30 Years On: The Making Of "Do They Know It's Christmas" and Live-Aid!



YouTube can be a wonderful thing...sometimes.  Other times, it's a horrendous time-suck that leaves you feeling guilt-ridden for having wasted an entire work day watching kitten videos.

So there I was, unable to sleep at 2AM, wondering what I could do short of knocking myself on the head with a mallet to bring about the much-coveted state of unconsciousness that I craved.  Not knowing what else to do, I turned to YouTube, beginning with some full concerts from Van Halen.
Though I love the mighty VH, there's only so much of their live show I can take until boredom sets in.

Boredom, however, did not bring sleep, but did send me further down the wormhole until I stumbled upon a BBC documentary on the making of "Do They Know It's Christmas", the song that Bob Geldof and Ultravox singer Midge Ure created to benefit those starving in Ethiopia.

Now, being that I was a teenager at the time, I already have fond memories of the collective known the world over as Band-Aid.  After all, UK artists such as Sting, Duran Duran, Bananarama, and Style Council were ten times cooler than the U.S.-based copycats behind the dreadful "We Are The World".

As much as I thought I knew about Band-Aid, this documentary provided a metric ton of absolutely great behind-the-scenes footage and held my full attention for the entire duration.

What had not been portrayed in the press, for obvious reason, was how much Geldof and Ure were literally flying by the seat of their pants to not only wrangle as many big names as they could to participate, but to also coddle a roomful of massive egos and get the track done in short order.

As if that weren't enough., Geldof was also working feverishly to get all involved on the business side - the labels, distributors, and retailers - to donate their time and services as well.  Against all odds, he did it too.

The success of the song was immediate and prolonged, bringing a lot of attention to those involved, but also to the plight of those literally starving to death in Africa.  Geldof could have easily returned to his career as "pop star" with at least some small window of heightened awareness and interest in his next move.  Instead, he chose to undertake a project that remains one of the most ambitious humanitarian efforts ever undertaken: Live-Aid.



This, of course, led straight into the companion documentary "Live Aid: Rockin' All Over The World", which shed amazing light on the tumultuous drama of orchestrating not only a huge benefit concert at Wembley Stadium, but also Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium.  This, of course, meant working with a U.S. promoter.  Enter legendary concert promoter  Bill Graham.

Without revealing any of the tasty tidbits of information sprinkled throughout this in-depth doc, let's just say that Graham's involvement in the project was, at best, tumultuous.

Of course, Geldof is no slouch in that department, either, as best demonstrated by the fact that when Geldof announced the news of this massive concert to the world, along with a lengthy list of those artists scheduled to appear, the news came as quite a surprise to more than a few bands - some of which were no longer together, biut who did ultimately reform specifically for the purpose of performing in front of a worldwide audience of one billion people.

Between the two documentaries, I sat transfixed for well over three hours and by the time all was said and done, I was left with an immense respect and admiration for Geldof.  As cantankerous and unwashed as he may have been back in those days, no other person could have possibly made such an event happen.  Granted, he did not do it alone, but without him, I stand completely convinced that none of it would have ever happened.

Of course, at the heart of the entire endeavor was some truly horrifying footage that Geldof had seen broadcast on BBC of people starving in Ethiopia.  30 years after the fact, seeing this footage for the first time myself was like an atomic blast to the soul.  And while bands like U2 and Queen, among others, received one hell of a career bump from their Live-Aid performances, at the end of the day, the thing that mattered most was raising money to save the millions in Africa from certain death.

Even now, the idea that so many innocent lives could be affected by a "perfect storm" of famine and civil war, leading to the death of millions is enough to make you lose all faith in mankind.  That Geldof was not only moved by this horrible predicament, but moved to such an extent as to take action to bring about change comes darn close to rekindling that lost faith in humanity.

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