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Motive aside, celebrity does help in relief efforts

Despite politics, proclivities, artists bring attention, needed money, to cause. By Michael Ventre
/ Source: contributor

Recently Russell Crowe vented a bit over fellow celebrities like Bono and Sir Bob Geldof who lend their names publicly to charitable causes. Said Crowe: “I do my bit to improve the world but I think it’s very important to get things done on the quiet. I’m sick to death of famous people standing up and using their celebrity to promote a cause.”

As it turns out, the timing of his remarks was unfortunate, coming only days before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the surrounding Gulf Coast area, and precipitating a dire need for emergency relief that will be helped by a benefit concert already scheduled for Friday.

“A Concert for Hurricane Relief” was thrown together in an urgent flurry of activity almost immediately after news reports sent shock waves throughout the world over the rising death toll and heartbreaking destruction in the area. The concert, which was televised on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC, featured artists who hail from the Gulf Coast region, including Harry Connick Jr., Wynton Marsalis and Tim McGraw. Matt Lauer of the “Today” show hosted the telethon, which encouraged to send donations to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.

In addition, other events are in the works, including an MTV special on Sept. 10 involving Green Day, Usher, Ludacris and Alicia Keys, and the Jerry Lewis Labor Day telethon will make a special appeal on behalf of relief efforts.

I don’t mean to make Russell Crowe out to be the insensitive, unfeeling bad guy in the wake of an unprecedented American tragedy, because in a way I know what he means.

Sincere dedicationI believe Bono, Geldof and others are sincerely dedicated to making the world a better place, and for every very public act they undertake, they probably do 10 more behind the scenes. I think they’re secure enough that they don’t need to resort to standing on a stage at a benefit concert and soak in adoring applause to massage their egos. I believe they do it because they’re answering a calling.

But human nature being what it is, there are times when you wonder if certain somebodies aren’t pushing their way into the charitable spotlight because it’s the thing to do, and they want to feel they belong among A-list philanthropists. I’m sure those are the types Crowe is grousing about.

The question is: Does it really matter?

In other words, if Leonardo DiCaprio’s presence on “A Concert for Hurricane Relief” translates into several thousand dollars in donations, which can help house and feed a few families rendered homeless by Katrina, does it make a real difference if some viewers out there think he’s sincere and others don’t? If there is a celebrity whose work or love life makes your stomach turn, or a performer whose political leanings clash with yours, or even an artist whose star has faded and you don’t think he or she belongs in such a high-profile gathering, is any of that really an issue if people whose lives have been ripped apart by this hurricane can get help?

In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing Crowe and his band, 30 Old Cans of Beans or whatever the heck its name is, taking up instruments and doing a few numbers for the cause.

This isn’t your typical celebrity fest, either. Sometimes a concert is the first and obvious reaction toward filling a charitable need. In this case, “A Concert for Hurricane Relief” has more organic roots. Besides the fact that native sons of the region will take part, it’s also fitting that a city like New Orleans, and its surrounding landscape, has long been a bubbling cauldron of spicy musical fare encompassing rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, Latin, funk, zydeco, bluegrass, reggae, country and even hip-hop.

Lending a hand during hard timesThat part of the South has produced more original American music than any other section of the country. To music lovers, New Orleans is like a favorite uncle. It’s important to pay him a little respect and lend a hand when he falls on hard times.

If there had been more time to organize, if the need weren’t so pressing, this could have been one of the greatest gatherings of musical talent ever put together, judging by the incredible number of splendid creative progeny the city has given birth to, as well as the thousands of artists it has had influence on. It still might be.

Music is so intricately woven into the fabric of New Orleans and the outlying region that it can’t be considered as a stand-alone topic, apart from its environment. There is joyous, vibrant jazz in the streets during funeral processions. Mardi Gras wouldn’t be Mardi Gras if blaring horns didn’t accompany every decadent act. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band plays a room the size of a walk-in closet, and yet somehow people keep walking in.

The Neville Brothers, Johnny Adams, Louis Armstrong, Dr. John, Fats Domino, Sonny Landreth and many others have helped give the Big Easy a place on the musical map larger and more prominent than any other. If you didn’t particularly like listening to music when you visited there, you did by the time you left. Even a tin ear could find aural rapture within its confines.

But when you see the aerial shots of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast now, the music stops playing. There is no brassy trumpet, no blues guitar, no whippoorwill voices, just the sounds of people coping with destruction and trying to survive.

I understand Russell Crowe’s comments, I really do. But there are times when you have to put those sentiments aside when something occurs that is a lot more important than whether or not you’re annoyed by a celebrity or two. “A Concert for Hurricane Relief” is one of those times.

Michael Ventre lives in Los Angeles and is a regular contributor to