NYC Benefit Was Old White Guy Heaven

What Were they Thinking?

"Think of how steel is made. Like steel, our spirit is stronger than iron because the steel making process adds alloys to the basic elements found in nature, and then tempers them under fire to create a new harder substance. In the process of making the American spirit, alloys of virtue and memory, heroism and hardship are continually added to the raw materials of America's past and fused in the forge of history."

-- Souls of Steel, by Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts, Parade Magazine, Oct 12, 2001

Hey Steve and Cokie, the Masher has a question -- what about the rest of humanity?

Concert for New York Doesn't Reflect New York

There were some tear-jerking moments in the Concert for New York at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

The Masher doesn't want to take anything away from performers who gave of their time and energy, or the many people in the audience and watching on TV who were grieving the loss of loved ones and friends.

But the incredible whiteness of the event, the ancientness of the music and performers, and the overall lack of New York character on the stage was pretty appalling. It seemed like the concert was programmed for nostalgic white cops and firemen living in the suburbs, forgetting the other thousands of victims who represented many races, nationalities, communities and neighborhoods of New York.

The stars of the event were a steady parade of over-fifty white guys from England: Elton John, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, David Bowie and Paul McCartney (who reportedly was a key factor in the concert and penned an insipid song called Freedom just for the moment). When joined by Billy Joel, Harrison Ford, Robert DeNiro, James Taylor, Billy Crystal and the misogynist Howard Stern, we crossed the Atlantic, but kept the same "aging white guy" theme on the stage.

Add George Pataki, Rudy Guiliani, Bill Clinton and Tom Daschel and a certain trend continues. Drop half a generation and you've got John Bon Jovi, Richard Gere, John Mellencamp, Adam Sandler, David Spade, John Cusack, Michael J. Fox and Jim Carrey. One step younger and there's Kid Rock, the Back Street Boys, and a couple of all-white bands, whose names I didn't catch.

This after New York City almost nominated a Latino, Freddy Ferrer, in the Democratic primary for Mayor just a week before. The huge concert in the Big Apple did not have even one Hispanic performer in a five hour show. This smacks of racism, and does not reflect reality. To have only one male Black headliner -- rapper JZ, who sang one song in the first few minutes -- and Destiny's Child and Macy Gray as the only other people of color in dozens of acts and presentations is appalling (though Halle Berry was one of a half dozen starlets who gave a brief introductions). To have the ratio of male-to-female performers something like 5-to-1, and have virtually no young artists (sorry, the Back Street Boys don't count) should make the VH1/Miramax/AOL crew that put this thing together do a little soul searching. Why are they are afraid of the real world we all live in?

The event was completely edgeless, except for a couple of notable performances, including Mick Jagger's stirring working class anthem, "Salt of the Earth," and James Taylor's "Fire and Rain." The fact that the newly refabricated The Who played five songs from "Who's Next" -- an album retreived from the qualude-laced eraly 1970's -- reflected a lack of understanding that the world has changed in the past 30 years.

It's disconcerting when an event like this concert can only honor the brave cops and fireman who lost their lives, and not make mention of other victims. The NYPD and FDNY -- all 6,000 strong -- were seated in the front rows with cameras constantly panning them. Given such attention to this predominantly white group all but ignores the fact that people from 80 countries perished at the World Trade Center. Countless immigrant workers, foriegn businessmen, even somewhere around 200 Pakistanis died in the attacks. Meanwhile, hundreds of union members lost their lives -- but the word union was not mentioned once in a show that seemed as long as eternity.

The crowd was decidedly pro-war, and the comedians that got stage time -- including Adam Sandler, who cracked jokes about bin Laden's "smallcox" -- egged the audience on. Hillary Clinton was practically booed off the stage, and Richard Gere's lone attempt to raise the notion of all humanity was meet with instant hostilty and cat calls. He retreated fast. Only the graceful teenager Natalie Portman was able to get in a sensitive comment regarding innocent victims around the world.

This concert was a crass commercial event; a patriotic rally that had none of the class of the first benefit concert on September 21. At that concert, the performers didn't even mention their own names. At this concert, artists promoted their new songs, new albums and recussitated careers.

When you think New York music, it is easy to think Paul Simon, Bruce Springstein, Lauryn Hill, Jennifer Lopez, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Willie Colon, and whole host of rappers and R&B performers. But these New York characters were not on display in Madison Square Garden.

Instead we had the British invasion all over again, giving new meaning to The Who's anthem: "Won't Get Fooled Again."

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