9/11: The Stage is a Sacred Place

9/11: The Stage is a Sacred Place September 11, 2015

Around the end of the summer in 2001, I landed a weekly happy hour gig at Leadbetters, Baltimore’s best dive bar for music. I’d knock off from the day job early on Tuesdays, come down to Fells Point, and play to a mostly empty bar for a few hours. Even in Fells Point, Baltimore’s drinking district, there were not a lot of people in the bars at 4pm on Tuesday.

Except once. Because September 11th was a Tuesday.

I was sure that no one would want to hear music that day. I wasn’t sure the bar would even be open.

But I didn’t want to be alone.

So I drove downtown, through deserted streets, past Baltimore’s own modest World Trade Center building and the hastily assembled barricades of dump trucks that surrounded it (there were rumors of a pending attack there),and got down to Leadbetters to find a crowded bar. No one else wanted to be alone that day either, and many workplaces closed. So the bar was full of frightened people.

And the manager asked me to play.

I don’t know if you’ve ever stood on a stage and been the focus of attention during a national emergency. It’s kind of intense. It was a heck of way to learn about the energetics of performance, but it drove the lesson home: the stage — any stage, one as simple as the corner of a dive bar — is a sacred place, the parabolic focus of human hopes and fears and emotions we can’t even name. And to stand in that focus is a terrible and exhilarating thing.

Image credit Wikipedia user Ryan.brownell.
Image credit Wikipedia user Ryan.brownell.

 

I made more in tips that afternoon than I have before or since.

A few years later, I wrote a song about that experience, “No Words of Wisdom”. You can find it on my free demo, Lo Fi, No Talent.)

The part about the Marines is true, there were two young guys there on leave who knew they were about to be recalled to duty. The younger of the pair was all gung-ho and ready to kick ass but his few-years-older buddy seemed to grasp that it was going to be a mess.

I think of them every time this anniversary rolls around, as I think too of Sensei Captain Pat Brown, NYFD, a Seido Karate black belt who I’d met once or twice and who died trying to save others that terrible day; and Charles Falkenberg, a former co-worker of mine who, along with his wife and children, was on the plane that hit the Pentagon.

“No Words of Wisdom”
Tom Swiss

Everybody’s looking at me
They ask me to sing and play
But I’ve got no words of wisdom
For a day like today

I came down here with my guitar
To help you pass the time
We could have a drink and have some fun
And sing these songs of mine

Now everybody’s looking at me
They ask me to sing and play
But I’ve got no words of wisdom
For a day like today

Now the shit has hit the fan
And I’m the one on stage
What am I supposed to say
To all this fear and rage?

Everybody’s looking at me
They ask me to sing and play
But I’ve got no words of wisdom
For a day like today

On the TV above the bar
We watch the towers fall
We sit and we wonder, “Is this the time
For the ending of it all?”

And the lovely lady behind the bar
Asks me to sing and play
But I’ve got no words of wisdom
For a day like today

Two fine young men, they’re U.S. Marines
Sitting there at the bar
Soon they’ll have to go and fight
They put money in my tip jar

Me, I try to be a peaceful man
But what the hell can I say?
I’ve got no words of wisdom
For a day like today

If there is a god, I do not know
What he thinks of us down here
The best I can do, is suggest

We all have another beer

Everybody’s looking to me
To soothe their minds when I play
But I’ve got no words of wisdom
For a day like today


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Saturday, September 12, I will be performing in the Gathering for Everything that’s Left, the Jay Houston Marx Memorial Peace Demonstration in DC.

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