26 years later, can Live Aid still save the world?
One of the world's most important rock festivals all came about 26 years ago this day because a fading Irish rocker was sickened by a television report by the British Broadcasting Corp. on the drought conditions in Ethiopia. Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats watched the BBC report delivered by reporter Michael Buerk and cameraman Mohamed Amin on Oct. 23 and 24, 1984. Punctuated by frame after frame of dying children and the wails of misery, Buerk called the situation "the biblical famine of the 20th century."
Geldof snapped into action. A month later, the charity single Do They Know It's Christmas was out. And on July 13, 1985, scores of the world's most-popular musicians gathered in London's Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia's JFK Stadium for a 16-hour fundraising concert dubbed Live Aid. (Listen to clips from it during our special podcast here.)
Twenty-six years later, I have a poster from the final moments of Live Aid at Wembley Stadium hanging in my condo. Why wouldn't I? It was the most moving moment in my life to that point. And maybe since. I remember watching it from my dorm lounge, just dumbstruck at the majesty of it all. I'll confess I sobbed a bit seeing Queen back on stage, singing Radio Ga-Ga. I played the song nonstop for a year after that day, just to try to recreate the goosebumps. (It works every time.)
When I talked to Howard Jones about Live Aid last year, he seemed similarly in awe over the experience, which he was able to experience first-hand on stage. I told him I had a poster on my wall of him from those final moments. I'm not sure he believed me, but when I described it in detail -- the look of total, complete satisfaction on his face at that moment -- I could hear him smiling through the phone. When I met him in person a week later, we shared a few laughs over our interview. And I regretted not pulling the damn thing off the wall so Howard could sign it.
And now today, as we look back at the entire Live Aid experience, I wonder: Can anything bring the world together, if just for a day, like Live Aid did? Can we put aside the stupidity of partisan politics, the fights over debt ceilings and sensationalized criminal trials? Can we just all sit down, with a common cause in our hearts, and create a defining moment for humanity?
To be honest, I doubt it. Somewhere along the way, we lost sight of the horizon. We lost faith in the power of music. We forgot how to put the world ahead of ourselves and our pocketbooks. We forgot how to wave our arms, sing Radio Ga-Ga and save the lives of total strangers.
We forgot how to be human. We all need a dose of Queen, U2, Howard Jones and Bob Geldof in our lives today. Maybe more than ever. That is Live Aid's enduring legacy.