TODAY -

All about understanding Bob Geldof

Jyaneswar Laishram *

Bob Geldof in 1987
Bob Geldof in 1987



Bob Geldof! He recently hit the news headlines for calling Aung San Suu Kyi 'a handmaiden to genocide'; and he returned his 'Freedom of the City of Dublin' award. He did it all in protest over the Myanmar leader's accomplice to the recent ethnic cleansing in her country that resulted in the genocide and fleeing of 600,000 Rohingya Muslims from their homes in Rakhine State to neighbouring Bangladesh where they live in pathetic makeshift refugee camps today.

In his protest, Bob said straight he didn't want to be on a very select roll of wonderful people with a killer. In this, many of my friends, who know little or nothing about 'Bob Geldof', argued who the hell is he who is talking too harsh against Aung San Suu Kyi, long seen as a champion of human rights. These friends of mind are neither Pink Floyd fans nor rights activists. "Google search it" I suggested them. They did and showed me a page-full of things about Bob Geldof from Wikipedia— an Irish musician, activist, founder of Live-8, so on.

I told them there is something more about Bob Geldof that Google couldn't search. I narrated them Bob Geldof is a born musician and philanthropist. His idea of music is very intrinsic. When he formed his punk rock band The Boomtown Rats it was very clear to him they would sound something different and real. Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy, who was also from his hometown Dublin, was helpful to him in finding a launch pad in London. Inspired by Lou Reed style, Delta blues sound and some other things like that, The Boomtown Rats attempted for a dynamic and different sound without directly copying from others. They wanted to go back to the basics of the sixties, making out their own direction from there.

On a whole, it was overtly Pink Floyd's 1979 rock opera film The Wall that introduced Bob Geldof to me and many of my rock inclined friends. In the film he played the grown-up version of the boy 'Pink' whose father was killed in the war (Second World War). His childhood was filled with oppression of his overprotective mother at home and abusive teachers at school, then continued with a breakdown marriage and drug abuse in adulthood—all contributed to his self-imposed isolation from the society represented to him as a 'wall' metaphorically.

After that, it was his autobiography Is That It?— which critics call a life history of an unusual life—that brought unfold to me a complete chapter of Bob Geldof's life. The book bared everything about him, who is direct, loud-mouthed, button-holing, obscene, compassionate and compelling. Many mistakenly call Bob a musician-turned activist; but the activism in him was born before his love for rock music. He started thinking in an altruistic way to help needy people, as early as in his teens. Let me relate this to some anecdotes from his autobiography.

The author's copy of 'Is That It'
The author's copy of 'Is That It'



Bob's home was where he and his like-minded friends gathered for talks and music. He talked a lot.

Most of his friends said his house wasn't like theirs for there was more freedom, they could do things there they couldn't in their own, because of their parents. But whenever Bob's father was around he insisted to tell his son to change the way he talked for all the shouting. He would provoke it, not for the conversation value, but simply to tease and irritate his son. Most of that time his father opposed to the ideas Bob held true and argued for. One evening he was broke down and crying out of sheer frustration and rage because he couldn't articulate what he wanted to say.

When he was getting tired of sterile argument and protest politics, he decided to understand more and get involved. It was when he began going to the Simon Community, a group of people who took care of the drunks and homeless in Dublin. He joined the group's activity simply preparing soup for the needy people at night. His team would fill flasks hot water and collect fresh breads from the bakeries who liked to help. It was the time Bob came to know firsthand about people who were suffering. But what seemed to him intolerable privations however appeared unnecessary to many in the wealthy section.

Mary was a woman in her early fifties—a tattered and kind woman. She wore a torn knitted woolly hat, a couple of dresses, woolen socks and a dirty beige coat. She lived in a doorway near his house. Bob talked to her for a long time every night, sitting on the doorstep, while she curled up herself inside the porch. He felt disgusting how the owner of the house would step over the poor lady every night and shut the door. "Ah, he's a lovely man," Mary often said. 'Lovely' was what Bob couldn't digest as he was plainly a juvenile Marxist. Though not so 'lovely' it was true the man wasn't bad as he let the woman live on his doorway, while others shooed her off.

Bob brought Mary a blanket one day. He offered her soup at nights. She wasn't ashamed of taking it, but he was ashamed of leaving her there in the depth of freezing winter lying on the tile porch with the lights on inside the house. He said it's not fair to simply blame the governments alone for that. His idea was for everyone to rediscover a sense of individual responsibility for each other. That's why he liked the Simons and continued to help the underprivileged across the globe, using rock music as a voice. Bob never mentioned it, but his song Mary Says sounds something related to poor Mary of the cold winter nights.

It was in September 1981 Bob first performed for a cause at Amnesty International's show 'The Secret Policeman's Other Ball'. His song Do They Know It's Christmas? was written to raise fund for the 1984 famine in Ethiopia; it was recorded by various artists under the brand Band Aid, which subsequently gave birth to Live Aid concert in the following year.

On his visit to Africa in 2004 Bob came to know that more people in the continent were at risk of starvation than had died during the Ethiopian famine. He thus decided to form a new international lobby for Africa with eight international fund-raising concerts under the banner Live 8, with a stark objective to give pressure on the G8 (the inter-governmental political forum of the world's eight major highly industrialised economies).

The Live 8 gigs were scheduled a few days before the world leaders gathered at Gleneagles for the G8 Economics Summit, pulling the attention of the leaders of rich nations towards the issues that burdened Africa—AIDS, hunger, government debts, trade disparities and many others. It was at one of the gigs Pink Floyd performed in original lineup, which brought back Roger Waters into, after a gap of 24 years.

This is how Bob helped the people across the world. His antagonism against Aung San Suu Kyi, who was also given the Freedom of the City of Dublin, is that the Myanmar leader's association with his very own city ashamed him. "There is always a true feeling in everything Bob did or said, which I simply can't ignore," I conclusively told my friends.


* Jyaneswar Laishram wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at ozzyjane(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on December 14, 2017.


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