By Carter B. Horsley
From 9 PM to 11 PM, September 21, 2001, almost all major television channels in the United States broadcast a memorial concert for the victims and heroes of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in Manhattan and the Pentagon.
It was a low-key, somber, and very tastefully done event with many entertainment celebrities such as Clint Eastwood, Robert de Niro, Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, Julia Roberts and many others making short, moving tributes instead of commercials and a wide range of singers performing some moving songs without studio applause and in front of candles and most conservatively dressed in black.
Among the highlights were a superb rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine" by Neil Young, Paul Simon singing his wonderful "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" Billy Joel singing his fine "A New York State of Mind" and a rousing opening song, "My City's in Ruins," by Bruce Springsteen. Other performers included Sting, U2, Mariah Carey, Willie Nelson, LimpBizkit, Faith Hill, the Dixie Chicks, Stevie Wonder. A telethon, the event had phones manned by Jack Nicholson, James Wood, Tom Cruise, Goldie Hawn, Whoopi Goldberg, Brad Pitt, Jim Carrey, Meg Ryan, Al Pacino among others.
Perhaps the most emotional moment was Muhammed Ali stating that he has been a Muslim for 20 years and that "Islam is peace."
The event followed President Bush's televised address to Congress and the nation the night before that was very well written and delivered. The President's message emphasized religious tolerance and America's dedication to freedom and its intention to wage war on "global" terrorism. It nicely balanced the nation's justified anger with the need for patience and mourning, and sternly warned the nation's of the world to take sides with America in its intended war on terrorism or be regarded as "hostile regimes."
The president's speech and the memorial concert capped an extraordinary period of very intense and profound shock over the terrorist attacks.
Some of the heroic acts of victims and rescuers in the World Trade Center attacks were briefly and movingly recounted during the memorial concert. They were ennobling and inspiring and, while the many of the stories have been told many times in recent days, heart-breaking.
America had a "heart" attack and in its recovery many of its lesser, more trivial pursuits are being re-examined, a healthy sign as is the tremendous outpouring of communality, civic spirit, and human decency evidenced by the countless vigils and fluring of the American flag on cars, apartment buildings and stadiums.
Presidential addresses traditionally receive thunderous, enthusiastic and very political receptions in Congress, but much of the bipartisan support President Bush was given at his address was quite extraordinary and patriotism has rarely soared higher in the country's history.
The speech did not dwell much on the nation's economy and 10 days after the terrorist attacks the nation's stock markets had fallen preciptiously and travel, tourism and lodging industries were reeling from cancellations. The prospect and uncertainties of a war against terrorism came at a time when the nation's economy had softened considerably and while the shock and numbness of the attacks had not worn off and energies were focused, understandably and impressively, on solidarity and the nobility of fine American and human virtues, the stink of panic was not imperceptible. While politicians spoke of patience, many people were aghast at the prospects and very shaken.
Fortunately, President Bush and others cautioned against blind retaliation and "profiling" and Mayor Giuliani demonstrated great compassion and calm leadership that was very inspirational. As evil as the mad terrorist acts were and as huge as the suffering they created, the city and the country bonded together admirably and nobly.
While the concert was not as joyous and impressive as Bob Geldorf's spectacular and great Band-Aid concert of the early 1980s, it was a fine demonstration again that love and art can conquer a great deal. Springsteen's, Young's and Simon's performances, in particular, were transcendant and deeply moving.