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Today's Christian, January/February 2003

Story Behind the Song
Alan Jackson's "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)."
By Linda Owen

Alan Jackson

Alan Jackson vividly recalls the events of September 11. He had just come in from his usual morning walk and turned on the television set in his kitchen. "The first plane had already hit," recalls the country singer. "I was standing there when the second one hit."

Like other Americans, Jackson was devastated. For a few weeks he "didn't want to write or sing or do anything." He thought about writing something, but it was hard to articulate the myriad thoughts and emotions that he was experiencing.

"I didn't want to write a patriotic song," the soft-spoken baritone explains. "And I didn't want it to be vengeful, either. But I didn't want to forget about how I felt and how I knew other people felt that day."

One Sunday in October, Jackson bolted upright in bed at 4 A.M. The tune of "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" was running through his mind. He hurried downstairs and sang the chorus into a small tape recorder so he'd remember it later, and then went back to bed.

When he got up later that morning, Jackson felt compelled to finish writing the verses while his wife Denise and their three daughters went to Sunday school. What poured from his pen were words of encouragement and faith, and references to praying, going to church, and reading the Bible.

Although Jackson had awakened with song ideas before, his ideas had never been so structured and complete. "It just poured out," says Jackson, who believes the song was divine intervention. By the time he finished "Where Were You," he had summed up the collective feelings of a nation and crystallized that tragic moment in history, with lyrics mixed of shell shock and hope.

"Did you weep for the children that lost their dear loved ones?" one verse went. "Did you pray for the ones you don't know? Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble and sob for the ones left below?

"Did you go to church and hold hands with some strangers? Stand in line and give your own blood? Did you just stay home and cling tight to your family, Thank God you had somebody to love?"

Initially Jackson was reluctant to record the song, not wanting people to think he was taking advantage of the tragedy. However, after Denise and his band persuaded him to share the message, Jackson decided to perform it at the nationally televised Country Music Association awards show. Sitting on the Grande Ole Opry stage with an acoustic guitar resting on his lap, he quietly sang to Americans about God's love in the midst of pain and sorrow.

The next morning, radio station music directors pulled the performance from the broadcast and began airing it. By the time Jackson's label released his album, the song had already hit the charts. The fact that it spoke to the hearts of everyone was evidenced by its crossover appeal—the song topped the country, pop, and Christian country charts.

"I've had so many people come up to me, and I don't know what to say, other than that I just feel like it was a gift from God," says Jackson, who sang in the choir at his Baptist church in Newman, Georgia, before moving to Nashville. "I don't know why he picked me to send those words to, but I'm glad it's been a healing song for some people.

"I think it was Hank Williams who said, 'God writes the songs, I just hold the pen.' That's the way I felt with this song."

Click here for lyrics to "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)."

Lyrics excerpted from "Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)" by Alan Jackson, ©2001 EMI Music/ Tri-Angels Music (ASCAP).

January/February 2003, Vol. 41, No. 1, Page 14

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