Monday, August 30, 2010

LIVE EARTH: A Concert of Carbon Footprints (or one surrealistic pillow?)

I HAD a sweet nightmare the other night. Amidst a numbing migraine in between vertigo and hubris, I saw myself forty years ago—zealously quizzing my Aunt Pilar, “What is a surrealistic pillow?” As she danced—swinging, swirling, swishing across the den—as Marty Balin’s spaced-out voice and Grace Slick’s blank growl soared and heaved like a pair of tired, beautiful sorrows wanting to touch ground, copulate and heal each other, she would lazily whisper at my left ear, “I don’t know, my dear…”
“I don’t know, I don’t care.”
Like a spellbound moth—stubbornly, giddily circling around a lamplight of unknowingness before it finally runs out of spark—I untiringly kept on asking questions. Questions that I patiently culled out of LP sleeve covers’ lyric sheets.
“What is a whiter shade of pale?” “Why is the dead grateful?” “Where is the velvet underground?” “How do I get signed up with Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band?” “Can you dance the light fandango?” “What is a surrealistic pillow?”
“I don’t know, I don’t care.”

MY AUNT Pilar hasn’t failed to mystify me. It’s certainly not just because of her “lucy with a white rabbit in the sky with diamonds” trance dance—it’s because, despite her “I don’t know, my dear...” caresses and reassurances, she is a very strong and smart woman.
More than anything else, my dear Aunt Pilar is a VERY “involved” woman. The very first real-life human being (apart from Huck and Tom) who imbued in me the beautiful urgency of getting involved with what’s going out there. So when she whispers on my left ear, “I don’t know, my dear...” that actually meant, “I got it all covered, young man!”
Deep inside, as years wafted by, I came to profoundly live with Aunt Pilar’s ethereal spirit and radical pragmatism. “Enjoy your dance but don’t get swept away by the quiet peace... the world is calling you out there. Go out! Protect humanity, young man!”
My Aunt Pilar has long been living in Frankfurt, happily-married to Detlef Moessner, a German veterinarian who was born and raised in Piedmont, South Dakota—who’s a carbon copy of The Stones’ Charlie Watts but who neither played drums nor looked stoic at all. Uncle Detlef (I sometimes call him Detleffard) is a happy man and he shows it. He always laughs like it’s his one-and-only gig, outside a blissful matrimony. He’s such a happy man that whenever he attends to his dog-patients, you could actually hear the canines laughing with his wild Will Farrell jokes. Have you heard pooches and coons and hounds laughing out loud in a kind of “We Will Rock You!” unison? Go to Uncle Detlef’s vet hospital... It rocks!

MEANTIME, back to my Aunt Pilar — I don’t really think that she would remember I even asked those kind of “surrealistic” queries at all when I was a kid, or that, she would even care about Jefferson Airplane anymore. It has been four long decades ago... I guess, Grace Slick has now been retired in some Baton Rouge backwoods, munching crawfish enchilada over Busch Lite belting out a Kelly Clarkson ditty all weekends of her 50/60-something life, who knows—people change with age, you know.
For some—yes, surreal—reason, I ran across my Aunt Pilar in a bizarre dream sequence the other night. She was fuming mad outside London’s Wembley Stadium, where an episode of “Live Earth” worldwide concerts was happening. Among many other reasons, my Aunt Pilar and Uncle Detlef were protesting against DaimlerChrysler, a major sponsor of the lavish environmental-awareness spectacle.
DaimlerChrysler — which was using its low-emissions Smart car brand in the sponsorship — should not sponsor concerts, complained Aunt Pilar. The average level of carbon dioxide emissions from DaimlerChrysler’s fleet was 186 grams per kilometer — well above the automobile industry’s own commitment to cut emissions to 140 grams a kilometer. (The above data wasn’t, of course, flashed in my “nightmare.” But, of course, I gotta tell you that fact.)
Aunt Pilar was a staunch anti-war activist. “”We were creating the rules and making them work,” she would lighten up when reminded of Laurel Canyon, LA in `67. “There was magic all over.” According to a neatly captioned Polaroid photo that I retrieved from a family library in San Fernando Valley, Aunt Pilar was in Los Angeles, outside a club called Pandora’s Box, on Sunset and Crescent, on Nov 12, 1966—when thousands of people showed up to protest a 10pm teen-curfew law. Local business simply got fed up with what they called as “longhaired interlopers” who loved dancing all night, so went the crackdown.
My Aunt was also present during a rock benefit show for a music industry-related organization called, “CAFF: Community Action for Facts and Freedom,” at Valley Music Theater on Feb 23, 1967. The Byrds, the Doors, and Buffalo Springfield all played for this fundraiser—which was fighting the teen curfew.
Aunt Pilar was very active with anti-war street protests and “civil disobedience” activities in Manila, as well. Along with many activist-students from the state-run University of the Philippines and the upper class Ateneo de Manila, she took the streets so many times to help prevent the Philippine government from sending more PHILCAG (Philippine Civic Action Group) troops to Vietnam.
I once queried, “What do you mean by `make love, not war,’ Aunt Pilar?” Well, as usual, she hushed me with, “I don’t know, my dear...”
Although I always saw Aunt Pilar and her “groovy sisters” partying to “Purple Haze” and “Sunshine of Your Love,” flashing those exuberant “Peace Man!” signs—it wasn’t all fun, all the time. Whenever they communed and held vigils on picketlines, they would usually end up ushering their lean bodies, wrapped with multicolored gypsy dresses, along factory driveways to block the oncoming transport of scabs. They would scream, “Down with scabs! Welga! Welga!” Only water canons, tear gas bombs, and truncheons would force them out of the streets. That is, if they were lucky enough not to be thrown in jail—which, of course, happened more often than not.
That was my Aunt Pilar, and that was her kind of activism. “No wonder, we don’t get the war to stop,” she would rant in my dream, “it’s because we only want to party.” She would go on and on, “These days, we just love to dance and get drunk, and talk and lecture, stack up on condoms, and fire off emails on the sides. A slight rain forecast will keep us off the streets!”
In a way, or sure enough, Aunt Pilar was referring to the “Live Earth” magnificence last July 7. The concerts, which was designed to raise awareness about man-made climate change and advocate environmentally friendly living, brought together more than 150 musical acts in eleven locations around the world and was broadcast to a mass global audience through radio, television, and the Internet.

