This blog is about music, my love for it, what is destroying it and what is making it better.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Bob Geldof: Is He Deserving?

A university has the opportunity to honor people by giving them honorary degrees. According to James Freedman, the practice of awarding honorary degrees goes back to 1692 at Harvard University. The University of Southern California continues this tradition by giving honorary degrees to people like Neil Armstrong, Frank Gehry and Robert Zemeckis. Bob Geldof the singer, songwriter, actor and political activist deserves an honorary degree at the University of Southern California. He deserves this honor based on the three motivations that Mike Martin defines in his essay, Meaningful Work.

Craft motives, to quote Mike Martin, are “desires to achieve expertise and desires to achieve technical skill, theoretical understanding and creativity.” He further explains that people experiences satisfaction when they achieve these desires. When they do not achieve these desires they experience shame, regret and guilt. In terms of craft, Bob Geldof is considered to be very accomplished in the music industry. As the music industry is very hard to be successful in, Geldof’s accomplishments are very great.

Bob Geldof’s career began when he joined the band the Boomtown Rats in 1975. The band became a vital part of the punk rock movement of the time. The Rats were very successful in the UK and had nine consecutive singles that made the UK Top 40. This is not easy by any means. Many of these were number one hits. Not only were their singles great but, the Boomtown Rats were also masters of making an album work as a whole. A reviewer from, said about the Boomtown Rats third album, “The Fine Art of Surfacing bursts with florid pop genius, which in turn kept the Boomtown Rats from sounding like other new wave bands that existed at the time.” There most famous single, “I don’t like Mondays” is also on this album. Although they had great success in the United Kingdom, that same level of success could not be replicated in the United States. Many people may claim that in order to be a true success a band must make it in the United States. People opposed to Bob Geldof receiving an honorary degree may point to Bob Geldof and the Boomtown Rats lack of commercial success in the U.S. as a reason not to give him this honor as well as the band not withstanding the test of time. I disagree with these claims on many levels. The University of Southern California states that it does not matter; “whether or not they are widely known by the general public” The University is not giving honorary degrees to people only because they are widely known and resected. A band does not, even if many people claim it a necessity, need to be successful in the United States to be respected. There are many factors that govern a bands commercial success not just the musical skill of the band. Plenty of amazing bands don’t make it in the United States because of factors such as culture, timing, and advertising. As for the Boomtown Rats not having a lasting appeal like such greats as the Rolling Stones who are still listened to today, this is not a valid argument. Music is context based and when the context changes the music people listen to changes. In the future, the context may be suitable for the Boomtown Rats’ music to be listened to again and re-examined.

In 1984, Geldof co-wrote a single with his friend and guitarist Midge Ure. Created for charity, the single featured some of the great musicians of the time under the name, Band Aid. Some of the members of Band Aid were Phil Collins, Bono and Sting. The single, “Do they know it’s Christmas”, became the U.K.’s highest selling single of all time. Organizing and writing single with over 40 artists is no easy feat but, he also did it with less than a day in the recording studio. This takes talent and skill. After the major success of the single, Geldof organized a charity concert that may be one of his greatest achievements. The concert was called Live Aid and was actually two massive concerts held simultaneously one in London and one in Philadelphia. Many bands performed but some notable names were Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, REO Speedwagon and Eric Clapton. The event was a huge success and was watched by an estimated 1.5 billion people worldwide. The concert was also a huge charitable success, raising an estimated 150 million pounds. Geldof also produced other worldwide charity concerts such as NetAid and the more recent Live 8. Both concerts raised money for poverty ridden areas of Africa/Bob Geldof should be praised for his ability to produce such world changing concerts such as Live Aid. Bob Geldof has also shown that he has acting skills. He played the main character in the critically acclaimed film, Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I recently watched the film and I was so moved by it that I watched many scenes over again.

Another aspect that Martin talks about is compensation, which Bob Geldof more than excels in. Compensation can occur in the form of money. Geldof’s wealth was estimated at about 30 million in 2001. This made him the 18th richest broadcaster in the UK. I disagree with Martin in the importance of this part of compensation. I do not believe that the amount of money you are compensated with correlates to how worthy you are to be awarded an honorary degree. Although, money can indicate success, it is not the defining factor. If the Boomtown Rats did not make money, would it make the music any less good? The answer is definitely no. This principle goes both ways. Musicians who make a lot of money are not always considered by the general public to be good. Therefore, although Bob Geldof personally made a lot of money, this does not make him worthy of an honorary degree.

