I don't attend as many concerts as I once did, because I'm old and have come to believe that life is best lived on the couch. But after watching Palladia's dispatches from the summer circuit, it dawned on me that the festival experience remains more or less unchanged from the halcyon days of Zep and Frampton. Yesterday's kids had lighters and early-adopter cred in the headband/scarf department; today's kids have smart phones and hydration mandates. It's all good; no one generation has dibs on "our scene was the purest of them all, man."
So imagine my shock and revulsion upon coming across "Music Sustains," a mini-documentary that debuted a few months back as part of the Brita FilterForGood Music Project. In it, a handful of A-minus-list artists and fresh-faced, more-optimistic-than-JFK-and-Bullwinkle-combined organizers/activists link the enjoyment of live music with preservation of the environment, as if that high D note won't sound unless/until all the dolphins are relocated to federally protected wetlands.
That's not entirely accurate. "Music Sustains" confines its do-goodery to cleaning up and enviro-purifying the stadium and festival settings. It aims to convince concertgoers to stop buying bottled water, unplug electronic gizmos and support local agriculture by buying the apple you're going to hollow out for a homemade bong at a farmer's market. Similarly, it surveys the steps progressive artists have taken to diminish the environmental impact of their shows (only using plates/implements made from plants, placing recycling bins alongside regular ones, etc.).
These are all noble goals and I wish - nay, pray! - that every artist on this and every other planet would seek to emulate them. My problem is the way "Music Sustains" communicates these goals, trotting out the make-a-difference jargon and couching them in an all-the-cool-kids-are-doing-it context. Did you know that Sheryl Crow participates in environment-focused community service projects alongside her fans? You didn't? You must be a selfish diesel-inhaling Styrofoam-burning one-percenter - or, worse, a Rod Stewart fan.
The filmmakers would've been better served by slipping their talking heads a few lines (uh, of the written sort). Rather than pronouncing their hemp-good-ozone-bad dictates in everyday vernacular, they lapse into the worst sort of empowerment-speak, the sort that makes Woodstock refugees sound like Charlie Rose. We're told that "music is the common denominator that brings us all together for a cause" and that "it's always been about taking a message and giving it to the people who will be moved by the message." We're bludgeoned with rhetorical questions ("What can one person do to make a difference? Well, actually, a lot!") and lectured about generational comity ("I get so excited about that, kids being aware and dialing in and getting their friends excited about it. That's the future"). The overall effect is to relegate a worthy cause to one of the composting heaps that, apparently, are as much a circa-2012 concert staple as Motorola kiosks.
And in the middle of it all sits the corporate ringleader, Brita, whose water stations and barf-yellow reusable water bottles pop up at various intervals during the mini-flick. I can't speak to sincerity of motive, but isn't it a happy coincidence that their chosen conservation effort just happens to land them smack in the middle of a prized demographic? It's good business if executed smoothly, but Brita doesn't do enough to affirm its stake in the debate. It comes across as a corporate interloper: "We've got water-filtration products and you aren't yet aware of your need for water-filtration, possibly since you're attending a Dave Matthews Band concert and not browsing the aisles of your local Home Depot. Nonetheless, we should talk."
Listen, I'm all for acting in a manner that's reasonable, responsible and keenly attuned to the sensitivities of everyone and everything around me. I believe litterbugs should be publicly shamed – think scarlet letters - and corporate polluters limited in their ability to ply their chosen trade. Our half-assed efforts towards protecting the environment aren't getting it done. I'll take "this is not a news flash" for $600, Alex.
But Brita's efforts to that end, at least as documented in "Music Sustains," feel self-serving and far from genuine. If there's a more wince-inducing corporate catchphrase out there than "passion for music, passion for the planet," I'd love to hear it.