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The Finale

Jul
6
2005
Genuflecting before Youssou N’Dour.

I must admit I almost did not go to the Live 8 finale this evening. Four days of relentless propagandizing made the prospect of tens of thousands packed into Murrayfield Stadium and reciting the same shibboleths — debtreliefandAfricaandpovertyand — seem like so much torture. I thought about not going when I ate lunch on the walls of Edinburgh Castle. I thought about not going when I walked through the rain on winding, quaint Victoria Street. I though about not going when I skipped the morning press events. I thought about not going when I sat in the media center and stared at anarchists being chased by Lothian and Borders Police across the North Bridge. I thought about it when I looked at the lovely wet cobblestones of the Old City and contemplated an evening stroll, secure in the knowledge that by dusk all the troublemakers would be risking arrest at Gleneagles or crammed into Murrayfield Stadium.

Our media center, that perennial ghetto of everyone with a press pass at big events, was at the least situated at the rather nice Balmoral Hotel. Folding-tables, cramped quarters and wifi were compensated-for with delightful exterior architecture and well-appointed interiors. The big event of the day at the Balmoral was the visit of World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, who, under the auspices of the German Marshall Fund, was present to lecture on the bank’s perspective on African debt. The slightly less big event was the rumored presence of Claudia Schiffer in the hotel. I RSVPed for Wolfowitz and then skipped his speech and subsequent reception. (“Hey, sir, I blogged for your war.”) It was a dry run for ditching Live 8 later in the evening, I told myself, even as I knew that I certainly would not have skipped, say, Claudia Schiffer on African debt.

Someday, darling, we’ll be free of the English.

Instead of seeing Wolfowitz, I walked outside with a friend for a quick bite to eat. In deference to local traditions of monarchy, I elected to patronize the Burger King; but first we ran into an expectant crowd outside the hotel. They were locals, and all had cameras. “Who are you waiting to see?” I asked. “George Clooney,” said a teenaged boy. “Who told you George Clooney was here?” He shrugged: “Dunno.” A woman piped up that she’d heard Claudia Schiffer was present, corroborating earlier rumors. I averred that I had heard the same. Various people uttered the names of various celebrities, and it quickly became clear that the gaggle had accreted merely because there were black cars outside the Balmoral. A stringer for The Scotsman, sensing that the two Americans knew what was actually happening, accosted us and demanded information. Dumbly, I spilled my guts about Wolfowitz and his schedule; and then I did the same for the benefit of the assembled onlookers still expecting celebrities to shortly emerge. At this point a Lothian and Borders man tapped me on the shoulder, leaned in, and let me know just how insane it was to be rambling on about the Wolf Man’s itinerary. My companion agreed. We left chastened, and I rather hoped to not hear of Paul Wolfowitz’s demise at the hands of Scottish assassins later in the evening.

The incident got me to thinking about responsibility, and thence why I had come here in the first place, and I resolved to go to the dreaded concert as a sort of penance for endangering the Director of the World Bank. Indeed, it’s a hard life where the lesser of two evils is one of the most anticipated rock shows of the year. I dawdled. I put it off. But when the concert had been underway for an hour, and a steady rain had begun, I hopped into a cab with two women from our organizing group and sped off to Murrayfield.

Nothing wrong with the world that a silly costume won’t solve.

We arrived to find that the rain to the south of Edinburgh had slowed to a drizzle. The crowd was thinner than it might have been, but thicker than I had expected for the weather. It was a good-spirited bunch, and after the surly crowds of the previous days, it was a relief to see young people gathered together in peace and fun. There were even families present in the stadium seats; but for the most part the crowd was strikingly similar to the delegation with which I had traveled: youthful, achingly hip, and distressingly naive. At this point, I didn’t care. Was Live 8 going to accomplish anything? Certainly not. I, for one, had come to terms with that. The magic of the Murrayfield crowd was that its good cheer and stalwart perseverance in the face of grim skies made it possible to abandon cynicism for a few moments and bask in the well-meaning better nature of a few thousand earnest neighbors.

Sure, there was foolishness and dunderheadedness galore. I arrived in time to hear Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai rail about some evil of capitalism or somesuch — I admit it was a dull roar to me. The crowd, apparently unaware of her thesis that rich whites like them created AIDS to kill Africans, ate it up. On the stadium floor, an older couple dressed as giant bananas agitated for “fair trade.” Women in pink cowboy hats abounded. Why? Who knows? Scottish patriots waved and wore their national flag as if African debt relief were a rugby match. I wandered through the crowd and flashed my press pass to induce audience members to pose for the camera.

Must….obey….

The audience members posed on command. They did everything on command. When honey-tongued Youssou N’Dour told them to raise their fists in solidarity with Africa, they raised their fists. When the aggravating UK boy band exhorted them to send text messages to the G8, a mass of cell phones was produced and en masse texting ensued. When the nameless B-list celebrity asked everyone to snap their fingers every third second (a metaphor for the rate of child deaths from poverty), tens of thousands of hands were raised, and the lonesome snaps were magnified accordingly. The wisdom of crowds. All that remained was for someone on stage to tell them all to go volunteer in Africa, and lo, it would be done. Or not, actually. It’s really the gestures that come easy.

Granddad beat the Hun. We do our part.

I did not stay long. N’Dour and the African songstress who followed him were delights. The Britpop boys were terrible, and they compounded their terribleness with an earnest post-song lecture about, “Helping Africa….because if we don’t, who will? And when? And we need to help now! Tell the G8!” Immediately following them was a recorded clip from Franz Ferdinand, as if to remind us what genuinely good guitar-driven power pop sounds like. I chose to believe that the juxtaposition was an intentional rebuke on the grounds that it should have been.

This, then, was Live 8. This was the “Final Push,” the “Long Walk to Freedom,” and the “something” that Geldof wanted done. A decent concert in a passable venue. And tomorrow: life continues much as before. Africa on Thursday morning will yet be mired in poverty. The G8 nations will yet be dilatory about abandoning their own subsidies. The sincere, committed and informed who helped make this week in Edinburgh happen will still have their monumental task before them. And the lemminglike masses who hopped on the bandwagon for the sake of, well, the bands will wake up, dress for work or school, and probably not give much thought to Africa.

Share  Posted by Josh Trevino at 9:09 PM | Permalink

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