Twenty-four hours, seven continents, 150 bands and 2 billion viewers.
Global warming is a big problem that needs big solutions. Live Earth was
the big concert intended to raise awareness. But is pop music really a
Skeptics doubt it. Said one: "Everybody's known about that problem for
years. ... I would only organize this if I could get onstage and announce
concrete environmental measures from the American presidential candidates,
Congress or major corporations. They haven't got those guarantees. So it's
just an enormous pop concert."
The source of that quote: Bob Geldof, organizer of Live Aid and Live 8.
Perhaps Sir Bob has realized the futility of big concerts solving the
world's ills; millions are still starving in Africa, after all. But it's
more likely he's just jealous.
The patron saint of Live Earth was Al Gore, whose frequent pleas for us
to "answer the call" found him vying to be the new Geldof or, better yet,
Bono -- though Gore may be willing to settle for a less important job.
Pushed by Ann Curry for a simple "yes or no" answer during NBC's special
coverage Saturday night, Gore was downright oily in refusing to say that he
won't be running for president in 2008.
For fans with a sense of history, it was ironic to see Al and his wife
Tipper presenting these shows. In the mid-'80s, the Gores were first
catapulted to fame as forces behind the censorious Parents Music Resource
Center. Back then, Tipper attacked rock and rap for "infecting the youth of
the world with messages they cannot handle."
Live Earth was designed to spread a message kids can handle, but
its effectiveness was debatable. Sure, there were short films and brief
speeches about the environment peppered throughout, in between the regular
commercials. But most acts just played their greatest hits or newest
singles, viewing the concerts as just another promotional opportunity.
As a result, there weren't many truly memorable moments, even though I
watched all 22 hours of the broadcast coverage on cable (and thanks to the
folks who invented the 4x fast-forward on my DVR!). Here are some notes on
what I saw.
• Playing London's Wembley Stadium, Genesis deflated this fan's hopes
for their fall reunion tour by shunning their progressive-rock past and
playing only lame pop tunes from the '80s and '90s. C'mon, fellas: "Watchers
of the Sky" woulda been perfect!
• Both Madonna and Roger Waters trotted out children's choirs to add
a sense of gravitas about the future. Madonna's kids were inexplicably
dressed in Catholic school uniforms, while Waters' were upstaged by the
famous Pink Floyd pig, marked on this occasion with "S.O.S. -- Save Our
• The talentless Pussycat Dolls vamped like strippers, apparently
believing that going without underwear somehow helps the environment.
• Nunatak, a band formed by five scientists at the Rothera Research
Station in Antarctica, performed outside in the snow and 15-below-zero
chill. They didn't seem to be lip-syncing, but there were no amps or P.A.,
and you couldn't hear their teeth chattering.
• Alicia Keys and Keith Urban duetted on the Rolling Stones' "Gimme
Shelter" ("Ooh, see the fire is sweepin'/Our very street today"),
while John Legend joined Corinne Bailey Rae for Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy
Me (the Ecology)": ("Oil wasted on the ocean/And upon our seas, fish full
• Nu-metal bozos Linkin Park dripped buckets of sweat, illustrating
one effect of global warming, while past-their-prime gasbags Metallica, Red
Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters and Bon Jovi just spewed more CO2 into the
• Three Chicago superstar acts took part, but none was in top form.
Fall Out Boy tried to catch the spirit, but the Smashing Pumpkins just
played nostalgic alternative-era oldies, and Kanye West looked like a
hyperactive idiot as he joined the Police and John Mayer to close the New
Jersey concert with "Message in a Bottle."
• Finally, Spinal Tap -- yes, Spinal Tap -- confirmed the grandiose
absurdity of it all by playing their immortal pomp-rock spoof, "Stonehenge,"
Baby boomers like Gore and Geldof are fond of saying that the music of
the '60s inspired a generation to end the war in Vietnam. But historians and
sociologists who've studied the anti-war movement maintain that fewer youths
were motivated by political conviction than joined the cause because it
seemed like the "cool" thing to do, with groovy sounds and good times for
So, in the end, can pop music really save the world?
If I didn't believe that it could, I couldn't do this job. Great music
can certainly change individuals' minds, prompting them to act for the
betterment of society. But in order for that to happen with the
environmental movement, we're going to need much, much better music than
Live Earth gave us.