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Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Imagine", Nine - One - One, Ten Years On: Lennon, Young and Heros Are So Hard To Find

It was -- without a shred of doubt whatsoever -- Neil Young's finest hour...ever. On September 21, 2001, just days after the 9-11 terror attack on the United States, Neil Young performed John Lennon's "Imagine" on the worldwide broadcast musical benefit telethon "America: A Tribute to Heroes". Simulcast live from London, New York and Los Angeles on the four major TV networks, international networks and globally streaming via the Internet, the program was seen by an estimated 89 million viewers and netted roughly $230 million in donations. For many, Young's performance was emotionally wrenching and heart felt. Surrounded by burning candles, performing on a grand piano and accompanied by a small orchestra of violins, Young's rendition of Lennon's "Imagine" spoke to many of us who were suffering from the terrible tragedies in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Notably, Young changed the lyrics from "imagine no possessions, to "I wonder if *I* can". (thanks Marilyn) Those in the studio that night, reported that Young appeared to be on the verge of tears upon completing the song. Pulse Magazine wrote that Young's performance of "Imagine" on the Benefit telecast was "one of those moments you never forget." From an interview (Pulse Magazine, April 2002) with Neil Young in which he was asked about "Imagine" and the night of "A Tribute to Heroes":
Neil Young: Well, first of all, I guess it was the night before that we first practiced it. So we ran through it about 10 times, until finally it started to gel and we knew what we were doing. We used the original charts from the original record, and did everything we could to do justice to the original version--we weren't trying to do anything other than that. Just trying to make it like John Lennon, basically. It was just such a great song for the moment. Pegi, my wife, got an email from a friend of hers after the 11th with the words to "Imagine" on it. And it was at the same time as I was trying to figure out what to play, because we only had two-and-a-half, three days' notice to do the show. And that seemed to be a good sign to me. So we went ahead and got the lyrics, the ones I couldn't remember, and I just learned it, practiced it, and when we did it that night everything just came together. And obviously, those are the nuts and bolts, but the real emotional part ... Well, it's just so obvious why it was the way it was. That's one of the things about being a musician or a singer or a songwriter--when these things come up, it's a chance to do your job, to do what you do and have it really be what it's supposed to be.
Sadly -- and ironically -- the song "Imagine was banned from most American radio stations by Clear Channel Communications following the attacks on 9/11.
lennon_peace_liberty
(More on John Lennon and the song "Imagine" and lyrics.) Young's next response to 9-11 came as he was writing "Let's Roll" for the Are You Passionate? (title references Jimi Hendrix's 1967 album "Are You Experienced?") album. The song tells the story of a passenger's (Todd Beamer) heroics on a hijacked Flight 93 (which crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers stormed the cockpit. Young reportedly made a donation to the Todd M. Beamer Foundation. From an interview (Pulse Magazine, April 2002) with Neil Young in which he was asked about the song "Let's Roll":
Neil Young: Obviously, watching the whole thing unfold on television, I'm doing what everybody else is doing. Then I heard the wife of one of the passengers --Lisa Beamer--talking about the phone call that her husband made to the operator, and the operator relaying that he said "Let's roll." And she was talking about how he always used to say that with the kids when they'd go out and do something, that it's what he said a lot when he had a job to do. And it's just so poignant, and there's no more of a legendary, heroic act than what those people did. With no promise of martyrdom, no promise of any reward anywhere for this, other than just knowing that you did the right thing. And not even having a chance to think about it or plan it or do anything--just a gut reaction that was heroic and ultimately cost them all their lives. What more can you say? It was just so obvious that somebody had to write something or do something. I think it's a legendary story that's gonna go down through the ages--it'll never be forgotten. So I was very surprised that I didn't hear any songs. And I'm thinking, "I can hear this song in my head, nobody else has written it when I thought everybody was gonna write it." So I just wrote it. I couldn't stop it anymore.
Greendale Album Cover living-with-war-cover.jpg fork-in-road-cover2.jpg
