John Lennon Tribute Assumes New Meaning In Tragedy's Wake

Lou Reed, Dave Matthews, Kevin Spacey perform at delayed, renamed, refocused event.

Although John Lennon was a man of peace, many of his songs were created during wartime — the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the culture war. Still, his words of tolerance and love reflected with hope and faith in the goodness of mankind, no matter how rotten it appeared at any given moment.

When Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, and producer Ken Ehrlich planned a benefit concert to pay tribute to the former Beatle, they intended to use the proceeds to fight for gun control and help end youth violence — a noble cause to commemorate the noted pacifist (see "Lennon Tribute To Air Live From NYC; Dave Matthews, More Sign On"). "Come Together: A Night for John Lennon" was to take place September 20 at Radio City Music Hall in New York, Lennon's adopted home and the city in which he was assassinated.

When terrorists flew two Boeing 767 airplanes into the twin towers September 11, however, demolishing the buildings and killing thousands, the date, name and focus of the benefit changed.

"He had a prophetic ability to be way ahead of most of us," actor Kevin Spacey said backstage after Tuesday night's "Come Together: A Night for John Lennon's Words & Music," which was broadcast live on TNT and the WB. Spacey hosted the event and even sang a dramatic version of Lennon's "Mind Games."

While the event featured stars from past eras — Lou Reed performed a punk-rock version of "Jealous Guy" and Cyndi Lauper sang "Strawberry Fields Forever" from Central Park's Strawberry Fields garden — most of the evening's entertainers — including Dave Matthews, Stone Temple Pilots, Marc Anthony, Alanis Morissette, Shaggy, Craig David, Yolanda Adams and Shelby Lynne — were thoroughly contemporary.

"We were very concerned about having stars that represent this generation, because I wanted to make sure we can communicate to the young," Ono said from the press room shortly before showtime. She added that the evening's message took on extra urgency after September 11. "When the attack happened, I was really in a shock, just like I was in a shock when John passed away," she said. "It was so sudden. It reminded me very strongly of that day. I think most of us are still in shock. So it was very important for us to do this show in New York City."

The artists' mixed moods of melancholy and elation carried through the event. Contemporary gospel vocalist Yolanda Adams, who opened the show with a heartfelt version of "Imagine" backed by keyboardist (and Beatles sideman) Billy Preston, described the atmosphere.

"These are all wonderful performers, so there's a lot of love," she said. "But we are all setting into the fact that a lot of people's loved ones are still lost and missing, so it was pretty somber."

The evening was a musical eye-opener for some artists. Twenty-year-old English R&B heartthrob Craig David, for example, who sang a sultry version of "Come Together," acquired a solid appreciation of Lennon's craft.

"It's massively valuable to understand how he structured harmonies," David said. "His music was catchy and he was a great songwriter lyrically."

Dancehall pop star Shaggy, who closed the night with "Give Peace a Chance," was even more moved by Lennon's words.

"I looked at them closely for the first time and was like, 'That brother was deep,'" he said. "It saddens me, because I listen to music today and there's nothing like that. Everybody's talking about bling-bling and the artists are driving cars they don't own and houses they ain't finished paying for yet in these videos. There's no substance in music. It's so driven by how high some chick's miniskirt is or how low her cleavage is. You gotta give it to John Lennon. He believed in what he believed in whether you cared or not."

The tribute's highlights included Dave Matthews performing a gripping solo acoustic rendition of "In My Life," Stone Temple Pilots rocking out a flamboyant and gravel-voiced version of "Revolution," Alanis Morissette singing the melancholy "Dear Prudence" and Natalie Merchant playing a ruminative "Nowhere Man." Lennon's son Sean was joined by Rufus Wainwright and Robert Schwartzman for "This Boy," and by Moby and Wainwright for "Across the Universe."

"His political ideas, his social ideas, his ideas about love and the brotherhood of mankind are universal," said Stone Temple Pilots vocalist Scott Weiland. "His music continues to be relevant no matter what decade it is. Those ideas will continue to be important so long as people feel the love he spoke about."

For more information on and audience reaction to the attacks, including tips on how you can help, see "9.11.01: Moving Forward".