Live Earth: Concerts for Climate in Crisis
The day long celebrity-peppered musical (and supposedly educational) event took place on July 7, 2007 at seven locations: New York, London, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Johannesburg, Shanghai and Kyoto. "Get on that online and pledge!" exhorted Rosario Dawson, for there was evidently a pledge at www.liveearth.org to be more green and a better citizen.
Everybody, from General Electric corporation leftward (excluding contrarian Alexander Cockburn), has leapt upon the greenwagon. Live Earth organizer Al Gore, looking like any portly concert business organizer, bloviated about how it was the biggest global event ever, which expert Cameron Diaz pitted at over two billions served on seven continents. NBC News' Ann Curry poked at Gore until she got a shrug at whether he was running for President again. In another Curry interview, Mayor Mike Bloomberg talked global warming and ordered the Empire State Building bathed in green light,.
Kanye West barked the N-word-free version of "Goddigger" to an almost entirely white audience, accompanied by an interestingly diverse all-female string section. West later joined Sting onstage to tell him that his was "the only good Police in the hood". Thoughtful modern philosophers the Black Eyed Peas pondered "Where is the Love?" while John Mayer keeps "Waiting for the World to Change". Bandleader Dave Matthews and actor Kevin Bacon both boasted how their babies wore, or had worn, cloth diapers. Matthews boasted of his biodiesel bus; yet how much energy would be saved by a band with its own private railroad car?
An offscreen William Shatner commanded "Make a commitment to carpool or use public transportation", and in subsequent commercials GM plugged its ethanol-powered cars. Kelly Clarkson informed Carson Daly she hadn't known the gentle conservation tips that the many public service announcements offered, before she strutted and strained a song through her baby-fat and cheeseburger-filled jeans. Bon Jovi provided the link between Springsteen and Emo, as girls in swimsuit tops thronged the stage. Marvin Gaye's 1971 ecological lament "Mercy, Mercy Me" began at one venue sung by Alicia Keyes then finished by John Legend and Corinne Bailey Rae on another.
While Linkin Park roused Tokyo with an energized "Bleed it Out", the obnoxious Beastie Boys screeched to the London crowd, their act a joke that still doesn't sound good. As forty-year old comedians, the Beasties look more tired and pathetic than the Three Stooges did at sixty-five, when they were working at the age when Moe slapping Larry actually risked injury. Good rock performances included Foo Fighters and Metallica, both taking their appearances before humongous crowd seriously. The greying and melancholy Crowded House got their crowd singing how their dream is over. Duran Duran seemed like a festive mid-life bar band, who actually got some people dancing. Its once-foppish members inching on age fifty, Duran Duran played as if they still had something to prove by sounding good, rather than merely phoning in a performance. Speaking of phoning, one person was very prominently shown filming the performance on their iPhone...and sure enough, iPhone advertisements soon followed,
William Shatner read an ad about a hotel not washing sheets and towels every day saving 72,000 gallons a year. The event's other Science Fair or 4-H Club novelties included a map of the world made out of recycled bottles, and a clip of a garage band of scientists at a research station in Nunatak, Antarctica, penguins frolicking around their drum kit set up in the snow. The nerdiness of the entire global warming issue was affirmed by frequent ads for NBC's "Bionic Woman" and the Sci-Fi Channel's "Eureka", plus numerous GM vehicle ads that said nothing about fuel conservation but made crunching use of giant robot animation from this summer's "Transformers" movie.
Like all international events shown on American TV, foreigners were given short shrift. There were a few enticing minutes of highlights of pop singers in Shanghai exuding showbiz schmaltz, teary balladeers and Elvis-oleaginous guys with squads of slinky dancers and lots of violins. We saw a fragment of the Yellow Magic Orchestra's performance from Kyoto, and Ann Curry mentioned the city's international protocol but not its US spurning.
Madonna, in London, sang an anthem that sounded like something from "Evita", accompanied by a gratuitous chorus of British schoolchildren; I found myself wishing they were all dyed blond as Madonna to look like the atomic children in "These Are the Damned". Roger Waters sang "Another Brick in the Wall" with a chorus of black kids in New York. Had it been in Jo'burg, the onstage chorus would evoke the fact that the song was adopted by the anti-apartheid struggle. Yet New York kids, and perhaps demonstrably the black ones of Harlem and the Bronx especially, need more education, not less. A muddled message to be sure.
While Lenny Kravitz in Rio de Janeiro let love rule, both Genesis and the Black Eyed Peas bemoaned the dearth of love rather than the malign distribution of resources. Nobody sang about fossil fuels and the antidemocratic effect on the lands (Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Nigeria, Texas) under which petroleum is found. At the end of the evening, I didn't feel particularly enlightened about ecological greenitude, Unless my town (and the state of Michigan) establishes efficient public transportation, my big Dodge sedan remains in the driveway. Turning off the inefficient 1980s TV set, I felt like we all had watched another advertising-punctuated musical awards show, a genre in a medium that manages to commodify every message. The only green was the folding kind.