I started The September 11 Project seven weeks after 9/11/01, when I realized I could no longer work on the stage play I had been writing. Actually, I couldn't work at all. Not yet. But I needed to do something. I needed to do what I do best, write music. I wrote about the only thing I could think of at the time: the collapse of the World Trade Center and it's aftermath.
The Towers fell in what felt like my backyard (I was living in downtown Manhattan at the time). I volunteered to give blood, volunteered at Ground Zero, then became the main coordinator of an effort that converted the Chelsea Piers indoor parking lot into a huge dispensary of items needed by those who were digging and searching, welding and cleaning, tending and nurturing. Our effort was completely ad hoc, spontaneous, tireless, manic. Each of us had a hole inside larger than the one created by misguided terrorists; into it we poured all our energy. As an independent all-volunteer force (my only mandate was "reject no volunteers, turn no one away"), we did a better job than the official organizations of getting what was needed to the right place, with the help of the NYPD Harbor Patrol (until FEMA shut us down). The guys on the pile dubbed us "The Home Depot." Everything was donated: antibiotics, clothing, heavy duty gas masks, welding gear, buckets, food, even beer, cigarettes and singing actresses. (I kept a journal during that time, "A Journal from the Streets," available through my September 11 Project webpage: http://www.tobinmueller.com/sept11project/ )
Our efforts were included in the documentary "Answering the Call: Ground Zero's Volunteers." For the 10th Anniversary in 2011, I was interviewed for another film, "9/11 Remembered - Ten Years Later." After recounting everything that happened ten years ago, they asked what I did to cope. This caused me to revisit these songs. I decided to put them out as an album.
Because I now suffer from a lung disorder and can no longer sing, the vocals couldn't be re-recorded. I remastered each track, but did not re-record or add any vocals or instrumentals. Everything is just as I played and sang 10 years ago in my living room; songs written and performed to heal something inside me, that's all. I think many other people share this need for healing, so I am sharing the music now, even if it's a little late.
"I Will Love" was the first song I wrote, November 1, 2001. It was all I could think of to say. Although the chorus is rousing, uplifting, to me the was more about the sounds I used than the words I sang, sounds of shock and disorientation. I had a hard to singing it without crying and had to do many takes. Next, I wrote "Last Call." The lyrics are inspired from first hand accounts told to me by so people who had lost someone and now had only that last memory on the phone, calls made just before getting to work or from a burning building moments before collapse. While writing the third song, "New Holy Land," I began to crystallize my experience volunteering. I also began to place all the tragedy and loss into a larger perspective. That's why I decided to make it as the first track on the album: it says more of what I experienced, personally, and better summarizes what I've taken from that time. It began just as the lyrics describe: starting on the street alone, cutting bagels and pouring coffee for the ambulance workers lined up on the West Side Highway. 36 hours later, I had 200 people under me providing everything the fireman and EMTs requested. The last stanza wonders if the change we felt would sustain, if the new New York that was being realized all around us would translate into something permanent. It is a question still unanswered.
The concern that something had forever been lost was what inspired "Was There Once A Time." That song ended up finding its way into subsequent musicals. It's lyrics are applicable to many times, many ages. In writing that song, I felt like I had turned the corner from my 9/11 obsession and could actually write about other things.
"At Her Window" was actually written to my daughter, since I had just divorced her mother and wanted her to know I had not left her. She was only 11 years old at the time. But after listening to it again, I realized the song could also be sung by a father's ghost to his surviving daughter. Including it in this collection has added something special to the song. I hope you agree.
The last two tracks form a kind of couplet: "What Thou Lovest Well" and "When I Sing." I wrote the first version of "What Thou Lovest Well" in 1978, when I was a young man. It was originally inspired by Ezra Pound's Canto LXXXI, composed in his mind while he was imprisoned in fascist Italy during WWII. I've tinkered with the lyrics and arrangement many times over the years. I felt it's message was apropos and revisted it again in my living room in 2001. This is the final arrangement, I suspect. I think it finally strikes just the right chord.
The last track, "When I Sing", was written in Cape Cod, after the World Trade Center's pile of rubble had been cleared. The hole left behind formed a sad, silent, sorry scar. Ground Zero stayed that way for so very long. Long enough for me to question whether the effort would ever result in renewal. Would at least one small piece of the Utopian world that had animated us as volunteers ever be made manifest in the truths of the future? The last line of the previous song, "What thou lovest well will always remain," is answered by the first line of the last song, "Why do I lie when I sing?" The album ends with this stanza: "It's not that I don't believe./It's that I don't seem to need to anymore./It's not that I want to be free of it/Except when I sing..."
There is very deep belief running through this music, regardless of what my final lyrics suggest. Belief I witnessed in everyone's eyes with whom I worked during that time. Belief felt by those viewing it through their television screens, or through the filter of a decade remembered. A belief that, I hope, will never leave us. A belief in something better. A hunger for meaning. A belief that requires continued reaffirmation...
I've posted lyrics online to all the songs. Please see my September 11 Project webpage: http://www.tobinmueller.com/sept11project/