Alan Jackson to sing 'Where Were You' at Washington 9/11 concert
Country singer Alan Jackson has been tapped to perform his post-9/11 song “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” at the Concert for Hope at the Washington National Cathedral on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
President Obama also will speak at the event, which will culminate a week of observances to commemorate the anniversary.
Jackson’s song became perhaps the most widely played of the responses from musicians to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and it will be highlighted on Monday, Sept. 5, on an A&E Biography special “When Pop Culture Saved America.”
Jackson had introduced the song about two months after the attacks, during the Country Music Assn. Awards telecast from Nashville, singing what amounted to a string of questions without easy answers.
Did you weep for the children who lost their dear loved ones
And pray for the ones who don't know?
Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble
And sob for the ones left below?
The vast majority of Jackson’s repertoire up to that point, and pretty much since, had consisted of songs about love, the joys and sorrows of small-town life, the hopes, dreams and struggles of working people.
The closest he’s gotten to a political statement is some of those songs detailing the hard times blue-collar workers have faced in recent years.
"I find I generally don't like songs where people express their political views," the soft-spoken Georgia native told me not long after he’d written it and started singing it in public. "And this one isn't political. It's still pretty simple.”
I’m just a singer of simple songs
I’m not a real political man
I watch CNN but I’m not sure I can tell you
The difference in Iraq and Iran
He told me he’d had a sleepless night shortly after the attacks, woke up with a head full of questions, and then fashioned them into the song.
“I felt like I was just reporting,” he said, “asking the kinds of questions anybody might ask."
Did you feel guilty 'cause you're a survivor
In a crowded room did you feel alone?
Did you call up your mother and tell her you loved her?
Did you dust off that Bible at home?
In fact, he said he was initially hesitant about the song in a couple of ways. First, he was reluctant to take on such a loaded issue. But he said the fact that the song came to him relatively quickly convinced him it was worth doing.
Did you open your eyes, hope it never happened
Close your eyes and not go to sleep?
Did you notice the sunset the first time in ages
Or speak to some stranger on the street?
After writing it, he wasn’t sure he ought to play it in public. “I didn’t want it to look like I was trying to sell my career with this" tragedy, he said. But family members and friends persuaded him otherwise.
He also didn’t release as a single, again because he didn’t want it to be viewed as something he was trying to sell.
Last year, when Jackson had his star added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, I asked him whether he still plays "Where Were You." He told me he's been surprised by how many people continue to request it in concert, long after the original shock of the events of that day subsided. He said he’d expected fans to be interested for a few weeks or months after the song first surfaced but a show hasn’t gone by when someone doesn’t ask for it. So he’s kept it in his set list.
Did you go to a church and hold hands with some strangers
Did you stand in line and give your own blood?
Did you just stay home and cling tight to your family
Thank God you had somebody to love?
"I don't know where it came from," Jackson said. "It's like one of my favorite things Hank Williams said when he was asked about where he got his songs. He said, 'I just hold the pen -- God writes the song.' That's how I feel about this one."
-- Randy Lewis
Photo: Alan Jackson performing in Anaheim in 2002, shortly after writing his post-9/11 song "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)." Credit: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times