Sunday, March 12, 2006

Live 8, or, We Love Africans, They're Mostly Not Trying To Kill Us

[This was a piece I wrote in July 2005 for my zine, Conductive Jelly. It was finished about six days after the Live 8 gig, and about one day after the "7/7" bombs went off across London. Republished it here a year later in an attempt to pad out what was at the time a scanty body of bloggery.]

Live 8, or, We Love Africans, They’re Mostly Not Trying To Kill Us

It was the day of the Live 8 gig. Something unseemly about the proceedings. A big emotional display, all too human… ok, we’re not all bad. But come on. Multimillionaires telling me we can end poverty. It’s hilarious and disgusting. Their poorly thought through posturing in front of representations of Africans - a single saved Ethiopian, Birhan Woldu, holds hands with Madonna for an entire continent. The African musicians are in the Eden Project in Cornwall, driven back into the garden by the fiery sword of market forces and “musical apartheid” (Andy Kershaw). Meanwhile in Hyde Park, multimillionaires against poverty say, join us! Ignoring the interdependent nature of the twain! Or they’re revelling in the carnival, the whole psychotically dichotomised spectacular compromise. (“Poor Faulkner,” said Ernest Hemingway, “does he really think big emotions come from big words?” Big words, big spells, they’re magical multi-dimensional portals. They give us access to extra-planetary vistas of things.)

Downstairs in the company break-room, F’s having a jump about to U2. They are telling us “It’s a beautiful day – don’t let it slip away”. The tune reminds me of Sky Sports’ Saturday Soccertainment. This is a different class of distraction. We get to enjoy an afternoon and evening of variety acts while behind us weapons are loaded onto air freighters and tanks chained to trains shunt off for lands that are very far away. It’s a grim consideration, the casually pragmatic doublethink which our puppet masters sign with withered arms on all too visible sticks. “It’s behind you!” we shout with glee. “Don’t let it slip away.” Richard Ashcroft joins Coldplay for a cracked throated rendition of brilliant anthem “Bitter Sweet Symphony”. “Well it’s a bitter sweet symphony, this life. Trying to make ends meet, you’re a slave to the money, then you die.” I am also, of course, at work watching it.

Coldplay, scourge of the shareholder, also introduced a video detailing when and where to protest and to who and for why. No-one watching on the BBC got to see it. We got a rightly embarrassed Jonathan Ross discussing the miracle of modern technology with Andrew Marr. Maybe it was an attempt to get people to watch a webcast of it or go to the website to see the kind-of-entire-point-of-the-day film the BBC wouldn’t show. The way they shrugged and said nothing… I was depressingly reminded of the anti-war march in 2003, for which millions of people turned up to voice their opposition and were treated to the sight of Tony Blair leaning out of his window with the remote control, hitting the mute button, leaving two million people in Britain silently mouthing “no war” at a man without lip reading skills or conscience. And what kind of planet of 6 billion people lets itself get run by “8 men”?

I just about give up when I see “Kate’s junkie” Pete Doherty and Sir Elton John play a version of T.Rex’s “Children of the revolution”. Behind his opaque blue spectacles, Sir Elton was clearly ruing the day he’d agreed to appear, let alone with the gaunt eyeliner smudge wreck Babyshambolically gutting the steaming remnants of one of the greatest songs ever written. “Anti-climax” indeed, you weave-wearing cock-botherer. I watch the wings in the vain hope of seeing a long stick with a hook on the end appear at about Doherty’s neck height, a sign of a breeze to whip shut the piano lid on John’s chubby fingers. Is it really all going to be this jaw-crackingly shit?

A friend is having a barbecue and I go to that. There’s lots of food, lots of drink. Luckily, this Live 8 gig is about poverty, not famine, so I don’t let guilt figure too highly in the proceedings. This is a great tactic for avoiding the potted meat feeling of most of the afternoon’s hideousness, Dido, Travis, Keane, Joss Stone, etc etc etc. The Scissor Sisters come on and Do A New Song, the shameless whores. Yet something – call it a realisation of the true global capacity and desire of humankind to exist in a spirit of tolerance and sharing, call it a bottle & a half of red wine, three beers and a couple of spliffs – something starts to subtly shift in my head. By the time Madonna comes on the radio, talkin’ bout a revolution, we’re dancing on the picnic table in P’s garden. It’s like a tide, and I give in to it. I feel like a little ray of light. My sister’s in Hyde Park. Text messages morse in from Edinburgh, where friends have been getting sunburned in a river of white shirts on the protest march. They’re all little rays of light as well. We can do this! The Twho come on stage, and I go demented. “Won’t get fooled again” is so potent, its jaded acceptance of the power of popular rock music both to redeem and to change nothing at all.

And then, Jesus, it’s the Floyd! Their music is designed for events of this amplitude. Wish you were here and booze floated bonhomie sparks another firework display of txting, friends we’ve had and left along the way, birthday girls in Glasgow, people sat on the couch next to me… watching the crumblies atone for all our collective feverish ego displays down the years. It’s great. We go “na na naa naa, hey Juude” and wipe tears away, knowing that community is possible, is here. Then, in the cool light of day, the good people of the west lapse into the maladaptive behaviour patterns of consumption which shore up the whole creaking unjust edifice. Buying more and more pop albums, in a bizarre ritual of commemoration and displacement. Bands donate profits from increased revenue to the cause… It’s amazing theatre. But maybe not even for a moment do we ever really believe that this display of public feeling might in any way permeate the flinty hearts of the “G8” council of wizened elders, gathered like the Skeksis in The Dark Crystal while we wait for Sir Bob Gelfling to reunite a flailing, frail humanity. About a week later the fantasy appears to continue as They take a foot off the head of the drowner… only long enough to be knocked off balance by people who misunderstand our ideology of hope and compassion.

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