Misty Watercolor Memories of Live Aid
"Good morning children of the Ď80s and others. This is your Woodstock and itís long overdue."
Live Aid was not my Woodstock. And it was not long overdue. Now that Iíve debunked the introductory blatherings of Joan Baez when she opened the American portion of the show, allow me to explain.
On June 2, 1985, I turned 20 years old. One month and 11 days later, on July 13, I entered John F. Kennedy Stadium in South Philadelphia at about 7:30 in the morning. In the past, this colossal gathering place had been host to boxing matches, presidential speeches and many Army-Navy football games, but on this day it was to be the American site for Live Aid, a concert broadcast around the world to aid relief efforts in famine-ravaged Ethiopia. A beautiful, but very hot Saturday was ahead of me and my friends John and Joe as we made the very important decision: where do want to sit for the next 16 hours? We found what we figured would be good seats about three-quarters of the way down on the west side of the stadium. If you have any videotapes of Live Aid footage, maybe you can find us. Weíre wearing shorts and t-shirts.
Live Aid was not my Woodstock because, while I certainly believed in peace, love and understanding, I donít think I ever really connected those ideals with the big wingding on Yasgurís Farm in the Summer of í69. Woodstock was just another bit of annoying baby boomer nostalgia to me. And, even if there was some vague connection between the two events, at Live Aid I was able to demonstrate my idealistic beliefs in the relative comfort of JFK Stadium, which at least had primitive indoor plumbing, rather than in the mudbaths of Woodstock.
Live Aid was not "overdue" at all. For me, the timing was perfect. At 20, I was old enough to go and buy myself a ticket for this thing. I was also able to have a vague understanding of both the political and environmental situations that contributed to the mass starvation of an entire countryís populace. But also, at 20, I was young enough to have the stamina to sit through the concert from beginning to end and the naïveté to believe almost unquestioningly that a rock concert could save the world, or at least help it very much.
I remember the early morning hours, watching the concert on video from Londonís Wembley Stadium, as the temperature began to rise at JFK. I was particularly captivated by the performances of Style Council and the Boomtown Rats, and I remember feeling a chill go up my spine when Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof said, "I just realized today is the best day of my life."
I remember being amused by Joan Baezís "this is your Woodstock" quote. As the years following Live Aid went by, and I slipped into a "chip on my Gen X shoulder" mindset, I would often cite that quote as a great example of how clueless Baez (and by extension, the whole "boomer" generation) was about "the way things are now." Time has mellowed me though: now, itís just one of the funny things people said that day.
I remember being quite impressed with Queenís performance. Even though I was only watching them on the video feed from London, and even though the heat had settled in with a vengeance, the presence of Freddie Mercury and company felt awesome, despite the fact that I was, at best, a casual Queen fan.
Other musical memories leap to mind: Eric Clapton was phenomenal that day. His set was only slightly marred by the arrival of Mr. Phil Collins onstage mid-set (Remember, Phil had grabbed the Concorde from London). Collins was greeted with more wild abandon by us in the audience than was Clapton, but you must remember that in 1985, Phil was king of the pop universe.
The Pretendersóno nonsense, just as many great songs as they could cram into 20 minutes.
Plant, Page, and Jones (with Chicís Tony Thompson and the ubiquitous Collins on drums)óa raucous, sloppy performance and they did "Stairway," dude! Months later, some guy at a mall noticed the Live Aid T-shirt I was wearing. "Hey, man," he said, "I was there. Zeppelin rocked." And so they did.
Jagger and TurneróThey took that silly "State of Shock" song and invested it with more fun, unbridled sexuality than it probably deserved.
A non-musical memoryóI only went to the bathroom twice or maybe three times during the entire 16 hours. I remember that the menís rooms at the ancient stadium had troughs, not urinals. Also, I read recently, that a man is suing a big stadium because he suffered humiliation upon realizing that women were in the menís room he was using during an Elton John/Billy Joel concert. If that guy had been at Live Aid, he wouldíve died of embarrassment, since half the folks in the menís rooms that day were women who couldnít deal with the incredibly long lines into the womenís rooms.
If you watch video footage of Live Aid today, you canít escape from the sheer 1980s aura that shimmers around it. Live Aid occurred almost exactly smack dab in the middle of that decadent decade, which certainly seems appropriate now. Everything in the Ď80s was BIG BIG BIG and Geldofís idea of a "global jukebox" (shades of Marshall McLuhan) fit the Ď80s paradigm to a T.
Maybe it was the era, or perhaps it was just that those MTV VJs were clueless. In any event, itís mind-boggling to hear Martha Quinn, Mark Goodman and company babble, without a trace of irony in their voices, about how Dominoes was delivering 50 pizzas an hour backstage at the "concert to end world hunger". Today, itís easy, very easy, to pick on the VJs, but in their admittedly weak defense, I donít think any of them had been given training in worldwide live broadcasting back at VJ school.
From the very genesis of the event until long after Patti LaBelle stopped caterwauling her way through the American finale of "We Are The World," controversy raged over Live Aid: why werenít more black artists involved? How would the money get to Ethiopia? Would this really save anyone? Itís certainly obvious ten years later that the world wasnít savedóLive Aid did not stop the atrocities of Somalia or Rwanda. But I do cling to the belief that hopefully some people were spared the horrors of starvation and that maybe a few consciences were raised. I know that I viewed the world differently after Live Aid, and that nothing since made me feel more part of a Global Village, at least not until I stumbled onto the Internet.
And, since I mentioned her, just one comment about Ms. Patti LaBelle. At the time, I thought her over-the-top performance was just showboating. But, watching the finale now and seeing all the lame pop stars LaBelle was singing with, itís pretty obvious who brought some badly need soul to the proceedings. You go girl!
Sometimes I try to measure the impact of Live Aid in terms of who and what was there thatís not around anymore. Both Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin, former Temptations who sang with Hall and Oates that night, are dead. Freddie Mercury has lost his battle with AIDS. Bill Graham, who produced the American portion of the show, is gone.
My friendships with John and Joe, my companions that day, have faded, the way high school friendships often do. Some of my youthful idealism is gone, but Iíd like to think itís been replaced by something deeper and stronger. Even the monolithic John F. Kennedy Stadium is gone, being replaced at this moment by a new monolith that I assume will have urinals rather than troughs in its menís rooms.
Looking back now, exactly one month and 11 days after turning 30, I can see that Live Aid was the first of several events that have defined this decade of my life. In the years that would follow, I would graduate from college, make and lose valuable friendships, get a "real job," fall in love, and get married. When I think back on the decade of my 20s, it will always be Live Aid where my reflections will begin.
(Please feel free to email to others who may be interested or to print a hard copy for them but remember: The Dichotomy of the Dog is copyright 2000 by Rich Wilhelm. If you plan on making a bazillion dollars from this piece of writing, please let me know so I can sue you or something.)