On "We Are the World: A Year of Giving," a CBS special at 8 tonight on Channel 9, Harry Belafonte talks about the group sing-along that ended the London portion of the Live Aid concert in July. Oh, it was a great moment, according to good old Harry: "72,000 fans joined in a tribute to humanity and to Bob Geldof."
Humanity and Bob Geldof? At least humanity got top billing; was Bob Geldof's agent consulted about that? You might think "humanity" would include Geldof implicitly. Certainly the terminally disheveled lead singer of the Boomtown Rats, organizer of the Live Aid event as well as Band Aid before it, deserves credit for his efforts. And certainly he has received it. Enough, already.
Tonight's special is an irritatingly sloppy patchwork of moments from various fund-raising concerts and recording sessions, from the British Band Aid of a year ago, on. The producers, Ken Kragen and Ken Yates, got out their widdo hatchets and edited the thing so that you don't get enough of Queen, you don't get enough of Mick Jagger and Tina Turner, you don't get anywhere near enough of Madonna, but oh my great Aunt Hazel, do you ever get enough of the Boomtown Rats.
"A funny thing happened to the world in 1985: It cared," Belafonte says with raspy solemnity in his introduction to the program. Later he quotes Geldof as saying Band Aid "made it fashionable to care again." Fashionability, much more than caring, does appear to be what this phenomenon is all about. Once more it is January and Quincy Jones is advising performers participating in the "USA for Africa" recording session ("We Are the World") to "check your ego at the door." Does anybody really think that anybody did?
Footage of the recording session is momentarily appealing; the high-priced chorus broke into a spontaneous performance of Belafonte's antique hit "The Banana Boat Song." He says he can't imagine why. Perhaps it has something to do with the refrain: "Daylight come, and me wan' go home." When it comes to singing the solos that will be folded into the song later through electronic hocus-pocus, the singers are funny little dears in the way they try to out-emote one another.
One proved one's mettle in that regard by closing one's eyes and screaming, which is what Cyndi Lauper does and what Bruce Springsteen does and even what Huey Lewis does. Was Caruso so moved by the sound of his own voice that he closed his eyes while singing? Somehow I doubt it. But Kenny Loggins is that moved by the sound of his. One has to hand it to Patti La Belle; she keeps her eyes open.
Those participating in the various concerts and recordings comprise "our most loved and respected performers," Belafonte says, and that's a slightly bloodcurdling thought -- until the end of the show, when there are a few snippets from the Farm Aid concert. These performers, who included such diverse luminaries as Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Loretta Lynn and B.B. King, seem to be putting so much more into their work than most of the rock stars at the other concerts. There's an earthy authenticity and welcome absence of preening.
The producers might have tried just a few imaginative touches. Phil Collins sang "Against All Odds" in London, then took the Concorde to the United States so he could sing it again in Philadelphia the same day. It would have been interesting to edit these two performances into one, but that didn't occur to those who made this program.
On the other hand, a spokeswoman for Kragen Associates said yesterday that all those who worked on the special, as with those who worked on the concerts and recordings, did so on a voluntary basis. "We're not making any money," she said. CBS paid Kragen a "substantial" license fee for the program and that fee will go to the USA for Africa fund, the spokeswoman said.
A CBS spokeswoman said company policy precludes revealing how much the fee was, even though it is going to charity, and also said that though commercial time has been sold on the broadcast, the total revenues will not equal the fee paid Kragen, so that CBS will not be making a profit from the show. In the face of all this apparent good will and generosity, perhaps it is uncouth to complain.
Still, the special does seem sanctimoniously self-congratulatory and, finally, tiresome. It may be time to reclaim those egos at the door and get on with more traditional modes of fundraising. Daylight come and me wan' be left alone.