Pooh-Bahs of Poverty


Three big shots, eight very big shows. Bob Geldof, Bono and Richard Curtis talk to Josh Tyrangiel about what on earth they're doing with LIVE 8

By Josh Tyrangiel

In 1985 Bob Geldof gave birth to live aid, the groundbreaking rock- concert series that raised $200 million for African famine relief. Bono of U2 and Richard Curtis (screenwriter of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill) were there. That day inspired them to learn more about Africa and ultimately form their own antipoverty campaigns. Now the three friends are organizing Live 8, a series of free international concerts to be held on July 2 with unprecedented star power (Will Smith is host of a hip-hop-heavy show in Philadelphia; Pink Floyd will reunite in London on the same bill as U2, Coldplay, Madonna and Paul McCartney), all to pressure G-8 leaders to make debt forgiveness, fair trade and increased aid part of their Africa policies.

Time: Bob, for years you insisted you would never revive Live Aid. Why?

Bob Geldof: Not to be immodest, but the first one was perfect in almost every sense. Artistically, people seemed to up the ante, and the performances were pretty great across the board. Huge amounts of money were raised, not a penny lost, and politically it elevated the issue onto the global table. The whole thing just worked, unbelievably. So you f___ with that legacy at your peril. Then there's the personal thing. David Bowie was on a high afterward, and he said, "Let's do this every year." I said, "Go on, you f_______ do it then." It's so exhausting, and you get into terrible trouble at home because you're not there at all.

Richard Curtis: I've already forgotten the name of my fourth child. [Laughter.]

Geldof: The thing that ultimately did it for me was their [Bono's and Curtis'] insistence. In retrospect I think maybe I was ambushed.

[To Bono and Curtis] Did you coordinate your attacks on him?

Bono: Had there been real coordination, we would have been announcing this six months ago, not six weeks ago. It was all a bit haphazard actually. Bob didn't want to repeat himself, and he has a word he uses better than anyone else in the English language, and he just kept repeating that word followed by "off." [Much laughter.] I remember saying, "Look, Bob, if you don't want to do it, please, just don't tell anyone," because the mere threat of staging it at some point actually keeps a fair bit of pressure on certain politicians.

You ultimately decided to time Live 8 around the G-8 Summit. Isn't it a bit odd to stage a rock concert around what's essentially a policy meeting?

Bono: It's proof of how far we've come. The difference between this era and the original manifests itself in the Drop the Debt campaign.

It's the journey from charity to justice. From the tin cupping of Live Aid -- big cups, sure, $200 million cups -- to now, when $25 billion is on the table, and we're not begging for it. Over the years, with the Make Poverty History campaign in Europe and the One campaign in the U.S., we have moved into real politics and real activism. We've cultivated a constituency so that now, when those eight men meet on a golf course, we can apply real pressure to them.

Curtis: We are living in a world where 50,000 people die every single day of simple poverty, and it's not treated like a crisis. There's got to be a moment, an explosive moment of concentration on this issue. The point of Live 8 is to provide the colossal, dramatic moment where everybody gets to grips with it.

Geldof: And we didn't just pick this moment out of the sky. This G-8 is in the U.K., where the Prime Minister was once a young git with the worst haircut save mine. He attended Live Aid and was informed by it, so he's in tune with where we've come from. Then a lot of these G-8 guys are on their last political legs. Schroder's going to lose in Germany. Chirac won't stand because he will lose. Berlusconi? Might have a year left. [Canadian Prime Minister] Paul Martin is clinging on. George Bush can't stand again, and Tony Blair said he wouldn't. It gives us a chance to appeal to their sense of legacy. Bono is the rock god of the Establishment. Richard is the filmmaker of the Establishment.

And I'm just a paddy with a hat on. [Much laughter.]

Curtis: But it's a great hat.

Geldof: I look like one of the guys who'll park your car for you.

Tickets to all the Live 8 concerts are free. Why not charge, and how exactly are you paying for this?

Geldof:It's not enough to do a regular concert. We had to create something grand, and free is pretty grand, I'd say. The funding? It's a massive risk. In the U.K. we raised a lot of it from a text-message ticket lottery. I raised $5 million through an underwriting loan. We did an auction of the dvd rights. You find a way.

