Article 2014-11-11 National Mall, Washington, DC

For the troops on Veterans Day, rough-edged reverence on the Mall

That Bruce Springsteen knows a lot of things. Among them: Patriotism is complicated.

That seemed to be what the Boss was telling us Tuesday night when he transformed “Born in the U.S.A.” into a neo-blues ballad that highlighted its lyrics, eloquently proving that being anti-war and pro-veteran aren’t mutually exclusive.

The song served as the moral anchor of the evening’s Concert for Valor on the Mall — a sleek, genre-jumping Veterans Day revue to honor American military families. Featuring Springsteen, Rihanna, Eminem and others, it was the biggest gathering of musical star power on the Mall since President Obama’s 2009 inauguration concert, drawing tens of thousands of fans as many more watched the live telecast at home.

The bill leaned toward rock but included dashes of country, R&B and hip-hop. That means Metallica fans had to head-bang alongside Rihanna fans, who had to sway alongside Carrie Underwood fans.

For a pop concert, that’s about as American as it gets.

And for the evening’s various hosts — including Jamie Foxx, Meryl Streep, John Oliver, George Lopez, Jack Black and Bryan Cranston — staying on message was easy. This was a concert designed to raise awareness of the difficulties that veterans face while making the transition to civilian life, and they urged viewers to volunteer their money and their time.

But the musicians up there had a much trickier job: How to balance reverence and uplift, salutation and celebration?

Zac Brown Band had a surprisingly nifty answer with “Chicken Fried,” a casually patriotic country ditty that felt more casual and patriotic than usual. Moments later, Brown was joined by Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl and Springsteen for a serrated cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son.” (It was almost as fiery as John Fogerty’s rendition last week on the White House lawn.)

Grohl’s preceding solo set was a smidge more nuanced. “We got a lotta heroes here tonight, so we’re gonna sing for them,” he announced during an earnest and unplugged sing-along of “My Hero.”

Then there was the very plugged: Metallica easily delivered the night’s boldest and most bruising music. The pioneering heavy-metal quartet are particularly beloved by this generation of veterans, as evidenced by the many Metallica T-shirts in the crowd — men and women in a different uniform.

Others failed to tailor their performances to the event in any meaningful way, which meant that the Black Keys’ blues rock rang hollow, Jessie J’s candy pop felt flavorless, and Rihanna’s emotive ballads mysteriously evaporated into the autumn air.

But Eminem’s headlining set was the evening’s only egregious misstep, considering that it came less than 24 hours after he released a song in which he boasts that he will punch pop singer Lana Del Rey “in the face twice like Ray Rice.” Bad taste, bad timing, a bad booking — and, while we’re at it, he’s the most overrated rapper of all time.

His petulant rhymes weren’t the last sounds to jump from the speakers. The concert ended with that “Bwomm” sound that follows the credits of every HBO program.

But out on the crowded Mall, it never felt like a made-for-TV gathering. Veterans and their families spent three loud hours laughing, crying, cheering, dancing. This was no TV show. It was life.

By Chris Richards via The Washington Post.

Bruce Springsteen’s antiwar songs at Concert for Valor didn’t go over too well

At the Concert for Valor Tuesday night on the Mall in Washington, D.C., Bruce Springsteen caught social media heat for a song choice: Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” which he performed with Zac Brown and Dave Grohl during Brown’s set.

Here are the verse lyrics from the original recording, minus some “oohs,” “ahs,” “uhs” and “Lords.”

Some folks are born made to wave the flag
They’re red, white and blue
And when the band plays “Hail to the Chief”
They point the cannon at you

Some folks are born silver spoon in hand
Lord, don’t they help themselves
But when the tax men come to the door
Lord, the house look a like a rummage sale

Yeah, some folks inherit star-spangled eyes
They send you down to war
And when you ask them, “How much should we give?”
They only answer, more, more, more

And the chorus:

It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no Senator’s son
It ain’t me, it ain’t me
I ain’t no fortunate one

Though written by leather-voiced classic rock mastermind John Fogerty — a man Springsteen once called “our generation’s Hank Williams” — this is lyrical terrain familiar to the Boss. “Fortunate Son” takes on income inequality and unblinking patriotism, as Fogerty, a former serviceman, explains here.

