The great benefit brouhaha!

DeRogatis bashes McCartney! Walsh bashes DeRogatis! Lipton bashes Jackson! Readers bash 'em all!

Published October 25, 2001 7:00PM (EDT)

Last weekend brought with it a pair of major rock concerts to raise money for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. Jim DeRogatis' review of the Concert for New York City, organized by Paul McCartney, brought howls of protests from readers -- and a rebuttal from Salon's own Joan Walsh. The second, in Washington and headlined by Michael Jackson, went hours longer than it was supposed to and prompted Eric Lipton's howl, "The Worst Benefit Concert Ever!"

Readers weighed in all week on all three articles.

For the first round of letters, click here.

For Jim DeRogatis' "Stop this benefit!" click here.

For Joan Walsh's "Salt of the Earth," click here.

And for Eric Lipton's "The worst benefit concert ever!" click here.

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Thanks, Richard Rodriguez, for pointing out our tendency toward jingoistic thinking. Publicly supporting the Bush administration policy toward bin Laden and the Taliban is a fine act, but appropriating the American flag to imply that patriotic Americans must support the war is out of line. Worse is the subtle message in the "United We Stand" placards and bumper stickers, which implies that dissent is tantamount to treason (its accompanying statement, "Divided We Fall," practically rolls off the tongue when the sign or sticker is read). Protecting our collection of opinions and the free expression of them, regardless of their naiveté, stupidity or silliness, is both the guarantor of our victory and the underlying goal of our policy. Suppression of them, subtle or otherwise, only provides succor to our foe.

-- Owen Rodgers

So, the rock critic didn't like the Concert for New York. Well, surprisingly enough, the Tribute to America that he touts so highly didn't fly for most of the New Yorkers I've talked about it with. The dirge he likes so much was the last thing most New Yorkers needed. They might not have been ready for the party of the Concert for New York yet, but the smoke-filled, candle-lit funeral of the Tribute to America was also a little early. That wasn't the case for the rest of the country. They were ready for the internment. It may only have been grief for our innocence but it was a burial. Unfortunately for too many of us here we had too many real funerals to go to already. We weren't ready to bury anyone or anything we didn't have to yet.

What we were ready for was a moment of escape, a brief return to normality. Which could be why so many of the people I know turned to the ball game after just a few moments of the over-hyped media event Tribute to America.

Yeah, that's right, Jim. It was also a media event. Celebrities in hiding, unprecedented network cooperation and press for days. And gosh, it was so full of itself and egotistic enough to think that no one needed an introduction, or even a graphic identification. It also had massive corporate sponsorship, and will have the same difficulties in making sure the donations actually get to where the donors intended it to go. At least Concert didn't hype talking to celebrities as a reason to donate.

Neither event was perfect. I preferred the latter, you the former. But somehow the bulk of your criticism strikes me as just as pretentious as the event you preferred.

-- Patricia Smouse

God, this guy sounds as wound up, angry, and repressed as Osama. Find this man a cave.

-- Sylvia Silliman

Somehow you forgot to mention the rousing Bronx cheer given to Hillary Clinton by the cops and firemen at the concert. Her spinmeisters obviously toil for Salon these days.

-- Derek Crane

Let's face it -- you just couldn't stand a megaconcert where the audience was not filled with the young, beautiful or hip, and was made up of the hardworking, real-life heroes of Sept. 11 that usually don't set the tone at these bands' typical concerts. Fortunately, McCartney, the Stones, Billy Joel, et al. have a deeper understanding of life and people than you do -- that's why they're great artists and you're a self-appointed cynical critic. Sure, cops and firefighters did not make politically correct statements about civilian casualties in Afghanistan; and if in the emotions of losing their loved ones, they didn't mention other victims of the tragedy, it can be forgiven as much as everyone's oversight to mention our troops overseas. But jerks like you at least got to intellectualize with Richard Gere -- for the few seconds before he was rightfully booed off the stage.

-- Michael Berkowitz

My god, what a bitter fuck you have writing for you. If the concert made just a few people feel good (or even forget about their pain), it was worth it. Get your head out of your ass and relax.

