If Memory Serves
My first trip to NYC
Happy Memorial Day weekend. It has me thinking about my father who passed away a little over a month ago. He flew Huey helicopters in Vietnam and his prostate cancer was linked to being exposed to agent orange back then.
My heart goes out to anyone who has lost loved ones who have served.
Thank you to all the new subscribers who have joined recently. I hope you enjoy this week’s story.
Here we go.
It was roughly 2:00 am in early October 2001—about a month after 9/11.
I parked my band’s van and we checked into our hotel in New York City just around the corner from the Ed Sullivan Theater where they filmed Late Show with David Letterman at the time. We were in town to play a show the next night.
It was late but we weren’t tired. No, we were excited. And hungry. So we hit the pavement and walked down Broadway toward Times Square in search of a pizza joint to grab a late-night slice.
For many of us, myself included, it was our first time visiting NYC. I remember the bright lights of the city still flashing in those wee hours of the morning. But the streets of “the city that never sleeps” were otherwise quiet. I wondered if it was due to the late hour or because 9/11 had occurred only weeks prior.
A few intersections later, we looked to our right and saw a pizza spot with a line out the door. Inside, it was tiny. A true hole-in-the-wall. We lined up and the queue moved quickly. There were a few loud, boisterous guys cooking and taking orders behind a shiny metal counter. They were barking at customers in thick New York accents saying, “C’mon, let’s go, let’s go. Whadda you waaant?”
As we were waiting our turn to be shouted at, our drummer Tom looked down and saw his right shoe was untied. He bent down to re-tie it and as he stood back up a disheveled woman appeared next to him. His eyes widened and he didn’t say a word as she stared him down and yelled, “Don’t you even start with me!” Then one of the servers yelled back, “Ahhh, get the f*ck outta here!” And she turned around and walked out the door.
We paid for our slices, stepped outside the door, and I laughed and said, “We’re in f*cking New York!”
Fast forward to the following night. Our show was at a now-defunct venue in Times Square called The World. It was owned by the WWE, which was weird. But it was a really nice venue. You could walk out the front door, look up to your right, and see the famous Jumbotron. Now it’s the Hard Rock Cafe.
The house was packed. We were the middle act to hit the stage that night. The first band was The Apex Theory, a band heavily influenced by the Armenian heritage shared by the singer, guitarist, and bass player. The drummer, on the other hand, was a white dude. But man, he was one of the most talented drummers I’ve ever seen. Their thirty-minute set flew by and it was our turn.
When we hit the stage, I almost immediately felt a different energy from the crowd. It was like they were thirsty for a positive distraction from the craziness that had been happening not too far from there at Ground Zero. It was one of the most memorable sets we ever played. There were fans in the crowd singing along to our first single Beat The World.
After we walked off stage, before Alien Ant Farm’s headlining set, we talked backstage. All of us felt the same energy from the crowd. It was an emotional and special feeling I’ll never forget.
Later that night, our publicist from DreamWorks Records took us to Scores, a high-end “gentlemen’s” club and steakhouse. We ate $40.00 steaks and drank $16.00 Heinekens—not realizing at the time that the cost would all need to be recouped through album sales. We ate and drank while watching Fred Durst from Limp Bizkit in the front row throwing money at dancers while his music played on the sound system. It was awkward and I really dislike strip clubs, even supposedly classier ones like Scores, so we decided to leave.
After a trip to another bar, which promptly closed at 4:00 am, we ended up at our publicist’s friend’s apartment where she was having a small party with friends. It was only a few blocks from Ground Zero. I could see the floodlights and hear the heavy equipment still clearing the area a month after 9/11. Suddenly, I sobered up. The emotions from the show earlier that night, the images of the planes crashing into the twin towers, and them eventually falling down all came back to me.
We stayed and asked our new friends about their experiences on that fateful day. Some were at work, while others were at home. None of them knew anyone in the towers. The details of the day were etched in their memories. Most Americans remember exactly where they were, but they were actually there. In the thick of it.
I’ll never forget my first trip to New York City.
A couple of weeks ago, I was on a Zoom call with some other memoir writers. Most of them are writing about events that occurred twenty-ish years ago. One author is writing about events from fifty years ago.
It got me thinking about memory.
Writing about my band days is hard. It was nearly twenty years ago now and many of the details are fuzzy. I’ve told a version of the above story so many times that the circumstances are affixed in my memory.
There’s only one problem.
I’ve had the date wrong all this time.
Last summer, I stumbled onto our old PR firm’s archives and found the tour dates. The show was actually a full month later on November 9th, 2001. I was honestly shocked when I read it. I would’ve bet a lot of money that the show was in October 2001.
Maybe my memory of being at the apartment near Ground Zero is why I thought it happened earlier? I’m not sure.
But do those types of details really matter when it comes to telling a great story? As with most things in life, the answer is “it depends”.
Obviously, if the story centers around major historical events, then the dates and times are of supreme importance. But for most of us who are telling personal stories, the details don’t matter as much. Great storytellers are masters at selectively picking what’s important to a story. They play with the concept of time and strategically remove extraneous details that aren’t central to propelling the story forward.
Now, twenty-some-odd years later, it doesn’t really matter all that much that my memory was off by a month. It’s not crucial to the story. Whereas accurately expressing how it felt to be in post-9/11 NYC from the unique perspective of a member of a touring band is much more important to a reader.
For my memoir book, I’m writing about more recent events around my daughter Em’s traumatic birth, her subsequent cerebral palsy disability, and how it has completely changed my life. The memoir authors I was talking to were blown away that I was writing about memories from just the past three years. They couldn’t imagine writing about such a fresh wound.
But it feels like I have an advantage over them precisely because my memories are so fresh. I even have pictures and screenshots of text conversations from the first few weeks of Em’s life on my phone—complete with timestamps. Some of the more traumatic memories are seared in my mind forever, of course. But having the pictures and screenshots is helpful for recalling the smaller details and piecing together what happened on which days.
I’m grateful that I’m able to document and process these experiences I’m having essentially in real-time. It’s therapeutic and cathartic for me.
When the book is out in the world, I hope my story is entertaining and emotionally moving for my readers. Even if I get some of the details wrong.
On a side note, I found this promo video for my band that I completely forgot we made. It was all filmed pre-9/11 when the future laid out in front of us looked bright. I have no idea how this random YouTube account found it. It’s so strange watching my younger self. It feels like another life!
Here’s a newsletter you should check out if you’re writing (or thinking about writing) a book:
No one will read your book (and other truths about publishing). Literary novelist Elle Griffin delves into The New York Times Best Seller list—and why your book won't make it—in this excerpt from her weekly newsletter about writing called The Novelleist.
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