A Bigger, Bolder Lennon Tribute
The New York Times, by Neil Genzlinger
November 30, 2009
Just because an event is in its 29th year doesn’t mean it can’t do anything new.
Joe Raiola and his pals at Theatre Within have been staging a fund-raising John Lennon tribute every year since 1981 near the anniversary of Lennon’s death, and the roster of stars who have played it is getting pretty long. This year’s show, though, which is Friday at 7:30 at Symphony Space, features a number of first-timers, including David Bromberg, Joan Osborne, Lucy Kaplansky, Nicole Atkins and Bettye LaVette.
Mr. Bromberg (whose wife, Nancy Josephson, will also perform with her Angel Band) has several connections to the Beatles on his résumé, including playing on a couple of Ringo Starr’s albums. But perhaps the quirkiest is the song he wrote with George Harrison, “The Holdup,” which he will perform on Friday along with the 1964 Beatles tune “You Can’t Do That.”
“The Holdup,” Mr. Bromberg said in a telephone interview last week, came about because his manager had invited him to a Thanksgiving dinner in the early 1970s in New Jersey at which Harrison was also a guest.
“There was a guitar there,” Mr. Bromberg recalled — a not very good guitar, but the two started messing around with it. The result was a tongue-in-cheek Western-outlaw ditty with a Spanish sound that is out of character for both Harrison and Mr. Bromberg. (The song is about, well, a holdup, sung by one of the bandits: “Give us the money, don’t stand there and shiver. Tax time is coming, give alms to the poor. Or I’ll put a bullet right through your best liver; wealth is disease, and I am the cure.” The nutty “liver” line, Mr. Bromberg said, was Harrison’s.)
The song ended up on Mr. Bromberg’s self-titled 1971 album. What prompted him and Harrison to write such an un-Brombergian, un-Harrisonian tune? “I think it was the guitar,” he said. “It was a gut-string class of guitar, made for Spanish music.”
Also new to the Lennon Tribute this year is the beneficiary, the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation. In past years the designated cause has generally been a group dedicated to fighting poverty or hunger, as Lennon might have wished. This year, Mr. Raiola said, Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, asked that the effort focus on a cause that would help children.
Mitochondrial disorders, though not limited to the young, affect thousands of children, with the symptoms including poor growth, loss of muscle coordination and developmental delays. Mr. Raiola said the connection to the foundation came through Rich Pagano, who directs the show’s house band (and is better known as the drummer of the Fab Faux). Mr. Pagano, he said, has an acquaintance whose son has mitochondrial disease.
Mr. Raiola has high hopes for this year’s show, which features perhaps the most star-studded lineup yet, and said he hopes the momentum carries through to next year, which would be both the 30th anniversary of the show and the 70th anniversary of Lennon’s birth. Symphony Space is significantly larger than the halls he has used in recent years, he said, but “we’re still dreaming of something even bigger.”