But it was the song’s third chorus that really got people’s dander up on the Mall. In that one, Fogerty insisted he “ain’t no military son.” Here’s Springsteen singing the offending lyric as Grohl and Brown bang their heads.

On Veterans Day, in the heart of a centuries-old democracy fighting interminable foreign wars — not far from a monument to Gen. George Washington — this didn’t go over well.

“The song, not to put too fine a point on it, is an anti-war screed, taking shots at ‘the red white and blue,'” the Weekly Standard wrote. “It was a particularly terrible choice given that Fortunate Son is, moreover, an anti-draft song, and this concert was largely organized to honor those who volunteered to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

And then there was Twitter.

Indeed, at the same concert, Springsteen also performed a dirge-like version of “Born in the U.S.A.” “I wrote this 30 years ago — think it still holds,” Springsteen said before playing the song. While some think “Born in the U.S.A.” is an American anthem, a quick look at the lyrics confirms that it’s more of an anti-anthem anthem overtly critical of the Vietnam War. Here they are, minus some repetitions of the titular call to arms — and that line about being a “cool rockin’ daddy”:

Born down in a dead man’s town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much
Till you spend half your life just covering up
Born in the U.S.A.
Got in a little hometown jam so they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land to go and kill the yellow man
Born in the U.S.A.
Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man says “son if it was up to me”
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said “son don’t you understand now”
Had a brother at Khe Sahn fighting off the Viet Cong
They’re still there he’s all gone
He had a woman he loved in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms now
Down in the shadow of penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I’m ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go

Even Ronald Reagan, who praised the song in his 1984 campaign, seemed confused. Here’s the Gipper praising the Boss: [video]

So, starting right now, let’s agree: Songs like “Fortunate Son” and “Born in the U.S.A.,” while they criticize the armed forces, aren’t anti-American in the sense that, for example, the Islamic State is anti-American. By offering a critique of our nation’s policies, they celebrate its promise.

Or, as Mark Twain put it: “The true patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the Nation all the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it.”


By Justin Wm. Moyer via The Washington Post.

The best (and worst) of the Concert for Valor

It wasn’t clear who would headline the Concert for Valor when it began. Would it be Bruce Springsteen, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999 and has lent his celebrity to veterans charities for years? Would it be Metallica, the heavy metal heroes whose music has resonated with this generation of American service member?

But rapper Eminem took the honors, fresh off the release of a freestyle in which he suggests he’ll punch singer Lana Del Ray “in the face twice like Ray Rice.” That already was controversial, but then Shady added fuel to the fire with his salute from the stage to those who have served.

“Happy motherf—ing Veterans Day,” he said — and then Twitter exploded.

Would it be too much to ask for @Eminem not to drop so many f-bombs on the National Mall at the #ConcertForValor?

— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) November 12, 2014

Just for reference – to those shocked to hear @Eminem swearing at #ConcertForValor… way less than you'll hear during a military watch.

— Pax Americanna (@AmericaHipple) November 12, 2014

A loud, profane & awesome bridge across the civ-mil divide: @Eminem: "Happy Motherf$&king #Veterans Day!"

— Phillip Carter (@inteldump) November 12, 2014

Never mind that the foul-mouthed salute was greeted by plenty of cheers. Or that Eminem swearing is about as common as a 19-year-old lance corporal standing watch somewhere. The faux-controversy erupted anyway, and was one of the worst things about the show.

Here are some of the other best (and worst) things that happened, as seen by Checkpoint. I was standing among the crowd off of 4th and Independence streets, with a lot of veterans.

Metallica brings dozens of veterans on stage for performance
Anyone doubting whether Metallica would have its heart in the concert was quickly answered. The band came out with a thunderous performance of “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” and had dozens of veterans on stage during the performance.

The band followed with two more classics, “Master of Puppets” and “Enter Sandman.” In between, frontman James Hetfield offered this: “We finally get to play for our heroes.”

Man, I wasn't upset I'm not at the #ConcertForValor. And then Metallica started their set. I'm watching on HBO, and it looks electric.