THE UMBRELLA organization for “Live Earth” was “Save Our Selves,” founded by Kevin Wall, and included major partners such as former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, the Alliance for Climate Protection, MSN, and Control Room, the production company which produced the event. Unlike the similar “Live 8” concerts, which were free, “Live Earth” charged admission. The event set a new record for online entertainment by generating more than 9 million streams.
Although Gore has repeatedly voiced his prior stand that he is “not planning to be a candidate again for office,” this blatant display of self-promotion – that started with his narrator’s work with the Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” – is simply staggering and almost unprecedented. This makes me point to (on a relatively less grander scale) Cindy Sheehan, who apparently got so tired in front of the camera, so she officially gave up the (anti-war) fight. Now she wants to run for public office and challenge Rep. (and Speaker) Nancy Pelosi.
Is this what all these “activism” amount to? A political career?
Until now, it makes me ask why is it we are not very familiar with that young madman who organized Woodstock in 1969? I know I read about him many years ago—a small-down dude with a big-city attitude but who never made it—but then, he excised enough courage, patience, and diligence to raise money from mostly his rich midtown Manhattan and Long Island-based Jewish buddies to be able to put up the rock event that became the ultimate, unswerving template of all rock festivals with a cause.
Do you know? I know that it was held in Max Yasgur’s 600-acre farm in Bethel NY – because Joni Mitchell and CSN sang it, but I bet you don’t even know who started it all. Does it matter? (We can all talk about a fun weekend at Bonnaroo, Ozzfest, Lollapalooza, or Lilith Fair, but Woodstock will always be up there in heaven, its transcendence remains unequal, unreachable.)
We remember Woodstock for the spirit – no names, no main bill, no chasers in between – just the spirit freely soaked in pristine rain and primitive, selfless love and community. But then, how easy it is to remember Mr Al Gore – the name, the politician, the soundbyte – when we think about “saving the earth.”

ACCORDING to The Observer, the event’s total carbon footprint in the London segment alone, including the artists’ and spectators’ travel and energy consumption, was probably at least 31,500 tonnes, which is more than 3,000 times the average Briton’s annual footprint.
Carbon footprint is a measure of the amount of carbon dioxide or CO2 emitted through the combustion of fossil fuels; in the case of an organization, business or enterprise, as part of their everyday operations; in the case of an individual or household, as part of their daily lives; or a product or commodity in reaching market.
The artists on stage had to fly at least 222,623.63 miles (about 358,278 km) — the equivalent of nearly nine times round the planet — to take part in the event. Wembley bill-topper Madonna — who, fashion magazine Marie-Claire, reported owned a Mercedes Maybach, two Range Rovers, an Audi A8s and a Mini Cooper S — had produced an estimated 440 tonnes of carbon dioxide on her four-month Confessions on a Dancefloor publicity tour.
Meanwhile, The Red Hot Chili Peppers flew in by private jet from Paris and flew out, again by private jet, after the London concert to perform in Denmark, event organizers had admitted, and The Beastie Boys had to be in Montreux the next day. After the appearance of the UK band, Razorlight, at the London Live Earth event, they were ferried to an airport in a large tour bus with police escort where they caught a private jet to an airport in Scotland, from there, they used a helicopter to travel to Balado where they performed at another event.
Meantime, concert-goers at the event’s London leg had left thousands of plastic cups on the floor of Wembley Stadium, although organizers had urged audience members to use the recycling bins provided, the BBC reported.
Oh well, it would probably take a blitzkrieg of tanks standing guard around the venue to ensure that people loyally, obediently dump their cups on designated cups/papers/plastics-only bins. How many people religiously recycle in their houses and then trash out beer-filled styrofoam and plastic cups at a rock festival – just because they were so smashed or having so much fun they didn’t remember?
So much for the “environment-awareness” bit. I don’t believe that people nowadays need to be reminded by an intercontinental rock concert to start recycling either. Why don’t we just start consuming less of these magnificently-toxic rock concerts that profess “saving ourselves” while we also stoke ourselves deep down in a (non-biodegradable) pit of excess and hedonism?
Wanna save the world? Eat ramen noodles and drink tap water sweetened with sweat, then go launch a lifetime-worth of rock concerts in the heart of the Amazon rainforest and/or around the vicinity of every factory in China. Something like that…
(That’s not my Aunt Pilar ranting in my nightmare, that’s me talking in my sleep—migraine and all.)

