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Early Morning Recollections of 9-11

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I am waking up at an ungodly hour this morning with vivid memories of 9-11.

I was living in a weirdly cool standalone apartment with a very cool roommate called Greg Conley. We listened to a ton of rock and roll at 2R Benton Road. I was just getting recognized as a journalist and we’d have friends over late at night to listen to advance copies of things I was now getting sent like the first Strokes record. It was a pretty great time in my life.

We lived behind a funeral home. O’Brien, Wilson, Fudge - no word of a lie that was the name. I’d often joke to Greg that it was like a missed note at a Beach Boys session: “Oh, Brian Wilson! Fudge!” In a garage beneath us were the limousine and the hearse for the funeral home. I’d sometimes make light of the late night soundings we were sending the stiffs under 100 yards away.

Ryan Adams, the White Stripes, the Gorillaz, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Gillian Welch, Spoon. Not to mention our favorite local acts. The Gentlemen, Dragstrip Courage, the Gravel Pit, Francine, and Buffalo Tom. We saw every single one of those acts play in a club. Every single one. A fair amount of them partied in our house.

On the morning of 9-11 I was in bed with my then girlfriend. Another great girl I blew it with but who I loved then and in a different sense still very much love now. She was also a “creative” type so we didn’t necessarily either need to be out of bed on a weekday morning when my phone first rang around 9AM. We’d likely seen a show the night before.

I checked the ID and saw it was my Mom. I shrugged and rolled back over to my girl when it rang again. I knew my Mom, while not particularly encouraging of my schedule, was aware of it. A second call at this hour meant something was up.

“They’re bombing New York, Tommy,” was her first declaration. “Where are you?”

My Mom is not a woman given to hyperbole. My first thought was that she’d fallen victim to some Orson Welles “War of the Worlds” type hoax but as I shook myself awake I realized that she had known I was going to New York that day. I was going for the CMJ Music Fest, to see a couple of those bands that Greg and I already loved and to discover a few more.

“What are you talking about, Ellen?” My brothers and I had gotten in the custom of addressing her by her first name, something we still do. She told me to immediately turn on the television and that was when I saw that in a sense the world was changing in front of my eyes.

My girlfriend and I sat in rapt attention. The second plane had just struck. We were dumbfounded at reports that there were other hijacked planes in American airspace. Without hesitation, I got up and started to pack my bag.

“What are you doing?” my paramour asked. I shrugged my shoulders.

“Nothing shuts down New York City, baby,” I naively replied. To make her feel at ease I called the friend I was staying with and remarkably got through. He was within ten blocks of the Twin Towers.

“This is bad, dude,” was his immediate response. “Stay where you are. They’re not going to be holding CMJ.  People are in a rush to get out of the city, not in!”

That was when the first tower fell and I lost my call to him. Thankfully, I learned very quickly from a mutual friend that he was safe. We didn’t speak again on the phone for close to a week.

In October they held a rescheduled CMJ. I felt a weird obligation to attend, so I did.

It was surreal. I wish I could find the piece I wrote about being there. About the West Side Highway cheerleaders rooting on the workers going to clean up. About the Moldy Peaches song, “New York City’s Like A Graveyard,” being in my head that entire weekend. About the smell of scorched metal that was simply everywhere.

Being in New York City within a month of that event was memorable in a way that is almost indescribable.  My joking line has always been that I love NYC as much as I hate the Yankees... and that is a lot.

Awful tough to hate the Yankees that much that month.  But in a sense, it very much felt like normalcy to be getting back to that.  Same with Giuliani.  He was undoubtedly stand-up in the post-9-11 turmoil but I'd proudly worn one of those yellow "Giuliani is a Jerk" buttons on previous trips to the Lower East Side.  I'd wear that again today in a second if I could find it. 

I got back to Boston and told Greg and my girlfriend everything I’d seen. It is very hopefully the closest I’ll ever be to a war zone. It was astounding.

In the time between 9-11 and CMJ the Strokes debut record had gotten a real buzz. The original advance we’d embraced had included a song called, “New York City Cops,” with the refrain, “They ain’t too smart.”

When the record came out that track was gone. It was replaced with a song called, “When it Started.” It’s not as good a song, but I understand.

Somebody stole my advance copy at a party at our house.

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