David Crosby traces social activism through rock 'n' roll

Over and over, history shows the power of one person to make a difference. A 1960s activist, singer David Crosby, now uses the power of his conviction to chronicle others in his documentary, "Stand and Be Counted" (Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 22 and 23, 9-11 p.m. on The Learning Channel). Mr. Crosby's program is a compilation of interviews and music that documents some of the most significant moments of social activism by musicians of the past half century.

"No one had ever written a book or created a film chronicling the history of music [performed and composed] for a cause," says Jana Bennett, general manager of The Learning Channel, in explaining how the series ended up on her network and not an all-music channel. It's not just about the music, she says, "it's about the people, the tragedies, the triumphs, and our history over the last 50 years."

While Ms. Bennett acknowledges concern over turning the passions of social justice into a dry history lesson, Crosby says that isn't a problem. On the shows he talks to old friends and acquaintances about their shared experiences, which gives the show a personal touch.

"It's me asking Bonnie Raitt about a concert that we did together or asking Jackson [Browne] about something that he and I have spent many hours talking about," he says.

Crosby is careful to acknowledge that social protest and benefit concerts

didn't start with his generation.

"Protest music has been around since there's been music in this country," he says. "Our main job is to be entertainers, but the other part is for us to be the town crier, the troubadour, to say, 'It's 12 o'clock and all is well,' or 'It's 12:30 and it's not so ... good.' " He says that protest music appears in early American standard tunes such as "Yankee Doodle Dandy."

But because the story of protest music is so large, the filmmakers chose the era of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie as their starting point.

"We thought ... that those guys were such good examples that we could pick it up there," Crosby says. The story continues through the 1960s civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, two of the most important rallying causes for social activism in recent decades.

Performers interviewed include Carlos Santana, Harry Belafonte, Jewel, Joan Baez, Sting, Bono, Peter Gabriel, Tracy Chapman, Willie Nelson, and Seeger. They are among the many artists who share their views on the social and political power of music, as well as stories behind the Live Aid, Farm Aid, and Tibetan Freedom concerts.

The film addresses the issue of whether benefit concerts are more than just an excuse for a great party.

"The concerts raise money, but they also raise consciousness," Crosby says. Beyond that, the money makes a difference. He points to the work of Live Aid's Bob Geldof in Africa, where fields have been transformed from holding areas for the starving into green fields of crops.

"One guy. That's what we're trying to get across," he says. "That if you believe in something strongly enough, and you're willing to stand up for what you believe in ... you can affect the world."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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