Archive - Jul 1, 2005

Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records

David Stubbs, reviews editor of The Wire music magazine weighs in on the BBC News site with a sharply critical editorial about the upcoming Live 8 fame-famine-fest coming up next week.

Absolutely right, David, thank you, and thank you BBC for publishing this. Just before I found Stubbs' editorial I was reading a BBC article about Live 8, and thinking back to Live Aid (I was 15 at the time - just think, a lot of young activists and music fans today weren't even born yet), and I was also thinking of the first album of one of my favorite bands, Chumbawamba. The album came out in 1986 , shortly after Live Aid, and was called Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records. It was a concept album criticising Live Aid, Bob Geldof's first global guilt gala that featured dozens of pop stars from around the global north singing "We are the world" and was the predecessor of Live 8. (Of course back then I was nowhere near "aware" enough to offer an analysis of culture and geopolitics like that of Chumbawamba - I had still 5 years or so to go in 1986 before I even found out about them. At the time I did have contempt for most of the bands playing at Live Aid, but only on aesthetic grounds, though I cheered for Peter Gabriel and wept as I watched him on TV sing his song about murdered, black, South African activist Stephen Biko. Admitedly I still have great artistic and political respect for Gabriel, but that doesn't change the point that I'm trying to make here.)

Because it's still so true and so relevant today, I've uploaded an mp3 of the first song on that Chumbawamba album, "How To Get Your Band On Television". Some of the excellent lyrics:

David Bowie - The Price Is Right!
A suitful of compassion and a gobful of shite
Still the voices of those who doubt
Coca-Cola for the peasants to end this drought

Jagger and Richards - Game For A Laugh!
Dancing us down the garden path
To a place where money grows on trees
Where cocaine habits are financed by hunger & disease

(Ask the puppet-masters who pull the strings
"Who makes the money when the puppets sing?"
Ask the corporations "Where does the money go?"
Ask the empty bellied children "What are we singing for?")


...Ladies and Gentlemen, just imagine it - Someone comes along, takes everything you own, your space, your house; separates you from your family: and then hits you in the face if you say anything different. Well, that's what we've been doing to the Third World for the past 400 years. That's YOU and ME. You and the viewers at home, me in the studio, the pop stars, everyone. That's how we make the Third World, today and every day. [emphasis added]

These charity concerts get guilty Northern white folks together for a brief moment, give them the illusion that they're helping, get them excited, but then ultimately do nothing. They ultimately do not challenge the status quo, or even educate the crowds of adoring fans about the orgins of the status quo, or question how it is that all these blonde rich kids can afford to pay 50 pounds for a ticket to the concert when billions in the global south don't earn 50 pounds in a month, don't earn even what it costs to provide enough calories for their families. As Stubbs says of the pop icons assembled for Live 8, at the end of his article, "These people will not solve the problem. They are the problem."

I know there must be more
Than giving just a little bit more
When half of this world is so helplessly poor
Starved of a real solution -
Only charity and tradition
And the cycle of hungry children
Will keep on going round...


This morning I woke up to the smell of fresh air and the sound of birds and breeze, coming in the open windows. This is rare here, Iowa summers are such that if folks have air conditioning, they keep it on and the house sealed up, June through August or so. But last night it was wonderfully cool and we opened up the house. It's great to have that impermeable membrane with the outdoors become permeable.

Lago de Atitlan - 15Anyway I woke up and was thinking a little bit, a little sadly, about all the great bicycle culture I have been missing in Portland. Perhaps the cool, dry breeze reminded me of Portland and riding its streets at dusk. Suddenly I was then reminded of the glimpse of Mexico City bike culture that I got, the night I gave my talk at the H4TCH gallery. After my presentation we were sitting out on the front steps, me and about a dozen of the people who'd attended, talking about art and politics and things, and I saw out the front gate about 100 bicyclists ride by on the street, followed shortly but patiently by a police car. It was like a critical mass! But it wasn't friday and it wasn't the end of the month, either. I asked what it was and it was explained to me that they are a group called the 'bicitekas,' and they ride every 2 weeks or so, very similar to Critical Mass, though it sounded like they were a little less confrontational. I was told that a Mexico City CM was tried before and was supressed, but somehow, this biciteka thing keeps going. 100 riders every 2 weeks?! Si, mas o menos. Wow! Cool! Chido!