Bob Geldof Talks About the Greatest Day of His Life, Stepping on the Stage of Live Aid, in a Short Doc by Errol Morris

I remem­ber being a teen in the UK when the news broke that Bob Geld­of was assem­bling a group of pop stars to record a Christ­mas sin­gle to help the starv­ing in Africa, par­tic­u­lar­ly Ethiopia, which had been rav­aged by famine since 1983. It was pre­sent­ed like “break­ing news” around tea time—possibly dur­ing one of the music shows air­ing then—and made to sound like some­thing world chang­ing was about to hap­pen. The super group of British pop singers was dubbed Band Aid.

I’ll nev­er know whether that reporter was get­ting an accu­rate sense of the future, or was try­ing to do her best to pro­mote Band Aid’s sin­gle, but just over half a year lat­er, on July 13, 1985 Band Aid had turned into Live Aid, a mas­sive dual-venue con­cert held at Wem­b­ley Sta­di­um in Lon­don and at John F. Kennedy Sta­di­um in Philadel­phia. (Phil Collins played one set, back­ing Sting, in Lon­don and then hopped on a Con­corde over to New York to play his solo hits.) The set list for both sides of the Atlantic is a who’s who of mid-80s pop and rock–Madon­na, Led Zep­pelin, U2, Queen, David Bowie all played that day–though the Amer­i­can side was both more eclec­tic in genre and more mid­dle­brow in taste. For tele­vi­sion view­ers, it took up an entire day of broad­cast­ing (I should know, I watched it at my friend’s house dur­ing a very hot sum­mer day.)

Cre­at­ed as part of a series of mini-doc­u­men­taries by mas­ter film­mak­er Errol Mor­ris, the short film above puts Geld­of cen­ter stage and revis­its what Geld­of calls “the best day of my life,” step­ping onstage at the begin­ning of Live Aid.

It’s an odd inter­view. Geld­of says he’s still a man dis­ap­point­ed in himself—Morris calls him out on it at one point—and gets emo­tion­al when he remem­bers vis­it­ing Africa and how he was asked to appear in pho­tographs along­side the dying vic­tims of star­va­tion. Band Aid had giv­en him the fame to do some­thing about the prob­lems in the world, but it has made him self-con­scious about being turned into just anoth­er celebri­ty. (His pal Bono han­dles it much dif­fer­ent­ly, as he says.)

He talks about his poor upbringing—with dead or absen­tee par­ents, he was raised by the radio and it was rock music that saved him. He saw those rock leg­ends and rock’s fans as a lob­by­ing base to get change to hap­pen, and made it hap­pen through will pow­er. He want­ed to use the plat­form that are­na rock afford­ed and did so. From an ini­tial guess of rais­ing $100,000 from the sale of the sin­gle, the entire Live Aid event raised $140 mil­lion instead and was viewed by 1.5 bil­lion view­ers.

Though oth­ers have ques­tioned the effec­tive­ness of char­i­ty events like Live Aid, Geldof’s take­away is still pos­i­tive and broad­er than assum­ing one con­cert can change events—it’s more about how a con­cert can pro­mote an issue and give orga­niz­ers the mon­ey to change the world.

“The para­dox at the heart of indi­vid­u­al­ism,” Geld­of says, “is that it only works when we act in con­cert for the com­mon good.”

Bob Geld­of: The Moment will be added to our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Fred­die Mer­cury, Live Aid (1985)

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Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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