In recognition of world AIDS day, a Bono-less U2 took the stage in Time Square Monday night for a surprise free concert with an impressive retinue of guest performers including Coldplay’s Chris Martin, American Idol sweetheart Carrie Underwood, superstar Kanye West and the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen.
On a whim, I decided to trek down from the Upper West Side and brave the rain for a few hours to see the show. It was interesting seeing the generational and demographic divide between those who came to see the Boss and those who came to see Kanye.
Demographic-wise I’m somewhere in between — too young to be a U2 or Springsteen fan and although I’ve liked Kanye for some time and loved his last album, I’m more of a Rock ‘n Roll dude than a Hip Hop guy. In fact, I didn’t even know Kanye was supposed to be there until I was waiting for the show to start. Starring at my phone, I said aloud “wow, Kanye is going to be here too” and a young woman looked over at me like I was crazy, her eyes asking “why the hell else would you be there?”
As our diverse melting pot of fans waited in the rain under a canopy of intersecting umbrellas, people in the back began yelling for us to close our umbrellas. I turned around snarkily and yelled “I’ll close my umbrella when someone more famous than you gets on stage”. I kept to my promise, and the concert lived up to our anticipation.
Kanye was explosive and amazing. I felt young, empowered and filled with life and verve. After his set, a WAVE of kids who had aggressively and rudely pushed their way past me aggressively and rudely pushed me out of there out of the crowd, leaving just as the Boss took the stage. C’mon teens, don’t be a parody of yourselves.
Then there was the Boss. Whoa. Now I know why he’s called by that moniker. He’s just really, really, really cool. I can’t really explain it. I guess that’s what being a super-famous person is all about. It made me start thinking. On the outside, The Boss and Kanye might seem as different as their fans. But in actuality they are more like each other than they are like their fans. They are both living legends, existing on some crazy Mount Olympus of fame and money. So what does that mean? It means that WE the audience are more alike than we think we are as well. Those kids looked at me like I was a mental patient because I didn’t come for Kanye. I looked at them with scorn when they peace’d out before Bruce took the stage. But as the music continued and I found myself enjoying U2’s played out catalog of hits that I usually can’t stand I felt a weird companionship with those around me who had been cheering Kanye and were now cheering Bruce. We all had one thing in common. We said yes to life that night.
As for Carrie Underwood and Chris Martin…they did alright for a Talent Show winner and a Radiohead knockoff who clearly didn’t know the lyrics to the songs he was singing (although his Substitu2 t-shirt was priceless). Underwood’s voice sounded beautiful carrying through the streets of Time Square, but whoever writes her songs is clearly phoning it in. She’s a legitimate talent who deserves better material.
But at the end of the day, who stole the show? Bill Clinton of course, making a surprise appearance to cheers of “4 more years!” (incidentally the exact same thing that was chanted the LAST time I saw Billdog speak a few years ago). Love him or hate him, President Clinton proved once again that he’s as charismatic and spellbinding as any Rock ‘n Roll star.
All in all, glad I went. This is after all the type of thing I moved to New York for. The knowledge that we are in the center of the art and commerce and all of the most famous and talented people on the planet may show up at any time. Also, I felt a genuine sense that I chosen to say “yes” to life that night and was surrounded by others who made the same decision.
More importantly it got me thinking about how to harness the idealism of artists to literally save the world. Artists like Bono take a lot of flack for expressing their political views and advocating for social change. I make fun of him all the time. Frankly it’s easy, they guy wears sunglasses inside and loves the sound of his own voice. But an artist like Bono or Kanye can mobilize masses of energized young people in a way that Presidents and Senators can’t. I’ve grown up thinking that the AIDS epidemic would never be solved in my lifetime. This week’s concert give me a glimmer of hope. It also got me to donate a few bucks to the cause. The concert may be free but the life-saving AIDS medication that can be used to stop the spread of this deadly disease isn’t. Thanks Bill, Bruce, and Kanye for reminding of this while having a great time. Who said saving the world can’t be fun?