9/11 and Country Music

474085--50f947f8-f83a-4834-923b-94bc8ea26558-posterWhere were you on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, when terrorists associated with the al-Qaeda group flew commercial aircraft into the World Trade Center and Pentagon in what became one of the deadliest and costliest attacks on United States soil? This is the question Alan Jackson asks in one of many country songs that appeared in the years just after the attack (“Where Were You [When the World Stopped Turning]”). As Jackson argues, wherever you were, you probably remember how you received the news. You probably remember feeling torn about how you and the United States should respond.

The early 2000s were an exciting time for country music. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, older songs such as Hank Williams, Jr’s “A Country Boy Can Survive” (1982) and Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” (1984) returned to radio stations, helping Americans through their grief. Artists such as Jackson, Dolly Parton, and Mary Chapin Carpenter wrote songs about reflection and healing, while others such as Toby Keith and Darryl Worley wrote songs that gave vent to the nation’s anger and called for a violent reckoning.

"Fuck You, Toby Keith"

“Fuck You, Toby Keith”

The Dixie Chicks’ “Travelin’ Soldier” (2002), which relates a simple story about a girl waiting for her boyfriend to come home from Vietnam, gained new resonance as President George W. Bush led the country into wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to drive a wedge between al-Qaeda and its political supporters. After the Dixie Chicks’ lead singer, Natalie Maines, criticized the war while performing in London, listeners turned against her, pulling “Travelin’ Soldier” off the radio and essentially ending the band’s short time at the front of the country music industry. Scholars have still not fully assessed the ways that 9/11 and country music interacted in the first decade of this new century—how we learned more about each of them during the process.

In your final projects, you will explore the ways that country music has been used (and continues to be used) to give artists a voice in times of crisis and circumstances of controversy. As the guidelines indicate, you are welcome either to write a new song or compile a list of 8+ already-existing songs that intervene in a present debate. As you undertake this work, I hope you will keep the example of these 9/11 songs in mind. Even country artists who are known for singing about girls, trucks, and booze sometimes take advantage of the rich opportunity the genre provides them to make political statements.

Below, I have linked several songs that (re)appeared after 9/11 and that relate to that topic. Your job in class today is to give three of these songs a close listen and then post a comment identifying some similarities and differences that you notice. Overall, what do you think characterizes songs that responded effectively to the crisis? What lessons, if any, have these examples taught you about writing songs that respond to an issue of intense social importance?

When you have completed this activity, please resume work on your music video. When you have completed the video, export and post it either to YouTube or the class website (using the “media” button). Email Dusty the link to the completed video before class begins next Tuesday, November 25.

Note that the comment you leave today does not count as one of the ten that you are required to make for credit.

“God Bless the U.S.A” (1984) by Lee Greenwood

“America Will Survive” (2001) by Hank Williams, Jr.

“Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” (2001) by Alan Jackson [Read Brittany Fietsam’s song analysis]

“The Angry American (Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue)” (2002) by Toby Keith [read Will Glass’s post about the song]

“The Rising” (2002) by Bruce Springsteen [Read MaKayla Markey’s song analysis]

“Hello God” (2002) by Dolly Parton

“Travelin’ Solder” (2002) by the Dixie Chicks [read Ramie Payne’s song analysis]

“Have You Forgotten?” (2003) by Darryl Worley

“Grand Central Station” (2004) by Mary Chapin Carpenter


Filed under Class work

13 Responses to 9/11 and Country Music

  1. Victoria Horvath

    When listening to “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning),” “The Angry American (Courtesy of The Red, White, and Blue),” and “Have You Forgotten,” you can really feel American pride welling up inside. In fact, it is hard to listen to these songs and not feel patriotic. They give us a unity that we don’t otherwise acknowledge and show that we refuse to let anything or anyone bring down our amazing country. These songs were perfect for after 9/11 because we truly had something to unite for, and it gave us all a purpose. Whether we were soldiers or civilians, we were all Americans, and we were determined to let everyone know that America was not broken.

