How I Wrote Songs Without a Guitar After 9/11

More

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.)

sunset-small.jpg

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

sunset2.jpg

Jump to comments
Presented by

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

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

What makes a story great? The storytellers behind House of CardsThis American LifeThe Moth, and more reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

Just In