America: A Tribute to Heroes," an unprecedented collaborative relief effort
simultaneously last night by ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and dozens of cable networks,
was as rich with emotion as it was devoid of ego.
It began with Bruce Springsteen and ended a little more than two hours
Celine Dion leading a choir in an all-out rendition of "God Bless America," Clint
Eastwood vowing, "We will stand, and we will not yield," and Willie Nelson leading
part of the all-star group in "America the Beautiful."
The finale was sloppy, but everything that came before it was polished
Mariah Carey sang. Tom Hanks spoke. Jack Nicholson answered phones.
And none of them was identified by name, or on screen.
Performers came and went quickly, contributing their part without fanfare,
flourish or indulgence. They gave of their heart, and their art, and moved on.
Similarly, no network superimposed its logo during the two-hour special,
so every image,
no matter where you tuned in, was exactly the same: All that was on the screen was the
show's title and the phone number, address or Web address to contact with contributions
to help those whose lives were most directly touched by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.
It was a show of solidarity — across the cable and broadcast dial, and
of musicians and actors. Most musical performers chose appropriate numbers from their own
song books, but some opted to perform emotionally resonant works by others.
Neil Young sang John Lennon's "Imagine" — a typically defiant gesture,
since the song
had been singled out as one recommended for removal from certain radio playlists.
Wyclef Jean sang Bob Marley's "Redemption Song," beautifully.
Mournful, Hopeful Tone
Springsteen opened the show cold, after an establishing shot of the Statue
and sang "City of Ruins," a number he wrote about Asbury Park, N.J., but whose
lyrics established the program's mournful, hopeful tone instantly: "My city's in ruins,"
he sang. "Come on, rise up."
Performances, in front of TV cameras but no audiences, alternated
between Sony Studios in
New York and CBS Television City in Los Angeles (and, with both U2 and Sting, on separate
occasions, from London).
"America: A Tribute to Heroes" was polished, professional, dignified, with
yet respectful pace that provided more than its share of emotional, memorable moments.
Among them: Muhammad Ali, finding the strength and will to support Islam
denounce the terrorists; Kelsey Grammer quoting John F. Kennedy; Robert De Niro
quoting Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Young's aforementioned "Imagine"; Billy Joel's "New
York State of Mind"; Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water"; and passion-filled
performances by Pearl Jam, Limp Bizkit and Stevie Wonder.
Others taking part included Faith Hill, Tom Petty, Alicia Keys, Dixie Chicks,
and Sheryl Crow. Actors reading tributes included Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, De Niro, Clooney,
Will Smith, Jim Carrey, Chris Rock, Dennis Franz and Jimmy Smits.
Inspirational. Remarkable. And, one hopes, beneficial, for the victims
and families of
the terrorist tragedy as well as for the spirits of the scores of millions who tuned in.