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Music: Healing the World with a Song

By Leslie Herman
ART TIMES Winter 2014

‘Did you buy ‘Feed the World’?’

‘That’s not what it’s called, mum.’

‘Ok, did you buy Heal the World?’

‘That’s not what it’s called either but… Yes.’

‘How did you buy it?’

(No answer, just a look.)

(A look back.)

‘How do you think I bought it?’

‘iTunes?’

(A thumbs up).

‘What do you think of it?’

‘It’s alright.’

‘What about Ebola?’

‘What about it?’

‘What do you think about it?’

‘Yea, it’s bad.’

Do they Know it's Christmas? record cover

This is how the conversation went with a, believe it or not, switched-on, very intelligent and highly literate 18-year-old Sociology and Media student at 7am this morning, Tuesday 18 November 2014 -- the day after the Band Aid 30 version of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ was released.

I have been thinking about the phenomenon that is Band Aid for weeks now, but this conversation inspired the angle I’ve taken. It may not have been the most emotionally-charged dialogue but, despite his unremarkable response, the bottom line is that this young person and hundreds of thousands of others effortlessly spent 99p (roughly US$1.65) to download the single on the day of its release.

Why? A. Because they can? B. Because they feel duty bound to? C. Because they feel strongly about it? Or, D. Because they love it?

I haven’t done the market research and don’t have the answers, I’m just asking the questions, but I have a hunch it’s A. because it’s so easy to do, with a significant smattering of media pressure, so B.

Sales for this charity single actually started before the release date. Band Aid organizer Bob Geldof said pre-orders for the latest version of the charity song, in aid of the Ebola relief effort this time around, raised £1m within minutes of the recording being previewed on Sunday night on The XFactor here in the UK.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today program, Geldof said: ‘It’s gone manic. That’s the digital age. We promoted the single on XFactor; Simon Cowell gave us five minutes of the show last night; and within four or five minutes of leaving the show we had a million quid. That’s extraordinary. From what we’re seeing now from iTunes it’s gone bonkers. The pre-orders of the thing were ridiculous.’

Then, hailing the sales as ‘incredible’ and ‘beyond our wildest expectations’, Geldof released a statement saying: ‘Here's today's ask. EVERYONE who bought the track yesterday BUY IT AGAIN TODAY!!!! Go. Go. Go UK!!! Keep buying this record and don't you DARE speak to anyone who has not bought it!! It's so cool living in this country at times like this. WOW!!!!’

Wow with FourExclamationMarks?? This level of exclamation really should get a rise from us. Especially in this context, with the Wow factor emanating from all these A-list artists in one room at the same time, coming together to make a record, and with the added emotional impact of it all being done in the name of charity. It really should move us powerfully and profoundly to make a contribution.

Well, we may be making the contribution, but are we rising up, and are we moved as powerfully and profoundly as we should?

Band aid 30

Call me cynical, but I think not. I think not only have we reached an emotional saturation point generally for global disasters, diseases, deaths, and other tragedies but it has become difficult to illicit the emotions we should or might have otherwise for an event of this nature and scale because it just doesn’t feel sincere. Nor is it original (this is the song’s fourth time around; or spontaneous (I’ve heard that the celebrities have been able to think about and prepare their parts); and it’s all too easy for punters to buy the single and then ‘BUY IT AGAIN!!!!.

And yet, conversely, when I unlock it and take it out of this context and strip away all the hype, I am moved by the song and impressed that there is so much mileage in it. I heard one pundit saying that what the new version offers and ‘wins’ on technical points, the original wins hands down for spirit and authenticity. I am partial to the original for many reasons and have been enjoying getting into it (again), but have also enjoyed watching the videos of each version, putting them into their nostalgia-riddled and historical musical contexts and singing out loud while calling out the names of the artists as they perform their solos:-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIxj7Ew_99w Original video, 1984

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpDdgfMS-jY 1989 version (featuring Kylie Minogue and Cliff Richards)

http://www.mtv.co.uk/band-aid-20/videos/do-they-know-its-christmas 2004 version (which kicks off with Chris Martin of Coldplay)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1jeiC-JEsI 2014 version (which kicks off with One Direction)

(1984 artists listed alongside the lyrics here, which reflect the cause: Famine in Ethopia)

(Paul Young)
It's Christmas time here's no need to be afraid
At Christmas time we let in light and we banish shade
(Boy George)
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time
(George Michael)
But say a prayer pray for the other ones
At Christmas time it's hard
(Simon LeBon)
But when you're having fun there's a world outside your window
(Sting)

And it's a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is
(Bono joins in )
The bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that are ringing
Are clanging chimes of doom
(Bono only)

Well, tonight thank God it's them instead of you.
(Everyone)
And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time.
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows
No rain or rivers flow
Do they know it's Christmas time at all?
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time
Feed the world
Do they know it's Christmas time at all?
(Paul Young)
Here's to you
raise a glass for everyone
Here's to them
underneath that burning sun
Do they know it's Christmas time at all?
Chorus (Everyone )
Feed the world
Feed the world
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time again
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time again
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmas time again

(2014 artists listed alongside the lyrics here which have changed in some places to reflect change of cause - The Ebola crisis):-

(One Direction) It’s Christmas time – there’s no need to be afraid

(Ed Sheeran) At Christmas time – we let in light and we banish shade

(Rita Ora) And in our world of plenty we can spread our smile of joy

(Sam Smith) Feel your arms around the world at Christmas time

(Paloma Faith) But say a prayer and pray for the other ones

(Emeli Sandé) At Christmas time it’s hard but while you’re having fun

(Elbow) There’s a world outside your window and it’s a world of dread and fear

(Dan from Bastille) Where a kiss of love can kill you

(Angelique Kidjo) Where there’s death in every tear

(Chris Martin) And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom

(Bono) Well tonight we’re reaching out and touching you

(Seal) Bring peace and joy this Christmas to West Africa

(Ellie Goulding) A song of hope where there’s no hope tonight (ooh)

(Sinead O’Connor) Why is comfort to be feared, why is to touch to be scared

(Bono) How can they know it’s Christmas time at all

(One Direction) Here’s to you

(Olly Murs) Raise a glass to everyone

(Bastille) Here’s to them

(Sam Smith) And all there is to come

(Rita Ora) Can they know it’s Christmas time at all

Chorus (Everyone)

Feed the world let them know it’s Christmas time again

Feel the world let them know it’s Christmas time again

Heal the world let them know it’s Christmas time again

Feed the world let them know it’s Christmas time again

Feel the world let them know it’s Christmas time again

Heal the world let them know it’s Christmas time again

Feed the world let them know it’s Christmas time again

Feel the world let them know it’s Christmas time again

While the BandAid 30 single breaks all sales records and aims to make a difference on a global scale, it has only skimmed my emotional surface. So, with the passion that singing out loud has produced, circulating and filling me up with feel-good enzymes, I’d like to offer an alternative recipe for healing the world: keep a song in your heart, try to really notice who and what surrounds you every day, and stay connected to life in real time.

Happy Holidays to you all.

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