It had to happen. And it has. Yet another rehash of Do They Know it's Christmas. Same old group, plus some new faces to appeal to a whole new generation. Elizabeth Renzetti, one of the best reasons to read the Saturday Globe, puts the lunacy, and the paternalism, into perspective:
It was 30 years ago that Bob Geldof woke up, combed his hair with a badger and got on the rotary dial phone to one of his mates in the music business. “Err, Midge, did you see that report about Ethiopia on the BBC last night? It was [expletive deleted] awful. We've got to do something."
Midge hadn't seen it, and neither had Simon or Sting or Boy George or the Bananaramas, but they all still agreed to break the first article of the Pop Star Conventions (the one about waking before noon) and they assembled at a recording studio in London to record a song that would change the history of celebrity do-gooding.
Sir Bob, as he now is styled, though then he was just a scruffy one-hit wonder quite down on his luck, wrote the song with Midge Ure in a couple of days. Needs must, given the urgency of the matter, but it was too bad they didn’t have a bit longer to write the thing. Because frankly, it’s been tormenting the world for 30 years, and is about to do so again.
"It's Christmas time, and there's no need to be afraid …" There, I've ruined the day for you. I’m sorry. You'll need a stick of dynamite to blast that ear worm free.
Or perhaps you can replace it with the new version of the Do They Know it's Christmas charity single, which will be recorded this weekend in London, with proceeds going to help fight Ebola in West Africa. In place of the original bandits whose hairspray habits destroyed the ozone layer (Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Culture Club) is a new group of glistening, unimpeachable pop stars including Ed Sheeran, One Direction and Coldplay.
Sir Bob has promised to "tweak" the egregious lyrics of the earlier single, and one can only imagine the manoeuvring around this. Perhaps Chris Martin is at this moment suggesting, "Could we change it to Do they Know it's Eid? or maybeDo They Know it's Hanukkah?" And Sir Bob bellowing, "What rhymes with Hanukkah, then? Manuka? It's not a bloody song about honey."
He is a bit bellowy, Sir Bob, and you could say he’s earned the right: The combined earnings of the Band Aid songs and Live Aid concerts generated hundreds of millions of dollars for famine relief, and the trust still gives about $3-million (Canadian) each year to various causes. But at the press conference this week where he revealed he had answered the UN’s new summons for help (I imagine he has a batphone installed for this very purpose, although it’s shaped like Freddie Mercury), Sir Bob looked beaten down.
He said he didn't want to do another charity single; it was difficult and embarrassing to phone up young stars he didn't know. Perhaps he was worried that one of those juniors was going to call him “Bob Gandalf,” as Joss Stone did during the recording of Band Aid 20, a charity single in aid of Darfur.
Or perhaps he was just anticipating the controversy that would arise when the wealthy, leather-trousered troubadours of Britain set forth once again to rescue Africa. And sure enough, the controversy has come, some of it pointed and wise: As journalist Bim Adewunmi wrote this week in The Guardian, "There exists a paternalistic way of thinking about Africa, likely exacerbated by the original (and the second, and the third) Band Aid singles, in which it must be 'saved,' and usually from itself. We say 'Africa' in a way that we would never say 'Europe'or 'Asia'."
It's hard to argue with that. It’s also hard not to be skeptical of the new slogan, "Buy the single, stop the virus." If it were so simple, someone might have tried it before. ("Kurt Weill: Buy the sheet music, stop the fascism!") It’s hard to ignore the charge that so far, the lineup for Band Aid 30 is not exactly flush with African musicians, but instead leans toward pop stars manufactured in celebrity’s kitchen. As well, African musicians have already recorded their own, quite splendid Ebola relief song, with the proceeds going to Médecins sans frontières (Doctors Without Borders).
That charity single is called Africa Stop Ebola, and while Cole Porter may not have a hand in writing the lyrics, they do at least provide useful advice: “Ebola is not good, you should see a doctor … This is a very serious disease, once you have symptoms, please seek doctors.” This is perhaps the most striking difference between it and the much more famous charity single: The African song understands what it needs to do. It has a catchy melody, so that people will listen to it and hum and perhaps find the practical lyrics lodged in their heads. There is no hand-wringing, no talk of raising a toast to famine victims or feeding the world, and mercifully not even a whisper of Christmas.
I am resigned to having Do They Know it’s Christmas stuck in my head for a month, once the song is unveiled on the satanic altar of The X Factor this weekend. I hope it makes millions of dollars for Ebola relief. All I ask is that Sir Bob – and maybe you too, Midge – find it in your hearts to write a new song before the next crisis.
by Elizabeth Renzetti
Published in The Globe and Mail, November 15, 2014