Ask anyone who lived through the events of September 11, 2001, and they will tell you every detail about what happened and how they experienced it. That’s especially true for those who were in the areas attacked, including Incubus frontman Brandon Boyd, who happened to be in New York City that day with his band.
“Without hesitation, it was one of the scariest and strangest mornings of my life, as I’m sure it was for thousands and thousands of people in New York City, but then around the world too, even to witness it on live television. I’m sure it was pretty jarring for most people,” he told Inside Edition Digital.
The morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, started off as any picture perfect late summer day. The sky was clear and the air was crisp in New York City until 8:46 a.m., when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center complex in Lower Manhattan. Seventeen minutes later, at 9:03 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower of the World Trade Center. What was later learned to be targeted attacks sent New York City and the world scrambling to understand what was going on.,
Boyd was staying in Downtown Manhattan in SoHo, less than a mile from the World Trade Center.
“We were staying in a hotel that was close enough to Ground Zero, that when the planes hit the Twin Towers, our hotel shook like an earthquake and the windows rattled and all the car alarms went off and you could audibly hear people screaming,” Boyd said. “I was dating this really great girl from Canada. And I looked at her and I was like, ‘Put your shoes on.’ The very next words out of my mouth, and I’m not kidding, were, ‘Brush your teeth.’ We furiously brushed our teeth and we started grabbing stuff. My window was open, so you could hear what was happening, and it was f***ing terrifying.”
New York music critic and journalist Jim Farber also remembers the calamity and confusion of that morning. He watched from his apartment window as hoards of people walked uptown, recalling, “I knew that was kind of odd.”
Farber had covered the Jackson 5 reunion at Madison Square Garden the night before and slept in a little later than usual because he was working late.
“Then the phone rang, and it was from an editor of mine at the [New York Daily] News, and I let the machine pick it up, and very dryly, the message was, ‘Oh, Jim. Two planes have been flown intentionally into The World Trade Center and we need everybody to come in and help cover it,’” he said.
Incubus was in town to promote their forthcoming record, “Morning View,” which would be out the following month, and to perform at the historic Hammerstein Ballroom in Midtown Manhattan on Sept. 15 and 16.
With the band in panic and everything in the city shut down, no one knew when things would return to normal or reopen.
“We were afraid,” Boyd said. “Definitely. We didn’t know if it was still dangerous. We didn’t know if there was other stuff that was going to continue to happen, it was such an uncertain moment. We also didn’t know if it was ethically appropriate to put on a concert, and we deliberated as a band about these things.”
And so, the band had no choice but to sit tight and see what happened next.
“All shows are canceled, everyone’s canceling, this is not the time for music,” Boyd said he was told by promoters and those in the business.
Making a concerted effort to stay safe but also show resilience, they opted to move forward with their scheduled shows anyway.
“I think the place that we landed collectively was, I think this is the time for music. I think this is the time. Obviously we’re mourning, collectively we’re mourning and collectively we’re cautious and collectively we’re afraid, but that doesn’t mean that we stop being human,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that we stop desiring to congregate. And sometimes when you mourn together, it actually makes the process of mourning more … for lack of a better word, successful.”
As Farber aided in the reporting out of the attacks and their devastating impact, he heard that Incubus were promising to continue with their gigs just days after the attacks.
Farber, who was a casual listener of the band, was more concerned about what the concerts and the crowd would be like given the moment, rather than going to check out a band he would have to write about.
“They were at the forefront of rock bands at the time and rock bands meant something at that time,” Farber said. “I thought that was great. I thought that was so wonderful that somebody was going to do it…But I was wondering what that would be like, what the feeling would be like. If it would, in fact, go through. If, in fact, by the weekend came if they would be able to do it, even. There were limited movements around town.”
Boyd had been in New York City many times before the attacks and had a distinct impression of New Yorkers.
“My impression was it was a kind of brash, rude in your face, but in a charming way and say what you mean, speak your mind, and which is awesome, but it was kind of coming from California, it was also a little bit shocking the first few times,” Boyd said.
But in the days after the attack, the band found itself in a new New York. And what Boyd witnessed following the collapse of the Twin Towers changed his heart and mind.
“I was right there in the thick of it, and I watched everybody band together in a way that I’d never seen anyone do anywhere,” he said. “I watched strangers helping strangers in ways that I’ve never ever witnessed before. And it was miraculous to witness.”
In search of something to eat one day, Boyd and his bandmates stumbled upon a firefighter covered in ash “like some wild statue of some kind.” The man was taking a nap in a doorway.
“He must have been completely overwhelmed. And so I quietly thanked him as everyone that was walking by did,” Boyd said.
Though Incubus planned for their shows to go on, fans were given the opportunity to get a refund if they didn’t feel safe attending. The shows were still packed at just over 85% capacity, Boyd said.
“We decided even if we’re the only band that plays and even if nobody shows up, we should probably still play because we also thought that it would be an interesting signal to send,” Boyd said.
Emotion bubbled over and the lines between the crowd and band seemed to totally blur. What resulted was a very poignant night spent as a community that came together.
“I can tell you, from being there, that it appeared very full, and I also can tell you that there was a vibe in the audience. People were really glad to see each other,” Farber recalled. “I remember there being a lot of emotion. I didn’t see people crying, but I saw people singing along.”
“What was incredible was that almost everybody showed up to both shows,” Boyd said. “It was really emotional. I was singing, and singing and being on the verge of crying don’t work very well. The way that I know how to sing does not gel well with having emotion rearing up in your throat and your chest. So I was doing my best to remain stoic because I knew how to be, but I was with the crowd that was there both nights and I could feel the same thing from them.”
The reality of the world outside of the Hammerstein Ballroom was not lost on those who attended Incubus’s shows. But amid their new normal, New Yorkers found a way to not escape reality, but be as present as possible.
“I certainly wouldn’t say that people had forgotten about anything that happened. I would say that it was very much on people’s minds, and that was part of the context that made it so exciting to be in that place at that time. There was a sense of defiance with it. We’re going to go on. We’re going to have a joyous moment. But I would not in any way call it an escapist moment,” Farber said. “As pleasurable and exciting as it was, it was fired by this sense of tragedy, and poignancy, and meaning. I think of this as a grown up band, but this show provided a form of profound context for them than probably anything they’ve ever done.”
“I felt like we were experiencing this catharsis together, which is exactly what we needed to do,” Boyd added.
The audience that weekend did something for the band that remains lodged in their memory to this day. The songs from “Morning View” and previous records took on new meaning in the wake of the attacks and for those looking to release energy that weekend inside Hammerstein Ballroom.
“There were other songs that we played during that period of time that it was like, the meanings completely changed, even though the words being sung were exactly the same. And that reflection occurred to me based on the way that the audience was reflecting those lyrics back, that we’ve always been blessed with very vocal audiences,” Boyd said.
The memories of that time have stuck with Boyd and Farber, especially during difficulties many in the world are currently living through brought about or directly because of the COVID-19 pandemic. And while New York City is still reeling from the coronavirus crisis as its residents look back on the tragedy that unfolded 20 years ago, it is still a city of dreams for so many, Farber said.
“New York is a city of artists. New York is a city that represents freedom to many people,” Farber said. “There’s that old idea that people don’t move to New York, they kind of run, they kind of escape from where they are to New York.”