Over a hundred thousand sane, rational humans crowded the National Mall in Washington DC Saturday afternoon (October 30) for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's "Rally to Restore Sanity and/Or Fear," and the two comedic political assassins brought out a solid group of superstars to entertain the crowd - and leave a message of hope.
Opening with a nearly 40-minute set from John Legend and The Roots, Stewart and Colbert brought three hours of docile fun to the tens of millions tuning in from around the world. A full recap of the Rally is in the works, but for now let's focus on the music, no?
Stewart blew minds when he announced the next performer onstage, the folk legend formerly known as Cat Stevens, Yusuf Islam. The icon hit the stage with an acoustic rendition of "Peace Train," but was soon interrupted by Colbert's storming the stage, ranting about the song's message of harmony. The satirical pundit then proclaimed, "My train is arriving at the stage now and the conductor has an important announcement to make!"
Colbert then brought out the Prince of Darkness himself, Ozzy Osbourne. Decked out in his standard black, Ozzy led the band through a truncated version of the metal classic "Crazy Train."
Before Osbourne could finish, Stewart grabbed the mic and declared, "I will not get on that train! I am not comfortable on that train!" Stewart commanded Yusuf to start up again with "Peace Train," until Colbert jumped in, saying, "I'm gonna pull the emergency brake on this rainbow, moonbeam choo-choo!"
Osbourne and Islam went back and forth, each dishing out their train-central message, until both gave up the fight, embraced and exited the stage. But there was more in store for the audience, and legendary soul group The O'Jays took the stage in slick white suits, busting out their 1973 single "Love Train" to the delight of the crowd.
Rally For Sanity: Yusuf + Ozzy + The O’Jays
Plus, Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy teamed up for a gorgeous rendition of “You Are Not Alone,” with the Wilco frontman then appearing a bit later to play guitar for an original number written and sung by Stewart and Colbert.
Rally For Sanity: Jeff Tweedy + Jon Stewart + Stephen Colbert
While many may have wondered if he was at the wrong rally at the onset, Kid Rock appeared for a duet with Sheryl Crow on a brand new song, "The Least I Can Do Is Care," which also featured (inexplicably and to the detriment of the song) jailbird fuckup rapper T.I. in a pre-taped video appearance. Have a good time inflicting that on yourself:
Rally For Sanity: Kid Rock + Sheryl Crow
Tony Bennett then tied a bow on the Rally by performing a beautiful a capella rendition of "America the Beautiful". Both the music and the rally came to a fitting end with a singalong of “I’ll Take You There” featuring all of the aforementioned performers as well as the day’s other guests, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and R2D2.
The best was indeed saved for last, as was the prosthelytizing about a better, brighter America. As it turns out, the two were one and the same: Jon Stewart's closing speech was an articulate examination of the common traits we all share, as well as those who work to divide us. It was a reaffirmation of the fact that we're not alone in feeling as if our general moderate voice of reason isn't being properly represented in the media, which has become more and more complicit in helping add a powerful element of professional-wrestling sensationalism and confrontationalism to the sociopolitical atmosphere of our nation.
Read the speech, in text form, in its entirety:
"And now I thought we might have a moment, however brief, for some sincerity, if that’s ok; I know there are boundaries for a comedian, pundit, talker guy, and I’m sure I’ll find out tomorrow how I have violated them.
I’m really happy you guys are here, even if none of us are really quite sure why we are here. Some of you may have seen today as a clarion call for action, or some of the hipper, more ironic cats as a clarion call for ‘action.’ Clearly, some of you just wanted to see the Air and Space Museum and got royally screwed. And I’m sure a lot of you are here to have a nice time, and I hope you did. I know that many of you made a great effort to be here today, and I want you to know that everyone involved with this project worked incredibly hard to make sure that we honor the effort that you put in and gave you the best show we could possibly do. We know your time is valuable, and we didn’t want to waste it. And we are all extremely honored to have had a chance to perform for you on this beautiful space, on The Mall in Washington, D.C.
So, uh, what exactly was this? I can’t control what people think this was, I can only tell you my intentions. This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith, or people of activism, or to look down our noses at the heartland, or passionate argument, or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies. But, unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24-hour, politico, pundit, perpetual, panic conflictanator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems, bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen. Or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire, and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected, dangerous flaming ant epidemic. If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.
There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and theocrats, but those titles that must earned; you must have the resume. Not being able to be able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Party-ers, or real bigots and Juan Williams or Rick Sanchez is an insult, not only to those people, but to the racists themselves, who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate. Just as the inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe, not more. The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything, we actually get sicker, and perhaps eczema. And yet, with that being said, I feel good: strangely, calmly good. Because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us through a fun-house mirror, and not the good kind that makes you look slim in the waist and maybe taller, but the kind where you have a giant forehead and an ass shaped like a month-old pumpkin and one eyeball.
So why would we work together? Why would you reach across the aisle to a pumpkin-assed, forehead, eyeball monster? If the picture of us were true, of course our inabilities to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable. Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution, or racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own? We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is, on the brink of catastrophe torn by polarizing hate. And how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done. But the truth is, we do. We work together to get things done every damn day. The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV. But Americans don’t live here or on cable TV. Where we live, our values and principles form the foundation that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done.
Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, or Conservatives. Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do. Often, something they do not want to do, but they do it. Impossible things every day, that are only made possible through the little reasonable compromises we all make.
Look. Look on the screen. This is where we are; this is who we are: these cars. That’s a schoolteacher who probably thinks his taxes are too high. He’s going to work. There’s another car. A woman with two small kids, can’t really think about anything else right now. There’s another car, swaying, I don’t even know if you can see it. The lady’s in the NRA and loves Oprah. There’s another car. An investment banker: gay, also likes Oprah. Another car’s a Latino carpenter. Another car a fundamentalist vacuum salesman. Atheist obstetrician. Mormon Jay-Z fan. But this is us. Every one of the cars you see is filled with individuals of strong beliefs and principles they hold dear. Often, principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers. And yet these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile-long, thirty-foot wide tunnel carved underneath a mighty river. Carved by people who by the way I’m sure had their differences. And they do it. Concession by concession. You go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go. Oh my God, is that an NRA sticker on your car? Is that an Obama sticker on your car? Ah, well that’s okay, you go, then I’ll go. And sure, at some point there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder and cuts in at the last minute. But that individual is rare, and he is scorned not hired as an analyst.
Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light, we have to work together. And the truth is, there will always be darkness. And sometimes, the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land. Sometimes, it’s just New Jersey. But we do it anyway, together. If you want to know why I’m here and what I want from you, I can only assure you this: you have already given it to me. Your presence was what I wanted. Sanity will always be and has always been in the eye of the beholder. And to see you here today and the kind of people that you are has restored mine. Thank you.”
• Jon Stewart at The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, October 30, 2010