Sunday, December 6, 2009

As A Matter of Fact, They Don't Know It's Christmas.

In 1984, a passle of bedraggled sexually ambiguous pop stars assembled somewhere in London to record a charity record as "Band Aid." Organized by Bob Geldoff (the singer for the Boomtown Rats,) the purpose of the project was to raise money for starving Ethiopians. A noble idea, to be sure, but it is quite possibly the dumbest Christmas song ever recorded.

Don't get me wrong; I like the song. It's a good Christmas pop song, catchy and with the appropriate number of bell-like tones. To this day, when it comes on the radio I go "Oooh! Band Aid!" and turn it up. I seem to recall that at some point, all the radio stations everywhere were supposed to play "Do They Know It's Christmas?" simultaneously. Or maybe that was "We are the World," I can't remember. If I had worked in radio in 1984, I would have pretended to forget it was time to take part in the total unifying Geldoffing of the world. At the appointed moment, I would have played something else; some Nat King Cole, perhaps, or T.Rex's "I Love to Boogie."

I've always wondered if Geldoff (who's been KNIGHTED, for Christ's sake) is very stupid or was very, very high when he penned these lyrics. Maybe they were written in a hurry, so there was no time to really put a lot of thought in to them. Perhaps he scrawled them on the back of a Wimpy's napkin on the way to the studio and the limo driver took a couple of really hard, sharp turns that caused the words to smudge, and so what he really wrote was intelligent and insightful but by the time the napkin got to Boy George and Simon LeBon it was totally illegible and they had to wing it.

At any rate, I was listening to the song and thinking about how dumb it is, and decided it could use some analysis. The first part of the song isn't too bad:
It's Christmas time
There's no need to be afraid.
At Christmas time,
We let in light and we banish shame.
And in our world of plenty
We can spread a smile of joy.
Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time.

Aw, that's nice. Smarmy and saccharin and silly, just as a Christmas song should be. "Throw your arms around the world" puts me in mind of the "I'd like to teach the world to sing..." Coke ad from the 70's. C'mon, everybody! Frankie Goes to Hollywood say, "Buy the world a Coke!"

The next bit is where it starts to go downhill. I think this is the part of the napkin that got wet:
But say a prayer,
Pray for the other ones.
At Christmastime it's hard.
But when you're having fun,
There's a world outside your window
And it's a world of dread and fear,
Where the only water flowing
Is a bitter stream of tears.
And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom.
Well, tonight thank God it's them instead of you.

I get this part; pause in your Christmas debauchery to say a little prayer for all those hapless saps who, to invoke the late Sam Kinison, don't have the sense to move the hell out of the desert. The saps have no water save their own tears, poor buggers, and then there's all those clanging chimes of doom with which to contend. This line always gives me pause. Really, Sir Bob? Clanging chimes of doom? Seems like an attempt to wax poetic gone horribly wrong, although I feel it's a great name for a death metal band. The last line, which I assume is meant to be taken sarcastically, is sung by Bono of U2. My husband has postulated, and I agree, that this is the exact moment where Bono decided he was Jesus Christ.

The dumbest part of the song follows:
And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows
No rain or rivers flow;
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?

Well, no shit, Sherlock. It's AFRICA; even when Africa is not in the midst of a drought it doesn't fucking snow. Well, except the peaks of the mountains, so I reckon if the Ethiopians wanted to feel all Christmassy, they could take a hike up Kilimanjaro. Most importantly, a good number of them DON'T know it's Christmas. People in this part of the world are predominantly Muslim, and although there are some Christians, the starving bush people about whom you are singing probably aren't either. I'd expect their religion probably has a lot to do with ancestor worship and praying to rocks. Even if they weren't hungry, they probably still wouldn't know it was Christmas.

The song finishes:
Here's to you
Raise a glass for everyone
Here's to them
Underneath that burning sun.
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?

Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmastime again.

I get it; take some of your Christmas spirit and send some money to Bob Geldoff so he can buy some food for the starving Africans. A nice gesture, all in all, although 25 years on it's reportedly been largely ineffective, as the corrupt governments of these African nations have a propensity for taking the food aid they receive and reselling it in order to expand their personal wealth. Perhaps a better way to let them know it's Christmas than sending boatloads of rice and powdered milk would be to build them some sustainable irrigation systems and send some agricultural people down there to help improve their farming techniques.

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