The unsung heroes

By Dane Clark

As a musician, I’ve seen some big crowds. I’ve seen a lot of those swaying lighters in the dark. I’ve even seen a lot of people singing along with the words to songs they know by heart. But I’d never seen anything like I did on October 20, 2001.

“Hundreds of people in the crowd held up photos of their fallen loved ones. Hundreds. Tears streaming down their faces.”

There really aren’t many people who get to play for a living. It’s a luxury reserved for primary school teachers, athletes, and those of us who call the stage and a drum set our second home. I’ve always felt lucky to fall into this group. But 11 years later, I look at it differently after that October night.

“My perspective on the power of playing, the power that music has to heal, was changed. And while I shared the stage with my childhood heroes, the real heroes towered above it all. The unsung heroes.”

A few weeks prior, we were asked to play at the Concert for New York City at Madison Square Garden following the September 11 terrorist attacks. The concert honored the city’s first responders, the victims and their families. When I found out who else was playing, I became a kid all over again. I grew up listening to the Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who, and I was going to be playing alongside The Who, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. These guys dominated my very extensive record collection. These guys were my inspiration. It was surreal to me that we would be sharing a stage. I don’t know how many times I asked myself, “How will this ever be topped?”

But that night wasn’t what I expected. We were set to go on after James Taylor, who sang his widely known “Fire and Rain,” which everyone knew by heart. But when he sang the line, “sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground,” hundreds of people in the crowd held up photos of their fallen loved ones. Hundreds. Tears streaming down their faces. I had to walk away to compose myself.

It’s hard to describe the emotion of that night. The passion that everyone played with was something I don’t know if I’ll experience again. I know I’d never experienced it before. When we had the stage, we played “Peaceful World” and the classic “Pink Houses.” And the crowd sang. They swayed. They cried. And I changed. My perspective on the power of playing, the power that music has to heal, was changed. And while I shared the stage with my childhood heroes, the real heroes towered above it all. The unsung heroes. The truth is, I still ask myself what could ever top that night. But not for the reasons I thought I would.

Dane Clark joined John Mellencamp’s band as a drummer in 1996. An Anderson, Ind., native, Clark continues to play with Mellencamp and is currently working on a new solo album while producing and songwriting for other projects.

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