"The first people totalitarians destroy or silence are men of ideas and free minds." ~ Isaiah Berlin
Rock Is Dead and Live 8 Killed It
All right, let me just get this off my chest: On Saturday, July 2, 2005, I, Jonathan David Morris, totally failed to eradicate African poverty. That's right. Live 8 came to Philly and I stayed home. I had my reasons, of course. Parking. Restroom access. A concert line-up'Will Smith and Josh Groban, together at last'too remarkable to bear. But most importantly, I stayed home out of spite and cynicism. Live 8's goal was to 'pressure" world leaders to forgive African debts; their ambition, to end African poverty altogether. I never believed they'd be able to do this, and I don't feel bad for thinking that way. But looking back, I do feel bad for being so realistic. It's weird to view poverty as 'not worth the trouble of going to the city.' My faith in rock music is effectively dead. Now, at this point, it's too early to tell just how big an impact Live 8 will have on its pet issue. (It's worth noting G8 leaders have already pledged increased debt relief and a tougher stance on African AIDS.) But I'm struck by how quickly it seems to have faded from memory. Maybe it's the nature of the 24-hour news cycle, or maybe I'm just checking the wrong news sources, but a week after the concert, it's as if Live 8 never happened at all. I live and work a half hour outside Philly, and I don't know a single soul who attended. I don't even know anyone who's mentioned it. VH1 replays are the only thing I've seen to confirm that it ever took place. And as far as Fox News and its brethren are concerned, most Americans cared more about a hot blonde who disappeared in Aruba than African poverty all along. It's as if most Americans don't think they can solve African poverty. That's my point. This indifference is all too . . . sensible. I was too young to understand the crusading nature of mainstream '80s music. (All I remember is having nightmares about the Ethiopians on the We Are The World record sleeve.) But the way people look back on the original Live Aid of '85, I guess I just always assumed it was a seminal, world-changing event'the effects of which were present and clear. Yet the way Live 8 came and went like any other social gathering, I now realize Live Aid was no such thing. I woke up last Sunday and African poverty still existed. It would've existed even if I, Jonathan David Morris, saw fit to attend the concert. The only thing that changed was the world now had some really sweet performances to bootleg. There's a feeling you get sometimes when you stop knowing the words to a favorite song and start becoming them (usually when you're a couple of beers into the evening). This feeling would have you believe you can conquer the world. Or change it. Or mold it in your image. That feeling is the essence of music. And it's exactly what Live 8 wasn't about. They never claimed they'd solve African poverty overnight. And that's fine. But they never really claimed they'd do anything'period. Live 8's mission was to send world leaders a 'message,' asking them nicely to look into this African poverty thing. This reminds me of a line from a song by Ten Years After: 'I'd love to change the world, but I don't know what to do.' That just about sums things up. Live 8 tried hard not to be about money (even though money's the main thing at stake in African poverty). For all intents and purposes, they pledged to save the world through rock and roll. But yet the whole idea behind the concert was to inspire someone else'George Bush, Tony Blair, etc.'to save the world for them. Well, it's great if it works, but where's the belief in rock's redemptive powers? Haven't whole cities been built on rock and roll? This lack of faith is a terrible letdown. I know these musicians are only human, but that's the thing'they're not supposed to be. My brother thought about going to Live 8 last weekend. He opted against it the morning of. 'It's no Woodstock,' he told me. He was right, I think. But that's the problem. When you get right down to it, Woodstock was no Woodstock, either. Or at least it wasn't the Woodstock of lore. My generation operates under the assumption that Jimi Hendrix playing the Star-Spangled Banner altered the course of the universe in the same way as Jesus when he died on the cross. A lot of my peers were turned off by Woodstock '94 and '99'not because they were rituals in senseless destruction, but because they were so commercial. People forget the original Woodstock was as much about making money'which it eventually did'as it was about peace, love, and music. I don't know if the Woodstock generation knew this going in. Maybe they did and they just didn't care. All I know is, for me, the cover's been blown right off the idea of social change. First, Geraldo spent two hours opening Al Capone's vault and failed to find something. Then, Y2K failed to detonate a single country after five years of fantastic fear. I thought it was weird when no one at work talked about the space shuttle Columbia explosion; after all, when I was in second grade, the Challenger made the world stand still. But I think I understand now. Nothing means anything anymore. Things just happen. And then, like Chandra Levy on the morning of 9/11, they simply fade away'replaced by the latest, greatest brick in the wall. All we are is dust in the wind. I would like to believe music transcends this. But who am I fooling? Music, like Darth Vader, is more machine than man now. God bless Live 8 for trying to do something, but as Ben Folds put it, they're fighting the battle of who could care less here. I feel like Ben Seaver in that episode of Growing Pains where he barges in on his favorite rock star and sees him acting like the lowlife he is. I want to run home and tear down my posters. But I'm growing old, I've settled down, and my walls are white with maturity. The truth is very frustrating.