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The [Monday] Papers

Note: Jim DeRogatis responds below.

Here are some ingredients that in my book make for a pretty big news story: An international political rally to save the planet from destruction spanning seven continents streamed live on the Internet and featuring 150 musical artists and bands organized by one of the globe's most well-known public figures and a possible president of the United States. Witnessed by 2 billion people. Pretty big, huh?

So why has the coverage of Live Earth been so lacking in the local papers?

Could it be because the folks who edit those papers are so lame?

Love Al Gore or hate him, you can't deny the immensity of an event whose corporate sponsors belied any notion that this is a fringe cause or a hippiefest. My God, I had to sit through a Chevy commercial before watching a performance video on the Live Earth website.

Not only that, but with all those bands and all those people watching, you couldn't have a little fun with your coverage?

No rock for you, Chicago!

The lead story in the Sun-Times today is actually an advertisement for day two of the paper's thrilling NASCAR poster series. Mmm, newsprint posters . . .

You have to go deep into the paper to read rock critic Jim DeRogatis's predictably cynical and misguided take on Live Earth.

At least that's something. The Tribune carried nothing on the historic event today, though the front page's lead story helpfully (and hyperbolically) informed us that "Baked City Begs For Breeze."

Apparently the Trib's editors felt the obligatory wire service story on Sunday was enough. (Note to Trib: This was bigger than the Police playing a couple of crappy shows at Wrigley.)

DeRogatis's piece was typical. First, the straw man is set up. The Sun-Times promoted the story on its index page under the heading: "Can Pop Music Save Earth?"

Why yes! That's all Al Gore is saying! Just keep blasting Britney Spears records on your car radio and everything will be alright!

As the text under that heading says, the concerts were "intended to raise awareness." They aren't a solution in and of themselves. And raise awareness they did; influential artists have now joined the fight and swaths of the public - worldwide - have been inspired, educated, and motivated. That's more than the political system has done - and more than what the media and civic leaders have accomplished.

"But is pop music really an answer?" the Sun-Times asks. "Skeptics doubt it."

So, "skeptics" think we would be better off had this effort not been made? I mean, that's the question. Did this help or hurt - and how can anyone argue that it hurt?

Inside, the Sun-Times asks, "But will pop music raise our awareness of Earth's ecological woes?" Hello! It just did!

DeRogatis quotes Bob Geldof saying "Everyone's known about that problem for years . . . I would only organize it if I could get onstage and announce concrete environmental measures from the American presidential candidates, Congress or major corporations. They haven't got those guarantees. So it's just an enormous pop concert."

Bob, Bob, Bob. Everyone's known about global warming for years? Hardly. The public consciousness is just now reaching a tipping point. Besides, that's a reason for inaction - just knowing about a problem is enough?

And how and why would you expect "concrete environmental measures" from American presidential candidates? (Paging Barack Obama . . . ) You would wait forever for that, and besides, it's not just an American issue. That's why this was called Live Earth, not Live America, and was held all over the world.

Finally, major corporations actually are making guarantees - even if some of it amounts to greenwashing. It's a start. And organizers asked viewers to sign on to a 7-point pledge of concrete actions they can take to do their part while proposals like a carbon tax work their way through into our languid legislative systems (Gore would swap the carbon tax for the payroll tax.)

"Sure, there were short films and brief speeches about the environment peppered throughout," DeRogatis writes. "But most acts just played their greatest hits or newest singles."

You would have preferred long films and windy speeches and bands playing their most obscure songs?

The films and speeches were the, um, educational and inspirational component. Would more could anyone reasonably want?

My God.

"[H]istorians and sociologists who have studied the [Vietnam] anti-war movement maintain that fewer youths were motivated by political conviction than joined the cause because it seemed like the 'cool' thing to do," DeRogatis continues.

I don't know about that, but a lot of punks were similarly motivated - and to do nothing but complain about their nihilistic little lives. So what? Those who believed then and believe now are the change agents. Are you suggesting musicians stay out of politics and social issues?

"Great music can certainly change individuals' minds, prompting them to act for the betterment of society," DeRogatis concludes. "But in order for that to happen with the environment, we're going to need much, much better music than Live Earth gave us."

Better music can save the environment?!!

This is absurd. Let yourself feel, Jim. You don't have to stay in your punk pose forever.


Similarly, the blog excerpts about Live Earth that the Sun-Times chose to publish as its daily "Lightning Rod" feature (unavailable online) are all complaints, gathered under the headline: "Did Live Earth Do Any Good?"

Well, we'll see!

But how could it not have? A lot of folks learned an awful lot. This was rock and politics at its best in many ways - it was empowering. People learned about actions they can take on the individual level to effect change, while informing themselves of larger solutions before policymakers. Just because some (but certainly not all) of the music stunk, well, blame that on Madonna and Genesis and Dave Matthews. But at least they were there. The local papers not so much.


The rest of the Beachwood's Live Earth coverage:

- Live Earth's Internet Tendency.
- Live Earth's Television Trouble.

The Beachwood Tip Line: Carbon neutralish.


Jim DeRogatis responds:

Hey Steve - Seems you missed a lot of my points in that Live Earth article! Yikes! I'm all for spreading the message about global warming. I just think it could have been done much better, and if it had, this event would have had the impact it should have had.

"You would have preferred long films and windy speeches and bands playing their most obscure songs?"

No, I would have preferred bands making more informed and passionate comments about the issue and playing either songs written for the occasion (and thus truly special) or chosen because of the commentary they made on the issue. Or did you see some connection between Linkin Park's noise and the melting ice caps that I missed? At least John Legend and Corinne Bailey Rae tried.

"Are you suggesting musicians stay out of politics and social issues?"

Come now - you read me all the time. You know I advocate exactly the opposite. But as a critic, my job is to point out when this sort of commentary works, and when it doesn't.

"Better music can save the environment?!!"

No, Steve. Read what I wrote. Better music can inspire people more, and people can save the environment. How did the Chili Peppers inspire anyone at Live Earth, to pick on only one of numerous mediocre acts? They came out, played some new songs, some hits. Said nothing inspiring. Played no songs that drew emotionally on the issue. It was just another gig. And to really stir people to action, this should have been more than just another gig. That's what I was saying.

I watched 22 hours plus the 3-hour NBC highlights special. I saw six examples of artists really obviously emotionally touched by this issue and doing something special to rouse people to action. The rest of it all was bands playing a high-profile TV gig, which could have been for the benefit of Katrina victims, the hungry in Africa or their own wallets. Taken out of context, these performances, absent the short films and the speeches that preceded and followed them, gave no indication to anyone about what they were supposed to be about. And the same cannot be said for the iconic performances of the '60s peace movement. (Listen to Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner." You KNOW that is an anti-war song, even if you have no idea what war it was protesting! Etc.)

But you know I love you, so no hard feelings.



Posted on July 9, 2007

MUSIC - Who's Next In Chicago Rap.
TV - Tribune-Nexstar Deal Is Bad News.
POLITICS - Big Soda Hates You.
SPORTS - Harold vs. the Haters.

BOOKS - Wright Brothers, Wrong Story!

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Go Ahead, Eat Raw Cookie Dough!

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