  2. Jessica Jakobeit

    I think all these songs are interesting because there are all sorts of feelings that people have about America and freedom. For some it is hard to believe that such an event such as 9/11 actually happened. As for myself I feel guilty because I do not remember that day at all. I do not remember my friends freaking out or anything like that. Of course I care about all the people who were hurt and those who tried to help, I was just young. For those who wait for their loved ones to return home from wherever they are deployed, they are the most supportive of the soldiers out their. Two of my best friends have gone through the whole waiting game and not being able to speak to their husbands while they were away. I know that if I was in that situation I would be in as much pain and worry as them. America is such a great country to live in and sometimes we have to step back and remember who are all the great people fighting for it.

  3. Ramie Payne

    The three songs I listened to were “America will Survive,” “Angry American [Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue,” and “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).” The first two of these songs reflect the feelings that many Americans had after 9/11 and the pride they had for America. They discuss how no matter what someone does to the United States, we’ll still be proud and powerful and we won’t back down. The last song, “Where Were You” differs from these songs because it discusses the emotions that the American people felt after the attacks more. Although it is still about America being proud and people coming together to show their pride, it shows that these attacks did affect us in many ways. It tore families apart, destroyed lives, and the country in some aspects. Although these songs are similar in the way that they show American pride, “America will Survive” and “Angry American” discuss how America is still powerful and will make those responsible pay for what they’ve done while “Where Were You” admits that these attacks broke us down some and shows the emotional side more than the other two.

  4. Hannah Parmer

    The three songs I chose were “Have You Forgotten,” “Where Were You,” and “Courtesy of the Red, White, And Blue.” Although the last song by Toby Keith doesn’t necessarily pertain to 9/11, it covers the pride us Americans have or should have. It does mention when America is under attack, and states, “And it feels like the whole wide world is raining down on you, brought to you courtesy of the red, white, and blue.” These lyrics show that America is a united nation and we all come together during times of need. Basically singing to terrorist, “Shame on you, you don’t know what you’re in for.” This situation relates to the songs “Where Were You?” and “Have You Forgotten?” Both of these songs are speaking of 9/11 and how tragic it was for us Americans. Whenever I hear both of these songs I am brought back to all of the movies and films I have seen of 9/11. I was in first grade when this devastating event happened and all I remember is tons of kids being taken out of school that day. These songs not only help America remember the tragic event, but to never forget those who serve our country and lose their lives for our freedom.

  5. Brent Borman

    These songs all attempt to unify the American people in the wake of 9/11. For example, “God Bless the U.S.A.” reminds us that we are blessed enough to be part of a free society. Similarly, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” reminds us that all Americans had some sort of reaction or experience to the tragedy of 9/11, and encourages us to reflect. “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue (The Angry American)” reaches out to the American people, but suggests a more vengeful approach to 9/11. It is apparent that many country musicians have attempted to reach the American people through their songs. But while artists such as Toby Keith demand action and retaliation in response to tragedy, other artists such as Alan Jackson use the opportunity to remind Americans that our love for our country and community is the most powerful tool we have. Similarly, Lee Greenwood uses his music to make us appreciate our way of life and count our blessings.

  6. William Glass

    When listening to a couple of these songs it’s easy to see that they are all very supportive of America and the Freedom that we have. In Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”, I really saw a connection from the speaker to the audience. It was performed inside of a baseball stadium and you could see the emotion on the fans, coaches, and players faces. The message encouraged Americans to keep their faith in the U.S.A., even though it did not mention 9/11 specifically. Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning”, is another slower-paced song that is similar to “God Bless the U.S.A”. He makes it more personal to the audience by asking them where they were on this terrible day. On the other hand, in Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White & Blue”, he speaks about how we should retaliate against the terrorists. The song is more upbeat than the other two and his message is about revenge. It’s different than the first two because he can get his message across by appealing to a different emotion. When hearing this song you want to go get back at the Taliban. When hearing the other two songs the audience realizes the belief we should have for the U.S.A.

  7. Alina Monzon

    The first song that I listened to was Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You”. This song responded to the crisis in a way where the listener could think about where they were when the towers were hit and how they responded. It also repeats the line ” And the greatest is love” which gives listeners hope and brings people together to be thankful for the people that they have but also remember those that are not with us anymore. Toby Keith’s song is more about being proud to be an American and how people should not mess with the US. The song by the Dixie Chicks is more like a personal narrative of someone who knows a person that is a soldier and about being deployed. This song would also be one that people could relate to if they were also in that same situation. All the songs should some degree of patriotism and makes us all unite as a nation.

