Alan Jackson Shares the Story Behind His 9/11 Anthem, ‘Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)’
Two months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC, Alan Jackson debuted a song that had come to him in the middle of the night weeks earlier. Sitting in front of his peers at the CMA Awards, he nervously "got through" the five-minute performance and walked off the stage relieved. He tells Yahoo! News years later that he had no idea the song would resonate like it did.
"Typically, when we kick that song off and the crowd realizes what it is, people hold up their lighters and things," Jackson said in an interview that was focused on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 and his song. "And I've seen people crying in the crowds, and they cheer on lines that mean something, like the line about the heroes just doing what they do — they really like that. I don't know. There's a lot of emotion going on in the room during that song, and it always makes me feel good that it has affected people that way."
Jackson says he woke up at 4AM one Sunday morning humming the melody and thinking of the first few words that would go on to become "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)."
"I got up and scribbled it down and put the melody down so I wouldn't forget it, and then the next day I started piecing all those verses together that were the thoughts I'd had or visuals I'd had," he explains. "It was a Sunday — I remember because, when I started writing it, my wife and girls had gone off to Sunday school, and I finished it that day. Like I said, that song was just a gift. I've never felt I could take credit for writing it. Looking back, I guess I just didn't want to forget how I felt on that day and how I knew other people felt."
The song spent five weeks at No. 1 beginning on Dec. 29, 2001, and went on to earn Jackson a Grammy, as well as numerous country music accolades — but he figured he'd eventually be able to ease it out of his live shows. A decade and a half later, however, it's still one fans expect to hear, so he gives it to them and enjoys knowing he's touched so many hearts with a few simple lyrics that seemingly fell from the sky.
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