Freddie Mercury is actually Farrokh Bulsara. At 18, that was a matter of great pride for me. I was quickly disappointed to learn that Freddie Mercury didn’t quite like to “own up” to his Indian roots. It hurt my import-substitution era national pride. I didn’t like Queen nor Bulsara after that! But on July 13, 1985, exactly 33 years ago, when Freddie sang “We will, we will, rock you” at Wembley, I rocked on too. In the age of Doordarshan, being allowed to watch live “western” music for hours on end was otherworldly. It was Live Aid.
So the purpose was noble. We watched and sang on with the best music stars in the world with the whole world. Bob Geldof was one of those to be praised for this stupendous effort.
Actually, Bob Geldof was the man. I had heard Boomtown Rats on one of the Sunday afternoon “western” music broadcasts on All India Radio. I thought they were just at best noisy. But Geldof was a Santa Claus that year, in the middle of the year. That’s because he had worked hard to get Live Aid to our homes.
There was dissonance of course. Celebrity charity being scoffed at. What about local stars? What about other genres of music? But those were just murmurs in the mood of doing something for the Ethiopian famine. And there was this great awakening, even as neoliberalism’s poster-people Maggie Thatcher and Ronnie Reagan scowled at a tottering Gorby.
On that one day, we discovered stars upon stars. But those who were already greats, Mark Knopfler or Eric Clapton were there and it was unbelievable to see them in concert mode.
That love for watching a live music show, albeit not in real life, has endured, so has the love for music by Knopfler and Clapton. Of course, there are many more stars, both old and new. But Knopfler is Knopfler.
What has changed is access to their music. The Internet did change some things. Napster disappeared quite soon, in the early days. But what needs reminding is that we did get to lay our hands on music without having gaping holes in our impoverished college-days pockets.
There used to be a music shop down the road from our college. All we had to do is take a blank cassette and choose the album. The next day the album was mine for a relatively paltry sum. I got to own the discography of REO Speedwagon, CCR and so on.
So when the album US for Africa We Are the World was released to collect money for the Ethiopian famine, I asked the friendly music shop attendant to copy that album for me as well. To my eternal embarrassment, he refused. He gently reminded me that we can’t cross that line. We Are The World for Ethiopia. Live Aid for Ethiopia. So I bought the album.
Bob Geldof might have been knighted, and I might not think too much about a knight of the defunct empire, but he does deserve praise for at least momentarily tugging at the heart strings of the mighty and the meek, alike.
That was more than three decades ago. It is worth remembering that there are causes aplenty and there is enough accompanying noise too. But July 13, 1985 was a high, and some lives were saved.
This is not to brood that we don’t have more of July 13, 1985 anymore. This about saying that we don’t need charity, but lasting solutions.
This is about saying that the mother of all networks has brought us closer, we’ve discovered so much music from other cultures. But we have all arrived at the brink now. A rock concert can’t rid us of what climate change is inexorably leading us to.
Geldof’s Live Aid was not counter-culture. It was a balm for the people of Margaret Thatcher’s UK and Ronald Reagan’s US. It was all eye-candy for the rest of the world to numb us to what was to come.
But we will Rock On. In this age of climate change we are not in need of a USA (United Support of Artists) for Africa, but a ‘The World for The World’, and now.