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Thursday, December 13, 2012

12.12.12. Concert for Sandy Relief. From the Perspective of 12.13.12

The ever-cheeky Jagger had two feet of water in his NYC
apartment after Hurricane Sandy. I also think he is
wearing a rug.
I'm going to be a bit of a voice in the wilderness here about the 12.12.12. Concert For Sandy Relief, so bear with me.

As I write this I'm still struggling with my point-of-view. I see news reports of the promises of funds to local charities raised from last night's show at New York City's Madison Square Garden, and think that my take on the show and the surrounding hype is inaccurate. Yet I still question the ethos.

Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of people who need help, and if people want to donate to help them, then far be it for me to rain on their parade. If you need to see Roger Waters prance around while Eddie Vedder sings before you donate money to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy, then more power to Roger Waters, but how good should we really fell about that? I have seen firsthand on an almost-daily basis how much relief is needed just in the two counties in New Jersey that I have worked in, so as far as I'm concerned, the more money that can be raised the better. But I have to ask: Springsteen singing My City In Ruins may be emotionally cathartic for a few minutes, but where does that leave people whose homes have been destroyed after the show is over? And who cares after the donation lines have been unplugged?

I actually attended the Katrina Benefit in 2005 (forget the NBC nonsense with Kanye West, I'm talking the actual benefit concert), and other than Bette Midler's obnoxious political idiocy about George Bush and the standing ovation Bill Clinton got just for walking out on the stage, the show was pretty good. New Orleans--a town that I have great affection for and history with--had been crushed and the MSG benefit felt like the right thing to do at the time.

I thought the 9/11 Benefit concert in 2001 served an important purpose to bring us together after we were bombed by Islamofascists using our own naivete as weapons. Cops and firefighters took a beating unlike any beating we could have imagined, and a concert to show them how much other people cared about them was the right thing to do.

So with all of this background, I was kind of surprised at the nagging feeling that the 12.12.12 Concert for Sandy Relief was, if not a sham, than an ill-conceived and misguided attempt to make unaffected people feel good about something so they could then move on to the next issue that needs their help.

I watched a bit of the show last night, and I guess some of it was good. Judging from my Twitter and Facebook feeds, the rest of the world thought it was the most awesome thing that ever have happened. I'm used to being at odds with the predominate feelings of the world, so this was no surprise, yet the feeling still nagged me.

Then I heard Mick Jagger say this...
"This has got to be the largest collection of old English musicians ever assembled in Madison Square Garden, but I've got to say, if it rains in London, you've got to come and help us, okay?"
Then I saw this...

Lots of people, particularly people from England, are condescendingly pointing out that it was a joke and that Americans have gotten too sensitive about everything, so we should just stop whining about Mick's words. Okay. I get it. It was a joke. A bad one that wasn't really very funny, but hey, English people have been trying to convince me for years that seriously unfunny things are in reality actually funny (Monty Python's television series, okay?) so I'll refrain from pointing out how callous the joke actually was.

Mick Jagger sang two songs. If it ever rains in London we owe him some
help. This house in Union Beach was crushed under the weight of the
Hurricane Sandy storm surge. Raritan Bay is 1000 feet to the left.

Has anything changed this morning for the affected? Sadly, no. The dolts on the Today Show crowed about how the people who survived the storm couldn't watch the first benefit concert, but they were be able to watch this one. As if watching some musicians and comedians talk about what they were actually living through was important. NBC should be told that in parts of Staten Island, people still don't have power..

I won't go into my personal belief that these concerts are nothing more than a way for coddled media darlings to feel good about themselves for helping without actually doing anything other than getting other people to send their money to middleman who will supposedly disburse that money to other people who need the help. Rock stars as middlemen in the disaster relief industrial complex is just unsavory to me, and the self-importance and arrogance of a person who thinks that all they have to do is sing a song and the problem du jour will be fixed is appalling. Sorry.

I won't complain about how obnoxious and unfunny Stephen Colbert and Chris Rock were. I will commend Jimmy Fallon and Jon Stewart for their sincerity.

I won't comment on how I'll wait to cheer any of these people until they prove the money they asked for went to the people who need it--without strings, without middlemen, without all the typical non-sense that destroys the good intentions of good people.

I won't comment on the thousands of volunteers who have spent thousands of hours actually working to help people rebuild their lives, without urging from Beyonce.

I won't comment on the thousands of people across the country who have made a difference over the past month and half without even a song from Bon Jovi.

I won't comment on how this concert was really just a chance to make people feel good about themselves for being entertained.

Sure Jimmy Fallon had tears in his eyes as he introduced the Stones, and sure Chelsea Clinton used her political capital to extol the virtues of being as good a person as she is. Kanye West wore a skirt and failed to mention FEMA and the Red Cross's abysmal failures in the aftermath of Sandy, but we all know the government doesn't deserve criticism--or even critiquing--because Obama cares.

I'm sure Bruce and most of the rest had wonderful intentions by performing and making people feel good about donating to a worthy cause through a charity that you simply can't find legitimate, substantial criticisms of (the CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation made $504,000 + in 2010, and they use gimmicks to claim "100% donations" against "0% overhead, but other than that you can't find anything about the Robin Hood Foundation, including a detailed and independently verified list of who the recipients of their grants are).

But Jagger's comment simply sums it up for me...this was just another gig. A bother. A trifle. A way to plug his band. Sensitive or not, you'll have  hard time convincing yourself that Jagger actually understood why he was there last night.

For many who watched, the concert gave hope that help was on the way or that things were now suddenly better. For others is was a little bit of a respite from the pain. Regardless of why you watched, don't mistake a crowd of people at a concert in New York cheering 70 year old rock stars singing 40 year old songs for anything other than a fun way to distract ourselves from reality for a few hours. The problem is, the people being distracted were by and large not the people who need the distraction. Temporary diversions from pain--including great rock and roll--are only temporary, and I wonder if that now that the show is over people outside the area will consider their work done.

I don't hold out much hope that the money raised is going to be distributed at the street level without strings attached to the people who are most in need of it. Another concern I have is how long it will take before the money is disbursed. Were people elevated with hope last night that they would be receiving thousands of dollars to help them rebuild their lives only to find that the help will only arrive in the distant future or that they are not eligible for it?

In 1985, Live Aid money went to buy grain that was left rotting on docks and stolen by warlords. But lots of people (myself included) donated time and money to the cause, so we all felt good about helping others--even if others weren't necessarily helped.

The show is over, but the reality goes on. I struggle with criticizing those whose intentions were good, but I reserve the right to wonder just how much good all of this do-gooding will do.

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