Sometimes a song perfectly captures an experience before it happens. When Bruce Springsteen kicked off a national 9/11 telethon in 2001 with “My City of Ruins” 10 days after the World Trade Center was toppled, many music fans thought the Boss was inspired to write the song after the worst terrorist attack on American soil.
But Springsteen crafted the moving song the previous year. The New Jersey icon was moved to write “My City of Ruins” about his beloved Asbury Park, which was in shambles for decades.
Springsteen debuted the tune during a Christmas show at Asbury Park’s Convention Hall. After tearing up the intimate hall with a number of raveups, Springsteen brought fans to tears with the heartfelt track.
A number of quarantine songs were created before the novel coronavirus placed the music industry and the world on pause. “We’re All in This Together Now” is the “My City of Ruins” of the pandemic. Americana icon Rosanne Cash and her pal, the underheralded John Paul White, collaborated on the gorgeous and apt “We’re All in This Together Now” in 2019.
“John Paul and I have been friends for years, and early on we awkwardly tossed the idea of writing a song together, but we never got around to it,” Cash said in a statement. “The last few years have been tough. I wanted to find a little corner of community, some instinct toward unity.
“It was hard to find, so I figured I’d have to write it. Last year, I wrote these lyrics and sent them to John Paul. He wrote this gorgeous melody so quickly. I was so moved. But the song didn’t fit on my last record, and it didn’t fit on his last record, so it sat there waiting for just the right moment.”
The timing for the Grammy winners arrived, and the prophetic lyrics Cash penned perfectly suit this unprecedented time in history. “I love you like a brother / And I don’t know you at all / Heard your voice across the wire / And I never thought you’d call / So, hold tight the sword, hold fast the sail / ’Cause we need be taken down / It’s a lonely world / It’s our only world / We’re all in this together now.”
Proceeds from the purchase of “We’re All in This Together Now” will benefit Music Health Alliance. On the other side of “We’re All in This Together Now” is Brad Paisley’s playful “No I in Beer.” (Not to be a buzz kill, but there is an “i” in Germany’s bier.) The party anthem of the quarantine was written in 2018.
“It’s interesting because when I wrote the song, it didn’t have this large-scale, overarching theme of unity,” Paisley said in a statement. “Well, it did, but it didn’t have this feeling that it has now. I did have to change a few things, like the original opening line. ‘There’s a bunch of people coming over,’ well, that wouldn’t work.
“And the last chorus (‘Yeah, to the farmers and the first responders / To the truck drivers shiftin’ gears / Every nurse that needs a break, let me buy you a drink / There ain’t no ‘I’ in beer”) is a shoutout to the people who are keeping this country going. ‘We’re all in this together / There ain’t no ‘I’ in beer.’ Three months ago, that’s just a, ‘Yay, let’s party.’ Now it’s like a defiant, rallying cry.”
There are a number of other notable quarantine songs that were written prior to 2020, such as the Rolling Stones’ well-constructed “Living’ in a Ghost Town” and Haim’s “I Know Alone,” which was inspired by the sister act’s loneliness while touring.
And then there are a number of songs that were written after the lockdown such as Luke Combs’ “Six Feet Apart,” which mentions all of the little things, the hugs, sitting in the stands at ballgames, that we miss. Bon Jovi’s “Do What You Can” was written after the New Jersey rock star asked fans for ideas.
The Drive-by Truckers’ “Quarantine Together,” penned by the witty and cerebral Patterson Hood, is one of the more amusing quarantine tracks and considerably lighter than the material from their latest album, “The Unraveling.”
“I’ve written the happiest song I’ve ever written, and it’s about the quarantine,” vocalist-guitarist Hood said while calling from his Portland home. “It’s the closest I’ve written to a bubblegum song. It’s the first thing we put out after ‘The Unraveling,’ which is a pretty dark album.
“I wrote it during the end of the first week of quarantine (mid-March). Our tour got canceled. I flew to Indianapolis, and we were two songs into the soundcheck and the show was canceled. I’ve been home ever since. The only time I’ve been out is to go to the supermarket.”
The world of music has come through once again during a time of crisis, just like it did during 1984 when Band Aid raised funds for African relief and in 2001 when a number of musicians were inspired to write songs in the wake of 9/11.
“Songs are good for whoever needs them,” Springsteen said during a post 9/11 benefit in Red Bank, New Jersey, a month after the tragedy occurred. That’s something that will never change.
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