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Bob Geldof: All-Out Aid: Rock’s New Spirit

4 minute read
Jay Cocks

There has always been some difficulty with the name. An r frequently slides between the last two letters, especially in conversation, the extra letter making him seem like some merry, mischievous, vaguely magical creature out of Tolkien: Geldorf, the elf with the spiritual mission.

The real Bob Geldof is, in fact, a fullhearted rock musician with a stalled career and a tempestuous conscience who launched, almost casually, a musical mobilization to aid starving people in Africa. What he pulled off, and what he inspired, still seems something like a fantasy. A single record by a group of British rock stars organized by Geldof under the rubric Band Aid raised $11 million. The Live Aid concert, held in London and Philadelphia the same July day and broadcast live around the world, brought in an additional $72 million. The success of these projects, as well as Geldof s cocky fervor, inspired such allied enterprises as FarmAid, Fashion Aid and–in the late spring of ’86–Sport Aid. He knows that much more than a shower of dollars is required to combat famine. “We could spend our money tomorrow, and it could keep 30 million people alive for seven weeks,” he says, “and then they’d die. Or, we can build wells and give them a life. I prefer to do that.”

His Aid projects worked “beyond my wildest dreams,” but Geldof, 33, adds, “we won’t drag on.” He vows that Sport Aid will be his last major fund-raising effort. Now, he feels, “I have to concentrate on making a living. I have to remove myself and distance myself and start to think in a musical frame of mind.” He and his band, the Boomtown Rats, have just completed a mini-tour of Italy. Geldof will use his share of the proceeds to pay off some accumulated debts and replenish savings depleted by his worldwide drumbeating. “We don’t take any administrative costs on Band Aid and Live Aid,” he reminds everyone. “My phone bill is in the thousands.”

Geldof’s social evangelism began early. As a teenager in Dublin, he helped start a chapter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and did community work because “I was never into sports.” But his success at galvanizing a socially somnolent rock community surprised even the organizer. “It went beyond Woodstock,” he says. “It went beyond idealism and that ridiculous term activism, which basically means talking about something but doing nothing. Live Aid was activity as opposed to activism. We made giving exciting.”

For his success the rocker who once announced to an indifferent world, “I want to get rich, get famous and get laid,” has been drubbed by several professional relief outfits. There is much rivalry among charitable institutions, and some of the pros, smarting from Geldof s high visibility and hyperactivity, have had harsh words. By their protective reckoning, Geldof and his Aid outfit are good at grabbing attention, slow on detail work and chary of bailing out other agencies. “I’m not an accountant,” huffs Geldof, who is nevertheless adept at running down stats, from the average number of berries constituting the daily diet of a starving Sudanese (eight) to the number of Live Aid and Band Aid trucks ferrying supplies across Africa (200) to the varieties of relief (medicine, bridges, powdered milk) purchased by Live Aid.

In the midst of all this sound, fury and fund raising, Geldof has been dubbed “St. Bob” by the press. He has been denounced by Britain’s splenetic right-wing Member of Parliament, Enoch Powell, as a “crypto-imperialist” and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Certainly Geldof s lively penchant for the vernacular would make for a salty acceptance speech in Oslo, but any wishful, wistful speculation about the award’s being grabbed by a rocker should not steer clear of the main point. Rock music, the most formidable force in Western popular culture, found a focus and a conscience this year and saved a great many lives. Rock sang, for a while, in unison, and Bob Geldof was choirmaster. –By Jay Cocks. Reported by Cathy Booth/New York

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