10:26 a.m. - December 23, 2006
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I remember where I was, definitely.
It was after the first semester of my freshman year of college. I hadn’t gotten a job at the local radio station, yet, so I basically was a homebound slug, sleeping in, watching MTV, and waiting for my main man Moose to get home from Kenyon College.
I arose one morning, and clicked on MTV, of course. (Kids – back then, MTV played VIDEOS of MUSIC!) Almost that instant, I saw the first frames of a video that I had never seen before.
I then watched it with intention. “Hey, it’s Paul Young. Hey, it’s Boy George, and Sting. There’s Phil Collins playing drums. Wow, Paul Weller is short. Oh, that guy from Spandau Ballet has to make sure his hair is just so. Oh, and there’s Bono!”
“What is this?” I wondered, and then the ever effervescent J. J. Jackson told us all the story of Band Aid – and how many of Britain’s brightest pop stars (plus Kool And The Gang and Jody Watley, who were on tour in the UK at the time) came together to record a song for the hungry in Ethiopia.
It was a project spearheaded by Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats, and he co-wrote the song with Midge Ure of Ultravox. I liked the Rats and I really loved Ultravox, so sure, why not. It was a good song (and you can tell that Ure had a lot to do with it because of the moody synthesizers and the bass part) and the singers seemed genuinely interested in what they were doing. Though Phil Collins’ drumming was a bit, unsubtle, but hey, at least he wasn’t singing.
The lyrics were pretty decent, really, knowing that Ethiopia is a Christian country so they’d know of Christmas (though they’re Orthodox, so I don’t think it’s December 25 to them – I need to research). But the snow part was kind of, odd, especially in that region of Africa. Heck, except for the high mountains, I don’t think it snows ANYWHERE in Africa, except maybe in South Africa.
It was funny, though, to see that video and notice that some people (the dudes from Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, and Boy George) looked just ‘so’, while Sting and Paul Weller looked like they just woke up. It’s funny, because Bananarama aren’t all glammed out, either, but by gosh Simon LeBon and Nick Rhodes were!
I was really into music and MTV at the time, so I recognized almost all of the artists on sight. I knew the guys from Heaven 17, and I saw David Gilmour in there. You couldn’t miss Bananarama. But Geldof was only in the video for a brief moment in time. The only guys I couldn’t place, I later found out, were from Status Quo.
A lot of that stuff wasn’t up my alley. Paul Young had an incredible voice, but I wasn’t into his mellow pop stylings. And I always (still do) make fun of the way George Michael sings “…just say a pray-eah” in that song. As for Spandau Ballet? Feh.
But I said to myself, “Hey, it’s a good song and they’re really sincere, so what’s it really all about.”
Then, I found out.
And it moved me.
To an 19-year old male in college, paying attention to anything outside of school, school activities (both sanctioned and off-the-cuff, as it were) and trying to live with your parents just didn’t happen. I thought I was a worldly sort, and I wasn’t aware of what was going on.
But when I found out, wow….
To me, at the time, hunger and famine were a problem from the past. Certainly, I thought, we have humanitarian ways to get people some food so they can live and grow.
Boy, was I wrong.
I also knew something of Ethiopia, because of my study of geography and maps and countries. (I was pretty obsessive as a kid about maps and atlases and flags and what not.) I knew that it was a country that was half-Christian, half-Muslim, and on the horn of Africa, and for many years was independent except when Mussolini muscled in. They had a history of being strong and free and proud. (Abyssinian princes and all…)
But I had no idea what was going on in Ethiopia at that time. The knowledge of this whole thing floored me.
They were pop stars, sure, but they were trying to do something for others that are less fortunate. And from what I read, they were trying to make it as seamless as possible.
Being a Beatles historian (amateur grade), I knew what George Harrison tried to do with The Concert For Bangladesh in the early 1970’s, and I knew how the money got tied up forever. (In fact, nothing was really released to UNICEF until just recently, more than 30 years after the fact). I know Geldof also knew that, so he was determined not to have that happen again.
So it was a decent record and a worthwhile cause, but was it going to be just a one-shot deal.
Soon, this thing took on a life of its own – leading to some great moments like Live Aid, and well, not so great, as in “We Are The World”, where the USA proved once and for all that no country writes dreck and pablum like we do.
But it was all started by Bob Geldof, and Band Aid.
To this day, while I love the somewhat campy and dated aspects of the song and the video. I’m proud that I can recognize that “Marilyn” person, and that I know who sings what part.
But I’m most proud that it got, at least for a short time frame, the fortunate people of this world to think of the less fortunate, and not in a guilt trippy way. (Well, at least not the original Band Aid project…)
Now, here it is, 2006, 22 years after the fact. That region of Africa has just gotten worse, it seems. The Sudan is a total mess, and that crap is spilling over into Chad. Somalia is about to become an Islamist state and threatening Ethiopia. Most of the people in the region are whacked out chewing kat and just eking out a sustenance level.
It’s sad, really. It’s gotten worse. And the situation is just so tenuous there’s hardly a way that we can help. Unless, we, as Americans, Brits, Canadians, Aussies, wherever, put our mind to it, tell our leaders that we WANT to help, and get it done. Otherwise, we’re just going to fritter away worrying about tin-horn despots while millions suffer.
So, let’s keep these people who are starving and suffering due to oppression in mind this holiday season. No, it’s not a guilt trip. It’s just a reminder. We can help. We just need to try.