Come Together: A Night For John Lennon's Words and Music

Come Together: A Night For John Lennon's Words and Music (2002)
Eagle Rock Entertainment

Whether you live there or you've merely visited once or twice, it's hard not to get sucked into the pulse of New York City. I've gone up to the Big Apple nine times, a few for pleasure, others to cover concerts in Times Square and I highly doubt those will be my last visits. Like many people, I was infected the very first time I took a simple bus trip up there and was dropped off in Midtown across the street from Radio City Music Hall. Years later I would take my wife to see Celtic Woman at Radio City and it is perhaps the most gargantuan amphitheatre I've ever stood in. You can get an appreciation of its enormity when watching concerts via video, but to fully grasp the acoustic splendor is to physically be there.

John Lennon was a man of many things, though not always perfect and iconic as society has otherwise justly made him out to be. Whether you were a Beatles fan or not or you preferred Paul McCartney's seventies and eighties sugar pops to John Lennon's sometimes moody and ambivalent textures, you have to give Lennon all the credit in the world for choosing a stance in life and never yielding from it. Yes, people said mean things about his wife Yoko Ono (largely pinning the Beatles' breakup upon her undeserving back), and yes, the right wing scoffed at Lennon's idealism of a free-thinking, peaceful utopia (while mumbling "Oh La Di Oh La Do" stupidly in secrecy while jamming to The White Album). The fact of the matter was Lennon, like the rest of the Beatles, was a musical genius and all four members stood on the side of the light and used their fame and popularity for good.

John Lennon was also a man about town, in particular his adopted city of New York. You go up there these days and the famous image of a Coke-bottle-sunglassed Lennon with a feathery crop on his head and a muscle shirt that blares in concrete letters "NEW YORK CITY" is available for purchase in every third or fourth store. Lennon belongs to New York as much as it did to him. Strawberry Fields is no longer applicable to a Liverpool Salvation Army house; for New York City's purposes, Strawberry Fields is snugly planted in memorial to Lennon on the lower east side of Central Park.

You have to wonder what we would've seen out of John Lennon had he survived the night he was taken from this life and been in New York City two decades later to witness the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Certainly he and Yoko would've been appalled and they might've taken to the streets in protest, but also you'd have to think that Lennon would be tossing up as many thumbs-up gestures as peace signs in the way New York City bonded together and rose out of tragedy with more grace than was expected of them.

"Come Together: A Night For John Lennon's Words and Music" brings us back to October of 2001 in a New York still licking its wounds. Quixotic that New York would turn to a ghost of its past to seek salvation, exactly as the Beatles inadvertently did with their arrival into a devastated United States following the assassination of John F. Kennedy. "Come Together: A Night For John Lennon's Words and Music" is a tribute to the brilliance of John Lennon, but put into the context of a quickly-passed seven years, it is a statement in the name of peace, thrown down by the entertainment community which gathered en masse at Radio City Music Hall.

Kevin Spacey hosts the event and upon greeting, you see a maudlin expression upon his face that mimicked the majority of Americans in October of 2001. Spacey later returns in the show to declare his outrage that Lennon and other proponents of peace are no longer with us while hatred and violence still exists, and then astonishingly jumps into an emotionally-wrought cover of Lennon's "Mind Games." God, can the man sing!

This is the statement of "Come Together: A Night For John Lennon's Words and Music," that America was perhaps at its most united during this splintered moment of time, whether they were in New York City or Washington, DC or Pennsylvania or they were far-removed from these sites of violence. Dustin Hoffman comes out onstage for a few words, as does Tim Roth, Kevin Bacon, Ben Stiller, Steve Buscemi, Edie Falco and James Gandolfini. It's something of a parade of ambassadors doing their best to emulate the Beatles' issuance of getting by with a little help from some friends.

But the evening decidedly belongs to John Lennon as his image routinely splashes across a giant screen behind the performers, bearing a looking-down omnipresence as Alanis Morissette wails through "Dear Prudence," Yolanda Adams and Billy Preston deliver a gospel-tinted version of "Imagine" and Stone Temple Pilots bash out "Revolution" with hard rock aplomb. He is there as Lou Reed testifies on behalf of his generation with "Jealous Guy" while Dave Matthews hails the new generation with a beautiful acoustic do-up of the Beatles' "In My Life."

John is most assuredly there to watch his son Sean Lennon bravely take the stage alongside Moby and Rufus Wainwright in a lucid version of the psychedelic self-healing ode "Across the Universe," though Moby's choky baritones are slightly off-kilter. Still, you're not necessarily here to pass judgment for style points during a tribute session. Sean, who would rightly deserve a multi-million dollar recording contract for his pedigree alone, appears to be content to hone his craft in near-obscurity because he has the capacity to fully replicate Lennon's otherworldly picking on "Julia" and this is one of the evening's most memorable moments, even as he and Rufus Wainwright tackle an acapella rendition of "This Boy" beforehand.

Even though the United States turned jaded in the midst of war following 9/11 as the red constituents took over the country in a neo-Rome hijacking, "Come Together: A Night For John Lennon's Words and Music" is a reminder that we were all momentarily fragile and in a desperate hour we turned to the wisdom and strength of John Lennon's music. Lennon would undoubtedly be thrilled to pieces to have witnessed the winds of change gusted through this year's election. Somehow, you have to wonder if he partially willed it from the beyond…