Benefits occasionally lure out reclusive artists or prompt inventive collaborations. More often, though, they produce reactionary, maudlin performances and yet another Who reunion. Of course, their philanthropic goals buffer them from the critical slings for which they seem to beg. "It's for a good cause!" goes the reflexive, defensive cry of the benefit album. What sort of heartless bastard would take money out of the hands of Bangladeshi children, starving Ethiopians by criticizing? But the logic is flawed.
The Sept. 11 attacks produced a new flood of benefits, including a stately TV special ("America: A Tribute To Heroes") just 10 days after the tragedy, a pair of mid-October concerts ("The Concert for New York City" and "United We Stand: What More Can I Give") and two compilations rushed to market by Columbia Records (God Bless America) and Capitol Records (United We Stand).
In tone, "A Tribute To Heroes" and "The Concert for NYC" (both now available as double-CD collections) are polar opposites. The former, with its gape-mouthed, deer-in-headlights vibe (no performer introductions, no audience), is a somber reaction to unimaginable tragedy. The latter is a raucous celebration of surviving and moving on. Which has better performances depends on taste, but both make it clear who the focus of these benefits really is.
Whether we'll acknowledge it, the primary beneficiaries of benefit concerts and albums are not the victims, but rather the performers, the organizers and all of us who support these projects. They make us feel we're doing something useful in a time of crisis. Whether we're actually doing something useful is mostly beside the point: Perception, in this case, is far more resonant than reality.
This is the same reason few are up in arms about why the Red Cross continued collecting blood for Sept. 11 victims long after it was clear it had more than was necessary. That a significant portion of this blood had to be destroyed was similarly shrugged away. It's the same reason why almost no one cared when legal problems kept the proceeds from the 1971 George Harrison-organized Concert for Bangladesh sitting in escrow for nearly a decade. It also explains why there was no outcry when mismanagement and naivete caused Live Aid's funds and food to go to an Ethiopian dictator financing a civil war rather than the starving Ethiopian people. The act of giving seems more important than whether the gift actually gets put to good use.
Granted, in a pop-music universe where the bottom line is usually the bottom line, there are far worse motivations to consume than a compulsion to feel good about one's self.
With this in mind, the most honestly billed post-Sept. 11 benefit had to be the Michael Jackson-headlined concert in D.C., appropriately subtitled, "What More Can I Give" (note, as well, the lack of a question mark). Though reported to have been an insufferable, sloppy, self-serving horror by those who sat through all 12 hours of it (mercifully, a CD is not coming any time soon), at least this concert made no bones about who it was really about. "What More Can I Give" puts the emphasis where it's always really been -- on the givers. That the subtitle was added at Jackson's request (insistence?) and is also the title of Jackson's Sept. 11-themed single only invites more cynicism. Jackson also was releasing his first studio album in six years the week after the show. Add in the rumor that Paul McCartney's ulterior motive in spearheading the competing "Concert for NYC" was to stick it to Jacko -- who hardballed him out of publishing rights to the Beatles' catalog -- and it's easy to see how the thousands who died Sept. 11 can quickly get lost. Did we mention McCartney's also got a new album and a dreadful post-Sept. 11 single ("Freedom") out?
But let's assume there were no hidden agendas being played out behind the scenes -- that the worst desire motivating these benefits was simply a need to feel like we were "doing something." Even if all the proceeds go to charity (not always the case), the problem remains that these benefits also serve as wonderful promotional vehicles for artists. This may be an unintended consequence, but it's a very well-known consequence.
Just ask Lee Greenwood, whose career revives every time the U.S. drops a bomb overseas. His syrupy anthem, "God Bless the U.S.A.," appears on both Capitol's United We Stand and Columbia's God Bless America, boosting his catalog sales (a crime in itself) and keeping his gig calendar filled with state fairs and boat shows. Maybe it's overly cynical to see both these releases as merely opportunities for corporations to wrap their back-catalogs in the stars and stripes, but if you think this sort of war-profiteering doesn't cross record execs' minds, well, they've got a couple of saccharine, tired collections of vaguely patriotic songs they'd like to sell you.
In the end, who gets the money shouldn't determine whether these projects have any artistic worth. And buying these records is not an act of patriotism -- it's not necessarily even a good way to support the cause. If you want to help the September 11th Fund (www.uwnyc.org/sep11), the American Red Cross (www.redcross.org), the Twin Towers Fund (www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/em/twintowersfund.html), the Robin Hood Relief Fund (www.robinhood.org) or any of the worthwhile charities these projects state as beneficiaries, get out your checkbook and write a check. You'll probably still get more out of it than the family of some poor fireman who dashed into the World Trade Center Sept. 11. But at least you won't be stuck with a CD that makes you feel like a traitor for not liking it.
Nashville has more dive bars than ATL now that sucks. tbh i think that new…
*Christ, Lord sorry
"Punk" style like this seems like it is the polar opposite of punk. Bradford Cox…