Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Strange times over at The Guardian's comment is free weblogs, where Tom Robinson springs to a second post about Bob Geldof in 24 hours, after his first led to some comments suggesting that, actually, Geldof might not be much cop.

I'm appalled by the torrent of ignorant, spiteful bile directed towards Bob Geldof and his music in response to yesterday's post - typified by HowSoonIsNow's comment: "As a musician he's a dead loss: mountain of attitude, molehill of talent."

Blimey. An Italian promoter made a major miscalculation as to venue size and ticket price - a not uncommon occurrence - and suddenly it seems to be open season on Geldof's musical career and personal integrity.

Well, yes, it was a "major miscalculation" on venue size - although since the Rome gig booked for Bob only attracted fifty takers, anything larger than a home economics classroom would have been ill-advised; what is debatable, though, is if the comments on the original post really constituted an attack on either Geldof's career or integrity - a few suggestions that his glory days were in the past and the odd querying of why he didn't just turn up and play is hardly "open season."

However, Robinson wants to prove that Geldof isn't washed up, and launches into a bizarre defence:

To begin with the music: you don't have to like Bob's songs to at least respect the fact that others - including me - have liked them a lot. Here is a man who wrote 13 top-30 hits between 1977 and 1990, including two number ones.

Any fool with modest talent, reasonable looks and towering ambition can knock out one or two hits if they are lucky and pushy enough. Look at James Blunt. Or me, come to that. As Lady Bracknell might have said, to have written half a dozen hits may be regarded as good fortune; to have written more than a dozen looks like talent - at least from where I'm sitting.

There's a strange double standard here - if we've read this right, Tom argues that even if you don't like somebody's songs, you should respect them for being popular. He then slags off James Blunt - who, surely, might not be to Tom's taste but ought to win his respect.

But what of Bob's 13 top thirty hits? We loved the Boomtown Rats - I Don't Like Mondays and Rat Trap are brilliant pieces of work, by anyone's standards. There's Someone Lookin At You (woah-oh-oh-oh) and Banana Republic weren't quite as good, but could have held their heads up at the time as some happy bits of nonesense that Ed Tudor Pole would have killed to write. Beyond that... there's meant to be another nine?

Certainly, artists and their music fall in and out fashion. But album tracks such as The Beat of the Night (Deep in the Heart of Nowhere) and The New Routine (Sex, Age and Death) make regular appearances on my iPod - and radio playlists - on sheer musical merit alone.

Without wishing to do Tom down, we can't imagine we'd ever see a collection of CDs stacked in HMV with a sticky label proclaiming "As heard on Tom Robinson's iPod"; and if Geldof is frequently appearing on radio playlists (on merit or even through his company being a major independent supplier of programmes to Radio 2) it's odd that we've not heard his music coming out of a radio in years. Except one time in Asda a few weeks back. And that was the Rats.

And, contrary to Scrittipolitti's posting, the Boomtown Rats didn't have a "heyday" in 1981, when they may or may not have been "reassuringly shite": they had a genuine, measurable, shout-it-from-the-rooftops heyday in 1977-8, when they clawed their way from obscurity to the NME front pages with a series of blinding gigs that blew away all competition night after night. The songs were great, the band were hot and Geldof was a rivetingly charismatic frontman.

Spot on, Tom. Sadly, the words "were" and "was" are the key ones here.

If they lost the plot later on under the pressures of success, it was no more than happened to contemporaries such as TRB, Squeeze, the Hot Rods, Graham Parker and countless others. So why all this bitter schadenfreude when it comes to Bob and the boys ?

Perhaps, in this case, because nobody posted anything to a website about Squeeze or Graham Parker this week? Or maybe because - and this is probably their good luck - none of those have been turned into living saints and thus feel the urge to try and bolster their claims to be as famous for their music as their philanthropy?

The uncharitable sneer from Correspondent Bob's solo career was "a half-hearted exercise which never took off and was over 20 years ago" is simply incorrect: Bob's hilariously defiant Great Song of Indifference made number 15 in 1990 and was widely covered in dozens of languages by recording artists across the globe - for the simple reason that people everywhere liked the song - on its own merits - very much indeed.

