Jason Fraley | [email protected]
September 10, 2021, 1:55 AM
It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since the attacks of 9/11. For those who lived it, it will always feel like yesterday. Close your eyes and the images are there, burned into your brain forever.
That day changed everything — metal detectors at sports stadiums, security checkpoints at the airport, wars waged overseas — but how did the entertainment world help us heal?
Here’s a look back at the days, weeks, months and years after that tragic day:
On Sept. 11, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig promptly canceled that evening’s games. He would soon cancel all games for the remainder of the week.
On Sept. 13, “WWF Smackdown” became America’s first public event as Vince McMahon told the crowd, “Tonight, the spirit of America lives. … Make no mistake about the message this public assembly is sending to terrorism tonight. … We will not live our lives in fear!”
On Sept. 14, Rev. Billy Graham led a service at Washington National Cathedral with President George W. Bush, who that afternoon stood atop the rubble at Ground Zero.
On Sept. 14, Jay-Z rapped his “9/11 Freestyle” on tour: “Bombers, Bin Laden. … I drop the same date as the Twin Towers.” On 2009’s “Run This Town,” he said, “Terrorists attacked New York City and took down our towers. They believed it would weaken us; they were sadly mistaken.” On 2009’s “Empire State of Mind,” he said, “Long live the World Trade.”
On Sept. 16, the National Football League canceled all weekend games on both Sunday and Monday night, while NASCAR postponed its race at the New Hampshire 300.
On Sept. 17, Major League Baseball resumed play between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers as announcer Jack Buck read his poem “For America,” saying, “Should we be here? Yes!”
On Sept. 17, late-night hosts Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and David Letterman returned. Letterman opened by saying, “This is our first show on the air since New York and Washington were attacked. … It’s terribly sad here in New York City. We lost 5,000 fellow New Yorkers and you can feel it. … New York City is the greatest city in the world.”
On Sept. 17, country artist Aaron Tippin released “Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly,” singing, “There’s a lady that stands in a harbor for what we believe, and there’s a bell that still echoes the price that it cost to be free.” Proceeds went to the Red Cross.
On Sept. 20, the live two-hour telethon “America: A Tribute to Heroes” featured Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, U2, Faith Hill, Tom Petty, Enrique Iglesias, Neil Young, Alicia Keys, Goo Goo Dolls, Billy Joel, Dixie Chicks, Dave Matthews, Wyclef Jean, Mariah Carey, Bon Jovi, Sheryl Crow, Sting, Eddie Vedder, Paul Simon, Celine Dion and Willie Nelson.
On Sept. 20, “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart brought us to tears: “We’ve had an unendurable pain here and I just wanted to tell you why I grieve but why I don’t despair. … They attacked this symbol of American ingenuity, strength, labor, imagination and commerce, and it is gone. But do you know what the view is now? The Statue of Liberty.”
On Sept. 21, New York City hosted its first professional sporting event since the attacks at Shea Stadium. Pre-game ceremonies featured patriotic anthems and players wore NYFD hats. Fittingly, New York’s Mike Piazza hit a game-winning home run to beat Atlanta.
On Sept. 23, Yankee Stadium hosted the interfaith memorial service “Prayer for America,” while NFL games resumed that afternoon. NASCAR resumed with the MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400 at Dover International Speedway in Delaware. Lee Greenwood sang “God Bless the USA,” while Dale Earnhardt Jr. celebrated his win by driving with an American flag.
On Oct. 11, NBC altered an episode of “Friends” to remove Chandler making a joke about a bomb on an airplane. In the months ahead, “The Sopranos,” “Sex and the City” and “Law & Order: SUV” removed shots of the Twin Towers from their opening credits, while Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” removed a scene where Spidey slings across the Twin Towers.
On Oct. 20, Madison Square Garden hosted “The Concert for New York City,” featuring David Bowie, Billy Crystal, Bon Jovi, Jay-Z, Goo Goo Dolls, Billy Joel, Destiny’s Child, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Adam Sandler, Backstreet Boys, Melissa Etheridge, The Who, Mick Jagger, James Taylor, John Mellencamp, Janet Jackson, Elton John and Paul McCartney.
On Oct. 27, Brooks & Dunn’s hit single “Only in America” topped the country music charts, finding a new wave of patriotic support after initially being released on June 18, 2001.
From Oct. 27 to Nov. 4, the World Series featured the New York Yankees versus the Arizona Diamondbacks. President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch of Game 3 at Yankee Stadium (a strike), while patriotic anthems played over stadium speakers and Derek Jeter provided storybook moments for New York. In the end, Arizona won Game 7.
