David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 86: Bob Geldof (The Great Song Of Indifference)

July 21, 2020

How would you feel if you pulled off one of the biggest events in the history of mankind?  Would you particularly want to get up and do it again?

I seriously doubt it. You'd probably want to bathe in the post-event glory.

Bob Geldof can answer this question in ways very few other humans can. After staging Live Aid in 1984, he stood at a crossroads. Not surprisingly, he longed to devote time to his musical career again. His last album with The Boomtown Rats, 1984's In The Long Grass, got completely mowed away by the publicity of Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas" and then the "what-the-f-was-he-thinking" planning for 1985's Live Aid.  Even during Live Aid, when the Rats performed "Drag Me Down," easily the best song off of In The Long Grass, one had a sense that the Rats were like "a ship that's going under."

Almost immediately after Live Aid, Geldof called in a ton of favors and got a who's who of pop music together to help record 1986's Deep In The Heart of Nowhere: Dave Stewart & Annie Lennox of Eurythmics, Brian Setzer of The Stray Cats, Bono, Eric Clapton, Maria McKee of Lone Justice, Clem Burke of Blondie, Jools Holland of Squeeze, and Alison Moyet of Yazoo, to name a few.  His first single release from the album was "This Is The World Calling," a seemingly quaint way to capture the drive and persistence he must have needed to pull off Band Aid and Live Aid. "This Is The World Calling," however, was answered by few, with the song barely registering on U.S. charts.

What does one do when one has been on top of the world and then in some ways at the bottom of the world just a year later, even with so much help from your friends? Well, Geldof waited almost four years and then emerged again with a very different sounding The Vegetarians of Love.  Supported by a much less known stable of friends, The Vegetarians of Love was introduced to the world through another single that appeared to indicate Geldof's view of his rise to the top of the world. By this point he had been knighted, so Sir Bob could have asked for the world to be delivered on a tray. Instead, he turned to indifference, specifically "The Great Song of Indifference," a spicy little Irish Jig of a number that tries to convince us that he couldn't give a shit if the world came calling:

"I don't care if you live or die/

Couldn't care less if you laugh or cry/

I don't mind if you crash or fly/

I don't mind at all."

It's a pretty cynical and difficult line to take from a guy who made himself penniless, physically broken (read Is This It?, Geldof's excellent autobiography, to hear about the toll Live Aid took on him) caring more than most of us about people who might live or die. When he blurts "I don't care if the third world fries/It's hotter there, I'm not surprised," we really aren't sure where his tongue or where his cheek is, although we certainly hope the former sits firmly in the latter.

In "The Great Song Of Indifference," generally, he doesn't have much care for anything in society, which given his career and even his careening personal life, did make some more sense:

"I don't mind if the government falls/

Implements more futile laws/

I don't care if the nation stalls/

And I don't care at all."

While at the song's outset, Geldof tries to be staid and understated, it doesn't take long for his musician friends to push the irony to the forefront. The accordions, fiddles, penny whistles, and piano that provide the traditional Gaellic backdrop to the song are hardly indifferent. Despite himself, Geldof gets sucked in by his own vocals, more insistent than indifferent, and by a sweep of the background vocals more inspired than indifferent.

Sir Bob ain't fooling anybody. If we believe P.T. Barnum, you need to fool to sell, and with The Vegetarians of Love barely registering on charts anywhere, it's safe to say Geldof found no suckers. If he had timed the album a couple of years later, Geldof could have ridden the wave of Michael Flatley's Riverdance or Lord of the Dance. Certainly the very funny video would have been even funnier if viewers could see the parallels to Flatley.

Even I, a long-time Boomtown Rats and Bob Geldof fan, find Sir Bob a twit sometimes. Despite that, given what he did with Band Aid and Live Aid, he deserved better. Since Live Aid, he has had his wife leave him for another musician, that musician kill himself, the ex-wife die of a heroin overdose, their daughter dying the same way a few years later. Frankly, he now looks horrible. He never worried too much about appearance, anyway, something he probably gives less of a damn about these days.

Unfortunately, none of us get what we deserve under (to borrow a line from Warren Zevon) "the vast indifference of heaven." I don't blame Sir Bob for playing indifferent in a world of indifference. That he deserves.

"The Great Song Of Indifference." Bob Geldof. The Vegetarians of Love. Atlantic. 1990. Video link here.

Day 85: Big Audio Dynamite II "Rush."

Day 87: Randy Newman "Shame"

See complete list here.