— Andrew Exum (@ExumAM) November 12, 2014

Metallica just sang "Enter Sandman" on stage in Washington D.C. and France surrendered. #ConcertForValor

— NotKennyRogers (@NotKennyRogers) November 12, 2014

Anti-war music at a show for valor
One of the biggest surprises of the night was Dave Grohl, Zac Brown and Springsteen combining to perform Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1969 hit, “Fortunate Son.” Written during the Vietnam War, it’s a raucous takedown of blind patriotism, class warfare and those who are quick to send troops to war without going themselves.

The song was greeted with energy by much of the crowd […]

But the third verse in particular — in which Springsteen sings that he “ain’t no military son,” is taking heat. Some questioned whether it was the appropriate choice, as my Washington Post colleague Justin Moyer already noted. Reactions are mixed:

@foxandfriends Choosing to sing Fortunate Son at #ConcertForValor shows how little the elite musicians understand veterans, valor, & honor.
— Dave Chitwood (@davechitwood) November 12, 2014

Springsteen’s performance got additional scrutiny because he not only played his 1984 mega-hit “Born in the U.S.A.,” but stripped it down into an bluesy, acoustic version that highlighted its dark lyrics. Decades after its release, casual fans still confuse it with being an upbeat patriotic sing-along. But it actually includes lines like “I had a brother at Khe Sanh fighting off the Viet Cong / They’re still there, he’s all gone.”

Reaction, again, was mixed.

As noted previously, Springsteen has been involved in veterans charities for years.

The Black Keys not mentioning the reason they were there

The Black Keys took the stage relatively early in the concert, playing hits “Howlin’ for You,” “Fever” and “Lonely Boy.” Notably missing, however: Not once did they give the veterans and active-duty troops present a shout-out. Wasn’t that half the point?

To be fair, though, their performance was popular:

The Black Keys kill it every damn time. #ConcertForValor
— Matthew (@Matthops82) November 12, 2014

Country star Carrie Underwood’s performance turned into a sing-along for many, especially during her hit “Before He Cheats.” But it was another song of hers — “Something in the Water” — that gave the Air Force’s chorus, the Singing Sergeants, a chance to shine.

The group is based at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, and includes 23 musicians, Air Force officials say.

Reaction to videos of inspiring vets
In between performances, the crowd — and viewers on HBO at home — were shown videos of inspiring veterans who are profiled in the new book “For Love of Country,” by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Washington Post journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran.

Several of them, including Medal of Honor recipient Leroy Petry, were greeted with a warm ovation when it was revealed to the crowd they were in attendance. Petroy, who lost his right hand while throwing an enemy hand grenade away from two fellow soldiers, appeared to get emotional at the response.

By Dan Lamothe via The Washington Post.

For Veterans Day, Stars Give a Return Salute

WASHINGTON — For days, people here had been bracing for Tuesday’s first-ever “Concert for Valor,” a tribute to veterans. Inauguration-style barriers took over the National Mall, a subway line and several streets shut down, and people whispered a number that made many of them shudder: 800,000.

That number, as the attendance, never materialized, but the 100,000 or more who did gather at the free event — many of them in uniforms, T-shirts, hats and other paraphernalia from Iraq and Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea and World War II — were upbeat and loud. They cheered and danced to Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl’s performance of “Fortunate Son” with the Zac Brown Band, to Jessie J and Jennifer Hudson’s duet of “Titanium,” and to Carrie Underwood’s “Something in the Water” with the Singing Sergeants, the official chorus of the United States Air Force.

There were taped tributes from Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep and Oprah Winfrey, along with live appearances by Jamie Foxx, George Lopez, Bryan Cranston and Jack Black.

It was a celebration of the people who have served, coming on the heels of a scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs and the resignation of its director, airstrikes in Syria, and an increase of troops in Iraq. It was an attempt by event organizers from HBO, Chase and Starbucks to bridge the growing distance between civilians and the 1 percent of Americans who serve in the military.

The intimate connection once shared between the American public and its service members has changed, said Howard Schultz, the chief executive of Starbucks and a co-author of “For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroism and Sacrifice.”

“Veterans Day comes once a year,” he said. “Unfortunately at times, it’s turned into an annual weekend sale. That’s not what it was about.”

