TESTAMENT Guitarist Looks Back On 9/11

Guitarist Alex Skolnick (TESTAMENT, SAVATAGE, TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA, ALEX SKOLNICK TRIO) has posted the following message on his official web site:

"As I trudged up the streets of Manhattan away from the two spheres of smoke, black serpents in the sky, I saw scores of fellow New Yorkers filing out of buildings like one of those school fire drills from my youth. But this was no drill, this was real. We were all grown up now.

"It was a fluke that I'd even been downtown. Jury duty: 8:30 a.m., Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

"On the tenth floor of the Lower Manhattan courthouse, while watching an orientation film for prospective jurors, we'd heard a distant explosion. The rumble lasted a little too long.

"A few among us had been disinterestedly ignoring the film. Like naughty schoolkids, they'd been listening to their portable radios with headphones, hoping not to get caught. These disobedient fellow jurors suddenly became unintentional ministers of information, whispering to those seated next to them that New York's morning radio shows were being interrupted by breaking news. Soon, quiet murmurs had spread throughout the courtroom: a plane had crashed into World Trade Center.

"Everyone figured it must be a small private plane.

"When the film ended a few minutes later, a bailiff appeared and announced that we were all being released for the day. At first, we were happy about this. But soon, we'd wish we were back in that courtroom and for everything to be normal again. Nervously filing into elevators, it quickly dawned on us that this might be serious, especially if it had something to do with that explosion and those cryptic news reports.

"Just how serious things were became apparent when the elevator doors opened to reveal an NYPD SWAT team who'd secured the premises. A police commander barked at us to evacuate immediately and head uptown. On the way out, someone said that while we'd been in the elevator and out of earshot, a second plane had crashed into the towers. These weren't prop planes, single engines or Cessnas they were jumbo jets.

"Outside, chaotic dissonance: wailing sirens, car alarms, fire alarms, megaphones, walkie-talkies and bullhorns. Traffic was a gridlock of emergency vehicles, all heading downtown. No one could know at that moment how many of these rescue workers would never be seen again.

"Back upstairs, I'd bumped into someone I knew: John, a classical guitarist who despite being in his early 50s, was quite youthful. One minute, we'd been high-fiving each other, overjoyed to have a buddy with whom to wile away the long hours of jury duty; the next, we were caught up in an unthinkable event; a real life disaster movie.

"With no taxis available and the shutdown of the subways, there was no choice but for John and I to walk, joining the growing exodus of people on the streets, doing what we were instructed to do by police: head north. Along the way, we'd stop and join various small crowds gathered around parked cars, the doors open and the radio news coming out of the speakers. These impromptu community gatherings would give everyone within earshot a semblance of how things were being reported. It would still be unclear just what was happening. But by this time, there would be news of two more planes crashing: one in Pennsylvania and more chillingly, one in Washington DC, slamming into The Pentagon.

"This was war.

"Every time we heard a helicopter or other aircraft above there was a sense of fear, as though another attack could happen. Nothing was far-fetched anymore.

"Onward we'd walk.

"We'd meet a lot of fellow New Yorkers along the way, everyone sharing stories. There was no pretense. Occupation, education, appearance or social status no longer mattered. We all needed each other now.

"At one point, there would be pandemonium on the streets with everyone turning around, pointing fingers, gasping and weeping. We'd look behind and watch as miles in the distance, the first of our critically wounded landmarks crumbled to the ground. One could only faintly imagine what it must be like to be closer to the buildings or even worse, trapped inside. A little while later, the process would repeat itself as the beloved second tower fell. Each time, we'd hug strangers and friends alike-then continue walking uptown.

"John and I would walk as far as a coffeehouse near Union Square, where we'd seek refuge. Outside, where once there had been a perfect view of the towers, would be two enormous smoldering billows of smoke and ash in the distance. Inside, three big screen television sets would confirm that we weren't imagining any of this. We'd now see how it looked to the rest of the world, who by now, had to be tuning in. The first TV would mirror the smoking ruins exactly as we could see them outside the cafe; the second TV would replay the footage of each plane crash at the Trade Center; the third would between live footage of the Pentagon in Washington, a section of which was still smoldering and on the live updates from Pennsylvania. The cafe would be packed with silent figures, in wide eyed disbelief, glaring at the TVs.

"After catching our breath, gathering our wits and seeking much-needed refreshment, John would head home in the East Village, nearby. I'd stick around a bit longer before continuing the long journey to the upper 90s, walking more than a hundred blocks. Much later it would occur to me that, despite moving from Northern California just three years earlier, I'd become a true New Yorker not even an event like this would cause me to twice about moving away. We'd have our lives, but life would never be the same.

"For those of us lucky enough to be out of harm's way, it was a journey uptown, into a changed world."


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