The events of 9-11 continued to haunt Young through the following decade. With 2003's Greendale , Neil sounds the alarm that something had gone terribly wrong on a number of fronts. 2006's Living With War was a direct confrontation of the need for a call to action. And, 2009's Fork in the Road -- the 3rd installment of the post 9/11 trilogy -- reveals Neil coming to grips with the fact that first you recognize a problem, then you call out the need to address it, and finally you do something about it. You can make a difference if you try really hard, if you will... Back tracking into the 20th century, Neil Young's 1987 "Mideast Vacation" was adapted to the post 9/11 world -- "I went lookin' for Bin Laden aboard Air Force One". "I went lookin' for Bin Laden aboard Air Force One" Neil Young with Crazy Horse performed "Mideast Vacation" from 1987's Life at the Bridge School Benefit concert on Oct. 10, 2001. This marked Neil Young's first post 9-11 performance (note NYFD hat) at the zeitgeist of 2000's paranoia. The original key lyric "I went lookin' for Khaddafi [Libya's Muammar Gaddafi] Aboard Air Force One" was changed for the concert to "I went lookin' for Bin Laden aboard Air Force One". So where does today's news leave Freedom v. 2011? Are we celebrating the end of the Global War on Terror? Or just getting ready for a repackaging of terror and the politics of fear into a kinder and gentler machine gun hand? Well, just another song in a long line of Neil Young prophecies, 1986's "Mideast Vacation" captured at the zeigeist of 1980's paranoia.
"I went lookin' for Bin Laden aboard Air Force One" But I never did find him And the C.I.A. said Son, You'll never be a hero ......Your flyin' days are done It's time for you to go home now Stop sniffin' that smokin' gun." ~~Neil Young, "Mideast Vacation, 1987
It's a very, very angry world indeed. 1989's "Rockin' in the Free World" -- the rock and roll coda for the Cold War song -- has also been invoked in association with the War on Terror. From Neil Young … Don’t Feel Like Satan… | LikeTheDew.com by Jeff Cochran:
As Neil Young alluded in “Rockin’ In The Free World,” to some, America is Satan. That notion rankles. All the same, resolving to no longer participate in “wars of choice” and to not be so ravenous with the world’s resources can only improve America’s image. Therefore, it’s a good time to realize that our feelings of pride, joy and love of country are not best displayed in gatherings that seem like boisterous frat parties. Along with our joy, there should be moments of reverence as we again honor the courageous actions of those who died saving others on 9-11: the first responders in New York City and the brave passengers of Flight 93. Their faith, courage and selfless bearing reflected the qualities free people hold dear. In the long run, America’s new-found exhilaration can make the greatest impact as we celebrate the stirrings of democracy in the Mideast, the region where the now-vanquished terrorist first conjured his deadly games. He [OBL] can no longer exploit those he claimed to be his people. Let us look forward to the day that they too are rockin’ in the free world.
From "Imagine": 2001 to Today by Greg "A Friend Of Yours":
Call me a "dreamer", but I have faith that the truth of the song "Imagine" will come to pass, not through the efforts of any wolf in sheep's clothing secular or non-secular world organization, but by the earth itself, by Life protecting Itself, and by Creation being true to It's eternal promise. Another conversation, I know, but that's my faith. In the meantime, songs and performances like this, and the fact that "I'm not the only one", help to sustain me.
From John Lennon's "Imagine", 9/11 and Neil by Angela:
It's a perfect message for all the world and all peoples. It is pro-spiritualism...beyond religious confinements. Freedom = love, truth and beauty. A vision of an ultimate utopian idea of where we should be striving for.
Neil Young News: "Imagine": 2001 to Today by SH:
I remember watching this live then and it blew me away-the fact that Neil wanted to contribute by performing and instead of using the platform to play one of his own compositions he played Imagine- perhaps the MOST appropriate of songs for the occasion, at a time when we were being inundated with little American flag stickers and cries of bloodshed in the name of patriotism. Not to open a can of worms but in the weeks and months following 9-11 it seemed even the most staunch of Doves became blood thirsty Hawks (myself included). We were pissed man- and with good reason. This was a terrible tragedy for the people, but I believe our sorrow, anger and confusion was taken advantage of (my opinion). Imagine receiving radio air-play did not go along with the required post-911 mindset, but I think this performance was a simple gesture reminding us to not lose sight of that idyllic promised land that is always within reach- if we want it.
Revolution in Tahrir Square Cairo, Egypt - February 12, 2011
War is not the answer. All we are saying is give peace a chance. namaste ps - What's so funny about peace, love, & understanding anyways?


