notes from the past: Live 8. London. 07.02.05

I just transferred a bunch of old files from my old computer to my new desktop and I came across this email I sent to friends after flying to London for Live 8.  Having just got back from a volunteer trip to Tanzania, this cause hit home, so I had to go…not to mention the chance to see Roger Waters and David Gilmore onstage together.  Not only was this one of the most amazing experiences of my life, it proved to be the only opportunity to witness the ‘real’ Pink Floyd that I would ever have — Richard Wright died about 3 years later.  Ironically, the London train bombings happened five days after the world came together for this event.  I was on my way home at the time.

It was 20 years ago today…” Those were the first words said on stage at Live 8 London. The opening to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and a reminder that yes, it was 20 years ago that Live Aid rocked the world to raise money for Ethiopia.  But 20 years later, Live 8 is making Live Aid look like child’s play.  While Live Aid was 2 concerts in 2 cities, and Bob Geldof screaming to give him your “fucking money”, Live 8 was 9 concerts, in 8 countries, with over 250 bands, and Sir Bob Geldof saying “we don’t want your money, we just want you”.

The Live 8 concerts were held all over the world on July 2nd to coincide with the G8 meeting scheduled for July 6th at Gleneagles Resort outside of Edinburgh, Scotland.  The aim of the shows was to pressure the leaders from the 8 most industrialized nations to erase the debt, double the aid, and create fair trade for African nations.  This was the one and only message of Live 8.  No Bush or Blair bashing — nothing about global warming or the war in Iraq — nothing about terrorism.  Just ‘making poverty history’.  50,000 people die every day of extreme poverty, and the organizers of Live 8, and most people in the world, think that is a ridiculous statistic in the 21st century.

We arrived at Hyde Park in Central London at around 8:00am.  To my surprise, there weren’t very many people.  We were walking toward where the concert was to be held and there were no lines or hordes of people.  Where were the millions of people that were expected to descend on the park?  It wasn’t until we got within about a mile of the stage that we saw the people.  Only a few thousand.  The few thousand that had come from near and far and had been camping in the park since the day before.  We joined these anxious people and “had a seat and relaxed” like the voice booming out of the speakers told us to do.  It wasn’t for another 4 hours that they opened the gates, and by that time, there were 200,000 people ready to get in.

When they opened the gates at noon, people were running as fast as they could to get right in front of the stage, only to be disappointed by the 8-foot wall separating them from the VIPs.  Sir Bob wanted to stay away from having any VIPs at this show, but he had to sell those tickets to major corporations in order to pay for the event. It was another 2 hours before Sir Paul McCartney and U2 took the stage to kick it off with those famous words.

Following “Sgt. Peppers”, a plethora of today’s and yesterday’s biggest stars were on stage.  Coldplay, Elton John, R.E.M., Stereophonics– as I stood there watching these artists, and looking back at a sea of people all the way to the horizon, I realized that this was big.  Then, between acts, they were showing live coverage of Green Day in Berlin, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Bjork in Japan, Tim McGraw in Rome, Bon Jovi in Philadelphia — and I realized how big this really was.  For one moment in time, we were truly all one.  No matter if you were British, Japanese, Turkish, American, or African — no matter if you were standing in the Circus Maximus in Rome, in Hyde Park in London, sitting on your couch watching BBC or MTV, or sipping a chi latte and watching the live stream from…this was one world united by a single message — make poverty history.

Of course that message resonated more in some places than others.  In the UK, over half the population tuned in to the BBC, but in the States, I know people who didn’t even know about it.  Not to say that the people in the US don’t care as much as the British, but I think the marketing machine in the UK did a much better job of promoting the show and the message.  Many of the historical monuments around the UK were wrapped in huge white bands, like the ones worn by people all over the world, which said Make Poverty History.

There were highlights and lowlights of the show, but reading through the reviews the next day, it made me a little sick to see the critics ripping some of the artists apart.  All of these artists gave their name, time and talent to this event.  They did this at the last minute because they believe in Sir Bob and his cause.  This event, which has been the biggest event in music history, was put together in 7 weeks.  Most people can’t even plan a wedding in 7 weeks!  So it shouldn’t really matter if Slash’s guitar wasn’t loud enough, or if Mariah Carey did suck (and brought a bunch of African children on stage with her to try to take away from the fact she sucked), or if some of acts just didn’t nail it.  They were all here to raise awareness, and that they did.  There was some backlash about the artists getting gift packs worth about $12,000 for participating, but I’m sure Annie Lennox, or anyone else for that matter, did not perform for a gift pack!

But will this awareness last?  As I looked around the crowd it seemed everybody was taking it all in.  When the videos of the African children starving to death were played, people stood and watched.  They didn’t start talking or going to the bathroom or look anyway.  The majority of the people agreed with Chris Martin of Coldplay when he said that these films were the reason we were all here, and if the BCC didn’t play them “they weren’t doing their fucking job!”  Most people, including myself, had tears in their eyes when Sir Bob introduced the 24 year old girl who we all thought had died in one of the films from Live Aid, but was on stage in Hyde Park — beautiful, healthy, and going to Agriculture College in Northern Ethiopia.  It was an amazing thing seeing Madonna  hold her hand and sing “Like A Prayer”.

I’m not going to make this out to be something it wasn’t.  There were people who were there to see there favorite acts and did not care about the cause — heckling the African videos, the acts they didn’t like, and just being assholes.  But these were the tiny minority.  I think the fact that there was no alcohol served or allowed made for a pretty peaceful concert as well.  I was actually a bit disappointed when I heard this, but in the long run, it was a good thing.  I don’t think I could’ve lasted through the 10 hour show if I had been drinking. 

The entertainment was non-stop.  They had a revolving stage, so there was only about 15 minutes between acts, and that 15 minutes was used to show live footage of other concerts around the world, or guest presenters like Brad Pitt, and “the world’s greatest philanthropist, without whose technology, none of this would be possible”, Bill Gates.

The concert went over by about 2 hours, with The Who, Pink Floyd and Paul McCartney with George Michael closing it out.   To see Roger Waters and David Gilmour on stage singing “Comfortably Numb” while “Make Poverty History” was scrawled in red against the white brick Wall we all know, made you really believe anything is possible.

So will Live 8 really accomplish anything?  Will the G8 care that we are watching them, as Sting sang in his revised version of “Every Breathe You Take”?  I think the answer is yes.  Yesterday as I walked around London, everywhere you went you saw remnants of Live 8.  The cover of every newspaper and magazine, the billboards on the bus stops and trains stations, the conversations in the pubs and restaurants.  The receptionist at my hotel in Edinburgh was on the phone last night speaking with a friend about sitting at home all day watching Live 8 on TV.  The couple next to me in the pub was talking about who played where — “Did the Muse play in Paris or Berlin?  I’m not sure, I thought they were in London”.  The news last night showed analysts saying that the world leaders at the G8 cannot just ignore what happened on July 2nd.  The estimate is around 3.5 billion viewers worldwide, making it the number one watched event of all time.  One analyst, when asked if Live 8 will make any difference at all, he replied “It already has”.