Sickened by the cynical McCarthyism of ABC's "Path To 9/11" - I was trying to find something uplifting to help deal with the inevitable shroud of gloom that is descending as the wall-to-wall coverage of the 9/11 anniversary cranks into high gear. Something Arianna posted on Sunday about the incredible spirit that developed spontaneously in the days immediately after 9/11 triggered a memory.
Like I'm sure everyone reading and writing on HuffPo - on that fateful day and its aftermath back in 2001 - I found myself sending and receiving a plethora of emails to and from pals and strangers. Sharing experiences, offering consolation, seeking understanding of this tragedy that was beyond comprehension.
I found strength from them. And found myself forwarding them to other friends. I discovered that this was a very common phenomenon in those first few days.
I was comparatively new to the internet, and my webmaster suggested that instead of constantly circulating the latest messages by email - it might be interesting to put them on what he told me was called a "blog". Luddite as I was - I was clueless but agreed to do so. I sent him the emails (as a courtesy first removing private email addresses) and he placed them on a primitive blog.
I included emails from pals - some of whose names would mean nothing to others - but whose words were eloquent and moving. And some from pals whose names are well known - who, like everyone else, were reaching out to their friends.
I decided that I needed a title for this new-fangled "blog."
Within a few hours of the attacks it was assumed that bin Laden or some Islamic terrorist group was behind it. Almost immediately the singer Cat Stevens - who had taken up the Islamic faith - and the name Yusuf Islam - decided to post a message on his website about the attacks.
I had worked with him a few lifetimes ago in the 1970s so I was anxious what he would say. I remembered his reported support in the 1980s for the fatwa on Salman Rushdie that led to a banning of his music in the US - and Natalie Merchant's band 10,000 Maniacs ordering a recall of an album that featured their cover of his song "Peace Train."
It seemed in those first days after 9/11 that we might be heading for a religious war between Islam and other faiths. So what would this man born and raised in the Greek Orthodox faith who had converted to Islam and who understood BOTH worlds - have to say?
His words were moving. He unequivocally condemned the attacks and expressed sorrow for the American people. He also made clear that the acts of the terrorists were contrary to the true meaning of Islam.
With that in mind - I decided to name this "blog" after his song "Peace Train". The message of that song I figured would be more important now than it had ever been.
I kept adding new messages and entries for about a week. And then it tapered off as the initial shock subsided. The last thing I added was a second heartfelt message from Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam. That seemed to be the right place to end it.
In the wee hours of this long Sunday night, I suddenly remembered it. And wondered if the primitive blog that my webmaster had set up was still there?
I did a quick search of my website and discovered that it was still sitting in the same location. Just like the Marie Celeste - abandoned five long years ago - with everything just as it had been... Our fears, hopes and innocence splayed out - transparent and naked. A message in a bottle that we unwittingly sent to our future selves...
Poignant messages from Twin Tower survivors... written snapshots of Ground Zero... achingly beautiful poetry and prose... pleas for peace.... exhortations for vengeful war... a poem written in New York by W. H . Auden on the eve of World War II... another poem - written by Thomas Hardy on the sinking of the Titanic.... thoughts from anonymous strangers, close pals, former lovers, casual acquaintances. Thought-provoking sentiments from two of my Python pals Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones... Support and love for America from two eminent British musical figures - Pete Townshend and George Martin....
Reading it tonight has brought back a veritable flood of emotions. And reminded me of the spirit that prevailed worldwide five years ago - that as Arianna notes - was then shamefully squandered and that we need back so desperately.
I have no idea if the time capsule of that "Peace Train" blog from five years ago will be of interest to anyone. But just in case anyone is curious - I am providing a link to it. Cat Stevens/Yusum Islam postings et al. His lyrics lead us there...
Now I've been crying lately
Thinking about the world as it is
Why must we go on hating
Why can't we live in bliss?
'Cause out on the edge of darkness
There rides a peace train
Oh peace train take this country
Come take me home again...
Climb on the Peace Train here...
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...CatStevens was one of the most successful singer/songwriters of the first half of the 70s, and several of his soft, romantic, and sometimes mystical singles were Top 10 hits. After eight gold albums in a row, his star began to fade, and in the late '70s, following a near-drowning, he converted to Islam, changed his name to Yusef Islam, and dropped out of music. The son of a Greek father and Swedish mother, Stevens spent his early youth developing a love of Greek folk songs and dances. By the time he entered secondary school, he had also taken an interest in rock & roll and English and American folk music. While attending Hammersmith College in the mid-'60s, he began writing his own songs and performing solo. In 1966 independent producer Mike Hurst (formerly with the Springfields) produced Stevens' first U.K. hit single, "I Love My Dog." In 1967 "Matthew and Son" went to #2 on the British chart. Meanwhile, Stevens' tunes were British hits for other performers as well. P.P. Arnold hit with "The First Cut Is the Deepest" (later covered by Rod Stewart), the Tremeloes with "Here Comes My Baby." Stevens toured England and Europe, becoming something of a teen idol, and shared bills with Jimi Hendrix and Engelbert Humperdinck, among others. But Stevens became disenchanted with what he considered the shallowness of his ventures. After his 1968 hit "I'm Gonna Get Me a Gun"...