Song: "Who Are You"
Writer: Pete Townshend
Band: The Who
Original Release: July 14, 1978
The Concert for New York City at Madison Square Garden was organized by Paul McCartney a month after the 9/11 attacks to honor the city's valiant first responders. The evening's lineup was impressive: McCartney himself, David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Billy Joel, Destiny's Child, Melissa Etheridge and on and on. Obviously, with so much talent on stage for such an emotionally charged event, expectations were high. And yet, for most of the concert, the energy seemed off, at least from our seats on the couch at home. Jon Bon Jovi and the Backstreet Boys mugged on stage with police caps from the audience. Politicians were booed. The performances were good, but not great, perhaps everyone a little too impressed with themselves - just showing up and being sad was enough. Prepped for catharsis, I was feeling let down.
Then the Who came on and played their guts out.
They played the songs they knew everyone wanted to hear and they played like they meant it. The energy in the room exploded. You could hear Daltrey and Townshend straining to be heard and they looked like they were willing to bleed if they had to. Suddenly, it all made sense. These emotionally exhausted firefighters and policemen didn't want pity. They didn't want pandering. They didn't want cute. They didn't want a hug. Instead, they wanted to celebrate what was worth living for and, yes, maybe dying for. Sometimes, the kids just wanna rock. The Who understood all of that and embraced their role in the moment. That is why they triumphed where everyone else fell short.
The video below includes the entire set. It's well worth your time. I learned later that the NYPD has long felt a kinship with The Who because of the line about the policeman in "Who Are You" so the fact that they opened with it was meaningful in itself. The moment at the end of the song when the flag behind the stage turned from Union Jack to Stars and Stripes was powerful and sincere.
But wait, there's more. First, the sad part: the concert was bassist John Entwistle's last US performance. He died of a heart attack eight months later.
Seven years after the show, the band received Kennedy Center Honors. New York's Finest had a little surprise for them: