Not too long ago, there was a nation in need of healing. Everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, from the poorest to the richest, from the obscure to the famous, wanted to do something to help themselves and others in their quest to make things seem right again.
America: A Tribute to Heroes was the result of the entertainment industry’s effort to help heal a nation. Musicians and actors banded together.bringing their music and stories of the heroes of September 11, 2001.
I watched the original broadcast (unprecedented in its commercial-free broadcast on nearly every network and channel in the US), having always enjoyed the “performance” segment of awards shows. I figured this would be much the same and I would probably read while it played in the background. Instead, I found myself mesmerized by the program – it’s stark, simple production thoroughly capturing the straightforward, heart-rendering emotion surely being felt by myself and many others.
The 2-CD set from the broadcast, America: A Tribute to Heroes, was made available shortly before Christmas 2001, and notes that “Royalties equal to the distributor’s net proceeds from the sale of this CD will benefit the September 11 Telethon Fund”. The CD has only the musical selections from the broadcast. The stories related by actors are not included, and while the selections appear to be intact, I believe some editing may have taken place on Willie Nelson’s America the Beautiful.
The CD opens and closes with two American musical icons: Bruce Springsteen’s My City of Ruin opened and set the stage emotionally and musically; Nelson’s sing-along with stars from the west coast was an inspirational closer. During instrumental interludes of America the Beautiful, some stars improvised as the power moved them, accentuating that this show was fairly unrehearsed and off-the-cuff.
From the defiant – Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down and Wyclef Jean’s rendition of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song – to the contemplative – Sting’s Spanish-flavored Fragile – the music covers many of the emotions felt by Americans and supporters world-wide. Transitions between songs seem stark – possibly because I had watched the broadcast and knew this was how it appeared on screen. No “introduction” or emcee. No strip at the bottom of the screen announcing which band was playing or which actor was speaking. Just a bunch of folks, getting together to express their feelings and try to raise some money.
Unlikely covers were created. Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here was hauntingly performed by Fred Durst (Limp Bizkit) and John Rzeznik (Goo Goo Dolls). (My brother, a hardcore PF fan said, and I quote: “It sucked. It sucked. It sucked.” I, on the contrary, thought it was rather good.) Neil Young’s interpretation of Lennon’s Imagine was perfectly suited to his nasal tenor.
Performances by the original artist were in plenty as well. New York State of Mind was executed flawlessly by the incomparable Billy Joel. Joel’s ability to pour out his heart through his fingers and voice are unmatched. Paul Simon (sans Art Garfunkel) delivered an off-key, but none-the-less tear-jerker version of Bridge Over Troubled Water. The African flair which Simon has adopted since 1986’s Graceland was evident in the accompaniment of the classic tune.
Jon Bon Jovi delivered an awesome acoustic version of Livin’ on a Prayer, proving that the musical method can say as much as the words.
And troubled times bring about strange, or perhaps not so strange, bedfellows. Consider “the grandfather of grunge” Neil Young accompanying one of Seattle’s finest, but seldom seen: Eddie Vedder (Pearl Jam) on Long Road. Stevie Wonder teamed up with Christian band Take 6 for a harmonious version of Love’s in Need of Love Today that brings to mind New Yorkers gathered on a street corner, singing around a burning trash can.
While I am not a personal fan of Faith Hill, Enrique Iglesias, Mariah Carey, or Sheryl Crow, I do enjoy their tunes that were selected and performed for the Tribute. Dave Matthews Everyday, not a tune I am all that hot for, was delivered in Matthews’ typical acoustic style.
I was not familiar with Alicia Keys or the Dixie Chicks (yeah, I know, what rock have I been hiding under?), but will explore their music further as a result of hearing them on this CD. Dixie Chick’s I Believe in Love is one of the best tracks on the CD.the harmonies are strong, the lyrics are poignant, and Natalie Maines’ voice is pure magnificence.
But I am missing yet one track. Ah yes. The so-far-unmentioned God Bless America, performed by the out-of-retirement Celine Dion.
Okay, I’ll be honest. I don’t like Celine. Couldn’t they have called in Barbra? Or gotten Whitney to eat a burger and come out and perform? Celine could have done her Titanic song and I could have happily hit the skip button. But skip over God Bless America? Even if it’s over-produced, seemingly only to showcase the singer’s voice, and she repeats the lyrics over and over and over and over and over again? Well, no, THAT would be un-American.
Sorry, I just picture her standing there. Swaying like some god-forsaken praying mantis and pointing her well-manicured hands toward the ceiling and belting out Irving Berlin.
I still think they cut out half of Willie Nelson’s long-drawn-out ad-libbing of America the Beautiful. Some serious editing (BEFORE THE PERFORMANCE) could have taken place here too.
Overall, I think you will enjoy the America: A Tribute to Heroes CD set. And knowing that it supports a good cause makes it even more of an inspirational buy. It’s a strong, solid 50 stars, with 13 blood red and snow white stripes to support it.