For a day with such a monumental impact on American culture and politics, current college undergraduates have a hard time understanding or placing 9/11 into the context of our lives. Having been far too young to remember, but growing up in its decades-long shadow, it sets up an interesting contradiction. It ripples throughout almost every piece of media we consume - from the nationalistic attitude in our middle school "Call of Duty" shooters to just about any sitcom set in New York. Its impact is gargantuan in any conversation about politics or world relations. While the feelings of terror on the day-of are as self-explanatory as they are horrifying, understanding the cultural impact it had on New York City in the following weeks, months, and even years can help this new generation understand the real, personal side of the story and why it resulted in the massive societal shift it did.
Julian Casablancas and The Strokes headlined the immediate response with their 2001 album "Is This It." While actually released in July, this new brand of rock and roll from the New York City natives gave the city a chance to kick back against everything surrounding them. The music itself isn’t violent or destructive, but rather surprisingly simplistic and delivered with almost spoken-word apathy. To borrow a phrase from the New York TImes (NYT), the early 2000s music scene was a sort of new-wave of emo with an aesthetic of “narcissism, privilege, misogyny, and self-pity." "Is This It" embraces the groups of young people taking an upbeat approach to, or blatantly trying to forget about, coming under direct attack months prior.
The wave of music started by The Strokes was also massively influential. It paved the way for a list of bands and artists, like Will Toledo, Franz Ferdinand, Vampire Weekend, Arctic Monkeys, the Black Keys, The Killers, and many more, as well as giving Casablancas a career that still has him appearing on albums. If you’ve ever listened to MGMT or heard some anemic and vaguely British-sounding rock band singing about how they’ve been "Coming out of my cage and I've been doing just fine," you’ve been a part of this music that has its roots in post-9/11 culture too.
However, you can only scream for so long. There was an opportunity for a band to tap into the melancholy that undercut the scene that Casablancas had carved out for himself. That’s exactly what Interpol did with their 2002 debut album "Turn On the Bright Lights," a grim tour-de-force in repeating guitars and drumming. The album’s second single, aptly titled "NYC," covers how empty and dirty and deserted the streets of the boroughs both looked and felt in the early aughts. Undercutting the ballad is the contrasting refrain, "It’s up to me now, turn on the bright lights / New York Cares." Despite the admittedly dank times they lived in, the people of New York City knew they were part of something great, that was great before, and would be great again. The peculiar attitude of "Bright Lights" acknowledged this but spoke to the city’s present mood that even though things have been better, and will get better, today just sucks.
LCD Soundsystem is an electronic group headed by James Murphy and Nancy Whang that got their roots in the New York music scene at the same time as Casablancas and Interpol. However, their most poignant album "Sound of Silver" didn’t drop until 2007. Murphy and Whang were able to witness the city evolve in the half-a-decade between encapsulating the city as “f*****g horrible and I thought that was the most exciting thing in the world” to singing about how far it had fallen. The album goes so far as to title its closing heart throbber “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down.” To them, Giuliani and Bloomberg had sanitized and scrubbed squeaky-clean the city they had once loved, unconditionally, as-it-was. Desperate for control, the city turned more into an attraction and tourist hub than a place for actual people to comfortably live. He laments on missing a city that was "filthy but fun," now roasting a city with cops who were "bored because they’d run out of crime." In the aftermath of 9/11, more than anything, LCD Soundystem missed the older, simpler days. Of course they still love their resident city, but constantly cross-referencing with a (seemingly better) past is always going to bring you down.
Understanding the culture of New York City in the aftermath of 9/11 is a crucial step to examining the national reaction to those tragic events, and, in a grand sense, placing the events of September 11, 2001 into our lives. Even if dated rock and roll isn’t the most exact or political way to look back, getting a grip on the the pulse of a nation at a tumultuous time before our lives is an opportunity that ought not to be passed up. It’s not like we have actual memories to remember it by, anyways.