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18 Comments:

At 9/11/2011 12:35:00 AM, Blogger Donald Gibson said...

What also made Neil's performance of "Imagine" so powerful was, in the days preceding, it was widely reported that US radio stations were not to play "Imagine" on the air lest its lyrics (particularly "Imagine no religion") offend anyone. Clear Channel specifically was reportedly ordering its stations not to play certain potentially incendiary songs and this one was at the top of the list.

When I heard Neil play those opening notes to the song on live TV, I got tears in my eyes and I threw my fist in the air, because it was not only so poignant, but in that moment it was defiant. He would not be denied to react -- and grieve -- the way he felt most appropriate. He was sending a message, and not just in the words he was singing.

 
At 9/11/2011 10:51:00 AM, Blogger SONY said...

He's not the only one. Thank God for that. That is a very powerfull rendition of Imagine.

 
At 9/11/2011 12:59:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

eh, i could take it or leave it. neil doesn't have the range to pull it off, frankly, and the song is way overrated in the first place. rich hippie singing about living with no possessions...as if. but if it helped some people through those terrible first days, so be it. for me the fist in the air moment was a few weeks later during farm aid when neil and the horse blew the roof off deer creek with "love and only love". even the weenies at the country music channel couldn't pull away from that one...though they did try.

the terrorists of 9/11/2001 got their wish...they have completely changed our lives. hell, we can't even get by the day on the calendar without rehashing the events EVERY SINGLE YEAR. remembrance is one thing...seeing the planes crash into the towers year after year is something else entirely. there is no healing until we decide to put that awful day behind us forever.

and "let's roll" is almost as bad as paul mccartney's "freedom". and that's bad.

 
At 9/11/2011 01:21:00 PM, Anonymous Gassy Jack said...

I am a huge NY fan, living in Scotland. I visit Thrasher's Wheat practically every day. But the presentation of US foreign policy is not the best. The events of 9/11 were terrible but, in the ten years since, Americans have failed to address the real causes of terrorist action against the US and its "allies". Maybe a song or two from Mr Young about the hundreds of thousands of innocent people who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of the very powerful American military industrial complex or the dangerous pro-Israel lobby in Congress would help in a very small way.

 
At 9/11/2011 02:18:00 PM, Anonymous alex said...

I think Let's Roll is alright... I can't see anything wrong with it!

 
At 9/11/2011 03:36:00 PM, Blogger Thrasher said...

@Donald - Thanks, it was powerful indeed. And Clear Channel's behavior was truly reprehensible & divisive when we needed the healing power of music. Which is what made the broadcast so important even to this day.

@Anon - overrated? Relative to what exactly? Anyone with that opinion, frankly, doesn't have a clue about music.
Rich hippie? Not sure what that has to do with anything.
But yes, the LAOL @ FA was for the ages.
Agree that it seems like these anniversaries are not used to truly understand how all this came to pass and try and get back to a better time & place.

As for LR? Well, as we are often prone to suggest, got a better idea? If so, bring it on, in the parlance of our times.

@Gassy Jack - It seems that LWW addresses those issues quite bluntly... too bluntly for many as you may recall.

 
At 9/12/2011 08:23:00 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

"dangerous pro-Israel lobby in Congress"? - Wow.

I'm sorry but who is it that has been attacked repeatedly throughout the ages for simply existing? Oh yea - the Jewish people.

Israel is surrounded by those who wish to wipe them off of the face of the Earth - apparently you fit right in with them and share their hatred.

Sad.

 
At 9/12/2011 08:31:00 AM, Blogger SONY said...

..the real causes of terrorist action against the US and its "allies". "

???

The causes are embedded in the hatefull mindsets and actions of the terrorists. Nothing more or less.

So you don't like or you hate your neighbor for what he is doing or has done or for what you think he is. So you kill him? You teach your brothers that there is a paradise waiting for you if you strap a bomb to yourself and kill in the name of your god?

Christ said to love your enemies, to pray for those who hate you. He did not say to wipe them out and to kill them.

There is a certain difference theologiaclly, philosphically and culturally going on.

Granted, it's the extreme element no doubt. But I would rather have extremists in the name of love than in hate.

Love and only love will endure.

 
At 9/12/2011 05:45:00 PM, Anonymous Gassy Jack said...

Jonathan & SONY - the point is that the US has been perceived for decades in the Arab world as taking a consistently partial approach to the problems in that area. Obama tried to do something modest about it earlier this year as he realises that America remains a terrorist target until there is a solution to the Palestinian issue. Mr Netanyahu flatly rejected Obama's calls and within days was being given a ten minute standing ovation in Congress. I am afraid that until that level of crude, irresponsible political support ends, America will continue to risk further monstrous attacks from fanatics in the Arab world. It's nothing to do with Muslims wanting to change the American way of life and the sooner people in the US waken up to that the better.

 
At 9/12/2011 10:20:00 PM, Blogger Dan1 said...