What specific skills does each of you bring to organizing something of this scope?

Curtis: I bring a gray woolly jumper. [Laughter.]

Geldof: It's true. His great strength is his complete Englishness. Look at that jumper. The sobriety, the soft tones. More than anything, he stands back and takes a calm position.

Bono: Bob and myself are good at the passionate. But sometimes you might not hear our words for the bluster.

Geldof: Bono's in love with the world. He wants to embrace it. I want to punch its lights out. We're a psychotic Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Bono: The missing piece in a way is in the U.S. What Bob provides with his steel and fund raising and what Richard provides in terms of community in the cinematic arts and as a writer with his ability to deliver a message, I feel like I've been trying to do in the U.S. -- but I'm not American. Really, until today, when Russell Simmons called and offered to help, we haven't had the American sense of ownership that we should. It's a real problem. I think it's going to turn around. But we've started very late.

Have you tailored your message in each G-8 country, and if so, how have you tailored your message to Americans?

Bono: Warren Buffett gave me the best advice on this subject. He said, "Don't appeal to the conscience of America. Appeal to the greatness of America, and you'll get the job done."

Curtis: Insert in there "remarkably accurate impression of Warren Buffett."

Bono: Onstage I talk about my first impression of Americans, which was watching a man walk on the moon. We thought, Americans are mad! But look what they can do when they get organized.

Geldof: America doesn't have a lack of empathy; they just don't know the issues as well. Actually, today I had to defend the Bush Administration in France again. They refuse to accept, because of their political ideology, that he has actually done more than any American President for Africa. But it's empirically so.

There's been a fair bit of criticism about the lack of African musicians on the Live 8 bill. You've announced a separate Afrocentric show in Cornwall, but why not integrate the African acts into the other line-ups? Isn't cultural awareness as important as issue awareness?

Geldof: This is a political event, not a cultural event. In order to get political momentum, one guy with a banner is not enough. You need millions. The lingua franca of the planet, as we learned from Live Aid, is not English -- it's pop music. From Guangzhou to Bogota, they listen to 50 Cent, Eminem, U2 and Coldplay. Do they listen to the more esoteric individual cultures? No. That's reality. Do they listen to Muddy Waters? I wish they did. Then I'd put a bill up there with him and John Lee Hooker.

He's Dead.

Geldof: It'd be difficult. [Laughter.] Even more difficult than putting Pink Floyd back together. Well, not that much more difficult.

Time: You've asked the pope to support Live 8. is there a contradiction in asking the world's most visible opponent of condom use to help you assist people ravaged by AIDS?

Geldof: The condom issue is relevant, but it's not the single relevant point. Ratzinger [now Pope Benedict XVI], from what I understand, put the spinal cord into John Paul's theology on the poor. His more profound theologies are to do with the psalm of the poor, if you like. I just invited him to sing a psalm up at Edinburgh.

Does he have a band?

Geldof: Don't know. I wrote to him what I thought was a coherent letter and got back a signed photograph. [Laughs.] I pointed out to one of the Cardinals that I didn't require a picture, signed or otherwise.

Richard, you aren't performing at Live 8, but you've made The Girl in the Cafe [which will air on HBO this Saturday]. Are you sure a romantic comedy about poverty and the G-8 is a good way to get people to engage in the issues?

Curtis: Well, we're all limited in what we can do. You don't ask Bono to write an opera on the subject of something political, and as I was trying to address a passion of mine, it seemed apt that I should do it in the kind of way that I'd written films before. If I'd tried to write a serious political drama, I wouldn't have known where to begin. So I tried to write about politics from the point of view of a normal person.

Geldof: It's quite powerful. I saw it the other night, and my girlfriend was crying. She fell in love with Richard immediately. Mr. F_______ Sensitivity and all.

Which of the G-8 leaders do you think remains the toughest nut to crack?

Bono: The most important and toughest nut is still President Bush. He feels he's already doubled and tripled aid to Africa, which he has. But he started from far too low a place. He can stand there and say he paid at the office already. He shouldn't, because he'll be left out of the history books. But it's hard for him because of the expense of the war and the debts. But I have a hunch that he will step forward with something. And it'll take somebody like him...

