoke billowed into the air from the vacated spot creating a long trail of smoke that stretched for miles. I wondered what songs would describe the way I felt. I was numb, scared and angry. Most of all, I was hurt that someone would senselessly harm the city and its people who worked there in the name of a religious cause.
In my life, I have always used songs to depict both the good and bad events that have shaped those years. Whether it was the joy of the birth of my daughter or a world crisis, I can point to specific songs that bring back the memories of those events. Walking across the bridge made me reflect on what songs I would link to this tragedy. While there are many great songs, for me, the following are the ones that I have chosen to best describe my feelings on that bridge on that fateful day:
 America sung by Ray Charles. In my opinion, this is the most poignant of all renditions of this great song. It truly gives one the sense of an entire country, uniting all its people in love, honor and respect for the nation. Its patriotic and not overbearing. It brings honest emotion and sense of purpose.
 Pink Houses composed and sung by John Mellencamp is my second choice because it also weaves the fabric of American life into a patriotic and realistic description of America. All facets of our country are represented in this song released in 1983.
 I Wont Back Down composed by Tom Petty in 1989 is the patriotic song that I choose to show Americas resolve. The line You can stand me up at the gates of hell and I wont back down to me, says it all. Quite a prophetic line in light of recent directives from the White House.
These three songs run the gamut from love of country to defense of country and captures the feelings I had on that fateful day walking across the 59th Street Bridge with thousands of people who got to know and love.
To those who lost loved ones or know of others, who have suffered because of this tragedy, I express my belief that our country will not let those people die in vain. We are all changed because of Sept. 11th, but I know America and its people are stronger as a result.

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