Steven Rosenbaum and Live: How a Music Video Helped America Overcome the Pain of 9/11
Tuesday Morning September 11th, 2001 started as any other day for Camera Planet CEO and founder Steven Rosenbaum. The employees of Camera Planet, a New York based company that produced programming and footage for, among others, HBO, A&E, and Discovery, had expected to send out seven camera crews to begin filming a documentary for Animal Planet. Those plans changed when the first plane made impact. They, like many, assumed it was a small plane and some sort of an accident, but when the second plane hit they all knew nothing would be the same.
In an interview, Steven recalled his words to his employees: “Listen, if you want to go home and be with your family I understand that, but if you can stay we are going to go there and start shooting footage.” Every member of the seven crews decided to stay. They took the whole day and much of the next week filming at the towers, but they took the opposite approach of the news crews who were assembled at the scene. Steven instructed them simply: “Look where the news cameras are shooting and point in the opposite direction.” At the end of the day the crew had seventy hours of footage of the relief crews, the landscape, and unique moments that captured the pain and sacrifice of 9/11.
This journalism fueled adrenaline carried Steven for days of filming where he could not sleep: “Being busy seemed like a good idea at the time, I really believed that the world and the US would not recover from this. New York is an entire island of tall buildings, they don't fall down; they go up.”
In the midst of those emotional days, Steven heard the song “Overcome” by the band Live on the radio. The song, from the band’s yet to be released album V, had been picked up by several radio stations in the wake of the attacks. “The words, and the pain in [lead singer Ed Kowalczyk’s] voice, I mean it just seemed like it had been written just days before,” said Steven, “it seemed like it had been written for nothing other than to tell the story of 9/11.”
“Overcome,” which had in fact been written years before, had been made available by the band as a free download on the website. To Steven, it was the perfect song for reflection: “I guess it's true about any piece of art that you can find a story that fits your needs if you look hard enough. I have trouble imagining what else that song was put on the earth to do, except to be put on the radio so I could hear it.”
As soon as he was in the office Steven downloaded the song and knew that they needed to cut it together with the footage they had taken. His wife, a film editor, asked him who the video was for, and he didn’t really know yet: “We had all the tape and we needed to say something, and the music was perfect.” With no real end goal in mind, the footage was cut together in a brisk seven hours. What they had was a video that Steven describes as “heart wrenching.” “Their music and my images just fit together,” he recalls.
With little plan, Steven put a call in to a friend at VH1, who requested to see the video. Only an hour later, it was playing on the station. That kind of turnaround is unheard of in the television industry. “That had never happened to me before” said Steven. Subsequently MTV picked up the video and both stations played it, along with only a few other videos, for nearly a week. The impromptu video for an unreleased song would then become a part of the healing of an entire nation. For Steven, being a part of that was incredibly meaningful: ““A lot of people who were making media around 9/11 were making media that was militaristic or angry and vindictive, I knew I didn't want my work on the subject to feel like that.” That approach made the media not only meaningful for him, but the band as well.
Chad Taylor, lead guitarist of Live, recently wrote about seeing the video for the first time: “…a friend called me to tell me to turn on VH1. Someone had set footage from Ground Zero to the music of “Overcome.” I stood and cried as it played. This was so much bigger than my band, our music or me. I knew Live would never be the same from that moment forward.” While the video was made without the permission of Live, the band’s management supported its use and even flew out Ed Kowalczyk to cut in portions of him singing with the footage The video had struck the band and all of the nation.
The footage from his crews and the powerful music made this video one of immense importance, but it was September 11th itself, not the video, that changed Steven’s life: “9/11 was a place when I understood how important it was to do work that was meaningful in the moment and not wait. I used to say, “I'll do a commercial today, in the future I'll do stuff for myself.” I've changed my business, my career, I'm a writer, a photographer, and I run an internet company that's really more about empowering companies and individuals to tell their own stories. I think a lot of that changed for me on that day.” Steven learned to live in the moment, but as his career expanded he stayed tied to those days in 2001
Steven released a documentary about the day called Seven Days in September, and has since been making another documentary about “the design, the development, and the construction of the memorial.” He has taken on responsibilities as the in-house documentarian for the World Trade Center, capturing the memorial in photographs as it has been constructed. That began in 2004. “It wasn’t something I imagined that I would be doing,” said Steve, “it’s become really important to me that if 9/11 is the beginning of a chapter in my life, that the opening of the memorial bookends that.” While Camera Planet has since dissolved, the footage they shot is still archived there.
It may not have been what Steven, or Live, expected, but it is undeniable that there was something powerful about the combination of his footage and their art. September 11th taught Steven Rosenbaum to live in the moment, and it was those moments that he caught so emotionally in his music video.
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