-- Brian Coughlin

Thanks finally for an accurate review of that drunken wake/shiva posing as a fundraiser/concert. Given the AP report Salon published on the concert Sunday, I was wondering if Salon had been taken over by PR flacks or interns. Jesus, what a weird, frequently dismal, often inadvertently hilarious, 12 hours of television. From Will Farrell's inability to find comic material to get a laugh (he basically got himself thrown offstage) to Christie Turlington and Susan Sarandon unable to figure out why they were told to bring onstage with them a boy with a frozen smile ignoring his panic when he yelled out to them, "You're supposed to tell them my father died in the WTC," to Melissa Etheridge forgetting what song she was singing when her mike didn't work, to Howard Stern with his scrawny naked ass hanging out of his pants deriding longtime celebrity foe Rosie O'Donnell for leaving NYC (Stern's rage at O'Donnell targeting her like others had cursed the Taliban) to Bin Laden being cursed out as "bitch" ... Well, all I'd like to know is how much money these bozos raised. I'm a fan of Howard Stern but he belongs on morning radio, not in political forums. I also appreciate straight feeling, but the feelings on Saturday night were probably best shared privately in a bar or nightclub. Not a concert for the nation. Again, like a wake or shiva, which allow the profound to swim with the profane, admiring the dead, expressing rage, navigating the confusion of grief, this concert was for its own audience. Which in my mind, was as much Hollywood players, in this period of shock, they are shocked into recognizing they do not know where they belong. Wearing NYC Firemen hats or fleeing to distant shores. Thank goodness (in honest feeling and capable promoters) for the earlier concert the weekend after the bombing, which was, as mentioned, capable of art, reflecting deep, powerful feeling rather than the hapless pandering of terrified people. Actually, Bill Clinton's wrong. I only hope bin Laden isn't watching. It will only confirm his faith in our weakness.

-- Jonathan Field

The new left screwed up American politics, blah blah blah -- or maybe it was all the Reagan democrats. I'm not sure why an appreciation of firefighters and policemen has to be qualified with self-loathing apologies. Just because I love my Irish Catholic, working class family doesn't mean that they're not a bunch of racist, alcoholic reactionaries, and I don't apologize either for holding leftist political views or for recognizing the Concert for NY as a bunch of embarrassing crap (but I missed Mick and Keith, and I'm kicking myself for it).

This kind of blame-it-on-the-'60s blather is tired, reductive bullshit, and I'm really sick of hearing it. And if you don't think so, Joan, you can kiss my ass. Better yet, go learn some history.

-- John Mead

Right on, Jim DeRogatis. Ninety-eight percent of these benefits are self-serving schlock, feel-good manna for the masses, with no real effect on the situations they ostensibly support. This one was especially sickening; the jingoistic platitudes were everywhere, the album-plugging was omnipresent. The songs that seem to be arising from this are almost uniformly dreadful. [Bruce Springsteen's Tribute song] "My City in Ruins" was a great choice, expanding on the circumstances around which it was originally written. [Paul McCartney's Concert song] "Freedom" is jingoist schlock, but I'll bet that's the one we'll hear over and over and over.

-- Susan Hill

Thank you for your positive remarks about the N.Y. concert. It was kind of embarrassing to watch, but in a way it was the USA revving its engines. The crowd mirrored those we have seen in the Middle East in recent days, shaking their fists in their robes and turbans. Our display lacked subtlety, but ought to let them know that we are up for a fight. Not only that, we will kick their asses to Allah. We shouldn't be too shy to say that. Bin Laden's cold-hearted attack at least merits us taking off our rhetorical gloves. Thank you Salon for not having only intellectual snobs reviewing. That concert appealed to an uglier, baser instinct. But dammit, this is not the time for the faint of heart. That fireman spoke for me. You did too, Ms. Walsh. Thanks.

