I was thirteen years old on September 11th 2001, the day that changed the world forever. Like most Americans, I awoke on that fateful morning having no idea what was in store for me, or my family, or my friends, or the world, forever. I rolled out of my racecar bed, as I did every morning. I applied my Stridex wipes to my acne, as I did every morning. I kissed my mom goodbye and I took the bus to school and I raised my hand when my name was called during homeroom, as I did every morning. “I am here.” Never would I have expected that the world would be changed forever. Never would I have expected that I would never forget. But what happened happened. And I have always never forgot.
During my second period Geography class, an event occurred that would change the world forever. That event took the form of a ringing corded phone, hung on a classroom wall, next to a fireproof door. My Geography teacher answered the phone and excused herself to take the call outside. When she came back she was crying. A fog of confusion settled on us all. “What’s going on?” we students asked her. “Has something occurred that will change the world forever?” Our teacher wiped at her tears, composing herself. Finally she looked up from her desk, probably knowing that she would change all of our lives forever. “Yes, children,” she said, “something has happened that will change your lives forever. I probably shouldn’t be telling you this, but I don’t know what else to do.” She took a deep breath. “Children,” she said. “Toxicity by System of a Down has debuted at Number One on the Billboard Album Charts.”
You can imagine our shock. At the time, System of a Down was perceived to be a fringe nu-metal outfit, too pretentious and political for fans of broader, more popular bands like KoRn and Limp Bizkit. Sure, we had all purchased Toxicity in the week since its release on September 4th, enjoying its novel combination of melodic metal and agitprop lyrical verbosity. But Number One on the Billboard Album Charts? Was it possible? “Yes,” our Geography teacher said, crying onto her desk. “It is possible. System of a Down is such a fucking good band. We’ll definitely be listening to them almost every day thirteen years from now. ‘Chop Suey’ is an absolute banger.” And we all would have agreed with her, had we all already not taken out our Walkmans, to hear the pummeling opening chord of “Prison Song.”
This was all, of course, before the tragedy and the tragedies that would follow. Over the next thirteen years, Serj Tankian would leave the band to write poetry, Daron Malakian would form Bullets Over Broadway, and System of a Down would break up. None of this needs to be reported, because we, as Americans, will never forget. But it’s important on this day to remember. To remember the hope we children felt in that Geography class thirteen years ago, with maps of the entire known world encircling us, promising the places we would see, explore, conquer. Today, it’s insane to think that the United States of America ever would have allowed for a quirky nu-metal band to top its most prestigious of album charts. But it did. It happened. It will always be in our hearts. From the opening of “Prison Song” to the fade out of “Aerials,” Toxicity by System of a Down will always be in our hearts. It is a triumph of the American spirit that no tragedy can erase. May we never, ever forget.