How I Wrote Songs Without a Guitar After 9/11

The frontman for the Old 97s shares never-released demos of the songs he wrote just before and after fleeing his Manhattan apartment. (Also see "About That Day," Rhett Miller's dispatch in the September Atlantic.)

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Never-released demos of songs completed just after 9/11 (right-click to download) *

Lovebird (3:00)
She Loves the Sunset (3:03)

Transcribed from an interview with Jennie Rothenberg Gritz:

On 9/11, after my girlfriend, Erica, and I left our apartment, we stopped to get supplies. I saw a red notebook on the shelf, and I grabbed it and grabbed a pen. Like everything else, all of my notebooks were trapped up in the apartment, and I was looking at an immediate future without being able to write down thoughts or song ideas.

There are a couple of pages in the notebook where I wrote the lyrics to a song called "She Loves the Sunset." To write the song, I had to wait until everybody else left Erica's parents' house. Even though I'm pretty good about writing around other people, I didn't have a guitar. It was the first time I'd been without a guitar since I was 12, so it was just going to be me sitting there singing. And that's weird. 

After everyone was gone, just on a whim, I grabbed a marionette that Erica's parents had brought back from Mexico. It was a man who's holding a percussion instrument called a guiro - it's like a fish that has ridges on it, and he has a stick in the other hand that he rubs across the ridges. The guiro was only a couple of inches long. So I was taking the little stick and moving it across this tiny instrument.

I took what felt to me like a traditional Mexican mariachi-sounding melody, and I wrote the song using that tiny little marionette's hands. Using his hands -- because the instrument didn't detach! I had to be holding the marionette's hands to make it work. 

The only other person in the house was Erica's grandma who, at the time, had just turned 90. She thought I was crazy. But she was very sweet. She could tell that I definitely needed to be doing this weird-looking thing.

*Both audio tracks written by Rhett Miller and performed with Jon Brion

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Rhett Miller is the frontman for the alt-country group the Old 97s.

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