Rob Patterson

Rock's Window Dressing

No, I didn't watch Live 8. To start with, I am not a fan of music on television to begin with. I firmly believe that MTV has had a deleterious effect on the state of rock'n'roll even if, I must admit, it helped break worthy musical acts that would likely never have found a larger audience otherwise. And that's the least of my gripes with this event.

Let me first get the obvious stuff out of the way: Yeah, the artists who played the concerts were for the most part largely well-intentioned folks. But there happens to be light years between intentions and genuine actions.

And it is laudable that acts like Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney and Annie Lennox have pledged the profits from the CD sales boost they got from Live 8 to helping Africa. Then again, even without those sales, none of these rich folks will be hurting much less starving, trust me.

Maybe I'm just too damn old and remember when many in rock'n'roll were resolutely anti-establishment and far more regularly concerned about positive social change. Maybe I've just lived too long and am so cynical that I believe that a bunch of pop stars playing concerts around the world isn't going to change much of anything.

But I'm not the only one. Liam Gallagher of Oasis -- to my mind one of the last great rock'n'roll bands, albeit one with no political songs -- echoed my sentiments when he said: "Correct me if I'm wrong, but are they hoping that one of these guys from the G8 is on a quick 15-minute break at Gleneagles and sees Annie Lennox singing 'Sweet Dreams' and thinks, 'F*** me, she might have a point there, you know?' Keane doing 'Somewhere Only We Know' and some Japanese businessman going, 'Aw, look at him… we should really f***ing drop that debt, you know.' It's not going to happen, is it?"

If these musicians are really concerned about Africa much less the state of the world, maybe they should actually do something. Give up the limos and the gourmet backstage catering, for symbolic starters. And maybe dedicate their art and the economic power of their fortunes to such change. Live more simply and frugally, do away with the rock star excess, and write songs about how things really are on the planet in these troubling times. Bob Marley, where are you when we need you?

Some time back, media critic Eric Alterman wrote in The Nation about how Jackson Browne's record sales plummeted when he started writing and recording political songs. He neglected to mention the fact that the quality of Browne's songwriting also plummeted, whether he was writing about politics or love. But Alterman did have a point. People want entertainment to largely get away from the travails of our lives and the world at large. And they don't want to spend their money to be reminded of the sad facts of life in much of the world we live in.

Popular music always has had an element of escapism -- literally in pop classics like "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place" by The Animals or "I Think We're Alone Now" by Tommy James & The Shondells -- but ever so much these days it's the soundtrack for our collective trip to Fantasyland. Not that there's anything wrong with that … once in a while, amidst maybe making art that seeks to improve existence for mankind.

Hey, at least movie star Angelina Jolie walks it like she talks it by adopting third-world orphans and working on the ground in Southeast Asia for what she believes in. If these people want to set an example, genuine sacrifice is far more powerful than a promotional opportunity with a feel-good icing for playing the cause attached to it.

Live 8 certainly showed how the audience needs some guidance when Sir Bob Geldof -- I won't even touch the subject of an ex-punk rocker with a knighthood -- introduced Bill Gates and the audience at Wembley Stadium cheered the rapacious software mogul. "If you show people the problems and show people the solutions they will be moved to act," Gates told the crowd.

Are we to be inspired by the words of the richest man in the world with a net worth of some $28 billion or so? Frankly, I find his presence at Live 8 to be obscene. Want to show people the solutions, Bill? Yeah, I know, you and the Missus have given billions to charity. How about giving up billions more to show everyone the solution? Huh, Bill?

Does any single human being need more than -- and I'm being generous here -- $50 million? If the first world might care enough to slice some of the fat, bloat and excess out of our lives and show the way every day by living with the consciousness that countless citizens of this planet are suffering and starving, that would go a long way towards genuine change.

If those human beings and nations that are more fortunate acted in a fashion all the time and throughout our lives and social and political systems that showed that we really care, maybe change might have some sliver of a possibility. (And yes, I am ignoring the massive government corruption in the third world and the inhumane multinational corporate lust for profit. And also note that I'm decidedly lower middle class, struggling to get along in modern America, okay?) But Gallagher's probably right. It's not going to happen, is it?

But neither will a better planet come about without some great global evolutionary leap within which the majority of humans realize that we all live together on this very fragile little speck in space. And that we are all interconnected and that every one of us deserves to live free from want for the basic needs of life and human security.

You can call me overly idealistic and even naïve. I plead guilty to the former and probably could be indicted for the latter. I am neither a scientist nor an economist, but it does seem to me that the planet might sustain us all at a basic level if the playing field were leveled. Yep, paint me red because I do believe that the redistribution of wealth is the only genuine solution.

Pop stars playing a globally televised concert every 20 years isn't even a drop in the bucket, maybe not even a drop in the ocean. If these musicians believe they have that much power, than maybe they should put their money and their art where their mouths are and dedicate far more of what they do and say in the creations and their careers and lives to the cause of a better world. Otherwise, ultimately Live 8 and the charity work of Bill Gates is merely window dressing for these folks to make themselves feel noble and assuage their guilt.

Phooey, I say. It's time for artistic action. It's time for daily action in how they and all of us live or lives. That would truly be showing the solutions, now wouldn't it? But as Liam says, it's not going to happen, is it?

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

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