The Asbury Park Press
8 September 2003
In the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Jessica Milano would not talk about losing her father, Peter, in the World Trade Center.
Milano said her mother was frantic because she was not communicating. But the teenager was dealing with it in her own way: through dance and music.
“I’d sing `Memories’ from `Cats,'” she said during a recent interview at the Broadway Diner in Red Bank. “I’d sing songs from `Les Miz.’ There were different ways for me to cope.”
Milano, 15, of Middletown, now recognizes how music helped her face her father’s death.
She is working on a documentary with her brother, Peter, 17; Brad Smith, 18, of Little Silver; and Joanna Glick, 18, of Upper Saddle River to explore how music helps people heal after traumatic events.
Through their work, the teens, who all lost family members in the terrorist attacks, explored the idea of forgiveness – a step they said they are not ready to take – and also worked toward an understanding of what happened that September day and how it changed them.
Some of the interviews for the project included Richard Fisk, a veteran who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor; Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys; and 11-year-old jazz pianist Matt Savage, who is autistic.
Fisk plays taps on the last Sunday of every month at the USS Arizona memorial in Hawaii to honor the American and Japanese soldiers who died in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.
Every time he plays, it gets harder, Fisk told the group.
He talked about how he learned to forgive the Japanese, but he told the teens he could understand if they had a problem with forgiveness so soon.
“I don’t walk down the street anymore with animosity toward that ethnic group,” Peter Milano said. “But to say I have forgiven them? It is too early to be able to forgive.
“We are just getting past that first year of grief and that second year trying to figure out what life was going to be like,” he said. “Now we are moving into the third year and have absorbed it. … You have that new `normal you’ are trying to get used to.”
Rumson-based producer Rick Korn brought the teens together for the project, called “Voices of Inspiration.” They have spent months traveling to London, Hawaii, Boston, California and New York, conducting interviews and recording stories for a video about the healing power of music.
Korn started the project with songwriter Carl Perkins, who wrote lyrics for The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Patsy Kline. He is best known for Elvis’ “Blue Suede Shoes.”
Perkins, who had cancer, died before the project was finished. Korn invited the teens to finish the work with him after they met at a Bruce Springsteen concert at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, which was organized to benefit the families of victims of the terrorist attacks.
Peter Milano contacts the musicians and sets up the interviews, which he conducts with Glick and his sister. Glick’s brother, Jeremy, was a passenger on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Shankesville, Pa.
Smith – who lost his father, Karl, an employee with Cantor Fitzgerald – can be found behind the cameras. All four teens are listed as the project’s producers.
The teens said they were drawn to the documentary as a way of giving back after all the help they received.
“We got so much because we lost our dads on 9/11, whereas other kids who lost their dads to cancer or in a car accident – they don’t get anything,” Smith said.
The teens sometimes feel guilty that their losses have received so much attention compared with other tragedies, Peter Milano said.
“The one thing that has always bothered me is my dad worked in the World Trade Center and he died, but the grief I am feeling is no different than the kid down the road whose father died that same day of cancer,” he said.
“So many people helped me after Sept. 11,” Milano added. “For six months we got food every day from strangers. For Christmas my sister and I each got 25 presents … My motivation was to give back to all the people who helped me.”
The teens also are documenting the process of making the film. They plan to produce a three- to six-part series on the making of the documentary, the documentary itself and a concert for children from around the world who have experienced traumatic events. The series and documentary will air on a national television network in 2004, Korn said.
An invitation-only concert, with four to six musicians headlining, will be held in November at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, Korn said. Many of the artists the teens are interviewing will perform, he added.
Children from around the world who have been affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and other traumatic experiences were invited to the concert. All proceeds will go to various children’s charities.
The teens have planned more interviews for September. They want to meet with former Beatle Paul McCartney, and they have scheduled interviews with Ziggy Marley, Macy Gray and Alicia Keys, Korn said.
The teens all have their own stories about how music helped them after Sept. 11.
For Smith, classic rock, especially the Allman Brothers, reminds him of his father.
“My dad was always into classic rock, but when I was younger I didn’t like the music,” Smith said. “But I would be in the car with my father listening to music, and he would give me information about the bands.”
Peter Milano said he was always a fan of the alternative rock group Green Day. His father would take him to concerts whenever they played in the area.
But after his father was killed, the lyrics and the music took on new meaning for him, especially “Time of Your Life.”
Milano quoted from the chorus: “It’s something unpredictable, but in the end is right. I hope you had the time of your life.”
“I felt like the lead singer of the band was talking to me,” Milano said.
“I didn’t expect 9/11 to happen. I didn’t expect my dad to go to work and not come home,” said Peter Milano, whose father also worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. “The 16 years I had with my dad … I had no regrets, so I had nothing but the time of my life with him.”