On Nov. 1, ABC aired the benefit concert “United We Stand: What More Can I Give” at RFK Stadium, featuring Michael Jackson, Backstreet Boys, Huey Lewis, James Brown, Usher, Carole King, Al Green, Pink, Bette Midler, CeCe Peniston, Aerosmith, America, P. Diddy, NSYNC, Janet Jackson, Destiny’s Child, Rod Stewart, Mariah Carey and Train.
On Nov. 7, Alan Jackson performed his tearjerking 9/11 tribute “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” at the CMA Awards in Nashville: “Did you stand there in shock, at the sight of that black smoke, risin’ against that blue sky? Did you shout out in anger, in fear for your neighbor, or did you just sit down and cry?”
On Feb. 3, 2002, the New England Patriots won their first Super Bowl, launching an NFL dynasty under Tom Brady. During the Halftime Show, U2 performed “Where the Streets Have No Name” as the names of the 9/11 victims rose on a giant banner that appeared to crumble as Bono let out a wail and revealed an American flag inside his leather jacket.
On Feb. 4, 2002, “Sesame Street” aired an episode to help kids cope with 9/11, featuring a fire at Mr. Hooper’s store as an allegory for the attacks on the World Trade Center.
On May 27, 2002, country star Toby Keith released the 9/11 revenge song “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” including the lyrics, “Justice will be served and the battle will rage, this big dog will fight when you rattle his cage, and you’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A, ’cause we’ll put a boot in your a**, it’s the American way.”
On March 24, 2002, the Oscars opened with Tom Cruise reading remarks by Cameron Crowe: “What of a night like tonight? Should we celebrate the joy and magic that movies bring? Well dare I say it: more than ever. A small scene, a gesture, even a glance between characters can cross lines, break barriers, melt prejudice, just plain make us laugh.”
On July 30, 2002, Bruce Springsteen released his album “The Rising,” its title song written as a reaction to 9/11. It also revived “My City of Ruin,” which was originally written in Nov. 2000 for a Christmas show at Asbury Park, New Jersey, but now spoke to 9/11.
On Sept. 11, 2002, 11 filmmakers from around the world directed short films for the compilation piece “September 11,” including Alejandro G. Iñárritu (Mexico), Ken Loach (Britain) and Sean Penn (United States), the lattermost featuring Ernest Borgnine as a lonely widower in his dark apartment, only for the collapse of the Twin Towers to bring light.
On Feb. 6, 2003, 50 Cent’s “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” featured the Eminem duet “Patiently Waiting,” rapping, “Destination heaven, sit and politic with passengers from 9/11.”
On March 10, 2003, the Dixie Chicks performed “Travelin’ Soldier” in London as Natalie Maines told the crowd, “We do not want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” The band was blackballed by country music fans before their eventual Grammy-winning comeback “Not Ready to Make Nice” in 2006.
On April 15, 2003, country artist Darryl Worley released “Have You Forgotten?” Like many Americans, the song seemed to confuse the 9/11 attackers with the Iraq War: “Some say this country’s just out looking for a fight, but after 9/11, man, I have to say that’s right.”
On April 21, 2003, country band Lonestar released a new version of its hit song “I’m Already There (Message from Home)” to include a special tribute to the military after the original music video had premiered on CMT on June 7, 2001 just months before the attack.
On July 15, 2003, classic rock band The Eagles released the melancholic “Hole in the World,” written by Glenn Frey and Don Henley in response to the 9/11 attacks.
On June 25, 2004, filmmaker Michael Moore released the documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11,” slamming the Bush Administration for the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The film won the Palme d’Or, the highest award given at the Cannes Film Festival, and eventually became the highest grossing documentary ever.
On July 13, 2004, rapper Jadakiss delivered “Why,” including the controversial 9/11 reference, “Why did Bush knock down the Towers? Why you around them cowards?”
On Dec. 5, 2006, rapper Eminem released the song “Public Enemy #1,” which featured the tribute lyric, “I can feel the tremors tremendous, in remembrance of September 11th.”
On April 28, 2006, Paul Greengrass directed “United 93” about the heroic efforts of the passengers on flight United 93 to overtake their hijackers and crash the plane in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The film was nominated for two Oscars, including Best Director.
On Aug. 9, 2006, Oliver Stone directed “World Trade Center” starring Nicolas Cage and Michael Peña as New York City Port Authority Officers who survived the buildings’ collapse. The film won the Freedom of Expression Award by the National Board of Review.
Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history,” Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.
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