Gassy Jack,

You say you visit the TW site "practically every day". If so, your European anti-Americanism and anti-semitism is particularly unsettling ... we're here to connect with fans and celebrate Neil and the good scene around him ... I'm sure there's plenty of other places on the web where you can express your off color political views ... Don't misunderstand me, I'm not trying to defend America or suggest everything here is perfect, I think you'd be hard pressed to find many fans on this site who don't regret the Wars and the innocent victims (including but not limited to US soldiers and their families) ... and as Thrasher said, Neil addressed a lot of those things head on in LWW ... I'm just hard pressed to see how your comment adds to the feelings we all shared from the 9/11 tribute of Imagine by Neil 10 years ago ... your implication that somehow the US had 9/11 coming to them is playing into the hands of the terrorists and their dangerous propaganda ... Peace,
Dan

 
At 9/12/2011 11:24:00 PM, Blogger Dan1 said...

To anon's point,

On one hand its critically important to recognize the anniversary to help the victims and their families properly remember, grieve, and feel that their loved ones were not lost in vain. As a nation, we ought to remember the evil that expressed itself that day and remain strong in the face of those who hate, who seek to destroy our free and open society. Further, we ought to never forget the bravery and sacrifices made by citizens many of whom were true heroes for risking (or giving up) their lives in the pursuit of helping or saving others ... On the other hand, you can just picture the evil terrorists plotting and patting themselves on the back for murdering 3,000 mothers and fathers and sons and daughters whose only crime was that they were innocent Americans. Its hard not to think that all the exposure around the date allows these sick evil doers to gloat that much more.

I do think though that's what sets us apart as Americans -- we celebrate the memories of the innocent victims, honor the heroes, and refuse to allow these terrorists, to steal our dignity and freedom.

Those who seek to justify these evil acts are enabling, perhaps encouraging, them. We need to forcefully denounce these atrocities and denounce those that seek to justify them. Gassy Jack, I re-read some of your posts and felt compelled to call you out.

 
At 9/13/2011 12:01:00 AM, Blogger Mr Henry said...

Way too many words....

Spent the 10th anniversary at a house concert with Sarah Lee and Johnny. Sang lots of new songs, sang lots of old songs. Beautiful harmonies from the folks in attendance. Johnny has a new song that is the perfect companion to Ordinary People...can't remember the title right now.

"This is a bring your own God kind of church."
--Arlo Guthrie


"This machine kills facists."
--Woody Guthrie


Angels are able to fly because
They take themselves lightly
--Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion

 
At 9/13/2011 08:56:00 AM, Blogger Mr Henry said...

I think the song title is "Hard Working People"...great tune and very appropriate.

 
At 9/13/2011 08:58:00 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

Netanyahu flatly rejected Obama's calls because he was sucker punched metaphorically by the President on the eve before he arrived in the United States. The pre-1967 borders are indefensible. We have a President who seems to always take the side of those that wish our country harm and those that wish for Israel's demise. The standing ovation in Congress was deserved because without American support, Israel would be helpless. Israel obviously doesn't have Obama's support, but it does have the American people's support and prayers - which is vastly different.

Oh how I wish we had a President who loved freedom and our country.

Sorry Thrasher - I tried to not respond & I know you don't agree with me but thanks for having this forum.

Peace to all around the world...

 
At 9/13/2011 10:05:00 AM, Blogger Thrasher said...

@Dan1 & Jonathan - Here's the thing, we think its terribly important to have civil discussion around these issues. WWe all have differences of opinion but if we can't civilly air our disagreements... well.... we know where that goes.

Mao Tse-Tung said: "Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed. "

Clearly, we've entered a period where diplomacy has failed and politics and war have become intertwined.

Until we get back to civilized discourse, where we're heading isn't looking to be a happy ending.

Mr H - thanks as always. if only this blog killed facists...

 
At 9/13/2011 01:39:00 PM, Blogger SONY said...

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be.
With God as our father
Brothers all are we.
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony.

Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With every step i take
Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment
And live each moment
With peace eternally.
Let ther be peace on earth,
And let it begin with me.


seems complete to me.

 
At 9/14/2011 08:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ugh. thrash, i really tried not to leave this comment and let you have the last word, but for fuck's sake man. telling someone that they have no clue about music just because they don't share your opinion about a song is just lame. i'm a fucking musician...ARE YOU? didn't think so. but hey, it's yer blog. eat a peach.

 
At 9/15/2011 03:55:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't usually like to just post a link but I feel the need to respond to SONY's comment that "The causes [of 9/11] are embedded in the hatefull mindsets and actions of the terrorists. Nothing more or less." This recent commentary provides a very good overview of the real causes of 9/11:

http://www.ericmargolis.com/political_commentaries/americans-need-the-truth-about-.aspx

Thank you,

Earl

 

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