Picks and Pans Review: Live Aid
Live Aid showed just how much rock has changed in three decades and television in four. Both matured that day. As a TV show, Live Aid was slick as a cola commercial; as a rock show, it was as well choreographed as a Vegas act. That slickness robbed the show of some spontaneity, but not of its soul or entertainment. Comparisons have and will be made to Woodstock, but this video version was not at all the same. Live Aid was not a symbol of rebellion; quite to the contrary, it may help to burnish the image of the Me Era, the Yuppie Years, the Generation of Greed. Live Aid showed a generous generation with a vital cause of its own. Live Aid brought together every imaginable combination of people. So on your TV you saw Bob Geldof, leader of the Boomtown Rats, wearing a work shirt, sitting next to Princess Di and the besuited Prince Charles. You saw AT&T using its advertising wiles to get you not only to reach out and touch but also to help someone. And by satellite you watched a crowd in Philadelphia watching, by satellite, a crowd in London watching, by satellite, a band in the USSR. Woodstock was put on for 400,000 muddy souls; Live Aid was put on for more than a billion TV viewers. Woodstock was loose and laid-back; Live Aid was expertly packaged—from Casey Kasem's polyurethane voice to Sally Field's scripted sincerity; from the album plugs for the artists to the fact that this had to be the first rock show in history to run on schedule. There are some complaints: Slavishness to that schedule meant that Live Aid had few surprises; MTV got carried away showing its veejays applauding TV screens; the ABC and syndicated versions ran too many taped segments in a show that was supposed to be as live as its name. But none of that detracts from the monumental TV entertainment that was Live Aid: 16 hours of nonstop music, of money going to a crucial cause—love via satellite. No, this was no Woodstock. The difference is the difference between then and now: In 1969 you wanted to be on Max Yasgur's farm listening to Bob Dylan; in 1985 you wanted to be in front of the TV watching him.
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