A few days after September 11, 2001 I was in Grand Central subway station waiting for the number 7 train. There is a very long, narrow escalator from the street to the platform that has to be one of the deepest and steepest in the system. When you reach the platform you know you are in the bowels of the earth.The mood in New York was black, hopeless, and we were all walking around numb, It was particularly disturbing for me to be in the subway because all I could think of were the people in the trains who’d died at World Trade Center station, many trapped for a long time, and I felt like I was asphyxiating.

While we were waiting for the train to come–and of course the trains were running very infrequently–this young man maybe about twenty positioned himself on the bottom step of a staircase near me that had several levels leading upstairs and started playing a ratty old acoustic guitar. He was scruffy and scraggly with dirty long hair like the buskers you used to see back in the day before Giuiiani had transformed the city into a heaven for financial and dotcom yuppies who did things like go on wine-tasting weekends to Tuscany, with sidewalks so spanking clean you could eat off of them. So you never saw gritty buskers like that anymore, in fact busking was illegal, as was putting your feet up on a park bench you were sitting on and much more, to protect our “quality of life”. 

The song he played was “Stairway to Heaven”. If you didn’t grow up in the States, especially if you weren’t a teen in the 70’s I don’t know if you can possibly understand how overplayed that song has been. How every fourteen year old who got his first guitar would proudly play it until it got to be like wallpaper. This kid was doing a simple version. He had a thin, unremarkable voice. But there was somethng about his earnestness and I started to listen to him carefully. I think I was the only one who paid any attention to him. He had no cup or hat, nothing to collect money in, and I realized he wasn’t from New York and had come here after the disaster along with a small army of alternative kids to give us something. A gift to our now devastated plastic city.

He played. I listened. “Cuz you know sometimes words have two meanings. In my thoughts I have seen rings of smoke through the screen and the voices of those who stand looking”. I stood looking. I think it was the first time I felt anything since I heard about the Towers. 

“Dear lady can you hear the wind blow and did you know your stairway lies on the whispering wind.” I realized he had  positioned himself on the staircase for a reason.  “And there’s a wind on down the road, our shadows longer than our souls.” My shadow felt longer than my soul, but what was the wind on down the road? “And if you listen very hard, the tune will conquer you at last…”

I understood what he was trying to give us. He was trying to remind us that the long stairway led to the street, to the sunlight, and that the disaster could be a wake up call. But that if there wasn’t a shift in consciousness that there would be many more World Trade Centers all over the world. But that if we really wanted to we could get there, “when all is one and one is all”. My train came.

I understood that his gift to us was a song of hope.

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From time to time I’ve wanted to write about that day. I have no idea why I decided to do it last night. Now almost eight years later we have youtube. I could not believe the power of Robert Plant. (Of course there’s Jimmy Paige’s lead guitar line but I’m talking about something very specific). I had never seen Led Zeppelin in concert or on film. Plant seems, perhaps like Morrison and Roger Daltry, to embody the angelic within the demonic. And the version of the song too that the busker gave me that day while I was waiting for the 7 train. A little bit of the angels in the bowels of hell.


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google has its advantages and drawbacks. My nimble little fingers soon found out that last year Plant won a Grammy with his partner for the following song. So I guess it really remains an open question: Is there hope for the future after all? Anyway, here, have a piece of cheese:


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