Amid gun violence, artists voices appear to be on pause

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
In this July 13, 1985 photo, Robert Plant, left, and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin perform at the Live Aid concert in Philadelphia.

There should be a "We Are the World" for gun violence. 

There should be a something for gun violence: if not a massive charity single that unites stars from rock, pop, country and hip-hop to stand up against guns, then a benefit concert or event that harnesses the power and influence of artists and musicians for a common cause. 

If not now, when? 

Two weeks ago, America was rocked after two mass shootings in the span of 13 hours left 31 dead. 

There were immediate cries to end gun violence and discussions about what can be done to make sure this kind of thing never happens again. 

But where are the artists, and how come so few are standing up and making their voices heard?

There was a time when we looked to artists for the truth, to stand up for what's right and help us make sense of our world. We believed in artists. Today, we mostly look to them for cool Instagram posts and a furthering of their personal brands.

But it doesn't have to be this way.  

To be fair, it hasn't been all crickets. Less than a week after the two shootings, Lana Del Rey released "Looking for America," a slow, acoustic dream that finds her longing for her " own version of America, one without the gun, where the flag can freely fly."

Del Rey aside, there haven't been many responses, even though streaming services have made distribution faster and easier than ever. Do you mean to tell me a Scooter Braun-type can't unite Drake, Halsey, U2, Mariah Carey, Billie Eilish, J. Balvin and a dozen others to knock out an anti-gun song and boot "Old Town Road" off the top of the charts?  

In the past there have been plenty of examples of pop musicians coming together and lending themselves to a cause, the best example being "We Are the World."

Recorded in 1985 under the banner USA for Africa, it brought together the stars of the day — Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Ray Charles and three dozen others — to raise money for aid in Africa. It was a worldwide smash and spent four weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, and became one of the best-selling singles of all-time. 

"We Are the World" came on the heels of Band Aid's "Do They Know it's Christmas," a 1984 charity single organized by rocker and political activist Bob Geldof, which featured a host of British musicians — Bono, Simon LeBon and George Michael among them — and also raised money and awareness for famine in Africa. 

Both "We Are the World" and "Do They Know it's Christmas" were sung at Live Aid, a 1985 benefit concert that took place in London and Philadelphia and was broadcast around the world to a global audience of 1.9 billion people.

The Live Aid formula has been repeated several times, including 2005's Live 8 concerts, which took place in 11 cities worldwide and were timed to unfold in the lead up to the global G8 summit.

Today? We can't even pull off a Woodstock. 

Woodstock was held 50 years ago this weekend, a gathering of peace and love that acted as a protest against the Vietnam war. This year, a hastily organized 50th anniversary concert was aborted, largely because there was no reason for it to happen, outside of cashing in on an iconic brand name.

The same week Woodstock 50 was canceled, the two aforementioned tragedies gave a the would-be gathering a reason for being. Sadly, it was already too late.

That doesn't mean it can't be done. Why not get a host of artists, unite them under a single cause — better gun legislation? no more guns? — and hold a benefit concert in Dayton, Ohio, or El Paso, Texas, or any other city that has been torn apart by a mass shooting?

It's been done in the past, and it can be done again.

Most recently, Ariana Grande pulled together a benefit show in Manchester, England, after a bomber killed 23 people at her concert. Given the right cause, artists can and will unite to make a difference. 

We don't need artists to save us. But they can help the healing process, and give us a focal point to rally behind. 

Our leaders have failed us. For artists, there's still a chance, and the time is now.