-- Scott Raybern

I couldn't agree more with Joan Walsh's comments about Saturday's Concert for New York. It was great to see the real heroes of the night (and our city) sitting up front, where they belong. While the show didn't pack the emotional wallop of America: A Tribute to Heroes a few weeks back, it was supposed to be a party, not a memorial. And what's wrong with a little political incorrectness when you're grieving?

-- Dino Tortu

Right on. It amazes me that DeRogatis didn't even acknowledge that the beer-drinking folks he was talking about were those who had lost relatives in the disaster. Good call on the classic effete-snob move of treating the lower class as a punching bag.

-- Dan Quiles

Thank you for this article. As a pagan, I find myself suddenly being bombarded by newspaper article after e-mail-forward after television commentary on how now, finally, America has become a nation united under God. Excuse me, but no. Anyone who has suddenly formed a closer relationship with God following the events of Sept. 11 is welcome to do so. However, we are no more now a Christian nation that we were two months ago. In fact, we should be embracing our religious differences, as they directly refute the anti-Judeo-Christian propaganda that bin Laden is spewing! I look forward to the day when someone responds to bin Laden's comments on the "American Christian threat" by pointing to the millions of Buddhists, Shinto, pagans, Wiccans, Hindus, etc, proudly waving the flag.

Goddess Bless America!

-- Ashley Sheridan

I have to write and let you know how much I enjoyed Eric Lipton's article about the "United We Stand" concert in D.C. this weekend! I attended the concert, and was as hugely disappointed as Mr. Lipton. His hilarious article was the only good thing I experienced related to that concert! At least I enjoyed commiserating with Mr. Lipton. I do wonder what he thought of Aerosmith's performance, the one brief highlight of the show for me. Please thank him for the article!

-- Irene Cognon

I loved Joan Walsh's article, but have one thing to correct: Drudge was wrong, as usual -- it wasn't Hillary that was getting booed, it was Macy Gray, who in a fit of diva-ness refused to finish her song properly.

-- Tamara Baker

The Concert for New York had nothing to do with you. It was for the people working at the WTC site and it appeared to be exactly what they wanted. It was not an opportunity for idiotic, self-absorbed music criticism nor was it an opportunity for college-types to prove how "salt of the earth," or elitist they really are. Jesus Christ, it was a fucking party. Lay off.

-- Bryan Chambala

While I completely agree with those who wrote in to criticize Jim DeRogatis' review of the Concert for NYC, I was appalled that some of them took the opportunity for some more Hillary-bashing. It was hateful and gratuitous. To the reader who remarked that those who booed her could recognize a lack of class when they saw it: Get a grip. Look at Hillary Clinton's actions in the past 10 years, and her response to constant personal attacks. Never once have I heard her call anyone names, vilify them publicly or in any way behave in as boorish and classless a manner as the people who can't get enough of hating her. I was sorry the firefighters and policemen booed her, but I guess they've earned the right. The same can't be said for people who ally themselves with heroes so they can snipe from the sidelines.

-- Gayle Stamler

Jim DeRogatis' recent article is a misdirected, mean-spirited criticism of an effort that, contrary to what Mr. DeRogatis thinks, was for the firefighters and police officers of New York. The entertainment was for their enjoyment -- it wasn't to create yet another somber tribute to the Sept. 11 tragedies. To that end, everyone at the show, performing at the show, and watching that show "gave a fuck" about New York and its police and firefighters, despite Mr. DeRogatis' impressions.

And much of the music that Mr. DeRogatis comprehended as "wrong-headed" had much more relevance than he could observe. Taken as a whole, a song like "Baba O'Reilly" by the Who is all about being tough, moving forward and the need for community. But above all, it was something the crowd needed to hear. And that was evident through their response.

I was glad to see the police and firefighters get rowdy and drunk. As a few of them indicated during the show, this was the first time many of them had seen each other since the tragedy. It was a reunion, a time to reflect, celebrate, and move forward. As for them being white, I don't think you can blame McCartney or the concert organizers for that.

