On Sept. 21, 2001, just 10 days after 9/11, a hastily assembled telethon raised more than $200 million for the United Way’s 9/11 fund. U2, Neil Young, Mariah Carey, Billy Joel and many others performed, and Bruce Springsteen opened the show with a powerful, hymn-like song, “My City of Ruins,” that seemed written for the occasion.
Springsteen introduced the song as “a prayer for our fallen brothers and sisters,” and sang of “a blood red circle/On the cold dark ground” and “the boarded-up windows/The empty streets.” He implored, in the choruses, “Come on, rise up!”
Only the song was not written after 9/11. Springsteen — who turns 65 today — had actually debuted it nearly a year before, at two holiday shows at Asbury Park’s Convention Hall — saying the city he was singing about was his adopted hometown of Asbury Park. He also performed it in August 2001 at a surprise appearance at the Clearwater Music Festival in Asbury Park.
Still, it had not been recorded at that point, so very few people watching the telethon had heard it, and undoubtedly thought it was newly written.
In 2002, Springsteen included the song on his album, The Rising, alongside material that was indeed written in response to 9/11, so “My City of Ruins” became even more strongly associated with that day. It remains a staple of his concerts, often providing the evening’s most emotionally intense moment.
New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday in 2014. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we marked the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, from September 2014 to September 2015 — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. To see the entire list, click here.
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