The Making of We’ll Carry On

Oh these stories will take some time to write!! First of all, I have been running a monthly songwriter’s night at the Cornelia Street Café since Dec 2000. After 9.11 we had several songwriter’s nights which I turned into benefit concerts. I started volunteering in September, first at Pier 40 and later at WTC Ground Zero Relief. I would often bring fliers for the songwriter’s benefits to the Spring Street warehouse. In December of 2001 a firefighter came into the warehouse, saw the flier, and mentioned to me that he knew several ‘brothers’ who were songwriters, and suggested I contact some of them. I thought that was a great idea, but one that might be a little premature as from what I could see and feel, everyone was still reeling from 9.11. I started to consider turning one of the songwriter’s beat nights into a night of firefighter songwriters. I mentioned this idea to Suzanne at Cornelia Street, and said I thought as 3.11 would be the 6th month anniversary, perhaps we could plan an extra concert for that night. I made up a few fliers, and started looking for songwriters. I first sent out an email to the musicians and songwriters I know in NYC, and then a larger email to my email list. I had no idea I would receive such a powerful response from people, and so many songs and poems.

I started to listen, and listen and listen.

In late December 2001 I was at a meeting with Rhonda Roland Shearer and London Allen of WTC Ground Zero Relief, and several members of the PAPD and NYPD ESU to discuss what kind of cold weather gear and safety equipment which would be preferred, if we could get the money donated by a foundation to purchase it. At the end of the meeting I approached Lt. William Keegan and asked him if by any chance he knew any poets or songwriters in the Port Authority Police Department, because I was just beginning to put the 3.11 tribute concert together (I had no idea this idea would evolve into two full concerts, a book and so far, one CD with others in the works). Lt. Keegan sighed and said that the PAPD lost a songwriter/poet on 9.11. I said I was sorry my question elicited such a sad response. Lt. Keegan then said, “But there’s someone else though you should talk to, named Norma Hardy, she has written a poem that has been read at many services already. Let me call her right now”. He then tried three different numbers for Norma, and left messages for her at all three locations. A few hours later Norma called me, and we met later that night at Hogs and Heifers (my first time there…), where she gave me a copy of “The Men”. As soon as I read it, I knew I wanted to put it to music. The problem was, I lost my voice for most of Dec, Jan and Feb.

Though I was experimenting with chords and melodies in my head, I couldn’t begin to sing it and really work on the song until early March. By March 11th, I had barely finished the arrangement and sang it for the first time (still a bit hoarse) at the first tribute concert.

I recorded The Men at Battery Studios in April 18, 2002. Until that day I had no idea how long the song was. It was a poem put to music, so it was different from anything else I had ever recorded. I just followed the words, and the music flowed from them. It all came from the words. Thank you Norma for your brilliance in putting these words on paper. Thanks to Tamara at Battery for making this recording a reality. And thanks to Rich Tapper for just putting me into record and letting three takes just roll by. And special thanks to Lt. Keegan, without him I don’t know if I would have ever met Norma Hardy. A few nights before recording the song Norma told me about some of the PAPD officers lost that day, the poet, the preacher, the prankster, the friend. I thought of them as I sang.

By now the submissions of songs and poems for the tribute concerts were coming in daily, and I was swamped with emailing people, listening, trying to figure out what exactly I wanted to do here with this music and how best to handle such a sensitive subject. I wanted to include everyone. We added another night at Cornelia Street, March 25th, to try and include everyone, but more and more submissions came in. I started to prepare a booklet of all the songs and poems that had been submitted, and soon realized I had to make the difficult decision to make, for the most part, to limit the submissions to the people who were performing.

–Valerie Ghent