time to change the way we view music and the arts

Music’s Occasional Misdirection

Happy November!

Trying to start on a note of positive energy, as I try to think that you get back what you give out. I realize this hasn’t been anywhere near a happy beginning for so many who are (still) without electricity and even the basics of clean water and food. As a New York resident and a Long Island resident to boot, Hurricane Sandy has shaken loose the staleness of everyday priorities. Family and close friends of mine have run the gamut of damages -some minimal, some still in struggles, with a long upcoming line of expenses and negotiations to manage in order to resume their individual daily lives.  

I wish everyone out there, whether I know you personally or not, strength and solace going forward.


Events that abruptly deprive populations of essentials for living, as natural disasters are prone to, tend to immediately backseat support of and/or concentration on industries of less “life-essential” value, such as the arts. Countless discussions, studies and platforms have addressed the debatable nature of this view, saying that in times of severe emotional, physical and mental trauma, that some lighter fare by way of entertainment like concerts or theatre, helps to (for lack of a more academic phrase) ‘keep the public sane’ or ‘provide a brief respite,’ from the harsh and heavy burden of whatever ongoing disastrous reality has occurred.

As someone up to my neck in personal associations with music, it’s rare to find an occasion that won’t see me advocating for its sustained and active use in society. Even in times of disaster, one is inclined to think of music’s application as channeled to be a benefit concert; a clear relief-focused arrangement. Such has been the case in the past: Japan’s earthquakes, California’s earthquakes, Katrina in the Gulf and now the upcoming NBC benefit concert for Hurricane Sandy, to name a few in recent memory. These are all efforts worth applauding for their outward practical intentions.

However, first hand perspective certainly provides quite the twist when deciding what’s important and how to delegate that order. A concert, wherein proceeds go to help those in need, seems like a win-win. People get a bit of normalcy in music, funds are accrued and distributed to supporting organizations like the Red Cross, widespread attention helps alert an entire nation to the severity of a situation, despite the localization of its effects, thus highlighting the oneness of the country’s citizens…three useful accomplishments at once. What purpose is there though for two out of three of those results, if you are IN the thick of the problems at hand?


Truly, once you are the one in an overwhelming and powerless situation, having Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen or Christina Aguilera offer their performing talents on live television isn’t really for you, the struggling one. The use of primetime media and massive star power is, (in my opinion,) intended for those far more removed from the situation and the element of star power is utilized exclusively for its attention-holding capabilities.

Something to contemplate though: if the objective is to maintain far-removed attention and unite a nation during hard times, where do fancy outfits, flashing lights and stage performances (as amazing as they may be,) fit into the picture? Clapping and cheering for a well-given performance doesn’t exactly line up with the serious, determined and shocked emotions of those actually in trouble. As far as the ‘normalcy’ argument that often stands at the forefront for the question of, “why do this?” Let’s face fact: if you don’t have electricity, you’re not watching a concert held for your benefit and therefore, no normal respite.

I don’t claim to have a better suggestion for a happy medium between being barraged with the same video clips/downright depressing photos of ruined homes and having celebrities sing about perseverance in perfectly energized condition. Singing and playing music is what these people do for a living and they are using that set of skills to provide what they can, which are their voices and playing abilities. It just seems that although music can provide temporary emotional relief, it goes everywhere but where it is intended. Therefore, can’t resources, money and energy, output by these stars, be put to more immediate, supportive use? They are still musicians and well recognized public figures, whether they have a mic in their hands or are speaking into a phone or asking people to give blood. (which I realize some may do in addition to performing.)

If PR reach is what NBC or any other station wants to accomplish by drafting A-lister power, cut out the middle man and offer to partake in action and or their own over-adequate finances. Donating your A-lister “time” by giving a “free” performance feels somewhat patronizing if you think about the angle that time belongs to no person alone. Bruce Springsteen’s 5 minutes are the same as mine and yours if we’re both caught in a collapsing building. (Something else to think about.) If you HAVE to have something other than rolling up sleeves to clean up, maybe little one-on-one interviews with musicians on primetime, (a la Vh1’s Behind the Music) talking about past experiences with locations or businesses over just performing songs. Equally engaging for the public but more humanizing and down to earth for extremely well-off celebrities who claim to want to connect with their roots. Just a rough idea…


New York City itself is slowly coming back up to speed and in the meantime, its own signature arts scene has clearly been damaged and frozen -some parts more extensively than others- the same as the state of affairs for individual homeowners. The places that could typically be found trying to provide a mental break to the public are debilitated just the same. Le Poisson Rouge, Joe’s Pub, Galapagos Art Space, all of Broadway, many independent music clubs, even the Metropolitan Opera… Each of these has had repeated closure due to lack of transportation or power outages that remain unfixed.

In essence, one doesn’t see them as business entities meant to entertain but as another ‘individual’ caught up in a slow recovery process. In the cases of those arts organizations or entertainers put at a halt during disaster, wanting to get any arts business up and running again doesn’t necessarily have to come down to some kind of angry contest of ‘life vs. death importance.’ Regardless of the ‘non-essential’ ranking of art itself amid lack of food and water or support for the hospitalized, past those initial requirements to live, these are all businesses that provide jobs and money necessary for other everyday people to maintain their lively hoods; no less than any other local business across every other industry. Musical performance might have to straddle an awkward line of “is this important right now?” during a time of recovery but music makers and sustainers themselves? Absolutely as important as everyone else.

You can donate to the Red Cross by texting 90999 and $10 USD will be added to your regular cell phone bill -the funds going directly to the Red Cross for relief.

If you want to get involved in other ways, more directly on the scene in the NYC/NJ area, here is a link to a decent (but by no means total) list via treehugger.com of ways to volunteer or donate throughout the areas.

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