Tim Tuttle performing his power ballad song cycle, Music From Ground Zero.
Finding catharsis through power chords
By Steven Snyder
Taking the ferry across the Hudson on September 11, drifting slowly away from the devastation, Tim Tuttle whipped out a piece of paper and starting making sense of what he had just seen.
The energy trader, then 43, worked across the street from the World Trade Center. He had friends who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald friends who helped him get a job offer that he almost accepted weeks before the attacks. But on that sunny day, in the shadows of the rising smoke, he fell back on his hobby and passion music and started thinking in terms of lyrics and poetry.
Some of his first words were this: I cant explain the unexplainable, I dont want to even try / I think I saw the unthinkable, is there any dignity in the way you choose to die?
In some ways, it was a comment on the entire day, from the impact of the planes to the burning and falling of the towers. But it was also Tuttles way of processing what he considered to be the most horrific part of the entire day: the workers who found themselves stranded above the craters, forced to cope with a choice of burning or jumping to their deaths.
It had the most impact of anything in my life, he says. I was watching guys jumping out the windows. And I havent seen this written anywhere else, but I saw many jumping in pairs, holding hands and then splitting apart as they fell. I couldnt imagine what it must have been like to be in that place, choosing between the two options they had. I felt like I had to at least capture that awful moment.
Returning to Hoboken, Tuttle says he started playing around with his guitar, trying to put the words to music. Later that night a knock at the door led him to write another song. A new couple had just moved upstairs and the man, who worked at Cantor Fitzgerald, had not yet come home. His girlfriend was worried, Tuttle was devastated, and his thoughts of that man he would never get a chance to know became the inspiration for a song titled Smile.
Soon he was finding inspiration for songs everywhere an experience he deems as his own form of therapy. He would be at work, which now overlooked the rubble, and would think of lyrics as he watched rescue workers remove remains from the ruins. He would see the smiling faces on the missing pictures posted all around downtown and be compelled to write more.
Heck, I couldnt even ride on a subway in October or November of 2001 without thinking of a song.
In the end, he would write nearly 30 songs about that day and its aftermath, about the friends he lost, the future friends he would never get to meet and the families that were forever shattered. His passion attracted other musicians from Hoboken and elsewhere to join the effort, volunteering their time to bring guitar, bass, keyboard and violin to the music.
The songs started evolving into what Tuttle says are rock anthems and power ballads. And when a friend helped him secure time in a recording studio, he put the songs down on a CD which he would not only share with friends at concerts, but would also mail overseas to soldiers in Iraq.
On the first anniversary of the attacks, he performed a selection of the songs to friends and family at the Tribeca Rock Club. The goal, he says, was not to capitalize on the atrocities, or even to get attention for his music or lyrics, but rather to find a way to cut through the mountain of despair and reconnect with the friends who were lost that day.
I didnt want September 11 just to become another Memorial Day or some holiday where we have a Macys day parade and no one really thinks about it, he says, I wanted people to remember in a different way, not just to mourn, but to celebrate who these people were.
The concerts continued in 2003, 2004 and 2005, as both the songs and the crowds grew. And this year, after the closing of the Tribeca Rock Club, Tuttle and company have organized the event in a much larger space The Knitting Factory. For the first time, he is placing advertisements in major newspapers, hoping that enough time has now passed for even more people to come out and remember together. And this year, he says, he plans on giving a short series of speeches all a minute or less to accompany the ballads, helping listeners to understand what inspired him to write each particular song.
Over the last four years, Tuttle says one particular song has stood out as the most moving of the collection. Its called 44 Lights, and the title reflects the number of searchlights used to create the white towers of light that shone above Manhattan in March of 2002.
Tuttle first saw the lights as he drove down the highway from upstate New York and he says he wrote these words in the car: See the lights in the sky tonight / They shine so high, they shine so bright / 3,000 souls we say goodnight / and everything here is gonna be alright.
Tuttle says theres something incredible about performing this song every year for crowds of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans who were overwhelmed with loss five years ago something cathartic about a song thats not about what happened, but about the mere act of remembering.
We all know what happened that day, he says, But we need to remind ourselves of who was there and that we still love them today.
Hear samples of Tuttles songs, and watch videos of a previous performance, at www.musicfromgroundzero.com.