Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Bob Geldof: Changing the world

Bob Geldof, leader of the Boomtown Rats, and driving force behind
Band Aid at Christmas of 1984 and Live Aid in the summer of 1985.
He is one of the greatest anti-heroes of the ‘80s. He shamed the world into doing what was right, even though he often found himself struggling with that decision. Yet, for a magical night in England, Bob Geldof had dozens of recording artists check their egos at the door and record a song that would echo around the world. Not for profit, or for glory, or for prestige. Instead, "Do They Know It’s Christmas" was recorded to raise money and bring attention to the drought killing thousands in Ethiopia. By the sheer force of will, Geldof changed the world. He really did.

Recently, I heard the song on the radio, and it still stirs my heart. I’m not sure if it is the song or the cause. I suspect it is both.

An ordinary man
Until 1984, Geldof was probably best known as the leader of The Boomtown Rats. He was the one who hated Mondays and wanted to shoot the whole day down. He had also spent some time in Vancouver as a journalist, writing for the Georgia Straight. As lead man with the Boomtown Rats, he gained a reputation as being anti-establishment, attacking Irish politicians and the Catholic Church. Little did we know, with his anger turned in the right direction, he would change the world.

Changing the world
Geldof was profoundly affected by a BBC news report he saw in 1984 by Michael Buerk on the famine in Ethipia. It motivated him, and Midge Ure of Ultravox to write "Do They Know It's Christmas?" to raise funds for famine relief. The song would be recorded by several artists who gathered together under the name "Band Aid".

The song entered the United Kingdom chart at number one and would sell three million copies. It was a success on the Billboard Hot 100 in the US as well, peaking at number 13.

The success of the song set the stage for the Live Aid concerts, which were held the following summer of 1985. The day was July 13, and the concerts were held at Wembley Stadium in London and JFK Stadium in Philadelphia.

They would raise millions of dollars that went to help the people suffering in Ethiopia.

I was profoundly affected by that concert, and thought about it for days.

Geldof would be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, but didn't win.

It was my first experience with the politics of the Nobel Prize. Not only was Geldof not the "right" personality for the prize, the committee often used the prize to make political statements. That was what Geldof's nomination fell victim to. His loss enraged me as can only happen to an emotional teenager believing in his first cause.

More than two decades later, Geldof and Midge Ure were back at it with the Live 8 concerts in 2005 to raise awareness of Third World debt. During that same period, another version of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" was recorded, and the video is above. One of the most touching moments is when Geldof showed the footage of one of the children suffering in Ethiopia to the artists. Some were visibly shaken. Then he brings the girl out who, 20 years later, is a healthy woman. It was extremely powerful.

Again, Geldof would be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, but again he would be unsuccessful.

Still, he continues on, trying to change the world despite his personal foibles, and the fact he can be a pretty disagreeable person. No matter what happens, when he and Midge Ure wrote "Do They Know It's Christmas?", and gathered the best artists Britain had to offer to record it, they put the crisis in Africa on the map. They changed the world – forever.

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