I tuned in to the Concert for Valor last night, after I learned that HBO was unscrambling its signal so that even non-subscribers such as I could enjoy the Veterans Day tribute.
I expected the usual bland assortment of pop music stars delivering the usual red, white, and blue anthems with earnest efficiency. And the first couple of performers I caught didn’t do much to stir my soul. The Black Keys were pleasant and capable. Carrie Underwood, bright-eyed, blonde and slightly pregnant, delivered a mild set of forgettable songs.
I reached for the crossword puzzle to work on during the breaks. But then Tom Hanks showed up on the big screen in a prerecorded piece about Team Rubicon and suddenly I was totally engaged. Started by two veterans, Team Rubicon unites military veterans with disaster response teams to provide lifesaving assistance in emergency situations worldwide. The project not only rebuilds civilian lives, it offers vets a new sense of purpose and fulfillment after their military service is over.
The theme of what happens to veterans after they come home gave last night’s tribute a deeper resonance than a mere collection of musical performances could provide. The examples of veterans, some with devastating injuries, returning home and finding ways to keep inspiring others, was profoundly moving, and underscored by the presence in the audience of those veterans. The emphasis on the veterans, true heroes who give all that is asked of them yet often return home to find they can’t get a job, made the Concert for Valor more meaningful.
Of the 800,000 people in attendance, many were uniformed service men and women invited into the areas closest to the stage. They sang along to some of the songs. But no act got a more enthusiastic response than the band that has for more than thirty years exemplified the gritty power and controlled fury of heavy metal.
If you had told me thirty years ago that I would ever be a Metallica fan I would have scoffed at the idea. I’m not scoffing now.
Those guys are incredible. The audience, which had been listening with polite attention to all the previous acts, jumped into action when James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich unleashed their blistering brand of rock. Let’s just say it was a far cry from “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.”
Of course, the truth is, the world is a much different place than it was in 1940. Wars have changed. They seem to be continual, for one thing. And the adversaries are harder to define, much less find and root out. The only thing constant is that young men and women continue to suffer and die to keep the rest of us safe. And we owe them. More than an occasional concert or parade. We owe them a country worth fighting for. A country that takes care of its own, and more.
Opinions will always vary about what sort of music is best. But even if we disagree about whether or not Bruce Springsteen was right to sing an antiwar song at the Veterans Day concert, surely we can agree that it’s past time for us, as a country, to stop bickering about trivial matters and get back to working together on what matters. Let’s take care of our veterans, our children, and our world.
Bang your head once if you agree. Bang repeatedly if it feels right.