17 Years Ago: Darryl Worley’s ‘Have You Forgotten?’ Hits No. 1
Seventeen years ago, on April 5, 2003, Darryl Worley's song "Have You Forgotten?" hit No. 1 on the country charts. Taken as a whole, the song is a plea for people to remember not just 9/11, but also the patriotism, anger and urgency people felt after the event.
The song directly mentions the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks ("Have you forgotten when those towers fell?") and Osama Bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda, the extremist group behind the attacks. "Have You Forgotten?" also appears to reference the ensuing war in Afghanistan that was launched later in 2001: "I hear people sayin', 'We don't need this war' / But I say there's some things worth fightin' for / What about our freedom and this piece of ground? / We didn't get to keep em' by backing down."
Worley tells The Boot that he and co-writer Wynn Varble wrote "Have You Forgotten?" in just two hours. However, the premise of the song took a while to percolate in Worley's mind.
"I come from a military family, on both sides -- lots and lots of military," Worley tells The Boot. "Every conflict that this nation has ever been in, I’ve got family members who participated, and I’ve seen the effects of the wounds since I’ve been alive. So when 9/11 happened, everybody’s like, 'Toby [Keith] wrote a song,' 'Alan [Jackson] wrote a song.' I said, 'I have to let that stuff soak in and digest before I write a song. I don’t just get up the next morning and write a song. That’s just not how I am. It has to stew a little bit.'"
As it turns out, several events influenced "Have You Forgotten?" For starters, Worley performed concerts in Afghanistan for troops in December 2002, but then was dismayed by the temporary patriotism he saw on display when he returned home. At the same time, he experienced some anti-war blowback from an old friend he ran into at the gym.
"He came up to me and started spewing all this crap, dogging [then-]President [George W.] Bush," Worley recalls. "He said, 'They’re just looking for a fight anywhere they can go find one. It’s going to destroy our nation.' I told Wynn that. He says to me, 'I talked to a guy yesterday, and he was spewing that same crap,' and he said, 'I just wanted to grab him by the throat and say, ‘Have you forgotten?'"
"Have You Forgotten?" naturally caused some controversy, with many saying that the song appeared to link 9/11 to a separate contemporary invasion of Iraq -- a hot-button political issue, as then-President Bush was being accused of falsely using 9/11 to justify the military action. A piece in the Hartford Courant called the song "a plea that thinly links the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks with the need to bomb Iraq. It is a page ripped right out of a White House briefing."
But in 2003, Worley was clear that the song was not pro-Iraq war: "The song is posing a question: Have you forgotten what happened to our country on 9/11? That's pretty much the size of it," he told The Los Angeles Times.
"People are going to tear it to shreds and try to find a lot of things. It's kind of like reading the Bible -- everybody's got their own interpretation," Worley added. "We know what we meant by the song. We weren't trying to be politically correct. We're trying to put a message out there that in our hearts we felt needed to be said. Even with the people who stand up against the war, and this song for that matter, at least we know we've got them thinking about it."
"Have You Forgotten?" spent seven weeks at No. 1 on the country charts, and even became a crossover hit, peaking at No. 22 on the Billboard Top 100 singles charts.
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