Empty Sky – Bruce Springsteen

20 years. It’s really part of history now. You’ve all got your stories. Everyone remembers the day the 20th Century properly ended. Where they were, how they watched. How the changes stayed with us for the next two decades…

As ever, when my own words fail me. Bruce knows what to say.

My Brother was on holiday in the USA that week. He had an itinerary that flew him from Vegas to LaGuardia on September 11th. I was in the control room of the print factory (in its old site) when my mobile text tone went off. It was Doug asking what the hell was going on in America? I had no idea what he was taking about and dialed up Yahoo to check the headlines.

It didn’t look real. Tiny little pop up windows with images of the blue sky, the tower billowing smoke. The soon to be Mrs ForTheDeaf rang me two minutes later telling me to turn on the news. I told her I was already watching.

We were both wondering if it was war breaking out when she reminded me of Big Brothers plans. I had to phone home. See if he’d been in touch. No drama on that front I was assured. They hadn’t even left their hotel when everything was grounded. Mum still sounded apprehensive. She used to sound like this when the IRA would blow up something in London. Dad might be in Rislip when a pup in Soho goes up in flames and she’d see the whole city as a minefield until he was home. Admittedly there was a close call at The Old Bailey one time when Dad was working in the next street. Oh and the night he was one stop away from the Kings Cross fire. So you can understand it.

This felt like that, even though it was thousands of miles away. This would change the world. Everyone’s world. When the second plane hit we were all watching. Doug and Mrs ForTheDeaf were talking to each other when the mobile networks went down. CNN and The BBC were showing the second hit from different angles. The ticker-tape at the bottom of the screen spoke of other planes, the Pentagon, scrambled jets and George Bush.

The print control room over looked the factory floor. There was a frosted world map on the window visible from below. It was supposed to advertise our vinyl cut capability. We often joked it looked like a Bond Villains headquarters from which world domination was being plotted. The TV newsroom maps on the iMac screens around the room (everyone else in the business spent the rest of the day in the control room on one of the iMac’s reading the news) showed graphics of where the planes were across the US. There were reports of some things that never seemed to pan out. Other details went over and over again. The disruption put production behind so I stayed late to try to recover the time lost. I locked up around dusk. I rode my bike across the city talking to Mrs ForTheDeaf on my mobile as I headed back to the place I still shared with Doug. As I passed the Cathedral there was a fire engine running ladders up the ancient stone tower and a blue light cordon blocking the monument park I usually took a short cut through. What a strange day it had been.

The next morning the Soon To Be Mrs ForTheDeaf and I went over to visit her Sister and her family a few towns over. The kids had been at a village hall rummage sale and bought some brick-a-brack that morning. I’d just got off the phone to the Big Un and his holiday crew. They were kicking their heels in hotel lobbies and trying to come to terms with a holiday destination that had become part of a nation grieving. They didn’t know the right thing to say to anyone so they were mostly keeping to themselves and trying to arrange flights home early. Wee Meg our niece brought over the dolls house TV set she’d picked up at the church hall sale to go in her play room. It was a tiny plastic rectangle aping the shape of a TV with a sticker for a screen.

There was an image of the twin towers on the screen. Stood proud and tall over Manhattan island. Meg asked her Dad if the image would change tomorrow. He told her it was an antique now. That’ll stay that way and everything else will change.

So it may not technically be from 2001, but when I think of that fateful day I think also of the next day. And I think of Empty Sky.

28 thoughts on “Empty Sky – Bruce Springsteen

  1. Thanks Steve. Yes everything changed after that day. I remember so many details of that day – living in the DC region there was a palpable fear of what was next. I remember for weeks afterward seeing fighter jets doing long loops around the region – you would look up and see them high in the sky. Bruce’s The Rising was some of the first music after that day that attempted to speak to the emotions and consequences of 9/11 – my favorite on album is You’re Missing. As I think you guys say it guts me every time I listen to it.

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    1. It’s become her abiding memory of the events. I’m pleased she found that toy. Contextualizes a world changing event for a young mind in a way she could relate. Unique but harmless. She’s grown into such an empathetic person (as have so many of her generation) I genuinely hold out high hopes for our future with the post 9/11 kids coming adult enough to change the world. We just need to hand them a world worth saving.

