Dennis Simms was at the front of the line when it came to helping people on 9-11. He was a crash firefighter at the Gander International Airport at the time, as well as a councillor in his hometown of Appleton. The events that unfolded over the next few days had such a profound influence on Mr. Simms that he decided he wanted to do something for the 10th anniversary. Mr. Simms stuck to what he knew best – music.
He wrote a song commemorating the heroes of the day.
Mr. Simms spoke with The Beacon about his history with music, why he wrote the song, and what he hopes people will take from his tribute song.
Q: What is your name?
A: Dennis Simms
Q: When were you born?
A: September 1950, in Gander.
Q: Where were you when 9-11 happened?
A: Actually, I was intimately involved in 9-11. I was at the time, a crash fire fighter at the airport. When all of these plans turned up, it was overtime for me, and when I finally got home to Appleton there were 120 plane people in the town hall. I was a councillor at the time, so I was sort of involved in that aspect, helping out as well.
Q: What made you write a song about those moments?
A: I was thinking about it for quite awhile that the 10 anniversary was coming up, and as I said, I was a councillor in Appleton at the time. I started thinking about what happens to people when they face disaster, and how do we feel from that, how do we accept it and move on, and be happy again. The world changed on September 11, and I guess all of us changed with it. Then, I was appointed to serve on the steering committee for the Beyond Words tribute. It was just a natural progression from there, that I wanted to put all of that into a musical theme so that it could be used for recognition with the Beyond Words tribute and commemorate the 10th anniversary, so I wrote a song about it, and it turned out quite nice.
Q: Does the song have anything to do with the lives that you touched while the planes were here and vice-versa?
A: I would think in general it does. The whole premise of the song is that we put away all of the bad things that happen to us in our lives so that it can’t hurt us again, but you have to move on. There is a healing side to that. There is also recognition of place, what happened here in this region, all of that is in there.
Q: What was the hardest part about writing about 9-11?
A: It was really hard to write about 9-11 without being descriptive of fire, smoke, death, and destruction, but to be able to work the theme of the song in a more subtle way. For instance, one the first lines I wrote for that song was, beyond words, how a hero falls, referring to the firefighters who died, and how their courage towers above us. You can see that is a subtle way of talking about it.
Q: Have you played the song for people?
A: Yes, I played the song for the organizing committee, and asked if they would come onside and help me pay for it. They refused. So, I decided to do it myself, and have it as my contribution to this event that is coming up to commemorate the 10th anniversary. It was played at the Avveril Baker concert here Aug. 24 here in Gander. Wherever I get a chance to do it, I do, and I will be singing it at the memorial service in Appleton Sunday.
Q: You said you have gotten a good reaction to the song, what kind of things have people been saying?
A: A lot of the things, they appreciate that someone would actually commemorate that with a song, as you know there is a lot of work and effort that goes into it, and it is not something you can do on your own. They appreciate the song. They also appreciate the recognition of the event, and they also recognize that this is something personal to everyone, and it speaks to everyone.
Q: Why do you think people turn to music for healing during difficult times in their lives?
A: Well, for a start music is universal and appeals to everyone. It’s a wonderful way to say what you feel. It speaks to your emotions, and how you get around those emotions, and I thank that is why people tend to put their efforts into recognizing whatever happens to them in their lives.
Q: When someone hears the song for the first time, what do you hope they take from it?
A: I hope they take from it that you can move on, you can heal, and you can find a way, personally, to get over all of the obstacles that are put in our way.
Q: How do you think you will feel, being able to play it on the 10th anniversary?
A: To be able to do this in my hometown, where I was so proud 10 years ago, of the residents of my community, and what they did was outstanding. As it was in all the communities in this region who participated in being able to help out. For me, to be able to do that in my hometown at the ecumenical service, will be satisfying, and I will be very proud to do that.
Q: Since there are people who come up every year, how will it be to play for them?
A: I think our visitors who are coming, and there will be lots of people around, I think for them it will be recognition of what really did happen, and how helping hands can be so good to heal the soul. We don’t do this stuff on our own, we are all in this together.
Q: How long have you been playing music?
A: About 30 to 35 years.
Q: What prompted you to pick up a guitar and play?
A: Well, I spent 10 years in Labrador fronting a band. When I moved back home, I kind of missed that. I missed being able to sing. I picked up the guitar and learned a few chords so I could sing, and it progressed from there.
Q: What made you want to start singing?
A: Well, it was something I’ve done all of my life, it’s enjoyable, it’s a stress reliever, it’s very satisfying to do a good job on a song, and it’s a lot of fun.
Q: What was the first song you learned on guitar?
A: The first song I learned on the guitar, oh my goodness. I think it was Back Home Again by John Denver.
Q: What was it about that song?
A: It is a beautiful song to start. It really turned me on to country music, because all I played before was rock ’n’ roll, dance music, and that sort of thing. When John Denver started having all of these hits, I was a big, big fan of John Denver.
Q: What are some of your influences?
A: John Denver, all of the country guys. I love country music, I love the new country music as well as the old. I just love music in general. All genres, the only I’m not fussy about is rap, I don’t like rap. The rest is all good.
Q: How did you become involved with the TV show, Jammin’?
A: Jammin’ was almost by accident. We had been practicing in the store once a week, in the Newfound Band music store. A group of us used to get together and jam every Monday night, and we started to get an audience in the parking lot. We had a great time, great fun with it. Then we got approached by Rogers TV, and there was community access for us if we wanted to do it. We thought about it, talked it over, and got a commitment from everybody who was playing in the band. We did 12 weeks during the winter, and to be honest, it killed the winter, and it was a laugh every night. The audience saw that we were having a good time with it. We played songs that our audience really loved.
“The whole premise of the song is that we put away all of the bad things that happen to us in our lives so that it can’t hurt us again, but you have to move on.” - Dennis Simms
There’s a place, in our minds, that locks away the unspeakable
In this place, kept safe from harm, it makes us feel we’re invincible.
It locks away the hurt and pain
Revenge and hate are held at bay
And it’s beyond word…..beyond words.
But there’s a place, in the heart, that holds the hurt and the grieving
And in this place, safe and warm, is where the spirit does it’s healing.
How helping hands reach out with care
And friendly faces everywhere.
And it’s beyond words…. Beyond words
It’s beyond words how this world keeps on turning
Beyond words how a hero falls
Beyond words how their courage towers above us
No words can say….. It’s beyond words.
It’s beyond words how this world keeps turning
Beyond words how a hero falls.
Beyond words how their courage towers above us
No words can say, no way to say, It’s beyond words.
Dennis SimmsMay 2011