Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Saving Lives

Live Aid was Teddy Pendergrass' first public appearance since a
near–fatal car accident in 1982; he died of colon cancer in January.

If you're old enough to remember it, Live Aid was 25 years ago today.

And if you are old enough to remember that day, you probably only need to be reminded of the actual date that it occurred. The event itself likely is vivid in your memory.

To briefly remind you, the event was put together by Bob Geldof to raise money for famine relief in Africa. I don't recall hearing what inspired Live Aid. I guess I always assumed that it was sort of a natural evolution that started with the Woodstock festival in 1969 and absorbed the charity aspect of the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971.

They called it a "global jukebox" because concerts were held simultaneously in London and Philadelphia, with a lengthy list of performers at each location. And concerts in other places, like Australia and Germany, linked up as well, permitting people like B.B. King to participate.

And nearly half a billion people watched it worldwide.

Just about every popular performer of the day — and even some whose best days were probably behind them by then — participated.

More than 70,000 came to Wembley Stadium in London, where acts like Elvis Costello, Sting, Bryan Ferry, U2, Dire Straits, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, the Who, Queen and Elton John performed. Phil Collins also performed in London, then took the Concorde to Philadelphia's JFK Stadium and performed there as well. He also played drums for Eric Clapton and a reunion of Led Zeppelin.

There were nearly 100,000 people at JFK Stadium, and they were treated to Joan Baez, REO Speedwagon, the Beach Boys, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Cars, Power Station, Hall and Oates, Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan, among others.

Reunions were the order of the day in Philadelphia. In addition to Led Zeppelin, Crosby Stills Nash & Young reunited, as did Black Sabbath.

And there were moments that were timely in 1985 but might need a little elaboration today.

For example, when Madonna was about to sing "Love Makes the World Go Round," she noted the heat (mid–90s) but insisted that she wasn't going to take off her coat. "I ain't taking shit off today," she said, which was a reference to nude photos of her that had been taken several years earlier and had recently been published in Playboy and Penthouse.

Madonna was criticized by many for posing for the photos — even though she had posed at a time when she was unknown and needed the money such photo shoots could provide (meager though it was).

Anyway, as the temperature in Philadelphia soared to 95°, she pledged not to remove her coat and explained that "you might hold it against me 10 years from now" if she did.

With all the talent on those stages, it's hard to imagine that anyone wasn't there, but there were some who didn't participate, each for reasons of their own. Bruce Springsteen, who was one of the most popular performers of that time, didn't participate. Neither did Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Huey Lewis and the News, Prince and Michael Jackson.

Jackson, it should be pointed out, did make his own contribution, composing "We Are the World" with Lionel Ritchie, which did its part to raise money for famine relief by selling more than 3 million copies.

There seems to be no doubt that Live Aid was a turning point for some performers who were ready for the attention of more mainstream listeners.

U2, for example, had been around for a few years and had enjoyed some success by July 1985, but Live Aid really gave the band the exposure it needed. It virtually confirmed what Rolling Stone said in March — that U2 was the "band of the '80s ... the band that matters most, maybe even the only band that matters."

That was a pretty daring proclamation at a time when bands like R.E.M., Dire Straits and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were attracting a lot of attention.

But U2 surely was the only band that mattered to the woman who danced with Bono during U2's 12–minute version of "Bad" on that day.

Viewers around the world saw only that he was dancing with a young woman, but she revealed 20 years later that he actually saved her life. She was being crushed, and Bono saw it. He waved frantically for the ushers to do something, but they couldn't understand him so he leaped off the stage to take care of it himself.

Saving lives was, after all, what Live Aid was all about.