The concert was held on the National Mall, in the stretch of land between the Capitol and the Washington Monument. Games of catch filled the time before the first acts, as people started to arrive hours before the concert, on a beautiful fall day, with the temperature reaching the low 70s.

As the sun set and the temperature dropped, the dome of the Capitol, covered in scaffolding, glowed behind the stage.

Capt. Anthony Sims-Hall did not expect much when he decided to go to the show — the Army officer’s wife wanted to see Eminem perform. He figured they would not get close to the stage, but they went anyway, hoping to catch a glimpse of the performance on the giant screen.

“I didn’t think we’d actually see the stage,” he said from the mosh pit, close enough to see the sweat on Eminem’s neck. “So this is pretty neat. This is greatly appreciated.”

Captain Sims-Hall joined thousands of other active-duty and retired service members in the V.I.P. area, a section that was reserved for veterans and veterans’ families. The tickets were distributed via the public affairs officers for the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and National Guard.

Some were teary as vignettes played between band sets, highlighting veterans who came home and continued their missions off the battlefield.

These are the stories that Christina Mock, a spouse of an active-duty member of the Navy, hopes that citizens will remember long after Veterans Day.

“On the day it’s fine, but the rest of the year, it can go by the wayside,” she said. “Everyone gets patriotic on the big holidays, but people don’t realize that there are people overseas all the time, even if they’re not in places of harm. No matter where you are in the world, you’re away from home. It’s hard.”

By Jada F. Smith via The New York Times.

John Fogerty Addresses ‘Fortunate Son’ Concert for Valor Controversy

John Fogerty has responded to criticism of Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl and Zac Brown’s performance of “Fortunate Son” – the hit single Fogerty wrote while a member of his former band, Creedence Clearwater Revival – at the Concert for Valor earlier this week.

The lyrics to the 1969 song reference rich people who orchestrate wars and then draft the poor to fight in them. People have criticized the musicians’ decision to play the song at a Veterans Day event.

“‘Fortunate Son’ is a song I wrote during the Vietnam War over 45 years ago,” Fogerty said in a statement. “As an American and a songwriter, I am proud that the song still has resonance. I do believe that its meaning gets misinterpreted and even usurped by various factions wishing to make their own case. What a great country we have that a song like this can be performed in a setting like Concert for Valor.

“Years ago, an ultraconservative administration tried to paint anyone who questioned its policies as ‘un-American,'” he continues. “That same administration shamefully ignored and mistreated the soldiers returning from Vietnam. As a man who was drafted and served his country during those times, I have ultimate respect for the men and women who protect us today and demand that they receive the respect that they deserve.”

Springsteen also performed his own anti–Vietnam War hit, “Born in the U.S.A.,” during his Concert for Valor set. Other performers at the event included Eminem, Rihanna, Metallica, the Black Keys and Carrie Underwood.

Late last week, Fogerty was in D.C. to perform on the lawn of the White House for A Salute to the Troops: In Performance at the White House, a program that PBS broadcast, on which he performed “Fortunate Son.” Willie Nelson, Mary J. Blige, Common and others performed and active-duty military members made appearances.

“What a great country this is,” Fogerty said of the event. “I was honored that they asked me to perform for the veterans. I changed my tour schedule so I could be a part of this special event. Introducing my daughter and son to the president and first lady was an unforgettable experience.”

By Kory Grow via Rolling Stone.

A Night of Valor: On the Scene as Springsteen, Eminem Honor Vets in D.C.

At Tuesday night’s Concert for Valor on the Mall in Washington, D.C., Bruce Springsteen played a stripped-down blues version of “Born in the U.S.A.” and Metallica rocked out with a stage full of head-banging military service members.