ROGER DALTREY, who wasn't part of the “Earth” party, said “The last thing the planet needs is a rock concert... the questions and the answers are so huge I don’t know what a rock concert’s ever going to do to help.”
Few years ago, an entire village was swept away – thousands perished – in a very impoverished island town in the south of the Philippines. The obvious culprit – illegal logging. Mountains are raped of trees so that we, mostly in affluent countries and societies, could consume them at a pace that can only be called bizarre and fiendish. I see “environmental activists” hug trees from Bolinas, California to Florence, South Carolina – so they could protect them? – from whom? What does that amount to? Advocacy to save the globe? A crusade to save your summertime shade or community beautification campaign?
Our ‘hood is not the World. Wembley Stadium or some intentional community in the Shenandoahs aren’t the Earth. Ormoc Island in the Philippines, a Kenyan village in Nairobi, an “untouchables” slum in New Delhi – these are the communities and humanity that need help. With all the money that rock concert titans are throwing away, why don’t they just funnel the resources and energy to where they are most needed?
Gore continued, “This one day, 24 hours long, will not only be a wake-up call for the world but the beginning of a multi-year campaign...” A global campaign like recycling? Again, I repeat, we pay the government recycling fees—while we volunteer to segregate this and that on this and that bin—so that a total of $236 billion is generated from this “awareness.” Then we hand over a measly $60 billion to an AIDS-stricken and starving Africa, then we praise ourselves because we care for the Earth—all cameras clicking. Hallelujah!

NOT TOO LONG ago, a number of “cause-oriented” rock concerts and festivals took Woodstock’s lead. George Harrison spearheaded the two 1971 “Concerts for Bangladesh.” John Cleese and Martin Lewis conceived the Amnesty International-sponsored “Secret Policeman’s Balls” benefit concerts from 1976 to 1981. Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, Bonnie Raitt and John Hall organized the four “No Nukes” concerts in 1979. Four other benefit concerts for Kampuchea was conceived by Paul McCartney and Kurt Waldheim in 1979. Then, there was the 1988 “Free Nelson Mandela Concert” at Wembley Stadium.
The most popular of the post-Woodstock “rock concert series” initiatives was, of course, Bob Geldof’s two “Live Aid” concerts on July 13, 1985 and the eight “Live 8” concerts staged on July 2, 2005. Before that, Amnesty International staged 20 concerts in 1988 called “Human Rights Now! World Tour” - a tour conceived by Jack Healey and Martin Lewis.
What makes these efforts different from “Live Earth” is that – these concerts had a clear-cut humanitarian agenda or program of implementation – other than the fun side of the revelry or the multi-media PR bombast.

AH, I SHOULD quit complaining now... This nightmare the other night is just disturbing.
“What is a surrealistic pillow?” I can still visualize my Aunt Pilar swinging, swirling, swishing across the den—as Jefferson Airplane rockets and weaves along the purple haze of my psychedelic memory.
“I don’t know, my dear…”
“What is a horse with no name?” “Where can we buy an American Pie?” “Can you please take me to Strawberry Fields?” “How do I light a fire?” “Have you seen Proud Mary?” “Where is the dock of the bay?”
“I don’t know, I don’t care.”
The music plays, the dancing continues... but the Earth is bleeding, bleeding so bad. I need Aunt Pilar’s spirit to show me the way to help start or continue the healing. Meantime, let me rest on my “surrealistic pillow” and muse over my sweet nightmare. Tomorrow is another day. I gotta keep on rockin’.

FIRST PUBLISHED IN The Indie; Loved by the Buffalo Publications. 2006 (Asheville, North Carolina). Edited August 2010.

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