March 7, 2008

In which I support a good cause, but recognize I am closer to breaking a hip than being hip

I recently had the opportunity to attend the annual dinner for the Syrentha Savio Endowment (SSE). If you're not aware (and let's face it, you're probably not), SSE is an organization dedicated to the fight against breast cancer. It's a small organization, nothing even approaching the Komens of the world, but naturally there's room for everyone in this area, and SSE is taking a different, and rather novel, approach to the effort and to outreach.

SSE was started by Mark Beemer, who had made his living as a rock photographer. Without getting into too much detail, events conspired to put the issue of breast cancer into stark focus for him, and in 2002 he made a slight change to his life's mission. Making use of his background in the punk-rock scene, and the network of people he knew there, Mark put punk-rock at the center of his outreach strategy. He knows bands, bands know him, and he gets them involved in his cause. SSE goes to shows to hand out materials, and the bands regularly mention SSE on stage, and direct people to their booth and the website.

The support of the punk-rock scene is even more evident in the centerpiece of SSE's fund-raising efforts, called Shirts for a Cure. Bands donate T-Shirt designs to SSE, and all proceeds from the sales of those shirts go to the endowment. And we're not talking about small bands you've never heard of, either. Bad Religion, Blink-182, My Chemical Romance (MCR), Fall Out Boy, and The Plain White T's are only a few of the myriad bands who have contributed designs to SSE's cause. They do some original stuff, too, including the punk-appropriately-titled "Fuck Cancer" line. They have some additional things in the works that haven't been announced yet, but will be very exciting and will expand their mechandise catalog in cooperation with a couple of big names*. They tour, they organize an increasing number of groups for the Race for the Cure, all the while helping to support breast cancer treatment for women who lack the means to obtain it on their own. These are good people.

SSE put on a show at the South By Southwest festival whose band list (including MCR) rivaled anything the festival's organizers could put together (in fact, the SXSW people are a little steamed at SSE for getting bands they can't, but that's a whole different story). They have gone on tour with MCR and other bands, getting out and talking with the fans, increasing awareness and promoting early detection/prevention of breast, testicular, and skin cancer. SSE has developed a number of materials that they hand out, including laminated shower cards promoting self-testing for boys and girls, complete with cartoon people sporting tatoos. By all accounts, it's been very successful and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

This year, I attended SSE's annual charity dinner, which was held at Maggianos in DC. So right away, you know you're going to eat well. This is a good thing. In addition to copious volumes of Italian food, we were also treated to an update on SSE's previous year, and some of their plans for next year and the future (see asterisk, above/below, for example). It really was a wonderful event, and I may or may not have eaten way more than I should have. But that is neither here nor there. Good times.

One of the most interesting things for me was being seated at a table with three-fourths of the band Senses Fail. They were in town for the week, working on a new album, and came out to show their support for SSE. And to eat. Now, I should point out (which will surprise no one, really) that I know virtually nothing about punk/indie rock (is there a difference? That's how little I know about it), beyond being passingly familiar with a few of the bands named above, and having been to a Guided By Voices show at the 9:30 Club a few years back. So it's not all that suprising that I'd never heard of my tablemates before that very evening. But to me, that meant that they were obviously some up-and-coming band just getting started or something.

I was close. Turns out they share a record label with Dashboard Confessional, Paul Westerburg, and the Lemonheads, and are in fact working on their third album, not their first. So yeah, a little pop-culture hubris to go with the gnocchi in vodka sauce. And the gargantuan tiramisu (family-style dining rocks, especially at dessert time). I then went from feeling ignorant to old when one of the other people at the table explained that Senses Fail is 'very popular with the kids.' A group to which I clearly no longer belong.

I should also point out that the guys from the band were hilarious, and great fun to share a meal with. I was able to talk music with people who do it for a living, and it was fascinating for me to get some insight into the process of putting an album together. There may also have been some discussion of Steven Seagal and Steven Seagal movies. Highly entertaining all around.

It was a great night, supporting a great and growing organization. And at the end of the evening I finished my prune juice, hiked up my pants, and hopped on the Rascal for the trip home.

These kids today...

* As soon as I find out what I'm allowed to say, or when it does get announced, I'll tell you. I promise. But it's very cool.
Site Meter