The free Veteran’s Day event, which also featured performances by Eminem, Dave Grohl, the Zac Brown Band, Rihanna, the Black Keys, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson and Jessie J, attracted an estimated crowd of more than 100,000 and was broadcast live on HBO. Video segments between the performances, narrated by – among others – Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks, Michelle Obama and Meryl Streep told the heroic stories of post-9/11 veterans. The segments, along with stories from onstage hosts like Jack Black, Bryan Cranston and John Oliver, emphasized the need to focus on supporting the 2.6 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

After Jennifer Hudson sang the national anthem and an uncharacteristically nervous Jamie Foxx admitted that he couldn’t follow the “telethon” (teleprompter), President Obama offered a video message about the importance of re-integrating recent veterans into civilian life. “Let’s find ways to serve our veterans as well as they have served us,” he said. Jessie J followed, sharing vocal duties with Hudson on “Titanium” and going solo for her latest hit, “Bang Bang.”

After a Steven Spielberg-directed video tribute, Meryl Streep (whose nephews are active-duty military members) introduced Dave Grohl, who launched into acoustic versions of “There Goes My Hero” and “Everlong.” Next up, the Zac Brown Band ran through a mini-set including “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless the U.S.A.” Brown, who looked a little frozen when he first saw the mass of people, warmed up talking about “a lot friends who serve in the military” and got the crowd truly riled up when he sang “Chicken Fried,” complete with slide guitar and fiddle solos. Brown ended the set by inviting Grohl and Springsteen (“Bruuuuuuce!”) out to play “Fortunate Son,” a pleasantly subversive choice.

After a Reese Witherspoon-narrated video tribute to Kellie McKoy, the Army’s first female battalion commander, John Oliver pointed to the latter in the bleachers, explaining that his wife was a combat medic in Iraq with the Army’s First Cavalry. When he shouted “If you ain’t Cav,” the knowing vets in the crowd shouted back, “You ain’t shit!” He then introduced the Black Keys, who played a straight-forward set of “Howlin’ for You,” “Fever” and “Lonely Boy.”

Next up, Tom Hanks! After the actor paid tribute to two former Marines who volunteered with post-earthquake cleanup in Haiti, George Lopez paid tribute to Latino and Latina veterans, and Carrie Underwood performed in front of “the Singing Sergeants of the U.S. Air Force.”

After Underwood’s songs of property destruction (“Before He Cheats”) and spiritual redemption (“Something in the Water”), Jack Black lightened the mood with jokes about the event and himself. When he directed the crowd to the Concert for Valor website, he reminded, “Don’t forget the ‘the.’ wasn’t available.” And when he brought out Metallica, he asked that everyone make some noise for “a favorite of our troops – no, not Tenacious D.”

In front of a crowd of headbanging veterans and service members, the band played the night’s heaviest set, moving from “For Whom the Bell Tolls” to “Master of Puppets” and “Enter Sandman.” “We finally get to play for our heroes,” James Hetfield said between songs, adding “Freedom isn’t free” before leaving the stage to a chant of “U-S-A!”

Michelle Obama then offered a video tribute to Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Cedric King, and ABC anchor Bob Woodruff introduced both the Army Ranger and Bruce Springsteen. The latter came onstage with an acoustic guitar and harmonica, playing “The Promised Land” “as a prayer for our recently returned veterans.” Following with “Born in the U.S.A.” Springsteen said, “I wrote this 30 years ago – I think it still holds,” and played a stirring bluesy slide-guitar version of the often-misunderstood tune about a Vietnam veteran’s experiences after returning home.”When you leave, take all these men and women home in your hearts,” he told the crowd, encouraging them to support veterans groups and noting, “you can’t start a fire without a spark.” “Dancing in the Dark,” as you might have guessed, brought his short set to a close.

After a tribute to another Army Ranger, Leroy Petry, Rihanna, in a sparkly pantsuit and cape, sang “Diamonds” and “Stay,” the latter accompanied by videos of military families. Eminem came out to join the Bajan singer for “The Monster” and finished the show with a set of his own.

Jumping onto the stage yelling “Happy motherfucking Veterans Day, D.C.,” the rapper was an odd choice to end the otherwise poignant, carefully choreographed event. He dedicated “Not Afraid” to “everyone serving in the armed forces,” then went into “Lose Yourself,” which in this context seemed to speak to the anxieties and struggles of veterans returning home. Down the stretch, Em’s hype-man introduced each member of the extensive band, and then Eminem said thanks and goodnight. It was a strangely sudden and disappointing climax to an evening full of powerful moments.

By Evan Serpick via Rolling Stone.
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