Updated: Sep 11, 2019
by John Hanti
Excerpt from the forthcoming book, Escaping Gravity, by John Hanti (with Steven Acker).
As those babies were being delivered on that sunny morning, 2,996 others lost their lives in the deadliest series of terrorist attacks ever carried out on American soil.
Today, those 9/11 babies officially and legally become adults.
The significance of the date is not lost on them.
“I’ve learned from being a 9/11 baby, it’s that the day is a part of me. It’s a part of us. It’s a part of America. It’s what reminds us of what we have to lose, and what we have to be thankful for. And that is something we can never, ever forget.” --Autumn Bryant, the Denver Post.
An entire generation has come of age in the turbulent years since the Twin Towers fell. The day they were born, the world stopped turning. But only for a day. Life goes on. The world keeps turning and we keep moving forward. But on this day, we pause to look back on a day "we can never, ever forget.”
This is how I remember it.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was working with legendary recording engineer, Roy Cicala, to build a new studio at SST. All was going well…until...
In the blink of an eye, at 8:46 A.M., our whole world took a turn for the worse.
From our vantage point on the hill behind Stevens Institute in Hoboken, NJ, we watched in horror as smoke billowed from the World Trade Center Tower One. When the second plane hit Tower Two, we cried.
Immediately, I ordered all SST crew and vehicles out of the city, instructed the staff to lock down SST, and told them to go home.
Two weeks later, SST was still reeling from the attack. The National Guard placed armed guards around our buildings for six months because we are located right at the entrance of the Lincoln Tunnel. We had FBI agents in and out of the building every day. They needed access to the roof for surveillance purposes. Apparently, a cell of the terrorist network involved in the attack had rented a building only two buildings down from ours. The FBI suspected this cell of constructing bombs there to blow up the Tunnel.
These suspected terrorists had moved into the building and parked three 24-foot box trucks outside adorned with huge lettering: "Acme Moving and Storage." It sounds like something out of a Roadrunner cartoon, but I assure you, it was not. It was as real as real gets.
The FBI found computers and bomb-making material within the building, but to my knowledge, no terrorists ever returned. For half-a-year the FBI remained. It was one hairy and scary six months!
Aftermath: SST and a Concert for New York
On October 20, 2001, Paul McCartney staged "A Concert for New York" at Madison Square Garden. It was a show of historic proportions and a milestone for SST.
We were fortunate to be involved in the show. Not yet big enough to bite off the backline and tech support assignments, we did have our fleet of vans, though. We donated them to the producers to transport artists, crew, and gear in and around the city.
It was an honor to participate in an event this big and this important. For me, personally, it looked like an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong quest: to meet a Beatle.
We were given All-Access passes to the venue. We had vans coming and going. Our vice-president was serving as stage manager. Dorothy and I attended the rehearsals. She was SST's office manager at the time. We sat in front of the stage and watched the musical magic unfold. Rehearsals, pure and raw. No audience, just crew, techs, and musicians. They were quite candid about it--pulling off a performance of this magnitude in such a short time was no walk in the park.
Paul McCartney had pulled together an unprecedented coalition of the greatest musical artists in the world in only 40 days. We tried to remain inconspicuous as we watched the likes of James Taylor, Billy Joel, The Who, and Mick Jagger run through their sound checks.
So, we are sitting before an empty stage when suddenly, there he was. Sir Paul himself, mere yards away! My big chance to meet a Beatle had finally come!
He walked quietly past me, up the stage steps to the grand piano and without a word, began to play "Maybe I'm Amazed." Just Paul and his piano. It was a surreal moment for me. For once in my life, I was speechless. I did not have the courage to disturb him.
The After Party!
It was an incredible show, of course. More than four hours of performances, with Billy Crystal as MC. We had perfect seats and our All Access passes. It was history in the making.
Former President Clinton attended, along with every celebrity in the world, it seemed. Most importantly, the first responders and their families were there, and most tragically, so were the families of those who didn't survive that terrible day. The vibration of 20,000 people crying, laughing, mourning, venting their anger, showing their fear, yet feeling the power of their message to the world, is impossible to convey in word or film.
The energy in the air was something I will never forget.
Fortune rained down on me again. I was working in the studio with the girlfriend of the guy who owned one of the largest event planning firms in New York, a gentleman who was also closely involved in the Concert for New York. To show his gratitude and friendship for our role in the concert, he arranged two passes for Dorothy and me to attend the after-show party. We were like two kids with free tickets to Disneyland, and a veritable Disneyland it was. Or should I say Dizzyland? I was so out of my element I was indeed dizzy.
Paparazzi were everywhere. When we entered the room, they thought we were somebody! Their flashbulbs nearly blinded me. It was sensory overload. There was Spike Lee and Ed Norton engaged in an intense conversation right in front of us. We bumped into Johnny Reznick, quite literally, who was riding high on the charts with the Goo Goo Dolls. Harrison Ford meandered through the crowd as if he were lost and looking for something. Billy Crystal sat at a table right in front of us eating chicken wings. Donald Trump sat two seats away, watching the band. Julia Stiles leaned against me and put her head on my shoulder while she continued a conversation with another party goer.
Then, Sheryl Crow, Dan Ackroyd, Jim Carrey, and Sir Paul himself climbed up on the stage with the house band and sang Beatles songs! This entire circus played out only twenty feet in front of me. It was truly the most spectacular day of my life, and Dorothy's life, too—our first Triple A-List party.
Years later, when Johnny Reznik became an SST recording client, we reminisced about that party. I later met Billy Crystal, too, when I worked with him on a documentary film. I told him I was there that day and night and how amazing his performance was, considering the gravity of the evening. Without hesitation, he looked directly at me with a tear in his eye and said, "That was the hardest gig of my life."
I wanted so badly that day and that night to walk right up to Paul and say, "Hi Paul, I'm John Hanti," but I could not. I dared not. This was his day, not mine.
It was his day and it was America's day. A day of mourning for so many lives lost, and of celebration for the heroes who saved so many more.
It was a day much like today.