Everyone talks about the need to check egos at the door. But it was hard not to notice that the first announcements of Sunday's Washington concert called it merely "United We Stand." Then it grew to "United We Stand What More Can I Give?"--tacking on the name of Jackson's new song.
"The Concert for New York" was born in the days after Sept. 11, when several executives at VH1, the cable music channel, got on the phone and posed the question echoing all over the country. "We all asked, 'What can we do?"' recalled Rick Krim, VH1's executive vice president for talent and music programming. "And what we could do best is music. We said, 'Let's do a concert, a really big one."'
But they did not anticipate how the pieces would fall into place. The first call went from the network's president, John Sykes, to his counterpart at Cablevision, James L. Dolan, whose empire includes Madison Square Garden.
"Jim offered the Garden immediately, free of charge," Sykes said.
Then they needed talent.
A handful of performers, including Jon Bon Jovi and Melissa Etheridge, had already agreed to do public service spots for the network. They were a start, but far from enough to carry such a concert, or even attract the other acts that might.
Enter Weinstein, the Miramax mogul who may be the current godfather of benefits, often for political causes. Pushed out of Miramax's TriBeCa offices blocks above the World Trade Center site, he was doing business from a Manhattan coffee shop, where he had a lunch with Dolan, who mentioned the project. It quickly had a new partner--and soon a headliner.
Weinstein said he ran into McCartney at a wedding on Martha's Vineyard, and that McCartney did not need much convincing.
His father had been a volunteer fireman in Liverpool during World War II, doing rescue work "when the bombs were falling," Weinstein noted.
They sealed the deal Sept. 23, when both were on a flight from New York to London. "He agreed on the plane," Weinstein said Friday. "And once Paul came on board, the floodgates opened."
The Who and Jagger signed on almost simultaneously. Clapton agreed to fly in from Mexico City, Elton John from London.
By this week, Krim was having to say, "Sorry, no more room," to the likes of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and Ricky Martin, the swivel-hipped Latin singer. Krim said he suggested to Martin's people that he'd be a natural for the stadium show in Washington. He's on that bill now.
Twisted Sister placed a feeler about getting on the card with "We're Not Going to Take It." So did Bobby "Boris" Pickett, who figured this was the season of his "Monster Mash."
Krim had to explain that "it's not an oldies act in Vegas."
The show will benefit the Robin Hood Relief Fund, which is assisting low-income victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. It was in the Robin Hood spirit of taking from the rich that the top ticket price was set at $10,000. For that, they throw in a pre-concert reception with the artists.
Another corporate partner in the event, AOL Time Warner, is supplying its 6,000 customer service agents to take pledges over the phone.
The organizers know they won't raise nearly as much as the Sept. 21 telethon, or approach the solemnity of that event, in which Springsteen, Bono and others performed without audiences, before backdrops of lighted candles.
At a time when the nation was mourning, "they captured that particular moment," said Fred Graver, who is executive-producing the Madison Square Garden concert for VH1 as a five-hour, commercial-free telecast starting at 7 p.m. (and airing at that time on tape delay in the West).
"We're capturing a very different moment, New York standing up, dusting itself off, saying, 'We're back."'
But how to make that statement through music?
The evening's tentative lineup was scribbled on a large grease board in Graver's office in VH1's Times Square headquarters. He hurried to erase it when a visitor entered, apologizing, "it's not like we're planning a set of airstrikes, but ... "
Word was out, though: The concert would begin with David Bowie's "Heroes," performed to some of the police, firefighters and rescue workers being given the prime seats on the floor of the Garden.
After that, they are alternating the musical sets--on a revolving stage--with introductions by movie stars (Harrison Ford, Meg Ryan and others), appearances by comedians (Adam Sandler, Mike Myers and others) and the showing of short films by a cadre of directors lined up by Weinstein: Woody Allen, Edward Burns, Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, Jerry Seinfeld and Kevin Smith.
As for the music, some choices were obvious, like Billy Joel doing "New York State of Mind."
"We're also trying to create some 'moments,"' Krim said.
Might Jagger do some of his Rolling Stones classics with the Who's Pete Townshend on lead guitar? Might the duo from U2 create magic if they paired with Destiny's Child to ask Marvin Gaye's question, "What's Going On?"
And how to climax such a concert?
It's become expected at such affairs that you end with everyone on stage around the headliner, performing one of their classics.
Promoter Graham used to advise others not to cheat the audience out of what they want, however obvious it seems. "You've got to give them dessert," he preached, "after the meal."
The trick, Krim fretted, is not to make it "too cliche, not some sloppy blues jam."
So McCartney will be up there, with others, doing a Beatles classic. But which one?
"With a Little Help From My Friends" may sound like a message for the rescue workers, but it's also about getting high. It's out. "Hey Jude" is a terrific song for an ensemble, with everyone doing a verse, but is the message on point? Or is "Let It Be" what they want to say?
"Some things are going to be a surprise ... even to me," said Krim. "Paul may go around to different people during the concert and talk to the people he wants. And they can work it out right there."