Sounds of the City: September 11

Downtown Knoxville Fire Station and Memorial

Almost every American can recall in detail where they were and how they first learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. I’m one of what must be a smaller number who can remember where they were as midnight struck beginning a day most of us would never forget. For me the story of that day begins with sounds.

At midnight September 11, 2001 my daughter and I entered the Disc Exchange on Kingston Pike, which subsequently closed, for the midnight release of Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft. It was the much anticipated follow-up to his “Time Out of Mind” CD and we were joined by dozens of other excited fans. We listened to each of the songs once before we went to bed. We heard lines like these:

“They’re throwing knives into the tree, Two big bags of dead man’s bones . . . Living in the Land of Nod, Trusting their fate to the hands of God.” – from Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum

“Every step of the way we walk the line
Your days are numbered, so are mine
Time is pilin’ up, we struggle and we scrape
We’re all boxed in, nowhere to escape

City’s just a jungle; more games to play
Trapped in the heart of it, tryin’ to get away . . .
Sky full of fire, pain pourin’ down – from Mississippi

I could not have imagined that I would not listen to that CD or any other music for weeks. Like many Americans, in the days that followed that one I felt numb and often sat in silence. Music and entertainment in general held little interest. When I did return to the CD and the lyrics washed over me, I cried.

The sounds of that day came back to me on Sunday as we noted the tenth anniversary of the attack. The normal bustle of a work day suddenly interrupted by the urgent tones of news reports. The screams and sounds of chaos captured on our television screens. The increasingly frightened sounds of voices all across America as reports from Pennsylvania and the Pentagon emerged. The reassurance in the voices of loved ones as we called to make sure they were safe. The silence from those who were not. Later the tone turned somber as we began to consider our national response. I remember the calm assurance in the voice of the minister at Church Street United Methodist and the worry in the voices of the members of the local mosque when I attended a memorial service there.

One of the first sounds I heard in Knoxville on this, the tenth anniversary of that day was the sound of sirens atop the Knoxville Fire Department trucks as they drove quickly into the night to respond to an alarm. They do this many times a day and every time they leave the station I’m thankful for them. They do not know what they may face at the other end of that call.

9-11 Remembrance Ride, World’s Fair Park

9-11 Remembrance Ride, World’s Fair Park

As I walked through the early-morning city the mournful sound of a bagpipe resonated from the heart of the city at a memorial service for firemen. Later, the bells of the downtown churches tolled at 8:46 and 9:03 AM in remembrance of the first attack and the second. Candles were lighted on altars in honor of those who died. The sound of hundreds of Motorcycles firing up on the World’s Fair Park in a 9-11 remembrance ride filled the morning air. On Market Square as morning turned to evening, couples laughed, dogs barked and children squealed.

Flags at half-staff at the Knoxville Fire Department

Late in the day at the downtown station of the Knoxville Fire Department I heard laughter as one of the firemen launched a football off the top of the building to fellow fire persons (one was female) below. The flag was at half-staff, the day was nearly finished and they could laugh in a way none of us could have imagined ten years earlier. It was a sound of the city that I could really appreciate. It was the best sound I heard all day.

I’ll end with more words from Bob on that day ten years ago:

Today has been a sad ol’ lonesome day
I’m just sittin’ here thinking
With my mind a million miles away . . .
the road’s washed out—weather not fit for man or beast
Funny, how the things you have the hardest time parting with
Are the things you need the least.” – from Lonesome Day Blues