I'm watching America: A Tribute To Heroes, admittedly partly due to the fact that there's nothing else on. But I could be listening to music or reading or both. I suppose mostly I'm watching it because I wanted to know what it was going to be like. I heard all these names, Julia Roberts, George Clooney, Will Smith, etc., etc. and wondered what these actors could possibly do in a telethon type setting. They're actors. Well, Will could rap I suppose. I even kind of like it when he does. But I just kept picturing Julia Roberts standing in front of the cameras turning and posing, showing off some great dress, looking attractive. I mean, if she doesn't have a script, what else is she supposed to do?
My dad mentioned this show to me this morning and I told him, "It's going to be terrible." I think I meant partly the whole what's-Julia-going-to-do thing. But I think I also meant it was going to be hard watching 2 hours nonstop emotion, sentiment, depression, talk of war. God knows I've already had enough hours nonstop of that.
Now I've been watching it for a bit and the what's-Julia-going-to-do part is every bit as terrible as I expected. The actors stand up and flub their lines and they're live so they can't do anything about it and you can see them inwardly cursing themselves for not getting it perfect, as if if it was perfect it would help things seem less sad. The cameras stay on the actors for too long after they stop speaking and you can see how uncomfortable they are. Comedians speaking seriously can be tricky, too. It's hard to watch Ray Romano or Conan O'Brien without cracking a smile, but they don't say anything remotely funny. They put Mohammed Ali up in front of a microphone, shaking badly from the Parkinson's, and we can barely understand him.
But what I can understand Mohammed say is that he's been a muslim for 20 years and muslims are about peace. I also hear him call himself "The Greatest" which brings a smile to my face.
They show the people in the back manning the phones, just as a PBS fundraiser would, but the people manning the phones are Robert De Niro, Whoopie Goldberg, Andy Garcia, Adam Sandler, Al Pacino, Brad Pitt...every face is incredibly famous. And they're just sitting in the back answering phones. I imagine thousands of people around the country calling in to donate in hopes of Meg Ryan answering the phone.
There is no audience and no applause which makes it all seem a bit surreal but is appropriately respectful.
The musicians are the best part. The line-up is impressive. I'm unsurprised when the show starts with Bruce Springsteen. Stevie Wonder is also unsurprising. I feel a little excitement when they show U2 in black and white from London, though I'm not a fan, it reminds me of the 80's, when I had a strong social conscience and joined Amnesty International because Bob Geldof said I should and there were benefit concerts like this all the time. When Neil Young comes on and sings Imagine I feel a chill.
Billy Joel playing a baby grand piano with a fireman's helmet sitting on it as he sings I'm In A New York State Of Mind brings a tear to my eye. The fact that he manages to still smile as he sings impresses me and touches me more than anything. I can see New Yorkers thinking how great their city is, no matter what anyone tries to do to it. There is spontaneous applause when he finishes despite no audience.
I watched the rest of the show and wrote about it. Unfortunately my computer lost it. And I don't have the energy to recreate it. Suffice to say that I don't feel any better now than I did before watching. The world's no less scary. In some ways I feel worse, knowing that no matter how much money and fame and power you may have, it doesn't help, it doesn't make you feel any less helpless. So you can get up in front of a camera and ask for money and talk about how brave the firefighters are. Frankly I was more moved to give when I heard the firefighters talking for themselves.
A newscaster asked one how, on a day when he'd lost so many brothers, he could manage to go on. He said, today more than ever I have to go on. The honesty of that man made me want to give whatever I had.
An actor reading lines, no matter how earnest he or she might be, is still standing there in clean clothes in LA far from the damage. I don't mean they're not affected. I don't mean they didn't lose people they loved. I know many of them live in New York or have done. And I know deep down that it's a good thing that they've done, that they've probably raised a lot of money. But after the images we've seen over the last week and a half, the astonishing, unreal, heartbreaking images we've seen...do they really think Julia's tears are going to be what makes me crack? I cracked long ago. I'm unmoved by her.
However, the music was wonderful, and poignant, and worth remembering. Here's the song Sting sang, Fragile, dedicated to a friend he lost in the attack.
If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow's rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay
Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime's argument
That nothing comes from violence
and nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are
On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star
Like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are
How fragile we are