On September 11, 2001, the world changed forever with the devastating attacks on both the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” embodied the thoughts and feelings of millions in the wake of the events that took place 10 years ago.
The chorus and melody of “Where Were You…” came to Jackson in the middle of the night several weeks after the 9/11 tragedies. He awoke…sang the words into a recorder and wrote down key elements of the chorus…and completed the lyrics and verses later that same day. Initially reluctant to record the song, he was convinced by family and friends to share it with the world and debuted “Where Were You…” live on national television in early November at the 35th annual CMA Awards.
“Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” embodied the thoughts and feelings of millions in the wake of the 2001 events. Written by Jackson, the song was called “…one of the most touching, powerful songs to come after the tragedies” by USA Today and dubbed “a reflective hymn that Americans will be listening to well into the second half of this century” by Salon.com. The New York Times singled out “Where Were You…” as “one of his finest songs,” and Billboard noted “a multitude of songs have been written and recorded in the wake of September 11, but none captures the myriad emotions unleashed by the terrorist attacks on an unsuspecting nation more perfectly than Jackson’s eloquent ballad.” The song went on to be honored with a Grammy, CMA and ACM Awards.
This year, as part of the national observance of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, Jackson will perform “Where Were You…” at Washington National Cathedral on the evening of Sunday, September 11 as part of an event that will also include remarks by President Barack Obama.
AUDIO: Alan Jackson explains why he feels “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” still resonates with music fans in concert ten years after the events of September 11, 2001.
AJ (Where Were You) 1 OC: …big changes. :50
“At the time, it was very meaningful to people and I felt really good about contributing something. And then I thought it would just fade away and then we’d ease it out of the show, but now I see people out there that I feel like are waiting for that song, you know? I think it’s more than just the 9-11 connection. I mean, the real hook in it is quotes right out of the Bible anyway. And still, at night, it’s one of my biggest songs in the show. It’s hard to follow it, but I see so many that are holding up them lighters and are glad to hear it, and I think are moved by it and glad I did it. And I heard so many stories back during that time when it was happening. People said, ‘Oh, they quit their jobs, and they changed their lifestyles and started going to church and found somebody to marry!’ It was just like all these things that affected…those were big changes!”
AUDIO: Alan Jackson describes how the events of September 11, 2001 impacted him…and talks about writing “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” a few weeks later.
AJ (Where Were You) 2 OC: …same feelings. 1:33
“Well, I don’t know – I think I was probably like most people that were impacted with that day and the months that followed. You know, everybody was glued to the news and television and I think it really affected a lot of people – their perspective on their lives and their jobs and their families and where they were and what they were wanting to do and how they looked at things. And I guess…I mean, that’s what I was thinking, too. And I just pretty much visualized a lot of those scenes and stories I’d heard and seen on television or heard people talk about. The song came out of nowhere in the middle of the night – the chorus did. Just a gift. And I got up and scribbled it down and put the melody down so I wouldn’t forget it, and then the next day I started piecing all those verses together that were the thoughts I’d had or visuals I’d had, and…that was about it. I think it was just really…I had so many people tell me that there’s always a line or something in there that they did, whether it was go to church or pick up their Bible or go see their mother or watch a sunset – I mean, just a lot of things in there people told me that they had actually done those things, so…I guess I was like everybody else, just feeling those same feelings.”
AUDIO: Alan Jackson recalls sharing “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)” with all of us for the first time live on national television during the 35th Annual CMA Awards.
AJ (Where Were You) 3 OC: …meant something. :56)
“It was a tough performance for me. You know, just the whole idea of releasing that song was a little bit tough. I wasn’t sure I wanted to put that out, but everybody convinced me that it was the thing to do…and in retrospect, I agree with that. But, you know, I hadn’t really sung the song much, first of all. It was just in the studio, basically, and when I wrote it…so it’s hard to go out there and sing something new anyway, and just the topic made it nerve-wracking, too. You know, I didn’t think about what was going to happen or anything – we just sang it. And I just remember, other than being relieved that I got through it, I just felt very proud that it seemed to cause a reaction in people…and I was proud that I got to do it, and that it seemed like it meant something.