Who better to inspire a little help from your friends than Ringo Starr?
That appeared to be the thought process for filmmaker David Lynch in seeking an honoree to headline a benefit for his foundation, which was created to promote Transcendental Meditation to schoolchildren, military veterans, victims of domestic abuse and others.
On Monday at the El Rey Theatre, Lynch presented the ex-Beatle with a hefty award in recognition of Starr’s “lifetime of Peace & Love” during an evening that featured an abundance of the drummer’s friends and fans.
Performers included Eagles guitarist (and Starr’s brother-in-law) Joe Walsh, soul singer Bettye LaVette, indie rockers Brendan Benson and Ben Folds, Peter Frampton and many others under the direction of bassist, producer and Blue Note Records chief Don Was.
Several hundred attendees paid anywhere from $1,000 to $100,000 for access to the show, which featured each guest performing one song from Starr’s years with the Beatles and his solo work before the spotlight was ceded to the evening’s honoree.
Performances ran from carbon-copy arrangements of original recordings -- notably the three members of the Head and the Heart doing “Octopus’s Garden” -- to drastically reworked reinterpretations such as Lavette’s intensely soulful reworking of Starr’s first post-Beatles hit single, “It Don’t Come Easy.” In a particularly hypnotic turn, LaVette repeated the phrase “It ain’t goin’ easy” as if it were her own musical mantra.
Walsh took his best shot at “Back Off Boogaloo,” a Top 10 single for Starr in 1972, and Benson sang a deeper cut, “Don’t Go Where the Road Don’t Go,” from Starr’s 1992 album “Time Takes Time.” Singer-songwriter Ben Harper threw himself into the wistful “Walk With You,” a song co-written by Van Dyke Parks that appeared on Starr’s 2010 album, “Y Not.”
Even though Lynch recently released an album of his own electric-guitar based improvisations, he begged off performing. “Oh, no,” he said shortly before the show started. “I’m not getting out there to play. I’m not a public guy.
“In all the galaxies of peace and love,” Lynch said, “Ringo is a giant star.” Lynch ended his short testimonial to Starr by saying, “Everybody loves Ringo,” and it was less hype than an assessment of his well-documented reputation as a nearly universally admired member of the rock community.
Video greetings from Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono supplemented the presence of George Harrison’s widow, Olivia, at the show along with peers and occasional bandmates Edgar Winter, Jeff Lynne, Eric Burdon and fellow drummers Jim Keltner and Gregg Bissonette.
“It’s weird to be here this evening,” Starr, 73, said when he joined Lynch onstage. “All this praise is overwhelming.” He recounted some of his experience meeting with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1967 with the rest of the Beatles, an event that spurred many youths in the West to look into the practice of meditation. He also extolled the work of Lynch’s foundation, saying: “In the neighborhoods where they’re doing this, violence has gone down. The work speaks for itself.”
Ever self-deprecating, Starr said, “It’s David who should be getting the honor” for the work of his foundation. That 9-year-old organization has provided scholarships to teach TM to more than half a million people over the last decade, according to the introduction offered by the foundation’s executive director, Bob Roth.
Roth told the crowd, “We’re not talking about religion, we’re not talking philosophy, we’re talking science” that has supported claims associated with the benefits of meditation, the basis for Lynch’s foundation’s programs in public schools, especially in disadvantaged neighborhoods.
Those efforts were singled out by L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who gave proclamations to Lynch and Starr at the end of the evening and described Starr as “an inspiration to us all.”
After the series of guest spots, Starr accepted his award from Lynch and then turned in a quick 15-minute set of his own, singing “Photograph,” his early Beatles track “Boys” and concluding with -- what else? -- ”With a Little Help From My Friends.”
Those friends, all of whom -- plus actor Jim Carrey -- crowded the stage to sing along with the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” classic, were effusive about jamming with a Beatle.
“That was an extreme amount of fun,” Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ keyboardist Benmont Tench said after the set. “To get to play ‘Boys’ with him . . . It’s his fault that I do what I do. Even if he wasn’t in the Beatles, he’d still be my favorite drummer. He’s a very special kind of musician. He does the same thing my heart does.”