In the wake of September 11, musicians come together to celebrate Lennon's provocative, forward-looking spirit, says Ken Tucker
John Lennon
Credit: John Lennon: AP/Wide World

John Lennon is remembered in a timely TV tribute

Tuesday’s tribute concert for John Lennon was originally scheduled for Sept. 20, to be taped for TV broadcast on Oct. 9: Lennon’s birthday. But in the wake of the terrorist attacks and the benefit telethon on Sept. 21, Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, decided to move the event to Tuesday (Oct. 2), when it will be broadcast live on TNT at 8:00 p.m.

Originally conceived to raise funds for the James Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, some profits from the show (which will be held before an audience in Manhattan’s Radio City Music Hall) will now also be distributed to a variety of relief organizations working on the World Trade Center rescue efforts. The concert includes a roster of performers that, except for veteran rockers such as Lou Reed and Billy Preston, represent a post-Beatle generation of pop musicians, including Alanis Morissette, Dave Matthews, Moby, Nelly Furtado, Stone Temple Pilots, and Lennon’s son Sean.

Emphasizing younger musicians is in keeping with Lennon’s perennially forward-looking stance. Just think of the places we’d never have gone — in music, in culture, in humor, in anger, in social and political discourse — without his existence as a Beatle and as a solo artist. As I write, it hasn’t been announced yet who’ll perform ”Imagine,” but I doubt there’s any chance the song will not be heard.

For one thing, is there a rock musician among any sizable gathering of such a tribe who could not resist thumbing his or her nose at the fact that the Clear Channel, a conglomerate of over a thousand radio stations, asked its outlets not to play the song in the wake of the terrorism, lest it upset listeners? While it’ll be tough to top the elegant version of ”Imagine” Neil Young did at the Sept. 21 benefit concert, surely someone will once again summon up Lennon’s world with ”no countries… nothing to kill or die for… no religion too.”

Lennon’s song, for all the beauty of its melody, was like so much of his work and life: a provocation. It MUST upset some people now to hear anyone talk about an absence of religion, or to suggest that there might be a world where there’s ”nothing to die for” at a time when so many people have and are preparing to do just that, some in the name of our enemies, and some in the name of our freedom.

Tuesday’s concert takes its name from another Lennon song, ”Come Together: A Night For John Lennon’s Words and Music.” Only a fool would speculate on what a headstrong artist like Lennon would be espousing now — would he be a peacenik, a rabble-rouser, or a writer of hymns for the present moment? I don’t know, and I respect his memory all the more for being unable to guess. I hope the young musicians saluting him on Tuesday manage to convey the joyous, sometimes infuriating unpredictability of the man as well as his vaunted songcraft.