Roger Waters, Brian Wilson, Jimmy Buffett, Sting, James Taylor, John Mellencamp, Sheryl Crow, and Don Henley came together at New York's Madison Square Garden last night (Oct. 8) for Music To My Ears,
While most of the thousands attending last night's Music to My Ears tribute concert to late Billboard editor in chief Timothy White probably had at best a vague notion of who he was as they entered New York's Madison Square Garden, they no doubt left knowing him as a journalistic giant and big-hearted man wildly in love with his wife and twin boys until his last breath.
White, who died at 50 on June 27 after suffering a heart attack in an elevator at Billboard's New York office, received a fete like few -- if any -- music journalists before him. Many of the artists who he covered and also considered friends paid tribute to him and raised funds for his wife, Judy, and their sons, one of which is autistic.
Before rolling out some of their biggest hits during often rousing, sometimes sad three- or four-song sets, Sting, Don Henley, Jimmy Buffett, Brian Wilson, Sheryl Crow, John Mellencamp, James Taylor, and Roger Waters explained what White meant to them, and/or what impact the longtime scribe had on music journalism and the music industry in general during brief, often touching, and occasionally hilarious videos projected onto two giant screens.
Waters said that White, a longtime editor at Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy, showed interest in his music and life when other journalists couldn't be bothered. Taylor called him a champion of artists and artists' causes. Crow said White often reminded her of the power of music, and how it means everything to some. "That's something you could forget on the road everyday," she said.
Last night's show was the second of two tributes to White, Billboard's editor for 11 years and the author of the widely revered Bob Marley tome "Catch a Fire" (considered by many to be the definitive book on the late singer), as well as books on Taylor and Wilson and the Beach Boys. The bill and set lists for the first, held Monday at the Fleet Center in Boston (where White lived), were almost identical. But while Billy Joel performed in Boston only, Buffett and Wilson were exclusively a part of New York's Music to My Ears event.
In a biographical video, interviews from throughout the '90s showed White reflecting on his youth, talking about his stand against violent music and gangsta rap in the early half of the decade, and talking about how he wanted to shape the future of the music industry. There were portions of a speech White gave while accepting industry charity City of Hope's 1998 Spirit of Life award (which he shared with Billboard publisher Howard Lander), as well as pictures of him with his parents, some of the musicians on the bill, friends, and family.
White's best friend, screenwriter Mitch Glazer, scripted the film, providing the words that narrator Taylor said as the film wrapped -- that White lived for music and "tonight it will live for him."
With that, the screen switched to Wilson's comments, in which he remarked that White "knew more about me than I knew myself." And just as the screen faded to black, the opening piano strains of "California Girls" came from the still-black stage -- providing for an early highlight, and one of the most powerful moments of the night.
Rocking from side to side, often clapping and snapping his fingers, the former Beach Boys frontman sat center stage (backed by a house band) plowing through rockin', sometimes gritty versions of many of the iconic act's biggest hits, including "God Only Knows" -- dedicated to White's family -- "Help Me Rhonda," and "Surfin' USA," each met with thunderous approval.
Arriving next was Buffett's video, one of many to make mention of White's trademark bowtie and white bucks. "I know somewhere tonight his white bucks are dancing," the easy-smiling Buffet said, before igniting the parrotheads in the house with renditions of "Far Side of the Moon," "A Pirate Looks at Forty," and "Margaritaville."
Adding levity and infusing the Garden with beautiful sadness was ex-Pink Floyd frontman Waters, who opened with an impassioned, chilling performance of "Wish You Were Here," followed by the somber new song "Flickering Flame" (featuring the touching, repeated line "I shall be free"), and "Comfortably Numb" (featuring Henley on vocals and guitar), which arguably was the night's peak. Often jerking his head and shoulder as he hit chords, Waters -- like each artist who took the stage last night -- made it more than obvious that although these were classic songs being rolled out, no one was going through the motions.
Taylor trotted onstage for a sweetly soulful set that included "October Road" and "Stop Thinking About That." The troubadour was joined by Buffett for "Mexico," and Sting for another of the night's highlights, an a cappella version of Taylor's "You Can Close Your Eyes," which features the line "You can sing this song when I'm gone," that was nicely topped off by Sting's pretty falsetto.
After an intermission, the show began again with a videotape of White's friend, actor/comedian Bill Murray -- dressed in white bucks and struggling to tie a bowtie -- remarking on White's "exciting hair." Stirring, fun, and as beautiful and inspiring as ever, Crow followed, belting out "If It Makes You Happy," "Soak up the Sun," "Steve McQueen," and "Home."
While most utilized a house band -- featuring a trio of backup singers that added a wonderfully spiritual, soulful tint to much of the evening's songs -- Henley took the stage with his own backing group, augmented at first by fellow Eagle Timothy B. Schmit, Taylor, and a local choir, all of whom helped out on "How Can I Stop Singing?" He then delivered a cover of little-known David Gray track "Shine," beautifully embellished by the choir and well executed by Henley himself. But it was the timeless "Boys of Summer" that proved nearly transcendent.
Sting returned again, clearly having a blast as he danced and sang his heart out during Henley's closer, a powerful rendition of the Bob Marley classic "Get Up, Stand Up," during which the stage backdrop was drenched in Rastafarian colors in a nod to White's love of Marley and reggae.
One of the evening's spark plugs, Sting's set offered an extended jam on "Roxanne," a beautiful rendition of "Fields of Gold," and a poignant "If I Ever Lose My Faith in You," which segued into a slightly sped-up version of "Every Breath You Take," which, like many of the sets, left both artist and audience feeling as though they were just hitting their stride when it was unfortunately time to move on.
Being one of White's closest friends, it was perhaps fitting that Mellencamp closed the show, belting out a riveting and raw take on "Paper in Fire," an acoustic, back-porch blues reworking of "Small Town," and a duet with Patti Smyth on "Pink Houses," among others.
As they did in Boston, all of the night's performers returned for the traditional "This Train" and Sly & the Family Stone's "Everyday People," in which Waters, Crow, Mellencamp, and Sting traded lead vocals.