The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

4 January 2005

We're sending our love down a well

It began in 1984 with the godawful caterwauling of "Do They Know It's Christmas," a project by erstwhile Boomtown Rat Bob Geldof to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. Geldof's heart was in the right place, but the actual record, credited to "Band Aid," written by Geldof and Ultravox's Midge Ure, produced by Ure and Trevor Horn, split the difference between naïve and nauseating. "There won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime," indeed.

The most telling thing about the Band Aid project, though, is that it immediately spawned an imitator. "We Are the World", credited to "USA for Africa," managed levels of insipidness Bob Geldof never dreamed of, the result of having assembled an all-star cast and giving them not much to work with — although it's a whole lot better than most of Michael Jackson's or Lionel Richie's later material.

So I view the possibility of a Tsunami Relief recording and/or concert with a certain amount of cynicism, though probably not as much as Michele admits to:

Any moment now Bruce Springsteen will hold a press conference, with Bono on one side and Sting on the other. They'll announce a huge show at some vast stadium, maybe two stadiums — one in the U.S. and one in the U.K. Bob Geldof will come out of obscurity to smile for the cameras and remind people that he was at the forefront of the pop-star-as-philanthropist movement. Tickets will be $50 and up. There will be t-shirts, water and food for sale at the show, as well as frisbees and beach balls imprinted with the TsunamiAid logo, which will be copyrighted and trademarked and perhaps drawn by a famous artist. The shows will be simulcast on Pay-per-View. The second the concert is over and the now broke fans have gone home, the DVD and CD will be for sale. Millions and millions of dollars will be raised. By the fans of these stars. Yet the stars will get the credit for raising the money.

After all, they're so concerned and this is such an important issue and nobody would realize how important it is if it weren't for them.

And best of all, they get to bask in the glow without having to write big checks of their own:

I think, instead of spending time getting all these people together, renting a studio, writing a song, recording the song, putting the album in stores, waiting for the constant airplay to kick in and, in essence, begging their public to send money to whatever they are singing about — why don't they all just reach into their pockets and donate a cool million each? Sondra did it. Leonardo did it. It seems a hell of lot more sensible, logistically and monetarily, to just cut a check and get the money where it's going. But, no. Rather than donate out of their own bank accounts, they'd rather reach out to you — you who buys their albums and t-shirts, you who probably has $24 in your bank account at the moment and no gas in your car — to put the dollars in the coffer because, hey, they are donating their time, man. They are donating their talents. And that should be enough. Right?

Call me if Sharon Stone puts on a telethon for varicose veins. Until then, I will continue to base my charitable donations on something other than the whims of the entertainment industry.

Posted at 8:05 AM to Almost Yogurt

OTOH, how many of these slacker yahoos who buy frisbees and t-shirts would have donated anything unless they got something [tangible] in return.

I think the criticism is a tad harsh, but that's just me.

Posted by: Eric at 4:41 PM on 4 January 2005

Uninspiring and annoying as Celebrities With a Cause may be, those concerts did generate millions in aid, and they sowed a grand idea behind Willie Nelson's furrowed brow.

Bob Geldof became "Sir Bob", though not for having perfected the Fine Art of Surfacing.

Neither Bob nor Willie have yet reached the venerable age of 105.

Posted by: vic at 8:23 AM on 5 January 2005

I'd be perhaps a bit less grumpy about this phenomenon if it produced better actual music. So far, only "Sun City," credited to Artists United Against Apartheid, has been even remotely memorable, at least to me.

And I still think I'm doing more good by sending $60 through charities than buying $60 worth of charity swag.

Posted by: CGHill at 9:35 AM on 5 January 2005

And I still think I'm doing more good by sending $60 through charities than buying $60 worth of charity swag.

If nothing else, you're avoiding the inevitable bookkeeping bureaucracy and potential for misappropriation that will either delay or prevent "charity swag" funds from getting where they need to be, when they need to get there.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as altruistic as you; some need incentives to "give," and allowing them to masquerade "giving" as "shopping" seems to work.

Posted by: Eric at 11:15 AM on 5 January 2005

It's not entirely altruistic. If I give $60, I write $60 off as a tax deduction; if I buy $60 worth of swag, I have to subtract something resembling the fair-market value of the swag before I can deduct anything.

Posted by: CGHill at 11:58 AM on 5 January 2005

I had to teach a "We are the World" unit when I was an English teacher in Japan. It was painful.

But, if I hadn't, I wouldn't have known that Dan Akroyd, of all people, sang for it.

Posted by: Dan at 10:18 PM on 5 January 2005