The Concert for New York City remains one of the most bizarre charity concerts that the world has ever seen. Formed in quick reaction to the September 11th attacks, the show had everything: The Who in their final American performance with John Entwistle, Adam Sandler doing Operaman, Susan Sarandon getting booed, and quite a few charged verbal attacks on Osama Bin Laden. Of course, you can always leave it David Bowie to keep things classy and slightly off-kilter.
On a night overflowing with righteous emotion and feverish jingoism, Bowie simply took a seat on the stage, plugged in what sounded like a Casio keyboard, and took on a classic tale of searching for meaning and purpose among the sprawling landscapes of the United States. In a slight surprise, Bowie decided to pay tribute to his newly-adopted home country with a rendition of Simon & Garfunkel track ‘America’.
Bowie was living in New York during the September 11th attacks, so his stately tribute came from a personal perspective. The oompah of the Suzuki Omnichord that he plays was a complete contrast to the bombastic and anthemic performances that were happening that night. While Billy Joel and Elton John were belting out their tributes to the city, Bowie was at a near whisper, letting Paul Simon’s words do the heavy lifting.
Bowie still got his chance to get in on the anthems: the second song he played was ‘Heroes’, which was dedicated to the fire station that was just around the corner from his residency. The rousing excitement of ‘Heroes’ obviously got the bigger reaction at the time, and it’s easy to see why more of the audience were willing to stand up and cheer for ‘Heroes’ than the dense and poetic ‘America’.
But years later, ‘Heroes’ looks like the obvious choice while ‘America’ looks like the inspired one. Bowie had the audience in the palm of his hand on his biggest anthem, but gave them an unexpected comfort thanks to a stripped-back version on a Simon & Garfunkel classic.
Check out David Bowie’s performance of ‘America’ down below.