This is probably as political as I’ll get but I couldn’t resist doing this post when I learned the social networking site Myspace.com was sponsoring an exclusive live broadcast from Kuwait on March 10 to be rebroadcast on cable channel FX on April 12th. I was forced to look at concert demographics with a whole new perspective. I wondered and shuddered at thought of what it must be like to take in a performance just before heading off to a war zone, knowing that the show I’m seeing might be my last. I thought about all those clips of Bob Hope performing for the troops in WWII and Vietnam and how the Operation Myspace show is similar, maybe to similar to a demographic a little closer to home.
Scanning the Internet for some concrete demographic facts I discovered two striking facts about the average age of U.S. soldier. Several of the sources noted that the average age of those serving in Iraq is around 19 while the average age of those killed is between 27-30. In any case, those demographics cover the same range of demographic that comprises most of the concerts I attend, concerts that are 90-minute moments of escape from the daily grind. But my daily grind is nothing compared to that of the soldiers who will try their best to escape into the music DJ Z-trip, Disturbed, The Pussy Cat Dolls, Jessica Simpson, Filter, and Metal Sanaz and the stand-up comedy of host Carlos Mencia.
So is Mencia the new Bob Hope? Not quite. But taking all this in reminds me of the old footage of Hope (who made his first USO trip in 1942), combining his comedy performances with other music acts, during his myriad trips overseas during WWII, Korean War and Vietnam. So I took a look back to at the USO history of entertaining our troops and discovered that things have changed when it comes to who is carrying the bulk of responsibility of entertaining our troops.
When Bob Hope started his campaign it was the non-profit USO that took up the role of scheduling talent tours to the military bases. But in recent years the AFE (Armed Forces Entertainment, a division of the Air Force) has picked up the slack, sending comedians, sports stars, actors and music artists to entertain the troops. Okay, if that’s the case, I then wondered how influential Newscorp is in the organizing of events like this Kuwiat show after they purchased Intermix Media owner of Myspace in 2005 for $580m. And with the recent decline of news coverage on the war and Fox New’s (and U.S. media coverage in general) water-down war coverage, I also wondered how key a role the ownership of Myspace by Newscorp will play in broadcasting the show and will there be any kind of censorship?
The bill that Myspace assembled is a mixture of rap, rock and pop from both independent underground and mainstream acts from the past and present, some are releasing albums and others well, lets just say they’re working on other “side projects.” The list is not stellar top to bottom, but should provide the kind of entertainment most of the troops are looking for. And if Carlos Mencia—who’s hosted USO/AFE shows before—is working himself to be the new Bob Hope then the choice is an interesting one by the AFE as Mencia usually enjoys fiercely riffing on politics and race. Whatever the reason for going with Menica as host, it’ll be a show full of razor-sharp wit that the troops should enjoy.
Though the USO is still moderately involved in setting up acts, most of the entertainment is organized by the AFE. And if you look around the USO site you’ll see why many have accused them of not providing more A-list acts or more variety when we live in a time where there’s plenty of top-notch artists to choose from. In recent years, the USO bills have included Gary Sinese (a.k.a. Lt. Dan), The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, Toby Keith and others. But with all the great acts in music today that could entertain troops it’s not a shortage of talent for the AFE but a combination of three obstacles stopping the troops from seeing a wider variety of and more cutting-edge talent; 1) many of the A-list acts currently touring most likely have political views that wouldn’t mesh with making a trip to Iraq, let alone perform for charity when they can play a gig for cash before a sold out crowd 2) many of the band’s tour schedules wouldn’t jive with a stop in the Middle East and 3) as noted in a 2007 Rolling Stone article, many of the locations—that I wouldn’t even begin to call venues—are some of the most dangerous places on the planet. It was probably a combination of weighing these three points, but I wonder what the selection process was for choosing the bands Myspace chose when there are bands all over its own site that they could’ve enlisted, not that the acts Myspace chose aren’t worthy, but there are certainly better and more relevant acts than Filter or Jessica Simpson to put on a show for the troops; it’ll be interesting to see if the military will allow Filter to perform “Hey Man, Nice Shot” (and is Simpson suppose to be the new sex symbol for the troops to drool over?). In any case, playing the Middle East, in the middle of a war, is a tough sell for any promoter, relevant act or not.
For many reasons, I’m also guilty of forgetting (or blocking out) that there is a war torn concert demographic that doesn’t get to see the same shows in a nice, relatively safe setting like the rest of us. And if I take the thought further I can really let the guilt suck all the steam out seeing live music at all, let alone writing about it. There’s no easy answers and it’s tough stuff to contemplate, no doubt, but, nonetheless the soldier demographic is now a part of my awareness when it comes to thinking about the audience around me (and overseas) and how drastically different concert settings can be.
Join the ongoing experiment here at Live Exhaust!
Drop me a line if you know or have spoken to a solider who’s seen a show overseas recently or ever. I’d be interested to hear from you.
Or if you saw the Myspace March 10th web broadcast or see the April 12th rebroadcast, I’d like to know what you thought.
Operation Myspace Tour as broadcasted on March 10th.