You're trying to lobby him right now, aren't you?

Geldof: We'll see if it works.

Copyright © 2005 Time Magazine. All rights reserved.


Open letter to Bob Geldof

Dear Mr. Geldof,

A Different Perspective to Live 8, Make Poverty History ET. AL.

The Charitable work you have been doing over the years for the starving millions in Africa is commendable, to say the least; but looking at it from a different perspective presents aspects that could call for serious consideration.

With the insight you have on poverty you will certainly find the time to give this perspective your attention and the necessary action.

Charity although at times necessary, can also have extremely negative effects, as it quite often deprives the beneficiary of the ability to attain self-sufficiency and assuming individual responsibility.
As an illustration the millions in Africa that have benefited from Band Aid and so many other aid programmes, are not only starving after all these years, but what is more they are creating many more infants to live off charity like they have been doing over the years.

And when they grow up they come to the west, as economic migrants to live off their benefactors, for they have been deprived of the ability to be self-sufficient.

Mr. Geldof, China was a poor country, yet it is now an economically developed nation, yet it did not ask for Charity, but it is also known to have refused it when it was offered.

It has very strongly enforced birth control, why can the starving millions in Africa that cannot feed themselves and their children, not be encouraged to do the same?

As you have possibly witnessed millions of starving children, their agony need not be described to you, but what can or should be done to the parents who create children to be born, live and die in that agony?

Death by starvation even for an adult would be agonising, what would it be like for infants? Is this suffering that is being inflicted by these parents, on these innocent infants not UNNECESSARILY CRUEL to say the least? It certainly cannot be called manslaughter, murder certainly is inappropriate, would INFANTICIDE accurately describe this cold, ruthless, agonising, taking of life?

And were those parents not taught to scrounge and beg by their benefactors? Can these parents and their benefactors be called human, for creating children to kill them by starvation?

Are there no less painful ways to die, than the agonisingly slow death by starvation?

And now it is being demanded that POVERTY BE MADE HISTORY, by writing off the debts of these poor countries. Are those countries not poor because their leaders have been allowed by their own citizens to embezzle immense wealth from their own countrymen? How much of that wealth has gone to buy weapons to destroy their own citizens, are we not indirectly paying for those weapons?

By writing off the debts of these countries, are we not going to be creating more despotic leaders who will do the same? Have we lost all moral values in order to appear to do good, while allowing despotic leaders to amass immense wealth?

And are we not slowing our economic development by siphoning off taxpayers money to encourage these despots?

This drain on the financial resources of the developed nations creates the need to raise more taxes, which can be achieved by more industry, but an already saturated market cannot consume what it already has in excess.

So where are the taxes going to come from? This only forces Governments to buy from the only industry it can, the ordinance and munitions.

But weapons cannot be constantly produced unless they are destroyed. Is then war not the only remaining solution?

Can then, Western governments be blamed for going to war? All they were doing was collecting more taxes, to donate more to the starving millions that are being created by these benefactors.
A frightening scenario, or is it a Cynics reality?

Doubtful, for a cynic would possibly look at these benefactors as a group of people who need to practice charity at the cost of others, funnily enough only promoting themselves in the process.

Mr Geldof, how low has the human race descended to, that we should use heart rending pictures of starving children, creating an emotional guilt, in the sensitive innocents who are moved by these pictures and donate of their time and money to aid and abet this infanticide only to promote the organisers?

Why should they be used when those starving children are nothing but the creation of the benefactors who have contributed to their existence? Is it that the benefactors and beneficiaries have to use the pictures of their own victims to promote themselves, appear good, yet hardly using their own assets?

And how many million sensitive individuals are being asked to give, both in time and/or money, so that these benefactors who hardly use their own assets, promote themselves?

All it takes to resolve this issue, is the immediate implementation of birth control, provision of seed and fertilizer for cultivation, if necessary using armed force to restore order.

What will we tell our children and theirs when we have no more to give to the starving millions we have created are creating, aided and abetted?
Yours sincerely,

Uncommon sense.

