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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

9-11, "Imagine", + 18 Years Later: Lennon, Young and Why Heroes Are Still 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."

One Neil Young fan put it this way: "It's such a heartfelt moment, so universal. It doesn't pander, just touches on a deep, timeless level. I love the facial expressions, and subtle emphasis that Neil gives during the last verse and refrain." (Thanks Greg "AFOY") 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.

(More on John Lennon and the song "Imagine" and lyrics.)
"Long Road" - Eddie Vedder w/ Neil Young & Mike McCready
Neil Young then made a second performance on the live broadcast a short time laterr in the next segment.

eddie & neil 
Eddie Vedder and Neil Young
Eddie Vedder with Neil Young and Mike McCready perform "Long Road" on the worldwide broadcast musical benefit telethon "America: A Tribute to Heroes". 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.
(A clarification on heroes here and here.)

Greendale Album Cover living-with-war-cover.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...

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.
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.
And speaking of finding the REAL truth, the question is whether folks can handle the truth? We know we can handle the wheat, wherever it takes us. Because as the saying goes, if you don't love the truth, then you can't love anything. In conclusion, we leave you with the words Neil Young fan Greg "AFOY": "Call me a "dreamer", but I have faith that the truth of this song 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." Thanks Greg "AFOY". It all gives new meaning to "open up the tired eyes..." 

Also, see more comments on Neil Young and 9-11, here and here. Also, see Why is our protest music stuck in the past? | Washington Post.


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At 9/11/2019 10:26:00 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Always remember and never forget this day. The Farmaidians

At 9/11/2019 10:28:00 AM, Blogger windsaloft said...

eh, I thought "long road" was much better. "imagine" as a song is pretty overrated.

and "let's roll" is a TERRIBLE song. right up there with paul McCartney's "freedom".

At 9/11/2019 10:48:00 AM, Blogger Tom said...

Imagine was a perfect choice, and Neil and gang did it justice that night, for sure. It's up there with the Beatles "All You Need Is Love" worldcast in great musical, cultural moments.

At 9/11/2019 04:30:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

The fact that Clear Channel banned Imagine from the airwaves was ridiculous, so when Neil sang it (for me anyway) it was a great and courageous act of defiance. I was just so proud of him, because it was the perfect song for that moment.

My mom was in her 80’s at the time, and she was by no means a Neil Young fan, but she told me the next day that it was the most beautiful thing she had ever heard.


At 9/11/2019 08:14:00 PM, Blogger acidfrank said...

the best quality version I can find on u-toob - its still only 480p but twice the 240p linked above. where is 720p version anyway? too bad this is not the video of the day on NYA ----

At 9/11/2019 08:33:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

Thanks to all of you out there who keep the candle burning.



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