Hurricane Fatigue

Almost a month after it hit the Gulf Coast and tried to wipe out New Orleanns, Hurricane Katrina fund-raisers are everywhere. My InBox is inundated with bands, DJs and clubs across the country either organizing benefits or donating regular receipts to disaster funds. Closer to home, our son’s school has a book drive; and this weekend, the local bikers gang (a serious constituency in these parts) are off on a 100-mile fund-raising ride while an antique dealer in Saugerties, eager to cut out the middle-men, is off on his second journey to the Gulf Coast region laden with a truck full of donated supplies. It’s seriously heartening to see so many people from so many walks of life getting involved, in so many different ways.

But there’s so many events taking place that not everyone who wants to help has either the time or money to attend or support everything to which they’re invited. As such, it was no surprise that my former local venue Southpaw struggled to fill the room for the first of its two fund-raisers last Wednesday (at which I DJ’d); the fact that the two Brooklyn Responds events raised almost $7000 between them is, under the circumstances, something to be lauded. Then again, I estimate that about 500 people either paid admission or donated their services over those two nights at the 300-capacity club, which means that the charities received about $14 per head – not so much when you factor in the time and effort expanded by the promoters and artists, or when you consider that admission was $15 a head and there were ample prizes being raffled and auctioned.

This raises the question many people have to ask themselves during these charitable blitzes: would our efforts have been greater appreciated had all 500 of us just dropped a $20 bill in a bucket somewhere? Financially, the answer would be in the affirmative. And I’m not the first person to ponder this equation. A friend of mine in Manhattan readily agreed to play a Katrina benefit on Long Island but then, realizing the cost of his train fare and the small scale of the show, figured he’d sooner cut out the middle man. He called the promoter and suggested pulling out of the gig but donating the cost of his train ride to disaster relief; the promoter was so keen to hold his benefit that he instead promised to refund my friend’s travel costs (presumably, out of the night’s receipts).

There is, certainly, an element of self-aggrandizement to some fund-raisers (what other reason can we suggest for the Motley Crue monstrosity of which I wrote the other day), and a strong element of white liberal guilt to many more of them (including, I readily admit, the one in which I partook). Nonetheless, I think what we’re seeing, in America certainly when it comes to Katrina fund-raisers, is about more than merely money. It’s about standing up and being counted. We’re setting out to raise funds, for sure, we’re keen to keep the issue on the front pages, and we wish to express our sympathy and solidarity (this being especially true of New Yorkers, who were at the receiving end of so much love and generosity after 9/11).

But also, I believe, we want to protest. The fund-raisers and benefits are a chance for ‘average’ citizens to say that we don’t agree with leaving other citizens to fend for themselves under the most degrading of circumstances. The USA may espouse an ideal of self-determination and self-empowerment, but what Katrina has demonstrated is that the actual people who live here believe equally as strongly in helping pull others up with them – or, at the very least, not leave them behind. It would be asking too much of our leaders to acknowledge this but I hope that, privately at least, they recognize it.

Of all the upcoming Katrina benefits, I have to hand it to my old friends at the Brooklyn dance music store Halcyon for issuing the following hastily typed press release which manages, as perhaps only Halcyon can, to combine humor and compassion with energy and anger. I hope this event is an enormous success.

HARD TIMES 2: An Art Show for Hurricane Relief set for 10/28, seeks artists
Clearly, Mother Nature is right pissed at us with this flurry of natural disasters. 200 ft. Tsunamis… Category 5 Hurricanes… the freakin’ apacolypse. Well, if she thinks she gonna push us around with that crap, she’s got another art show coming! halcyon is proud to announce the follow up to February’s HARD TIMES: An Art Show For Tsunami Relief with HARD TIMES 2: No Electricity Boogaloo! Just kidding, we didn’t really call it that – but seriously, this show is gonna be phatter, the party is gonna be badder and at the end the check is gonna be bigger – so big we may have to get one of those big novelty checks made! Details are still iin the works, but for now we’re putting out a call to artists to submit work. The concept of the show is simple. Artists donate small pieces of all kinds. They don’t need to be made for the show, nor are they required to be exclusives. We mount the show at the shop and at the xPo at gallerie and we throw a big open bar party with our favorite DJs. You all come, get drunk and buy art. All works will be sold for $100 each and will be avaiable the night of the party only. The cheddar goes to local gulf organizations that aid artists and musicians and you walk away with a bargain on some great art and a hangover to remind you of the suffering of others.

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6 Comment(s)

  1. 2 October, 2005 at 12:06 am

    Yeah, that’s a fair reading Tony (of my situation vis a vis going out to LI). Just want to note that Frank, the promoter is the type of guy who would pay my fare out his pocket, not the proceeds (now, he might bank on my refusal to accept of course!). Maybe the wider issue is that many of the ‘benefit’ appearances at this kind of level in the industry (smaller venues, relatively unknown performers) are probably as much about self-aggrandisement as ‘the cause’. Otherwise, as you say, why not just take a fifty and stick it in a collection jar, it’s probably what it costs to do the gig. Arguing with myself, I’ll say this: I have played a couple of benefits for smaller, more localised causes that did raise good money, and also created a priceless good feeling amongst both, the performers and the audience, as well as those who benefited financially. So maybe that’s what it’s about.

    Anyway, I’m doing the gig tomorrow, check in on my blog shortly thereafter:-)

  2. 2 October, 2005 at 12:12 am

    As to the ‘protest’ element, I think the USA has always relied on personal philanthropy to fill the gaps that many European Governments routinely fill. So maybe US Government just sort of routinely relies on these kinds of efforts…

  3. 2 October, 2005 at 9:27 am


    Thanks for the comments. Looks like you’re confirming my own points – that’s it important often to do these events, whether for something small and localized (a school issue?) or a big and national one (like the Hurricane) so that you can be counted as doing so. On the smaller more localized issues, it’s important because you’re often taking on powers that can ignore you on an individual basis but have a harder time fighting your collective resistance (my mind immediately turns to real estate developers in Brooklyn as the classic scenario); as for the Hurricane and whether or not the collective response is a protest, well you’re right that the Government routinely expects philanthropy to fill the gaps, but Philanthropy is usually restricted to the rich: the fact that so many ‘average’ citizens have responded to the Hurricane issue suggests it is more than mere guilt or Philanthropy (though those are factors).

    Take care and I’ll look for the account of your own gig at your blog


  4. 2 October, 2005 at 11:39 pm

    I like your optimism about human nature here, and maybe it’s important for our collective future that you are right in this!

  5. 3 October, 2005 at 10:05 am

    What can I say Geoffrey? I’m hopelessly naively optimistic: it’s the only way I get through life.

    And did you see this?? Putting charity through ‘the what’s-in-it-for-me’ test?

  6. 3 October, 2005 at 2:32 pm

    Got this via email today, from Frank:

    Hello all!

    Only because I’m too tired at the moment to go out in full detail, LOL,

    we raised $3800 overall for the Red Cross over the last 2 Sundays @ the Irish Cottage.

    I just delivered all the checks to their Mineola office this morning & they were very grateful, as am I!

    HUGE thanks & gratitude to everyone involved!!!


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