How the unfortunate timing of Ken Stringfellow’s classic solo debut turned out to be a blessing
My 9/11 story is nothing special. I was unemployed at the time, renting out the upstairs of a grungy Levitt house in Wantagh, NY. I had fallen asleep on the couch with the television on, and woke up to a fiery hole in the first tower of the World Trade Center. You know the rest.
But the fact that the worst attack on American soil happened on a Tuesday, when all of the new album releases were coming out at the time, remains to this day a strange point of resonance 20 years later. More than likely it’s just the music journalist in me that makes this inconsequential factoid of such a monumentally horrible day. Yet in these last 20 years it’s the music released on September 11, 2001, that stays with me and serves as a reminder of this particular moment in time.
And perhaps the one album from that Tuesday which resonates more now than ever is Touched, the debut solo LP from Ken Stringfellow of The Posies. On its 20th anniversary, it remains in the Top 5 of classic titles released in 2001, right up there alongside Bjork’s Vespertine, Fugazi’s The Argument, Lateralus by TOOL and the final studio LP from Aaliyah. As R.E.M. was still finding its footing in the wake of Bill Berry’s departure, it was Stringfellow–a longtime member of the trio’s expanded touring band–who made the R.E.M. album many of us had been hoping for since Green. And with Mitch Easter behind the board and a crack studio team featuring Tony Shanahan of The Patti Smith Group on bass, Touched is pure jangle pop Nirvana; 39 minutes of pure warmth and melody sadly overshadowed by the events of that terrible day.
“I woke up the morning of September 11, 2001 ready to celebrate: after years of heartbreak, setbacks, and false starts, my album Touched was coming out that day,” Stringfellow wrote on his Facebook page. “Clearly, the day didn’t go as planned. The murder of thousands of innocent lives was a shock and tragedy that traumatized a generation. Nothing would ever be the same, including the way I viewed my own purpose — as much as my career’s wings were permanently clipped by the events, I came to see the divine timing in the album’s fate. The album’s themes of grief, loss, hope, religious differences, and the violence of fear seemed uncannily tailored to the feelings many were experiencing in the wake of 9/11. Composers are receivers as well as givers, and I realized I was somehow chosen as the steward for these sentiments precisely at the time they were needed.”
At 2PM EST today, Stringfellow will be honoring this cosmic serendipity by performing Touched in its entirety with a portion of the proceeds donated to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which helps first responders, military personnel and their families. For tickets, click here.
“I couldn’t really look at my career, or my purpose in life, the same way after that,” Stringfellow wrote on another Facebook post. “Whatever ambitions I had as an ‘entertainer’ were pretty much dashed by the situation anyway, but not only is there not a trace of regret for that career that never was, I have immense gratitude and respect for the responsibility of the artist as a kind of emotional first responder. No, I am not saying an artist is at the same level as people who physically go towards harm’s way daily in the act of care or rescue, of course not. But music has healing properties too, just for different aches.”
Indeed, Touched remains a constant healing source 20 years after its fated release.