Live Aid - con and pro

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at
Thu Nov 4 07:22:48 CST 2004

>From The Daily Telegraph at:

Rock's finest hour – or sanctimonious ego-fest?
(Filed: 04/11/2004)

As the Live Aid gigs are finally released on DVD,
Andrew Perry recalls a day of self-serving excess.
Marc Lee remembers it differently.

Prompted by the release of 1985's marathon Live Aid
concert on DVD on Monday, Britain's media have been
queuing up to pay tribute to the event, with a typical
mixture of opportunism, hyperbole and rose-tinted
forgetfulness. "The day that rocked the world,"
screamed the front cover of one magazine, which inside
reiterated the sentiments of a newspaper headline
published at the time in proclaiming it "rock's finest

After wading through the footage, revisiting 10 hours'
worth of that undoubtedly historic day's air-punching,
bullying, egomania and bad hair, I find it hard to
share in this dewy-eyed, simplistic nostalgia. If it
really was the crowning moment in 50 years of rock and
roll, why has it been virtually taboo for the 20 years
since it happened, rarely mentioned, except in homages
to organiser Bob Geldof?

For fear of being sent around the Home Counties
mansion-belt to apologise to every rock star involved
for blaspheming against the concert's sanctified
memory, one does have to acknowledge that, like any
charitable venture, Live Aid should not be beyond

Watching again Michael Buerk's BBC news report from
Ethiopia, you relive the full horror and indignation
that Geldof himself must have felt in 1984. That one
man's impulse to do everything in his power to curtail
such human tragedy – first by making an all-star
protest record, and then staging an unimaginably
ambitious benefit concert – is beyond reproach, indeed

However, the end result was beyond his, or anyone
else's control – an abhorrent display of gang-led
sanctimony, whose destructive effect on our culture
continues to be felt two decades later.

Like countless thousands across the world, I watched
the afternoon's proceedings on TV at home with my
parents, only to develop an overpowering nausea,
which, contrary to my GP's subsequent diagnosis of
gastroenteritis, I have always preferred to attribute
to a gut-level revulsion at the whole grisly

On an artistic level, the music was execrably bad. The
Wembley concert presented Britain's '80s pop elite in
all their horrid, self-important, creatively
fly-weight majesty. The only band who transcended that
were Queen.

Over in Philadelphia, technical problems made even a
reformed Led Zeppelin look so shambolic they're not
even included on the DVDs.

"The greatest artists," as the DVD's press release
claims, "playing the greatest music"? Among the
biggest they may have been, but were Paul Young, Nik
Kershaw and REO Speedwagon really the greatest?

In the ensuing weeks, stories circulated about just
how unsavoury the whole business had been behind the
scenes. How some acts had wanted to promote their
latest single rather than lend their biggest
crowd-pleaser to the cause. (Few can have pledged
money on hearing Adam Ant's Vive Le Rock.) How some
had seen their participation as a platform to improve
their record sales – you had to be in it to win it.
How, after his shambling performance, Bob Dylan was
allegedly roasted for daring to suggest on stage that
farm workers in certain parts of America needed
charitable assistance too.

What I dislike, too, is the element of emotional
blackmail associated with the event. Geldof,
reportedly, persuaded some artists to sign up with the
argument that their non-appearance would reduce the
charity's earnings. Such terrifying, belligerent logic
was writ large on stage, and in Geldof's "give us your
money" outbursts in front of the TV cameras. 