  8. Amy Burt

    As country music has always been filled with talk about girls, beer, feel-good melodies and storytelling; it has also always been about patriotism. For this reason, I think that’s why country had such a dramatic response to 9/11. The three songs that I analyzed from this blog that pertain to 9/11 were “Travelin’ Soldier”, “The Angry American (Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue)” and also “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)”. The Dixie Chicks sang about having a boyfriend that passed in the war and how she will never hold the hand of another boy. They pulled at the heart strings of listeners by appealing to love. Toby Keith took a different route with his two songs, “The Angry American” went for the more rough and tough appeal that voiced how Americans shouldn’t tolerate what is going on in the world. “Where Were You” is more sentimental and is about the specific moment when the Twin Towers came down and how everyone is going to remember what they were doing because it struck fear in so many Americans.

  9. Gerrit Cook

    I can’t think of many other music genres that take the time to discuss the patriotism that America has. “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” has always been a song that I thought of as patriotic, and it is a good song to rally behind after an event like 9/11. Past songs about patriotism and America can still relate to the feelings that Americans had after 9/11. I think “Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue” is a more aggressive song than “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” and “God Bless the USA.” It talks about fighting back and “lighting up” the people that attacked. I think that a song that shows the aggressive feelings that Americans had is a good thing because it illustrates the desire to get back at those who hurt us. I think all these songs are effectively displaying patriotism, but some of them are better fit for certain times. The slower, more calm songs might fit for a time of mourning, and the Toby Keith song may fit in a time of getting ready to fight back.

  10. Brittany Fietsam

    The three songs I listened to were “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” (2001) by Alan Jackson, “Hello God” (2002) by Dolly Parton, and “Travelin’ Soldier” (2002) by the Dixie Chicks. All three songs were appropriate at the time in response to 9/11. My personal favorite, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” still brings feeling of unity and pride to Americans when listened to today. Dolly Parton may have been trying for the same effect as Jackson, but did not do as good of a job; the song just was not as catchy. “Travelin’ Solder” was soft and sweet and focused on a specific couple’s situation, unlike Jackson’s, where he tried to touch base with everyone’s feelings after 9/11. These songs are good examples of appropriate songs written in response to terrible situations. The softness and lyrics helped comfort the hurting nation.

  11. Lejla Pracic

    All of these songs make a reference to a very important time in American history. September 11, 2001 was a very tragic day in the United States. Some of these songs, more than others, do a great job of brining the American people together. I really like the Alan Jackson song because it really reflects on the tragedy and let’s the listener think back to that day. It shows how everyone’s lives changed after that day and how the smaller things, like hugging your kids a little tighter, became so much more important. There is a lot of American pride in these songs. It gives you the feeling that no matter what happens the Red, White, and Blue will always stand strong. I have to say I am not the biggest fan of the Dolly Parton song, however she did do a similar song to Alan Jackson’s. We will always have songs like these to remind us of that day in American history. It is something that the American people will never forget. These songs will always be here to remind us of this very unfortunate event but will also show us that American pride will forever remain.

  12. Zane Gurwitz

    For the most part I was pretty familiar with most of these songs. One thing I noticed is that pretty much all the songs contain a slow and somber melody. “God Bless the USA,” “Travelin Soldier,” “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning,” and “Hello God” all have a slow melody and really build up to a very strong chorus. They all show strong affections towards our soldiers and love for the USA. You can tell that all of these songs are very emotional and are taken to heart. I believe these songs will always be heard and remembered just as 9/11 will be.

  13. Michael Casarez

    Dusty, i remember the day this happened and the following uproar in all aspects of american life. “America will Survive” and “God Bless the USA” are two songs that i remember very well from this event. They are very good representations of what the nation was feeling at this time of tragedy. You can feel the pride welling up inside of you when you listen to these songs and i think thats what they are supposed to do. In this respect these songs succeed very well at what there job was in getting Americans to rally together to face the tragedy and troubling times ahead. Thank you for sharing these songs dusty!

Leave a Reply