Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which claimed the lives of 2,977 individuals in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. In the days that followed, Five for Fighting‘s song “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” was used to soundtrack footage of first responders, police and firemen: the heroes of 9/11.  Twenty years on, Five for Fighting’s John Ondrasik says it was just “one of those songs that made sense” at the time.

John was in London on 9/11 and wasn’t actually aware of what was happening with his song until flights resumed and he returned to the U.S.

“I didn’t realize till I got back what had happened, because I was getting a lot of calls about, ‘Would you come play for this organization…’ or this funeral, this ceremony,” John tells ABC Audio. “And then, of course, the call [to perform at] the Concert for New York…that was out of the blue, too.”

As for why it was that song which connected, John says even before 9/11, “I’d had a lot of feedback of people who were hurting, [saying] that that song provided some solace.”  And he believes it was “the superhero aspect of it” that made the difference.

“You know, those people that ran into those buildings, those are real superheroes. And at the same time, we’re all hurting,” he explains.

“I think that combination of the superheroes doing heroic things — everyday people you walk by every day that you know — and a song that’s kind of…melancholy…but also it’s not…totally depressing…it had all those things that I think made it one of those songs that made sense,” he notes.

Twenty years on, John says his memories of the aftermath of 9/11 — “walking down 7th Avenue and seeing all the ‘missing’ posters and the smoke coming out of the site two months later” — are still “hard to put into words,” and he fears we’ve “forgotten some of the lessons.”

“You look back at that window of time, maybe it was six months — I think was the only time in the last maybe 30, 40 years that we really were together as a country,” he laments.

“That time, I think, was in a sense so wonderful: to see everybody put everything aside, come together, support each other, go get the bad guy,” he adds. “And it was unique in our history — which is sad that it took that to happen.”

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