Authored by Dale Nickey: Long ago in a Galaxy far far away. It was hip to care. Kids at least went through the motions of being socially conscious – even if it was only to get laid. Now stupid is the new smart and we have deniers of every stripe to assure us that the Dark Force is actually emitting light. It’s all in God’s hands and science is a hoax. The world is a crappy enough place as is. However, it’s a little less crappy due to the efforts of the musicians listed below.
Geldof’s band “The Boomtown Rats” were strictly a B-list attraction during the 80’s and retain their currency in Rock history only because of the exploits of their leader Bob Geldof. George Harrison virtually invented the benefit concert, but Geldof upped the ante by making Live Aid a real-time media extravaganza for the entire planet. The event was created to alleviate world hunger. Noble was the passion and spirit. However, it is debatable how much aid actually filtered past the corrupted governments and military juntas to its intended recipients. Nonetheless, the merger of philanthropy with callow 80’s pop culture shall always remain Geldof’s enduring legacy. Oh yes…, also credit him for engineering Pink Floyd’s final poignant reunion.
The Beatles were innovators in every area of endeavor it seems. And so it was with George Harrison and The Concert for Bangladesh. It was the first all-star Rock extravaganza convened exclusively for charity. Additionally, record royalties from the subsequent live album were earmarked for the hunger victims in a country nobody cared about until George Harrison forced us to look. The money raised was laughable by today’s standard. But, it spawned a legion of imitators and got the ball rolling. Moreover, George’s concern gave us the greatest rock concert ever filmed.
The Boss keeps his lefty sympathies close to his vest for the most part. Smart, since a huge swath of his audience are blue collar, beer-pongers from red states. However, in 2012, the heart and soul of the country was at stake. Springsteen’s songs are strewn with broken characters who have been victimized by the rapacious dark forces personified by the 2012 Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Springsteen stepped up to the plate and stumped for President Obama in the crucial closing weeks of the campaign. He probably alienated a large chunk of his audience – including one Chris Christy, the Republican Governor of Springsteen’s home state of New Jersey.
Wavy Gravy (Hugh Romney)
Rock and Roll’s clown prince, Gravy became famous as the compere at the (1969) Woodstock festival, calming a half-million hungry, muddy concert attendees with his feel good platitudes and hipster wisecracks. However, in reality he was a counter culture activist and philanthropist of the first order. After several arrests, he decided to put on the uniform of a clown to disarm law enforcement and avoid arrest. “Clowns are safe”, he famously stated. He labored tirelessly for a myriad of worthy causes. Among the notable were the Children’s Hospital of Oakland and The Seva Foundation, which has provided eyesight to 80,000+ people worldwide by coordinating the efforts of volunteer doctors with health care systems in host nations to provide the relatively simple and cheap miracle of cataract surgery. Gravy was the subject of a film documentary “Saint Misbehavin” which chronicled his works of charity and activism in exhaustive detail.
Chapin’s tragic end proves the axiom, “only the good die young”. The world would be a far different place if all pop stars had the same social conscience as Harry Chapin. Chapin star ascended with his epic urban fable, “Taxi”. But, it was the mawkish story song “Cat’s In the Cradle” that went number one and helped to underwrite a myriad of philanthropic endeavors that became Chapin’s legacy. He started out as a patron of the arts in his beloved Long Island, but soon expanded his efforts to battle hunger in America and the world. Towards the end of his life, it almost seemed that his music career only existed to facilitate his philanthropic efforts. Supporting musicians bristled at Chapin’s insistence of donating a third of his concert receipts to charity. Indeed, he left it all on the playing field. After his tragic and premature death in 1981, there were few liquid assets to sustain the dozens of charities and foundations he was supporting. The Harry Chapin Foundation was created posthumously to continue the work he started in life.
Pete Seeger was such a firebrand, he actually got up in Woody Guthrie’s grill for sitting on his ass and smoking cigs. Seeger became a member of early American folk royalty as the guiding force of The Weavers. They became an A-list music institution but fell out of favor when Seeger couldn’t keep his leftward leanings to himself. At the height of The Weavers’ success he was called into The McCarthy Hearings to rat out his friends and admit his communist ties. He was the only major entertainment figure with the balls to tell the committee to mind its own business. He was blacklisted as a result, and his absence was conspicuous during folk music’s television heyday in the early sixties. Seeger became a fixture on the front lines at the start of the civil rights and environmental movements. Mounted a super-human campaign to rescue the Hudson River from the ravages of pollution. Seeger stayed the course and kept a busy schedule of musical activism until his death this year at age 94. A true American hero.
At the peak of his commercial powers, Browne went all Pete Seeger and spent his celebrity capital rallying his buds to worthy causes. Most notable was his No-Nukes efforts during the 80’s. In today’s post-Fukashima world, Browne’s efforts seem even more relevant and prescient. However, the bulk of his high-profile activist work occurred in the Reagan era. Those lazy, crazy days when the trickle down blueprint was presented to a shallow, clueless American public enamored with the profligate “Prince of Pop” Michael Jackson, and mall trash “Material Girl” Madonna. Also appearing on the scene were MTV and HIV to keep us distracted and fearful. Browne’s efforts went mostly un-noticed by a youth-culture that had just discovered the twin opiates – apathy and megalomania.