I feel so much loss. It’s September 12th, 2014, thirteen years after the terror attacks that I witnessed while living in New York City.
I kept a media blackout in my home and my heart yesterday. I don’t want any more images of those burning buildings to flash before my eyes. I don’t want to remember.
At the same time, it was a a day where everything in my life changed and deserves reflection. It turns out that my life has changed for the better.
First, I survived what I could never have imagined – watching 3,000 people die before my eyes and having military planes flying over my apartment building. Also, living under red alert for three years afterward.
Today, I am playing one of my favorite songs over and over – FREE BIRD by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Ironically, many of the band members on this recording perished in a plane crash early in their career, shortly after their iconic song was recorded.
“I’m as free as a bird now, and this bird you cannot change.”
I think that I love this song because I have found that tragedy has not changed my core. I am who I am.
That is a profound realization. When I was growing up in the 1970’s in central New Jersey, FREE BIRD was very popular. Every band played it at every school dance. That was the climax of the evening. It was on the radio.
So were songs by Bruce Springsteen. I didn’t like him at the time, but now I love him. As Jersey-grown artists, we came from the same place. There was a crazy energy then – a wild, “let’s do it” attitude, with a heavy rocker attitude. In my heart, I identify with that spirit and I have it inside of me still, after all these years.
Positioned in between New York City and Philadelphia, central Jersey was about as middle of the road and as forgettable as it was possible to be, especially in the mid-70’s, a decade of transition. But somehow, I now find that the spirit of that time was more vibrant and enduring than I could ever have imagined. I grew strong in that environment. We had passion. We had drive. I wanted to get out of Jersey, go to the big city with the shining towers and do something great with my life.
The beauty, transparency and purity of that decade shines through in many songs, like BORN TO RUN, FREE BIRD, and DREAM ON. Rockers are poets, musicians, and prophets.
In my life, I’m a gentle writer and artist. In my soul, I’m a rocker. Who is better than a rocker to face life’s challenges?
I think that everyone is a rock star inside. When push comes to shove, we all have a core which allows us to survive, and even to thrive.
Although I feel the loss, and the pain of others who lost loved ones on September 11th, I really feel the redemption, the rebirth, and a determined hope that was not taken from me.
Maybe it can’t be taken from any of us unless we give it up. I’m too stubborn and feisty to give up my hope for the sake of another person, or any other reason.
I got out of Jersey, I still love New York City, and I still love FREE BIRD. I’m still running, flying and dreaming. Rock on!
FREE BIRD lyrics © Ronnie Van Zant and Allen Collins