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9/11: Revisiting Its Impact on Music
Remembering 9/11 | Saturday, 11th Sep 2021 | Jordan Brace

At 7pm on Tuesday 11 September 2001, a seven-year-old boy in the United Kingdom was attempting to understand what had taken place earlier that day. The loss of innocent human life on this day twenty years ago was incomprehensible for most adults, never mind a seven-year-old. To put it into words is difficult even today. It’s one of the earliest memories I have and it’s with no doubt the most tragic.

The terrorist attack altered the lives of billions, and it would go on to severely alter the lives of U.S. troops and their families, along with millions of people in Afghanistan and Iraq. The ripple effects of the heartbreak was (and still is) felt far and wide.

As the events of 9/11 encapsulated the world, the music industry also had to react. Days after the attack, the music industry saw more than 160 songs regarded too insensitive for the airwaves banned by Clear Channel-operated radio stations. The list of songs included the Beatles “A Day in the Life,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da,” and “Ticket to Ride”; Foo Fighters “Learn to Fly”, along with Neil Diamond’s “America,” and Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”

It’s unsurprising the songs were deemed poor taste. The attack also led to bands such as the Strokes rearranging their upcoming debut Is This It, where they removed their track “New York City Cops” which included the chorus, “New York City cops / They ain’t too smart.”

Due to concerns of further attacks, a number of gigs were cancelled or postponed, including artists U2, Madonna, Aerosmith, Britney Spears and Janet Jackson, who later called off the entire European leg of her All For You trek citing safety issues.

As the world came together to mourn and support the victims, a number of musicians did the same with more than $170 million collected by the end of September 2001 to aid families of 9/11 victims. A telethon called “America: A Tribute to Heroes” featured performances from Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, U2, Faith Hill, Wyclef Jean, Alicia Keys, Bon Jovi and Dixie Chicks, and aired 21 September 2001. A month later on 20 October, Jay-Z, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Billy Joel, David Bowie, Destiny’s Child and others set foot on Madison Square Garden’s stage for a star-studded benefit concert.

It wasn’t just the music industry that took action. The iconic director of She’s Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing and Crooklyn, Spike Lee had filmed the majority of his 2002 release 25th Hour when the attack happened. Instead of re-editing scenes to remove images of the Twin Towers like other movies of the era, Lee decided to re-work his film to include the aftermath of 9/11 as part of the storyline.

To give a quick synopsis, 25th Hour’s main character, Monty is a drug dealer facing his final 24 hours of freedom before he embarks his seven-year prison sentence. The movie explores his emotional rollercoaster and includes many iconic scenes. One sees Monty stare into a bathroom mirror, where he performs his “Fuck You” monologue. He rants scathingly about himself, his shortcomings, his friends, family, then-President George Bush, and Osama bin Laden; and includes a number of references to 9/11 and the raw feelings the day had incited in many heartbroken Westerners at the time.

The film is a must watch for everyone. And I mean, everyone. It is one of the most impactful movies I have ever seen, with political critiques throughout. It is also the movie that introduced a less-than-ten-year-old Jordan to a British funk-group called Cymande.

It turns out Cymande is a firm favourite of Spike Lee’s with their music featuring in other films of his. Within 25th Hour, the band feature in a scene between one of Monty’s best friends and teacher, Jacob, and his under-age student, Mary at a nightclub. There isn’t much meaningful dialogue. However, there is a lot of meaningful body language which Spike Lee allows to do the talking, along with the soundtrack he chose which adds to the scenes iconic nature. “Bra” by Cymande echoes throughout the nightclub and the five-minute drama between the teacher and student with well-placed mood and meaning. 

I’m not sure if you’ll be able to appreciate the scene without the full context of the movie, but you may watch it below.