Today (9.11.2016) marks the 15th anniversary of the horrific terror attacks against the United States. I wasn’t even there (I was living in Portland, Maine on 9.11.2001), and still, I’ll never get those images out of my head, especially when the North Tower of the World Trade Center fell straight down to the ground one hour and 42 minutes after being hit by American Airlines Flight 11, a flight out of Boston, leaving a gaping hole in the New York skyline, and changing thousands upon thousands of lives forever…
My heart broke when I found out that Mohamed Atta, the head highjacker of Flight 11, spent his last night on Earth in South Portland, and flew out of the Portland International Jetport to Boston on 9.11.01. My heart also broke when I learned that David Angell and his wife, Lynn, were on that flight.
David Angell was a writer and producer for my favorite TV show, CHEERS. He was also a co-creator and executive producer for the CHEERS spinoff, FRASIER. The first two shows of FRASIER that year were dedicated to them. David was the only person I “knew” who died as a result of the terror attacks on New York, and when my dear friend Shawn took me to the incredibly moving 9/11 memorial in 2013, I was able to find his and Lynn’s names.
Today, I write this from Seawall (part of Acadia National Park here in Maine), the most peaceful place on the planet for me. The only sounds to be heard are passersby and the sea. And, apart from hurricanes or bad storms, time has no meaning here. Seawall looks the same as it did 40 years ago. Still, I’m reminded of 9.11.01 today, as many of us are, and I’m also reminded of some songs that will forever have an association for me of that day, even though have nothing to do with 9.11 itself.
Those songs include Cyndi Lauper’s 2002 song, “Water’s Edge” (from her SHINE EP) (“Oh, I wish you could wrap yourself around me / I am gripped by a loneliness…”; “I went to the water’s edge and saw my life eclipse / I went to the water’s edge and then felt myself slip / I dreamed that I was floating, just coast until I grew fins / I want to catch this tide back home and feel you again…”).
Sinéad O’Connor’s haunting 1991 cover of Elton John’s “Sacrifice” (from the TWO ROOMS tribute album) is another song that had no connection to 9.11 and yet will always remind me of that day. Her version of the song was played on STUCK IN THE 80s on the Sunday following 9.11.01. Although the song is actually about a breakup of a marriage, whenever I hear her stirring version, I can’t help but still get goose bumps.
Another song played on that 9.11 tribute show (and the tribute show for the 1999 school shootings at Columbine, as well as 2011’s COLD WAR CLASSICS show) was the song that introduced me (and many others in America) to Depeche Mode – “People Are People” (whose video even features military footage from The Cold War).
“People Are People” was originally released on a 1984 North American compilation of the same name to help generate interest for new fans of the band who somehow (like yours truly) missed out on the band’s first three albums. “People Are People” was to be released as part of Depeche Mode’s fourth studio album, SOME GREAT REWARD, later that year, but Sire Records wanted to get a jump start on promoting the song – and the band – to commercial and college radio.
Released in March 1984, “People Are People” was a big hit in the band’s U.K. homeland, reaching No. 4. It also reached the Top 10 in other parts of the world, including Austria, Belgium, Holland, Ireland, Norway, Poland and Switzerland, and spent three weeks at No. 1 in Germany (where it was used as the theme song for the West Germany TV coverage of the 1984 Olympics).
The song attracted an audience on Modern Rock stations and college radio stations here in the U.S., but it took awhile for “People Are People” to gain momentum on commercial radio. Eventually, though, it did. The song finally made its debut on the BILLBOARD Hot 100 in late May 1985, and reached the Top 40 about a month later. It would spend two weeks at No. 13 in August 1985 and also reached the Top 15 in Canada.
Written by Depeche Mode’s principal songwriter, Martin L. Gore, he admits “People Are People” is one of his least favorite DM songs, despite its success, and the song hasn’t been performed live since 1988. It’s been said Martin prefers to have subtle metaphors that allow people to find their own meanings in the songs he writes, and he feels that “People Are People” doesn’t fit that description.
Well, I know at least for me, the song carries a lot of weight. Sure, it’s the song that introduced me to Depeche Mode, so it’s special in that regard, but the reason it has appeared in all of these tribute shows (including the one for 9.11.01) is because of its plea for peace, love and understanding between nations and races and then some…
“People are people so why should it be / You and I should get along so awfully… / So we’re different colours / And we’re different creeds / And different people have different needs / It’s obvious you hate me / Though I’ve done nothing wrong / I never even met you / So what could I have done / I can’t understand / What makes a man / Hate another man / Help me understand…”
Overall, I’d like to think things have changed for the better since 9.11.01, yet there’s still lots more work to be done. But, as I look out at the peaceful sea on this late summer afternoon, on this day of remembrance, an old favorite adage comes to mind – “Why can’t we all just get along?!” Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello asked that question nearly 40 years ago with “(What’s So Funny) ‘Bout Peace, Love And Understanding?” and Depeche Mode asked that question more than 30 years ago with “People Are People.” It’s my hope that maybe one day those questions will be answered, and then I won’t need anyone to help me understand. That continues to be my hope…
Sending my continued thoughts and prayers and peace and love for everyone affected by the 9.11.2001 terrorist attacks against the United States…