Would it be stretching it too far to suggest that Live
Aid was an early step in that worrying tendency
towards mass expressions of self-flagellating grief ?
With its previously undreamt-of technical leaps, this
unprecedented event effectively hooked up the global
media system which dominates our world today. Far from
being "rock's finest hour," Live Aid was a key moment
in the birth of the network that continues to hound
emotional responses from us at an ever-intensifying

Andrew Perry

Marc Lee remembers Live Aid as the day the whole world
held hands

I accept that it's probably easier to be dewy-eyed
about Live Aid if you were there. Well, I was there in
the audience at Wembley, and July 13, 1985, will
forever remain one of my most thrilling rock-and-roll

In deciding my "Gig of a Lifetime", I'm always torn
between Live Aid and the Sex Pistols' last ever UK
appearance (in a Huddersfield bierkeller, Christmas
Day, 1977). They may seem barely comparable: there
was, for instance, no rain of enthusiastic, well-aimed
spit to greet each new arrival on the Wembley stage.
Yet they do have one thing in common – the music was
hardly transcendent on either occasion. And it really
didn't matter. It was supremely, spine-tinglingly
exciting just to be there.

Live gigs are never primarily about the quality of the
music or the precision of the playing anyway. They are
about sharing something with the band you're there to
see; even in a stadium heaving sweatily with 70,000
other people, they're about a brief moment of intimacy
between performer and fan.

I was reluctant to watch the Live Aid DVDs. I'd
decided that my memories – unreliable, hazy, patchy
though they were after almost 20 years – were far more
valuable than the facts. But I gritted my teeth and
sat through all 10 hours last weekend. And I was

To start with, I'd forgotten quite how eccentric the
line-up was. How, posterity now demands, did cuddly
Nik Kershaw come to be playing to the countless
millions from all over the planet who tuned into the
most ambitious TV event ever? And Howard Jones?

Neither of them, it has to be said, were titans
bestriding the '80s pop landscape. But so what?

Live Aid wasn't supposed to be a showcase for the best
bands in the world; it wasn't supposed to be a
snapshot of popular taste circa 1985. Rather, it was a
hastily conceived response to an appalling
humanitarian crisis, and, though it was nice to see
the scrubbed-up likes of U2, Bowie, Queen, the Who and
Elton John on parade, in the end, it didn't really
matter who turned up. 

Nor did it matter that the whole thing kicked off with
a song as stodgy, brain-numbing and predictable as
Status Quo's Rockin' All Over the World. It was the
perfect pitch-filler: everybody was bouncing around
within seconds, the party had started, a piece of
history was in the making.

And it didn't matter, 10 hours later, when Paul
McCartney, the shiniest star on the bill, sat at his
Steinway under the expectant gaze of a significant
proportion of the human race only to be rendered
inaudible by a dud microphone. It was the end of the
day, the world was in a mellow, forgiving mood, and we
couldn't really complain because we had, in effect,
just enjoyed the best free gig ever staged. Our
25-quid-a-head was paying for bags of grain and the
trucks to deliver them, not for super-slick production

That said, there were sporadic magical moments. The
Who delivered a cataclysmic Won't Get Fooled Again.
Bono, typically and touchingly anxious to get personal
with every one of us, dragged a bewildered girl from
the crowd for a spot of slow dancing. And Freddie
Mercury, all teeth, 'tache and tight trousers,
reinvigorated proceedings magnificently at teatime.

In retrospect, it's easy to forget that Geldof's
brilliant vision wasn't guaranteed to work. Of the six
decades that have so far resounded to rock and roll,
the '80s was the one least likely to have generated
such altruism. It was the decade dominated politically
by someone who insisted there was no such thing as
society; it was the decade of Wall Street's Gordon
"Greed is good" Gekko; it was the decade in which pop
itself celebrated conspicuous consumption. Live Aid
and the original Band Aid project of the previous
Christmas came slap-bang in the middle of all that,
and yet they succeeded beyond all imagining.

Nineteen years ago, as I stood on a patch of pitch
slightly outside the penalty area and Live Aid
unfolded in all its shambolic glory, the sensation was
of being a part of something entirely unprecedented.
It wasn't just that we were witnessing a pop concert
unlike any other, or even that we were helping to save
lives. What truly gripped the imagination was the idea
that, for the first time ever, for one day, the world
was holding hands.

Maybe you had to be there. But I don't think so.

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

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