Bob, you're still a hero
Ididn't actually see the real Live Aid. I was writing a book review at the time. What the book was I can't remember, though I have a distinct memory of sitting in my small sitting room in my small flat, book and pad on lap, having to make the choice between keeping the windows shut and the London heat in, or opening them and letting in the twang and thump from television sets up and down the road.
Having missed it all when everyone else saw it, I thought I'd better catch it this time around (Live Aid 10th Anniversary, Satur- day BBC2 on and off all evening). But I am not the ideal audience. I missed out on the whole pop thing. My youth isn't marked out by record tracks or learned-by-heart LP sleeves. I am utterly unstarstruck in this regard: rightly so, as most pop stars turn out to be very boring to meet. Any one of them who manages to talk in full sentences is hailed as an intellectual, and duly expects crass utterances and other platitudes to be heeded with the utmost respect.
But about Bob Geldof I must admit I feel differently. I'm not wowed, but I am impressed. For one thing, his book is well- written, and moving, too, in an entirely unsentimental way. He reverses the usual trend: his image is more uncouth than the reality. And for all the cynicism one might want to feel about the whole Live Aid exer- cise, it is beyond doubt that he was passion- ate and sincere about it. The fact that people enjoyed taking part in it, either as spectators or performers, doesn't take away from the fact that others benefited from it, so why carp?
I hated the stuff that accompanied it though. I was, in the course of duty, on a French gastronomic cruise around that time and for the last night, during an eight- course dinner, after a week of two five. course meals a day, plus breakfast, tea and late-night amuse-gueles, the Vietnamese Waiters all started singing 'Feed the World . . . Do they know it's Christmas?' barely drowning out the frenzied munching and slurping of assembled French gluttons.
What one can tell about watching a live performance is whether someone can sing. Madonna, strangely, can. On records, her voice sounds bubblegununy and banal: here, it rang out deep and true. Interesting to see her, too, before she went hardbody. I liked the unmade-over New Joisey Italian immigrant look, with the unchiselled face, the badly died hair, the charm.
Stars popped in and out remembering past glories and name-dropping. Some I'd completely forgotten about (Ultravox, Adam Ant, The Thompson Twins), others I don't think I ever knew. Who's Howard Jones for example? He told a story about going on stage after Phil Collins who'd warned him to look out for the piano, which was giving trouble. 'It was Freddie's Mercury's Steinway' explained Jones, 'and some of the notes were a bit sticky.' I don't think he meant anything by it.
I had intended to watch the concert and give the Ethiopia Revisited films interpersed with the music a miss. But I found myself fast-forwarding the pop stars and paying attention to Geldofs travelogues. I wish he hadn't let me down by calling the Queen of Sheba 'a bit of a babe' and King Solomon 'the coolest man around at that point', but he has been through a lot recently. The pop-starish infelicity apart, these films were beautiful and unembarrassingly compelling.