Baudrillard, R.I.P., yada, yada. This Gulf War may or may not be taking place, but the kids there still need some entertainment. Unfortunately, high-profile acts aren't as keen to maybe get their faux-hawks beheaded as were the USO stars of the the Bob Hope era. What's a Fallujah venue-booker for the Defense Department's "Armed Forces Entertainment" (AFE) to do? According to the Journal Weekend Edition's John Jugensen, take advantage of the scruffy ambitions of all those unknown bands on the AOL and Pod players:
It also mirrors an entertainment world increasingly defined by MySpace and "American Idol." The divide between fringe and mainstream acts has gotten smaller as unknowns become stars on the Internet and TV practically overnight. That has created a receptive environment for up-and-coming bands hoping to raise their profiles by touring with the military.
Rumsfeld acolytes determining indie fortunes? Maybe there is a clash of civilizations going on in the desert.
Luckily conscientious objection nowadays has more to do with fear of non-fixed wing aircraft than, you know, killing children:
For the four members of Edison, a hard-rock group, the question of whether to go to Iraq prompted some heated discussions. The group had mainly been playing bars in Connecticut and New York City when AFE contacted singer Ethan Isaac to ask if he and his group would consider a tour to the Middle East. Mr. Isaac had done an AFE tour of Europe with a previous band.
Mr. Isaac and two other band members were enthusiastic, but lead guitarist Jonathan Svec refused. A staunch opponent of the war, he worried about the symbolism of working with the military. "Are we the entertainment cog that gets thrown in to help keep the war machine turning?" he remembers thinking.
He also had a paralyzing fear of flying in helicopters, which would be the group's main transportation in Iraq.
Doing their part to secure the freedom of bar-goers in Connecticut and New York, his bandmates convinced guitarist Svec to make the Mesopotamian trip. But, really, was this the military-industrial complex we thought we were paying for?
Some in the music industry say AFE is emerging as a force in helping bands get noticed. "It's filling a void. They're actually helping to break artists," says Tamara Conniff, executive editor and associate publisher of Billboard, which plans to sponsor an AFE tour of R&B bands.
All this has turned a Marine captain named Jesse Davidson and several of his AFE colleagues into unlikely arbiters of indie bands. Capt. Davidson, 30, served three tours of duty in Iraq from 2003 to 2005 as a logistics officer in the infantry battalion that helped pull down the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad. In 2005, he was given a new assignment: sending rock bands to the war zone he had just left.
Capt. Davidson mans a cubicle on the fourth floor of a building complex near the Pentagon. Dressed in a service uniform of a khaki shirt and green pants, his brown hair cut in the "jarhead" Marine style, he spends most of the day on the phone, coordinating gigs.
Each band is graded on a scale of 1 to 5 in 20 different areas, a system that AFE recently introduced to make the process more objective. Categories range from the fairly standard (stage presence, audience engagement) to some particular to the military (appearance, sobriety)...The biker band scored low on sobriety — the video didn't show them drinking, but they seemed at home in front of hard-partying fans. But a mix of 3s and 4s on other criteria meant they'd likely be accepted if a follow-up phone interview went smoothly.