My gig at the World Trade Center, remembering September 11

Looking back on September 11, 2001, I know I am not the first to think of it as a catastrophic tragedy comparable to the Sack of Rome in the 16th century. But, today, as I reminisce about the gigs I played at The Greatest Bar on Earth — 1 World Trade Center, NY NY 10048, on the top floor of the north tower — I realize that, like the Sack of Rome, the tragedy of 9/11 marks a cultural watershed: it’s as if our frenetic quest to document our lives through digital images and information began after September 2001 (in the same way that art historians and literary scholars point to the Sack of Rome as a cultural turning point, when there was an overarching shift in our self-awareness).

And so I dug up some old photos and fliers from my pre-9/11 world when my band (above) was still called Les Sans Culottes (today Nous Non Plus).

Back then, we played at The Greatest Bar on Earth nearly once a month.

Remember the World Famous Pontani Sisters? We did a lot of shows there together, with the Pontanis on stage with us. “Wear go-go boots and a miniskirt and get in free!” That pretty much sums up the spirit of those days in New York. We played some wild shows back then.

Those were wild, fun years in my life, when I was still in my early thirties and had moved to NYC just a few years previously. Back then, my day gig was writing about wine for La Cucina Italiana. The band played roughly 50 gigs a year in NYC, where we had a great following. It was a super fun time (look at the other bands that were playing the Bowery Ballroom, above, where we often were the headliners). Seems like a lifetime ago now. It was…

On my September 11, I awoke in Brooklyn and learned that something had happened — although I didn’t know yet what — when I called a colleague in TriBeCa to confirm a 9 a.m. morning meeting. I didn’t have a TV back then. And so I tuned in NPR on WNYC on my Mac over the internet. As soon as what was happening sunk in, I picked up the phone and called my mother who was still sleeping in California, three hours behind NYC time.

“Mom, sorry to wake you.”

“That’s okay, honey.”

“Something’s happened in New York. Something bad. I’m not going to be able to call you later. But I’m calling to let you know that I’m okay.”

“Okay, honey. Thanks for calling.”

She hung up and fell back asleep. The whole world had changed.

By the end of the day, singed shards of paper, business documents, rained gently down on my neighborhood in Park Slope, fluttering as they fell back to earth. I’ll never forget that image.

I was very lucky that I didn’t head into the city that day. I would have been on the 2 or 3 train, passing under the WTC.

G-d bless all the people who suffered and lost and gave their lives that day.

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