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  2. I appreciate you sharing what you remember of that day. I agree with Paul, what are the odds of the twin towers sticker being on toy? Those kinds of things tell me there is sentience at work in the universe, even though what that sentience chooses to do remains ever a mystery. I was at work that day, was walking by a clerical person’s desk that had a small TV attached to one of those hospital like arms up near the ceiling over her desk (can’t remember why it was setup that way) but I remember looking at the video of the first plane’s hitting the first tower and standing there paralyzed and shocked. Just as my mind was taking that in, I heard a voice say, “There’s another plane” and I remember it hitting. After that my mind has put up a tall barrier, and I avoided anything at all about any of it except for seeing Bush and Cheney on TV saying Iraq was at fault and we are going to war. Last week, I watched a netflix movie, “Worth,” that talks about how a team of lawyers decided how much each life lost in the towers and any emergency personnel involved was worth so they could pay families a sum to agree not to sue the airlines. It showed some actual footage and some reenacted footage of the aftermath. Now, after 20 years, I may be prepared to face what happened that day.

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    1. I watched Worth with Mrs ForTheDeaf just a couple of nights ago. We both wept through most of it. When you do ‘face it’ as you say remember there was nothing you could have influenced. There is only the world before and everything after. That toy is (in my mind) just a coincidence but the timing left such an impression on my niece. She still talks about it now.

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  3. I also want to add that I was raised in Florida and it was heartbreaking to learn that several of the pilots trained in flight schools there. I was living in Daytona Beach, home of one of the latest aeronautical universities in the world -25% if the world’s commercial airline pilots are trained at ERAU-or so, I’ve read. Everyone there was relieved to learn that the reports of one of the pilots being a ERAU grad were incorrect. However, my husband and I had moved from Port Charlotte -Gulfside

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    1. Gulfside, south of Sarasota. As info unfolded we learned that the mastermind, Mohammad Atta had trained at a flight school about 15-20 miles from our home, and my husband recognized Atta as the creepy guy who he broke a $20 bill for in the electronics department at Target. There were a few more horrible coincidences in that day. I will never forget watching that second plane hit the South Tower and thinking about all the lives lost or damaged and changed forever.

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    2. The soul searching that went on afterwards for all affected or co-opted is where the shift came from. We were so free before. Remember how ‘easy’ security used to be? Thank you for adding your own memories to this post.

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  4. Another school day had finished when one of my fellow teachers came into my classroom to announce what happened. I read the headlines on MSN and headed home right after. My then girlfriend called to tell me about it and then my ex-wife phoned me too but she was worried that our two sons were going to be drafted into the US military. (My children have British and American dual citizenship.) My main thought was that my girlfriend and I had lunch on the top floor of the World Trade Center six weeks prior. It’s a day that no one will forget.

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  5. We were talking about this the other day at work, and everyone remembers where they were that day. I was in Hendon, London refurbing a Sainsburys, at first we thought it was a wind-up, but there was a security guard who had a small B&W TVwe were in shock. We all got sent home that day and watching the events unfold on TV at home, it was more dreamlike, it just seemed so unreal. I do struggle a bit rewatching it, those poor innocent people.

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  6. This is a brilliant essay, Steve. Very moving. I thought about writing something about 9/11 for the past few weeks but couldn’t find the words to properly articulate what it all means. I instead chose to commemorate it in a different way via a painting by Gerhard Richter. Geez, 20 years seems like a world away now but it also feels like yesterday. Lest we Forget.

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  7. My wife and I watched a fantastic documentary on it last night on Apple + about the President’s Day and all that went on at the White House. It was riveting. I remember that day so well as it is etched in my brain. Nothing’s really been the same since. My next door neighbor is retired NYPD and this day is really, really hard on him as he lost some friends. It is sad to think how amazingly the US banded together and we felt like One Nation standing together and now we are so fragmented and divided. It is horrible, but that is off topic. It is nice to see a perspective of that day from someone not from the U.S.

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  8. I used to co-manage a Photographic Shop in Totnes, I remember working and we had the internet, early days, and ended up transfixed by the most horrific of moments as well. I clearly recall phoning an ex-gf and telling her if she’d switched on the news, as she was at work, but no-one had and commenting, jokingly, “is it the end of the world or something?” and at that point, no-one even knew, that feeling never left nor has the sadness for the chaos there, or abroad, forever since.

    It’s a clear reason why I don’t understand why people get encompassed by pointless anger or hatred for others, life is so fleeting!

    Anyway, thank you for sharing this incredible insight from you site and, as ever, Springsteen finding the words as well, there’s no-one quite like him for visually stories into music.

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  9. We were out in Saskatoon when it happened, a couple of hours behind EST in NY, so by the time I got to work and joined the crowd in the student center on campus, crowded around the big screens, we saw the second tower go down. I tried getting on CNN for more news but the site was overloaded and wouldn’t work. CBC had a little. Years later, we went to NYC and saw ground zero (a construction site, at that point) and the museum there (haunting) and it was Still powerful even then.

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