Beware the 9/11 Tribute Song

The 9/11 attacks spawned a cottage industry of tribute songs. They don't hold up well.

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The 9/11 attacks spawned a veritable cottage industry of tribute songs surrounding that fateful day in September. But ten years later, do we still value this patriotic subgenre? A review of recent and longstanding tribute songs reveals a brand of music plagued by pitfalls. Here's why artists should beware the 9/11 tribute:

Joe Scarborough "Reason to Believe" The former Republican Congressman and MSNBC host's late entry into the 9/11 tribute game today had a number of pitfalls. Salon's Alex Pareene probably puts it best:

I'm sure this was all meant with the best possible intentions, or at least done without the intention of actively harming anyone, but there are few things on this earth grosser than the vanity projects of millionaires. It is sort of immediately apparent to anyone not living in a bubble of celebrity that commemorating the tenth anniversary of a national tragedy by releasing a crappy charity country single is incredibly narcissistic and gross behavior. At some point, probably before Scarborough shelled out money for studio time, someone should have stopped this from happening. No one besides Joe Scarborough has any interest in Joe Scarborough's dabbling in country music. There was no demand for it. The only "awareness" it raises is awareness of Joe Scarborough's desire to branch out a little.

And why on earth is MSNBC promoting this? If Chris Matthews wrote a 9/11 screenplay would MSNBC film it? It's just weird.

Toby Keith "Courtesy Of The Red, White And Blue" In this brooding, post-9/11 country anthem, Keith depicts himself as a tough guy, saying  "We'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way" and "This big dog will fight when you rattle his cage. And you'll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A" The schoolyard my-dad-can-beat-up-your-dad lyrics allegedly got the country singer booted from an ABC 4th of July TV special in 2002 because the late Peter Jennings "heard the song and vetoed it." He wasn't the only one it rubbed the wrong way. The song got Keith his own Facebook page demanding he "Stop Exploiting 9/11 For Your Financial Gain" and an inclusion in the Uncyclopedia under "How to: Exploit 9/11." Behold its truculent glory:

Alan Jackson "Where Were You" When even CNN is asking if your song is "tacky," you know you're in trouble. This song's downfall might just be its blunt honesty: "I watch CNN but I'm not sure I can tell you the difference between Iraq and Iran." Get a map or something!

Bruce Springsteen "The Rising" No modest target, Springsteen's "The Rising" is perhaps the most celebrated 9/11 tribute song to date. In 2002, A.O. Scott deemed the Boss the "poet laureate of 9/11" for the album's uncanny grasp on the "tangle of feelings—horror, grief, and rage, but also resolve, resilience, and solidarity—that that day left in its wake." But the review was 9 years ago. Given the benefit of hindsight, Gawker's John Cook points out the flaw of writing a stadium-style rocker about 9/11:

Springsteen tried his Bard of the Jersey Turnpike routine on something that was epically large and unspeakably horrid, something that needed no mythologizing. The result is a mawkish assortment of cliches. There is blood—red blood—in the street, and emptiness in the sky, and hands are held, and spirits are touched...

If there's art to be found in the carnage of 9/11, it is at the periphery, among the ordinary and the living. Nobody alive knows what it was like to march to their death on 9/11. And a relative few know what it was like to lose a loved one on that day. Anthemic stadium-chants about those losses are empty exercises.

Lastly, few have made a more scathing satire on the trend of country music 9/11 tributes than The Onion. (It's not a bad comment on Red state-Blue state angst either).

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.