New York

Why I Thought Live 8 Philly Was Fun But Sorta Terrible


Live 8 Philly: July 2, 2005

Bjork wasn’t at Live 8 Philly but this shot kills me

Confession: I’m from West Philadelphia just as much as the next Philly suburb kid who tells people he’s from West Philadelphia. And when Will Smith, my neighbor and close friend, got up on the Live 8 stage Saturday afternoon and asked the million or so people attending but most especially me, his main squeeze, to rap the Fresh Prince theme with him, I learned to love Live 8 if only for how much the event had truly amp’d up this fine and forever disappointed town. With cheek far from tongue, we, the second-fattest city in the fattest country of the world, were helping to make poverty history. And hey, that’s not for me to mess with– lord knows I’ve had my weight problems in the past too.

That said, even y’all are being a little too nice. Everybody and his fat sister saw that big question mark hanging above the stage– the one that asks how, exactly, Def Leppard’s pock-ass set and man-perms are gonna feed an entire continent. But why did all these musical idiot/celebrity types think they needed to articulate an answer? Act after act, the ostensibly good intentions of Live 8– raise awareness about world hunger, at the heart– were undermined by artists too quick to justify the social relevance of their own humorless performances, not to mention their own inclusion on the bill. They talked loud, said nothing, and got so caught up in their own cinematography that we might as well have been watching a Christopher Guest flick.

“Every three seconds, a child dies in Africa from hunger,” explained the Fresh Prince, who then waited three seconds and snapped his fingers symbolically, then waited another three and did it again (and again, and again, etc.). Then he got the crowd on that for a minute, staring grimly down the camera and hoping we knew from his face that he, who on this very day in 1996 co-led a defensive against aliens destroying planet Earth, was dead fucking serious. Surely the leaders of the eight wealthiest nations, all tuned in somewhere, were moved by the sight of a million sweaty dudes trying their best to count to three and snap, but inevitably screwing it up and crazy-snapping like they were at a Cherry Poppin Daddies show.

And yet the Black Eyed Peas somehow outdid Smith on the not-so-subtle front. Given the circumstances, “Where Is The Love?” really wanted to be more meaningful– “People killin, people dyin’/ Children hurt and you hear them cryin'”– and “Let’s Get It Started” wanted to be more motivational too, I fear. Was “Don’t Phunk With My Heart” then meant as Mother Africa’s allegorical taunt?

Before that, the poor UK new wave Next Big Nobodies the Kaiser Chiefs were so bummed they weren’t playing the London show at Hyde Park, the only social commentary they could muster was the bassist’s outfit: When the weather’s hot, keep cool by wearing your tightest, whitest polyester suit.

Kanye West had no problem bringing Jesus into this fiasco (introducing “Jesus Walks” with something like “Times like this we need to turn to Jesus”) while the big screens blazed big crosses, roman candles and other claptrap. It was a nice fuck-you to me-types who might maybe sorta want to point out colonialism’s Christian-superior evangelical bent helped put Africa in this boat in the first place. “Diamonds” raised its own questions, but not nearly as many as the “new meaning” Destiny’s Child said the event’s given their song “Say My Name”, nor the five-minute inclusion of ex-Anger Manager DJ Green Lantern’s DJ set that ended with “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” and the evil genius screaming, “Put a hand up for Michael Jackson!” Either Philly’s still down with Megan’s Law, or people were too busy snapping.

Expecting this big bulky thrown-together-in-a-month event to be free of excess, perfectly logical, and philosophically sound– maybe that’s too much. But did Don Cheadle really need to drop the Martin Luther King bomb? Why does every good dream anymore have to be an “I have a dream” dream? Why did the event’s import token Real African have to get up on stage and say on behalf of his fellow continent, be it language barrier or shitty teleprompting, “We want to join [with America] as one!” Why did the event’s token Real African Sesame Street HIV-Positive Muppet Kami have to get up on the screen, crack an un-joke about Def Leppard not actually being a leopard, then get back to dwelling on its status as the event’s token Real African Sesame Street HIV-Positive Muppet? And was that worse than the gruesome moving shots of Real Hungry Africans that popped up on monitors from time to time? Couldn’t they have just asked us for our money?

But that’s just me being an asshole. Live 8, I think, wasn’t about making a direct and tangible difference, just for raising awareness, however caught in contradiction. (And most of the acts sounded great actually; more bands should stick to three-song sets, esp. all the Jars of Clay, overly boring types.) Not that intent excuses execution. And not that a more thought-out production– with better politics, more relevant artists, and traceable effect– would have put more people on this Feed Africa tip anyway. But while some poo-poo the event for missing its own point, I’m a firm believer, I think, in work coming from play– history finds a way to redeem this sort of shit somehow. Or as Jay-Z, the day’s most confident act and the guy who clearly “got” Live 8 better than everyone else there, had it, “I don’t want to get too political, let’s play some music. Play some muuuu-sic.”

Live 8 download links compiled at: Largehearted Boy

Most Popular