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Last Updated: Friday, 1 July 2005, 04:23 GMT 05:23 UK
Why I won't be watching Live 8
By David Stubbs
Reviews editor of The Wire music magazine

On Saturday 2 and Wednesday 6 July, the multiple line-ups for Live 8 will attract a massive worldwide audience.

Rarely mentioned on these occasions are the equally, if not more impressive numbers of people who will not be tuning in.

I will be one of them.

Bob Geldof
David Stubbs believes Bob Geldof is making a mistake with Live 8
I watched Live Aid. I was depressed by the mullet-headed music, that puzzling logo of a fretboard protruding from the African continent, and resented being browbeaten by multi-millionaires to empty my pockets.

And then there was the euphoria of the crowd, which reached a worrying zenith when they clapped along to Queen's Radio Ga-Ga.

What were they feeling so victorious about? Did they actually think that Africa had been saved by David Bowie's gracious decision to appear onstage alongside Status Quo?

They appeared to labour under the sort of collective, intoxicating delusion that overcomes any mass of people when they gather together and feeling triumphs over thinking.

'No sea change'

Live Aid had the best motives. But to pretend this emotional, ad hoc response to the complex and chronic problem of famine in Africa made a positive difference was naive, rooted in a fictional idea that rock changes the world.

It cannot and it did not in 1985.

Money from Live Aid saved lives but, as aid expert David Rieff recently argued, it may also have led to the loss of just as many lives.

There was no sea change in attitudes. That wave of compassion did not stop millions voting for right wingers like Thatcher, Bush and Kohl in subsequent elections.

Today, Africa is, if anything, worse off.

Freddie Mercury
Freddie Mercury whipped the Live Aid crowd into a frenzy
Now we are about to go through it all again. This time the emphasis is on debt cancellation rather than aid, but still I am sceptical.

I simply do not think it is right that ex-pop star Bob Geldof should be the human catalyst for one of the biggest problems facing mankind - it is beyond the wisdom of Solomon, let alone Geldof. He is not up to the job.

He is making the same mistake in 2005 as he did in 1985 regarding black acts, surprising for someone so passionate about feeding Africans.

His argument that the dominance of white faces among the Live 8 line-up reflects the need for big names ignores the importance of symbolism in mass spectacles like this.

Live Aid

I am very uncomfortable, for example, at the prospect of Celine Dion doling out spoonfuls of pop compassion to Africa's passive hungry.

Geldof has been a spectacularly tireless fundraiser.

But inevitably, given his profession, he is addicted to the spotlight and despite his reputation as a plain and profane speaker, rather too chummy towards the powerful over the years - be it Prince Charles, the Pope, Mother Teresa, Tony Blair or George Bush.

But these people front the very institutions - church, empire, Western states - that can be argued have done little to alleviate African misery.

Celine Dion
Celine Dion will be appearing via satellite at the Canadian Live 8 concert
They should be interrogated, not cosied up to. Geldof's un-punkishly conciliatory stance to these people creates the illusion that, as with the tsunami, "no one is to blame".

Ultimately, however, I will not be watching Live 8 because the bill is pretty dire.

Apart from the reams of has-beens and rock icons turned cabaret acts, there are the present-day brigade such as Coldplay and Dido, whose hugely popular yet unthreatening music signifies rock's decline into corporate functionalism.

These people will not solve the problem. They are the problem.

Instead of watching Live 8, I will be doing something considered morbid in these emotionalist times - I am going to go upstairs and have a good think.


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