So it was 30 years ago today that Bob Geldof got the bands to play. And history was made. Hard to believe. I was 15 years old and glued every second to MTV watching everyone who was anyone in rock and roll put on the greatest show of all time. I have to say, I haven’t thought of that day frequently in the years since, but it did have a lasting impact on who I am today. It was probably the first time I realized the importance of having a social conscience and being charitable and the plight of those in third-world countries. And the first time I was exposed to the power of music and some of the greatest acts I hadn’t been aware of before.
I didn’t have any money to donate, but yes, I did get my mom to allow me to order a t-shirt, so perhaps some of my $20 (or however much it was) did somebody somewhere some good. My parents still don’t use credit cards, so I’m sure I had to get a money order from the post office and mail it in and I remember it taking an interminably long time, but the shirt finally did come and I still have it today.
Still fits! And the back is even cooler.
I was a huge Duran Duran groupie at the time, so that was really all I was watching for, and they turned to be a less than impressive act, but I’m sure at the time I loved it. I was a kid who had only recently developed an all-encompassing love of music, and being stuck in Nowheresville, Kentucky with overprotective parents, there was no way I was ever going to make it to a concert in person, so this was my one and only chance to watch them live.
I think I also enjoyed U2 at the time, but that was back when they were still cool. Actually, that day was probably the beginning of Bono’s descent into supreme douchedom. And I’ve always quite liked Spandau Ballet, just for that one song. What strikes me most, watching the recordings today, is how all these guys were dressed. Long coats and leather outside in the middle of July, jumping around and sweating under the sun and the lights onstage. What were they thinking?!! When I look at John Taylor and Nick Rhodes on that day, they are the embodiment of what I imagine Henry and Francis from The Secret History to look like. If you’ve read that amazing book, you know exactly what I mean. Too funny.
Really, the only thing that made a lasting impression from that day was Queen and Freddie Mercury putting on the show of a lifetime. I suppose I had been vaguely aware of them before then. I remember playing parachute games and singing along to We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions in second grade gym class. But I had no idea of their greatness until that day, July 13, 1985. I could (and will) watch that performance forever. That was, as Martha Quinn said in today’s interview, the pinnacle of rock and roll. Queen and Freddie owned that day.
I came across a retrospective of the show online today and watched some of the acts I either missed or paid no attention to 30 years ago. Elvis Costello was a high point. Dylan was okay, but oh my God… Keith Richards in 1985 just makes me dissolve into a puddle of lust. Sexiest man I’ve ever seen. How the hell did I not immediately rush to Philadelphia and jump his bones that night? I must not have been watching at the time. Stupid, stupid, teenaged me.
I do remember Mick and Tina, which seems quite a comical performance now. That was during the days when Mick was pretending he could make it on his own. Obviously, he learned his lesson. I remember all my friends making fun of me at a slumber party one night when one of his godawful solo videos was on and I said he had a cute butt. They were so grossed out that I could say that about somebody so old! But he did, and probably still does. And I’m sure he was younger then than we are now. Ouch.
I had pretty much zero awareness of the Stones until three or four years later, when I finally developed some musical taste. Although it’s funny, one of the stand-out memories from my very early school days, about nine or ten years old, was my best friend playing me the Stones’ new release, which at the time was Emotional Rescue. I didn’t like it. Ha ha. But I grew up on my mom’s idea of 70s music, which was crap pop radio like Debbie Boone and shit, so that’s my only excuse. It’s still far from my favorite Stones album, but I do love it now, and it always feels kind of special to me since it was my first.
I had pretty awesome musical taste when I was really, really young. I used to sing and dance around with my cousin and little brother in the back bedroom of my Grandma’s house to my aunt’s 45s of Elton John and Alice Cooper. As a teenager, my taste devolved considerably (yes, it was all Duran, all the time. And Wham! Yikes.) but eventually it did come back to me. Shout out to George Michael by the way. He may have got up to some shady things in public restrooms in later years, but back in 1985 he was there doing his part to feed the hungry Africans.
They say that none (or very little) of the money raised from the Live Aid record and concert actually made it to aid the Ethiopians, and obviously, the plight of the poor and hungry in the world has only gotten worse over the years, not better. This is disheartening, but let’s not overlook the actual value that Live Aid gave to the world. It did raise a social consciousness in my generation which does still have a lasting impact. Watching the concert again today, I would donate all my money (if I had any) all over again. I’m a cynical, selfish, lazy beast for the most part, but many of my peers do contribute to making the world a better place in a lot of ways. They make me proud and push me to be better, and I think it all had its roots in the era of wanting to give back that was begun that day.
And we can never forget the day that musical dreams came true. Getting to see all of those acts in one place (well, two) at one time is something we can only dream of ever happening again. And it’s the most fitting legacy I can imagine for the great Freddie Mercury. Previous generations will never forget when and where they were when Kennedy was shot or Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon, but we will never forget July 13, 1985. I know where I was – glued to the TV for over 16 hours straight.
Still have the book, too. And the record that started it all.
Concert photos here are from the book, except featured image, from https://www.yahoo.com/music/an-oral-history-of-live-aid-the-ones-who-made-a-123778461786.html