Well, yes, that does make it factually incorrect, although since a number fifteen hit isn't so much a take-off as a soft landing, Correspondent should have said Bob's solo career was a "half-ignored exercise which barely took off and was sixteen years ago."

As to his subsequent lack of musical output, Bob's personal life, in case you've forgotten, was devastated by loss, strife and tragedy during the 90s in the full intrusive glare of the world's media, gleefully detailing every fresh blow. He told me three years ago that at times of crisis there would be an average of 40 reporters camped outside his house. A scooter from the Daily Mirror and a van from the News of the World with blacked out windows tailed him everywhere he went. Even when he escaped the pressure at the weekends in Paris with close friends, there would still be journalists waiting for him on the Eurostar home.

The astonishing thing is not that it took him until 2002 to write another album - the critically acclaimed Sex, Age and Death - but that he managed to make one at all under such conditions.

Tom could have a point here - if Bob had been beseiged and unable to function during the 1990s, that is. However, he did manage to put together Planet 24, executive producing The Big Breakfast and The Word and building it into a company which Carlton would buy off him and his partners for £15million, while Geldof would establish another company, Ten Alps, to make TV and radio programmes and do PR for the likes of the Ministry of Defence. Indeed, it could be argued that Bob's creative desert was less because of family crises and more because he was spending so much time with his money.

Whatever it is Bob Geldof wants, I'll bet you a quiet family life comes top of the list and getting his picture in the papers is pretty close to the bottom. The problem is that, whether he likes it or not, he has one of the most recognisable faces on the planet, which gives him almost unique access to the world's media - and most powerful political leaders - whether he chooses to use it or not.

We suspect, though, he likes it quite a bit, don't you?

Many of us feel that world debt and global trade barriers are a humanitarian scandal and Aids is an unfolding global catastrophe. But not many of us can do much about it beyond charitable giving, letter writing and attending the occasional demonstration. Let's suppose for a moment that Bob actually would like a quiet, easy life - News of the World permitting. What would you do in his place, knowing that simply picking up the phone might save dozens or even hundreds of lives? Put up the shutters, mutter "I've done enough" and tell the world to go fuck itself?

Oddly, unless we've missed something, Tom seems to have started to responding to criticisms that hadn't been made of Bob in response to his original post. But since he asks: we like to think if we could ring up Blair, or go and play golf with Bush, we might take the opportunity to tell them to do something, rather than just appear with them on stage and tell them how great their half-arsed promises are.

The idea behind Live8 was (supposedly) to demonstrate to the powerful that we, the people, were firmly behind the idea of justice for the impoverished, the ill and the uneducated of the world. That was why it was allowed to more-or-less railroad the Make Povery History movement. Instead, it seems to have been used by Bob and chum Bono to calm down the angry crowds on behalf of their friends inside Gleneagles.

Or would you be big enough to accept the facts, the horrible responsibility that circumstance had thrust in your lap? Would you have the strength to put yourself in the firing line all over again, resigned to the fact that the media would think and write the worst about you whenever possible; and that whether you sought to alleviate a little of the world's unnecessary suffering or simply sit on your arse like everyone else, armchair critics would rip you to shreds?

"Just think, all that self promotion and no one wants to know. Perhaps he should put up a montage of suffering Africans to get the punters in," wrote Xuitlacoche on yesterday's blog. Well, comment is free, and you are entitled to your opinion. Mine is that, on balance, the world is a better place thanks to Geldof's efforts than if simply sat down, shut up and crawled into a corner, as you would seem to prefer.

Bob himself expressed all this far more eloquently, and at greater length, in his review of 1985 for the Guardian last December.

Bigmouth strikes again? More power to his larynx.

A short while after taking one of his commenters to task for suggesting the Rats big hits came three years after they actually arrived, Robinson manages to suggest that Geldof was reviewing a year twenty years later than the one he was actually looking back over. And that article is just an apologia, even down to the tired old line that "if we'd just saved one Ethiopian life then it would all have been worth it" - which, frankly, if he believes, makes him an idiot.

What makes Robinson's defence of Geldof even odder is that even Bob himself admitted that in terms of sales and musical influence alone, he wouldn't have qualified for a place on the Live8 stage. If Geldof admits he's less musically significant than Razorlight and Snow Patrol, why can't Tom?

[Thanks to Jim McCabe for the link]


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