Midvale School for the Gifted Alumni Association

Monday, August 01, 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen, Rock and Roll

Two auspicious anniversaries today, both hugely important in the evolution of modern rock and roll, live music, and its effects on the larger culture, and I'm having a hard time picking which one to align today's song. Although, based on my title, you may be able to guess which one I'm leaning toward.

On August 1, 1971 (two months before my birth), George Harrison organized the Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden in New York. This concert is largely considered the first benefit concert of any real magnitude or impact in rock and roll's short history. An all-star lineup, playing with George and solo sets, it raised nearly $250,000 American for the Bangladesh people's fight for freedom. The "children" this concert begat are also legendary. No Nukes, Live Aid (my personal favorite), Farm Aid, many many others. It holds a significant place in music history not only in its own right, but for the legacy that followed. In honor of the anniversary, the concert is being streamed here.

A mere 10 years later, August 1, 1981, the course of popular music changed forever, and potentially pop culture as we know it. MTV was launched, with a rocket ship, "Ladies and gentlemen, rock and roll..." and The Buggles. Its current incarnation is about as far removed from that original vision than it ever could be, but there is no denying that MTV changed the face of rock and roll forever. I remember that summer, spending hours indoors, watching videos over and over again, as the content was limited back then, focusing heavily on British new wave, live concert footage chunked into song-sized bits, and commentary from the new "VJs", one of which had previously been a landmark DJ in the Boston area, on the equally as groundbreaking WBCN, back in her early days, JJ Jackson. And we watched, over the passage of the decades, as musical artists changed the ways they did business, and changed the way they marketed their music to reach a larger audience. And we watched the industry change to meet this new model. But most importantly, for a few shining years, maybe 10, we saw MTV be THE PLACE for new music, for rock related news, for presenting the culture. Bands made big "announcements" on MTV, and they were hyped to the maximum (who else remembers the infamous KISS removes their makeup special? A whole SPECIAL devoted to finally finding that tub of Ponds Cold Cream ;). MTV exposed us all to niche markets, metal and college rock/alternative specifically. I wonder whether either of those genres would have had the massive appeal they did in future years if MTV hadn't been so unrelenting in their coverage? MTV brought pop culture to the masses, still does, just the culture these days is so much more "lifestyle" and so much less music. But, you cannot deny the channel's impact on the course of rock and roll. For better or for worse, MTV broke ground.

So, what song to commemorate, to tie these two together? The Buggles and Dire Straits are too obvious. A song from the Bangladesh concert too limiting in scope. However, one event does seem to marry the two, exposure of the new pop/rock culture with a benefit concert to aid millions, thousands of miles away. An event that skyrocketed MTV to the heights it once held, in my opinion. An event many of us remember, fondly, that many of us sacrificed a summer afternoon to the TV screen, all day long, glued to the London and Philadelphia feeds long into the night. LIVE AID. This concert also may be a defining moment in my musical history as well, and it certainly embodies both of the spirits I write about today. And I think we all know who sent that event into the outer limits. As Bob Geldof recalls on the Live Aid boxed set DVD, his pitch to Freddie Mercury, reluctant to participate, was, "Freddie, 10 million viewers, think of it; darlings, THE WORLD!" (Paraphrasing, but that's the basic gist). Appealing to his vanity, he set in motion what may be the single greatest live set ever, Queen at Wembley, July 13, 1985. 20 minutes of pure rock greatness. I may just pop this whole DVD in today, but for now, I leave you with the greatest moment.

Bohemian Rhapsody/Radio Gaga - Queen (live at Live Aid, 7/13/85)

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Midvale School For the Gifted

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    "So I walk like I'm on a mission, 'cuz that's the way I groove. I've got more and more to do, I've got less and less to prove. It took me too long to realize that I don't take good pictures 'cuz I have the kind of beauty that moves..." Ani D.
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