Sunday, November 28, 2004

"Band Aid 20": we don't need another remake

Way back in the Evil Eighties, Boomtown Rat Bob Geldof, moved by the plight of starving Ethiopian children, decided to write a song about feeding the world and let it know about Christmas.

Never mind that everyone was a X-tian back then and that Noel was another 4-letter word. Bob was determined to get that song out to an unsuspecting public to raise funds to alleviate the African famine, even though some people suspected that it was man-made.

Cynicism aside, the single eventually sold 50 million copies since its release in 1984. Since then, people in sub-Saharan Africa are no better than they were back in the day. But we felt none the worse anyway.

Which brings us into 2004, and like all good roads to Hell, the pavement is being done with the production of a new cover of the rock-pop classic. As Sun-Media's Liisa Ladouceur wrote in her article:

Think about some of these lyrics: "Do they know it's Christmas time?" Uh, most Ethiopians are Muslims. I doubt they care much about Jesus' birthday on a good day. "There won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time." Really? Is that because of the drought? And of course, that famous "thank God it's them" line Bono and Justin both wanted to sing. What kind of prayer is that?

That kind of naivete should be left in the '80s, like wearing satin shorts with sport socks. Today, it just seems ignorant. Like so many holiday pleas, it's also a blatant call to care only when your God is watching.

But let's go back in time when Reagan was in the White House, Thatcher was the U.K. prime minister and Canada was about to elect its first Tory government in years. Bob assembled the best U.K. performers at the time... Paul Young, Boy George, Simon LeBon, Bono, George Michael, Eurythmics, Phil Collins - stuck them in a studio and churned out what turned out to be a classic carol. Considering the spirit of the age - the Cold War "us versus them" attitude, Reaganomics, style over substance, cocaine, etc. - its wasn't a bad song. But there was this patronizing attitude that if we tossed money and food their way, the poor countries would have enough strength to sustain themselves and recover, thus gaining new allies against the Evil Empire in return, right?

But due to some inherent corruption on the part of the governments that negotiated with the Band Aid project, not all the food and money went to the masses. Yet in spite of all the glitches and bitching, pissing and moaning, the Band Aid juggernaut kept growing until Geldof decided to put on a new project called "Live Aid" to escalate the process. Even to this very day, this worldwide television event was, bar none, one of the best showcases of talent in support of a single cause.

Fast forward to 2004, and we have the best that the U.K. has to offer these days. Oh, yeah, Bono and Geldof are on this recording as they were on the original, but now they're joined by a few upstarts such as Joss Stone, Dido, Justin Hawkins from the Darkness - whose very participation pissed off the now-Sainted Bono, Chris Martin from Coldplay (aka Mr. Gwyneth Paltrow), Robbie Williams and Sugarbabes - most of them virtually unknown/criminally ignored (I personally take Williams over Timberlake in a Doom III-style deathmatch any day) on this side of the Pond.

Of course there will be cynics on the Wrong and the Right: after all, once is enough, twice is pointless. I can't fault Geldof for his good intentions, influenced by the recent events in Darfur. But ask yourself this: can a single, seasonal song that tried so hard to make a difference back in 1984 do the same in 2004? 2005? 2006? Can an Eighties mindset, never mind a Sixties one, be of any spiritual and pragmatic value, let alone have any positive influence, in this turn of the century? The world seemed to have changed: Communism, if not dead, has transformed itself from a transnational entity to that of a popular protest movement; political and ideological conflicts have been replaced by petty religious and racial conflicts; the haves and have-nots are still at loggerheads with each other; we still have the same robber-barons/philanthropists running all over the world; and Israel is still not getting any respect.

Or maybe, nothing much has really changed, only the packaging.

Maybe we should write a new song altogether. And for God's sake, not another Christmas song.

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