-- Mark Grutkowski

I really appreciated the great reporting about the benefit concert in D.C. It's well-written and obviously the real deal. I live in New York City and was in D.C. that weekend for a birthday party and was really torn between going or not. I'm so glad I didn't. (I figured it would be something like Lipton described.) I saw Michael Jackson in New York at MSG on Sept. 7 and it was the same way: a lot of waiting, lip synching and egomaniacal BS. So thanks for the great reporting. I too am through with any concert that is a benefit and/or contains more than one star.

-- Lateefah Cobb

While reading Jim DeRogatis' opinion of last weekend's music benefit, headed up by Paul McCarthy, I was reminded of how great this country is. We can express our opinions without fear of losing our head. You can't say that about the Islam nations, speak out for instance about Jesus Christ and your history. So my opinion of Mr. DeRogatis' opinion is just that, my opinion, and my opinion is that he needs to get a life. He has apparently been so self-serving that those of us who like serving others offend him and make him feel uncomfortable. So sleep well DeRogatis, perhaps some day you'll need us and no matter how white we are, we'll do all we can to help you!

-- Billy Reiter, Firefighter/Chaplain, Thornville-Thorn Twp. Fire Dept., Ohio

What a bizarre and perplexing "article." Who is Joan Walsh arguing with? If Jim DeRogatis thought the music sucked and the artists were self-promoting or dimwitted in their choices, what does that have to do with anything Walsh talks about? That wasn't a "left coast" or "elitist" perspective, per se. He just thought it was lame. And so did I. Does that mean I hate firemen?

-- Erik Huber

In his article "Stop This Benefit," Jim DeRogatis completely misses the point. Although it may be true that America: A Tribute to Heroes, televised on Sept. 22, did rise to a level of art that The Concert for NYC did not reach on Saturday, there was indeed a "purpose of all of this ballyhoo."

The 6,000 fire, police and rescue workers in the audience are exactly those people who are sifting through the wreckage of the World Trade Center, trying to find bodies where so many parts lie about, so that the victims' families can perhaps achieve some sort of closure. As someone who was born and raised in New York and the son of a retired firefighter, I grew up with these sorts of people. Whatever their flaws, at all other times they selflessly go about their work every day trying to protect the lives and property of others; never in the spotlight, with precious little thanks from the public.

Whatever was or was not said on Saturday night, these folks return to the site of the devastation each day doing a job the rest of us cannot imagine. They needed a release, if only to lighten the load for a brief time and then return to their work. I am certain they never forget for a moment about the office workers for whom they are now searching. How could they possibly?

Whatever the motivations of the celebrities who were there, they gave these men and women one night to enjoy before returning to the grim job at hand. That was purpose enough.

-- Steven Tomaselli

I'm sorry, but this review of the Concert for NYC is just ridiculous. What was with the spiteful comments regarding the "whiteness" and "jingoism" that marred the event? What are we criticizing here? Talk about taking yourself too seriously. It was a benefit concert, for God's sake, meant to help the cops, firemen, EMS workers and their families who yes, may have got a little hammered, but so what? I could care less that these guys did something that showed their humanity, after what they've been through. Nor did I think this was a "perfect" benefit concert (whatever that is). The concert -- and most people I've talked to agree on this -- was for the most part enjoyable and well-intentioned. That's as much as needs to be said about it.

-- Kellie Warriner

Ahh jeez! To all of you writing in and complaining about the hopelessly bitchy, whiny, head-stuck-his-kiester Jim DeRogatis ... this Chicagoan sympathizes. I am forced to put up with his mediocre reviews and rotten taste. By the way: DeRogatis and Bill Wyman (Is that you? The dreadlocked freak who always pushed the New Duncan Imperials?) are both from the Chicago Reader. Poor Salon -- stop hiring Reader cast-offs!

-- Chrissy Menseto

Thank you Joan Walsh for countering the pseudo-intellectual criticism of the NYC benefit show. As an independent-thinking son of a Philly cop and Salon subscriber, it annoyed me to no end to read the snobby rich-boy criticism of the show and its honorees. You've restored my faith in Salon.

-- Chris Indelicato

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