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Bob Geldof on the return of the Boomtown Rats amidst ‘confusion and chaos’

Bob Geldof in March 2020. (CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP via Getty Images)
Bob Geldof in March 2020. (CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP via Getty Images)

by Sylvia Jennings

April 02, 2020

Morning Show host Jill Riley has been hopping on the phone every morning to touch base with various musicians locally, nationally, and now globally, about their thoughts in the midst of current events. She got a chance to connect with Bob Geldof, frontman of the Boomtown Rats and political activist known for organizing Live Aid. Geldof shared his thoughts about making music in the face of national or global crisis, as well as his opinions on charity work, how we can raise awareness about important causes in the year 2020, and the role of music within it all.

Where I want to start is in the present. Boomtown Rats have a brand-new record, Citizens of Boomtown. I wonder if you could speak a little bit about the new record and what the inspiration was to make a record after 36 years.

I don't know if it's inspiration. That's what bands do; they make records. I suppose it seems to be now, in retrospect, this band seems to only function well if the noise seems to have a resonance in times of confusion and chaos. When we did regroup, I had made six or seven solo albums in between.

We emerged at a time of great political and economic chaos. For example, in the U.K., inflation was 27%. In 1975-76, New York City was bankrupt. The police weren't policing. The firemen weren't answering calls. You couldn't hardly drive in the city. Gerald Ford, the President, said on television, "drop dead, New York City." In Ireland, where we came from, the island was in a state of civil war, especially in the north with 3,600 people murdered, an utterly corrupt government, a filthily corrupt church, and a zero economy.

This emerging generation had no future whatsoever, so of course you're going to get the Sex Pistols in London. Of course you're going to get the Ramones, Patti Smith, and Blondie in New York. Of course you're going to get the Boomtown Rats in Dublin, Ireland. We didn't know each other existed, but all of us played very loud and very fast, but for what reason? I suppose to make a noise. That was the only option, and in making a noise you seek to change your own life. In making a noise then you help to change your country a bit. By having, in our case, hit after hit after hit you help to change the music. Then with Band Aid and Live Aid, you help to change the world a little bit.

That all happens within a ten-year period, and then there's a new generation with different things to talk about and some political and economic stability. We were kind of, I suppose, not relevant then. You sense that and feel it and so you park yourself. Then you go forward, and in 2008 the world collapses from a new technological economy. Countries are humiliated. Millions are unemployed. Thousands commit suicide, and wars erupt as a result. Millions seek to flee the terrors of the wars, and more millions seek to get unemployment. We throw up walls, barriers, barbed wire, and oceans into which these refugees can drown. Then we elect fools to mediate this chaos. Meanwhile, there is the Brexit situation in the U.K., which I lived through. Then we have a global pandemic.

The Rats come around again during this time because it just seems to make sense that those songs and that noise have a contemporary resonance, so you make new music to go along with that.

You mentioned this global pandemic. Can I get some more of your thoughts about what you are seeing specifically in the U.K.? 

Same as everywhere else. Lockdown. People making do. A sense of individual responsibility married to a social conscience. An awareness of the fragility of being human. Governments acting too slow, making the wrong decisions in the heat of the crisis, but any government would do that. People imagining that we will all learn from this and we'll emerge better, but that's nonsense. We won't. We'll just go back to where we were.

Do you think we live in an era now where something like that can happen, with artists and musicians coming together to raise more awareness and to raise money for those who are struggling? Do you think that can happen in the year 2020?

It happens all the time. It just doesn't have the same resonance as Live Aid, and that's for very specific reasons. For example, Live Aid was 1,000 times bigger, with millions or billions more in the audience. Literally a thousand artists. A million people in the streets of Philadelphia. 3.2 billion watching live across the world. For politics, the objective was to get the G8 to move, and really push the needle, which they did. People don't remember that, and that's because the world had changed, even though it was successful.

I'm not particularly interested in charity, to be honest with you. It's critical that we do it. Not to do it, would be to pass someone by who's hurt and ignore it. Something inside will whither and die. A million people decide to help someone, then that's political, because politics are all about numbers, and that's where things change. That's where I'm at.

I still work every single day on Band Aid, still working in Africa, but the big concert's time is over because rock and roll is over. We no longer convey ideas through pop music anymore. That turned out to be a 50-year cultural pop, from 1956 to 2000. Google decided that they'll utilize the digital exhaust of everybody on their service. That's when things stopped. That's when music ceased to be the central spine of the culture that it was in my time, where every single idea — moral, cultural, social, economic, political — was transmitted, translated, and mediated through music.

Now music is valueless because it's free. It's ubiquitous. It's all the time, everywhere, and you can have 90,000 songs on your device so there's nothing special about it. The music itself is excellent. The musicians are superb. The songs are great, but it is music really in effect with the same effect as the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s. It accompanies your life. It doesn't determine or help steer your life, or put your life into perspective. It's a different function now. You've got to look for music to do different things. Anything that does happen that will raise awareness, will happen through the web.

I know that you guys were planning a spring tour, but I'm sure that is all on hold right now.

Don't even talk about it. I'm so sick of it. I'm lucky. I've got a big garden here. I can do my job at home. I can play the guitar, write tunes, and send them off to the other guys in the band. We can do all sorts of stuff. I just feel sorry for all those folks who are cooped up at home trying to make it through.

Also a book out there, Tales of Boomtown Glory...and possibly a documentary I've heard about?

Yeah, it's a two hour film, and it's going out on BBC in a couple of weeks. We had the world premiere in Dublin about four weeks ago at the Dublin Film Festival. The president of Ireland came, U2 came, everybody Irish showed up. It's a good film. Even though I'm in it, it's interesting.

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This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.