When I was a kid, the world extended about forty miles southeast to Cincinnati and seventy odd miles northwest to Indianapolis. Nothing existed in the other directions and beyond Cincinnati and Indianapolis, the world might as well have, indeed, been flat with those cities perched precariously on the edge of time and space.
Oh, I’d read books and seen movies. I was familiar with the travels of Columbus and watched the Olympics. So, I knew that there was a world out there even if I’d not experienced it.
In the fall of 1984, the world became something more tangible. That was when I read of Bob Geldof gathering together a couple dozen pop musicians to record a charity song for famine relief in Ethiopia. I believe there was a two-paragraph wire story in the entertainment section of the Cincinnati Enquirer.
I likely knew little of Ethiopia aside from it being somewhere in Africa.
As for Geldof, in 1984, VHS movies were new to us and my hometown had a small video rental store, so my friends and I were quite familiar with him from our repeated viewings of the film version of Pink Floyd’s The Wall. At the time, I hadn’t heard a single note of Geldof’s music with his band The Boomtown Rats (not even the iconic I Don’t Like Mondays).
But we did know U2, Sting, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Duran Duran, and the other acts performing under the moniker Band Aid on the song.
If I first heard the end result on radio or on a television news report is something which I don’t remember. I do remember having a copy of the 12” mix, recorded from a friend’s vinyl.
Of course, I’d come to learn and adore much of the music of the Boomtown Rats (in fact, a subway poster for their last album, In The Long Grass, hangs in our apartment) and Geldof’s solo work. I’d also learn of what a polarizing figure Geldof was/is.
Personally, as a teenager during Band Aid/Live Aid, I admired the man, occasional gaffes and such aside. Years later, living in London, I’d listen to him host an afternoon radio show (I seem to recall that he often played The Jam). And I’d also be a little star struck to see him getting into a cab one day while visiting a friend who worked at Capital One Radio.
There’s still plenty of suffering in Africa and, so far, not even Bono has been able to change the world, but I’m fairly certain that Band Aid’s song – the money and awareness which it and Live Aid raised- changed at least a couple lives and that makes it memorable.