Number 24 / May 1985:
WIN TO EAT...."We Are the World" has become a self-fulfilling song title, as the records and attendant spinoffs sell as fast as stores can stock them. The album and single are both number 1, with the single at quadruple platinum and a sure bet to become the all-time best-seller soon. The phenomenon isn't limited to America, as the single is either number 1 or on its way there in countries as diverse as England, Japan (where it's the only record prominently displayed in the stores), Italy, and Australia. In Canada, the path to number 1 is blocked by "Tears Are Not Enough," the famine relief record made by Canadian musicians.
As the U.S.A. for Africa juggernaut speeds across the world, it's leaving quite a wake. There are hunger relief records forthcoming by Latin musicians, doo-woppers, country artists, gospel singers, an oldies assemblage (Chiffons, Drifters, Del-Vikings), Welsh marching band musicians, British reggae artists, and heavy metalists led by Ronnie James Dio.
This isn't being accomplished without some resistance. In England, three of the largest record store chains refused to carry "We Are the World," claiming they'd "done enough" handling the Band Aid single on a nonprofit basis. Two of them relented, but only when CBS dropped the wholesale price 10 percent. Bob Geldof, the musician who was the driving force behind the British Band Aid single at Christmas time, had planned an all-star concert for July in London's Wembley Arena with a global satellite broadcast. But that plan went down the tubes, allegedly because the hall management would not forego its rental fee.
The hunger relief "movement" is exposing the best and the worst in the music business for all to see. While the rock press continues to peddle its slander about apathetic fans and performers, most of us are out buying (or making) records and sweatshirts to help the people the media says we don't care about. Nor is this just another music business charity project, as RRC has erroneously tended to characterize U.S.A. for Africa in past issues.
"We Are the World" is part of a profoundly political process, whether or not its participants are aware of it. In 1984, U.S. representatives to international financial institutions such as the World Bank vetoed loans to Ethiopia on at least four separate occasions. These loans would have paid for agricultural development and other infrastructure projects, precisely the type of undertaking that U.S.A. for Africa and others have committed themselves to fund. So Geldof, who has always been extremely critical of Western governments' refusal to alleviate world hunger, and artists such as Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan, who certainly haven't made those criticisms, find themselves working cooperatively to undo the damage done by the likes of the World Bank. In the face of the overwhelming popularity of "We Are the World," the U.S. government has been forced to try to cover up its complicity in African famine. Which is why America was recently treated to the disgusting spectacle of Ronald Reagan congratulating the NBA Players Association in the Rose Garden for its role in raising funds for Ethiopian relief.
Nor is it a coincidence that musicians and basketball players have been the only groups of celebrities to work consistently around famine. While neither the musicians featured on "We Are the World" or NBA players are in any danger of missing a meal, they, more than any other groups in the pop culture pantheon, come from the bottom of American society, where increasing malnourishment is inexorably setting the stage for domestic starvation. In putting aside 10 percent of the revenue from "We Are the World" for hunger relief in America, musicians are not only indicating the international dimensions of the problem, they're also making an important statement about their roots.
While we're glad to see so many different types of music represented in the aftermath of "We Are the World," we're disturbed to see the genre lines being so quickly reestablished (Latin, country, heavy metal). What was so exciting about the record (and the video) was seeing the likes of Bob Dylan, Dionne Warwicke, Stevie Wonder, and Willie Nelson doing their best singing in years together. We hope that the resegregation is just a flanking move that will thoroughly penetrate the consciousness of the American public in its particular segments, and not a retreat to the circled wagons philosophy that still plagues pop music.
Finally, while Lionel Richie and Co. have done their job as artists in using their high visibility to call attention to the problem, it is up to us--the average citizen in factory, office, or neighborhood--to organize across every barrier of color, sex, and musical style to finish the job, to provide the muscle to face down the bully our musicians have confronted. After all, we are the world.
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