P.s. Should you chose to ignore this letter let us only hope and pray that our children and theirs may be safe and well to read this, without being swamped by billions of starving babies, or terrorised by their peers !!!!!!!!!!!
P.P.s. Or are these Live 8, Sail 8, Make poverty History movements just a repeat of Band Aid, which created millions more starving in Africa, and promoted the organisers to levels of fame they may have otherwise been incapable of achieving?

P.P.P.s And Dear Mr Geldof how much extra Taxes is the Taxpayer paying to promote this?

No credits, recompense, remuneration is sought nor will be accepted.

Uncommon Sense

Dear Uncommon Sense

As ever the cynics argument seems to start from a number of false assumptions. Firstly Geldof and Co think that they can change Africa - no they believe governments (in Africa and in some ways more significantly the G8) are crucial to the recovery of Africa - pace issues of trade, aid and debt - all are indivisible. Secondly the people(s) of Africa are crucial - at no point - despite the rantings of the cynics and the hostile press - have Geldof and co presented themselves as "secular saints" or new imperialists. They share by no commonplace understanding that the measures they want to see are about empowering people both financially, politically and socially to construct a meaningful future. Poverty doesn't radicalise people to hold governments to account - it kills and it makes people politically impotent. Finally Geldof and Bono are exceptionally explicit on this: it is about consciousness raising. In essence the conscience of the West as it is their leaders that have the power and given that no political party sets out an electoral platform concerned with the ending of 30, 000 people dying daily in Africa all that can be done is for people to campaign publicly - beyond small pressure groups. As Bono has repeatedly stated it is obscene that a pop star has the power of access that he does - but such is the nature of consumer capitalism and its accompanying and often undepinning characteristic of celebrity.

However Uncommon Sense states that Live aid led to mass deaths and offers China as a counterpoint. So lets be clear about this it was Live Aid not any of the following: The legacy of the cold war both militarily and in terms of financing of brutal dictators, it was live aid and not the arms trade, it was live aid and not unfair consitions of trade - that not just hold nations back and their development while making Western companies wealthier than any of the rogues galleries of dictators?
So on to China - this would be the China with a human rights record to equal Saddams - plus they have weapons of mass destruction. This would be China whose strong centralised state has been 50 years in the making - and as a result has the resources to remove and redevelop whole regions regardless of the will of the people in that region and the same China where corruption is recognised to be endemic?

Uncommon sense - read some more, think a lot more and write less.

Yours with complete impatience

To the poster who calls self, 'uncommon sense':
Your long ramble is not only callous but overly simplistic with alot of rhetorical verbal diarrhea. While there are snippets of facts in what you say (eg) many corrupt gov'ts & problems w/Aid distributions, however the African populus are not to be faulted as lazy beggars nor irresponsibly procreating. And if you think that preconditions of abstinence & birth control are real solutions, just look at the abandonned babies in China, India and elsewhere.

The problems are multifaceted, complex and corruption is on both sides. Worse, and more offensive in your self-centred and selfish nonfactual post, is turning a blind eye on today's human holocaust and such ongoing pandemics, as not our problem.

Uncommon Sense:

Instead of thinking of Africa as a vast, listless refugee camp, it may be helpful to imagine it as being like the West during the great depression (but more so). During the Depression there were regional droughts like the Dustbowl, where people with no financial reserves found themselves exposed to famine. And of course during the depression people lived, married, laughed, and often prospered. A tiny fraction of African people die of starvation or war! But many walk the streets looking for non-existent jobs, and people have no money or finance to build new opportunities for themselves or their communities. In the west we like to think we could 'imagine' our way out of such a situation, but it is not so easy. We live in a money-soaked world where you can make millions by marketing an 'improved' laundry soap dispenser. Try being an entrepreneur in a world where families live on $100 a month and use all their money on rent, food, bus fares and perhaps medecine or school fees. You can't afford a piece of plastic pipe, much less an irrigation pump. At the moment the West sucks more money out of Africa than it feeds in. Economics is just one side of a complicated problem, but reversing that money flow will help to stimulate Africa's future if corruption and war are also tackled. And they are being tackled. Africa is looking for oportunity, not charity.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on June 21, 2005 1:50 AM.

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