What makes him worthy of an honorary degree is that he raised money for others. The charity singles and the charity concerts have raised hundreds of millions of dollars for charity. Initially, Geldof hoped the charity single, “Do they Know It’s Christmas” would raise 70,000 pounds. The single ended up raising millions of pounds for famine relief in Ethiopia. The Live Aid concert raised about 284 million dollars for charity. The more recent Live 8 concert raised over 5 million dollars for charity. As Mike Martin says, “Compensation motives are not exclusively self-interested. They may be linked to desires to support one’s family or philanthropic desires to obtain resources in order to help others.” The compensation motives that help others are the ones that deserve to be honored. Being rich is not honorable in and of itself. Bob Geldof has been successful in his own right but, the reason he should be honored is because he has used his craft to raise millions of dollars for those in need.

Some people may say that Geldof wanted to help other people in order to help his career and become better known and prestigious. Critics of Bob Geldof will point to the release of his autobiography right after the Live Aid concerts success. The book became a best-seller. He also left the Boomtown Rats after the concert to pursue a solo career. Both of these actions make it appear that the philanthropic concert was more a good career move than an altruistic event. If he did it with the intention of strengthening his career, I believe he would not be a candidate for an honorary degree. The band Chumbawamba even released an album after the band aid single attacking Bob Geldof called, “Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records”. Bob Geldofs intentions could strengthen or hurt his case for an honorary degree but, people can only speculate as to what his intentions were. The queen believed his intentions were good enought to earn him knighthood after producing the concert. My belief is that it was a mixture of philanthropy and self-interest. He has a philanthropic personality, which the many charity singles and concerts he has produced prove. The singles and concerts are extremely hard to produce. Since, Bob Geldof would not earn anything directly from the singles or concerts; I believe his motivation for doing them would be to help others. The Live 8 concert was 8 huge concerts going on around the world. Bob Geldof also managed to bring Pink Floyd back together despite open hatred, yes hatred, between band mates. Someone who was less philanthropic than Bob may have done these difficult things for money compensations. Bob Geldof only did them to help others. I also disagree with people who claim that being philanthropic to gain prestige and money should disqualify him for an honorary degree because it should not matter what his intentions are as long as he is being charitable. His autobiography may have led people to be more philanthropic based on his example.

The last aspect that Martin suggests is important well looking at a potential candidate for an honorary degree is their morals. Martin explains that there are moral caring motives which are, “the desires to promote the good of clients for their sake”. He explains that caring about animals is important if you are a veterinarian. It is not important to musicians to care about the problems in Africa or to do charity. The reason Bob Geldof deserves an honorary degree from USC is that he has made it important, as a musicians, to care about these issues. So much of his professional activities are geared towards helping fix these problems even though his profession does not call for it. His drive to help others even though he does not have to is a fundamental part of the Universities Role and Mission. The statement says, “An extraordinary closeness and willingness to help one another are evident among USC students, alumni, faculty, and staff; indeed, for those within its compass the Trojan Family is a genuinely supportive community.” Bob Geldof already fits this facet of USC. People still concerned about his morals can look to his 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Nomination. Although he did not win, to be nominated is an extremely rare honor. He was also knighted by the queen for his relentless philanthropic efforts.

The issue of integrity can also be raised when looking at a nominee for an honorary degree. Looking at Bob Geldof’s history it would appear that he does not have the integrity needed to be honored so highly. An example of his lack of integrity is a comment he made after becoming an adviser on global poverty to the British Conservative Party and disregarding his allegiance to political parties. He said that he, “would continue to 'shake hands with the devil on my left and the devil on my right,' in order to achieve results.” Doing anything for results displays a lack of integrity. Although, the ends may justify the means in the case of world poverty this does not mean a person should sacrifice their integrity. Although I don’t think Bob Geldof’s integrity is not great, I do not think it should disqualify him from being awarded an honorary degree. First of all, integrity is just one part of the equation. He has shown excellence in craft, compensation and he wants to help people. Geldof may not always do the right thing but he does it for the right reason. Second, Geldof is a rock star and rock stars are not held to the same standard of integrity as normal human beings. Their moral and ethical principles are completely skewed. Bob Geldof should not be held to the same standards of integrity and thus integrity has less weight in the decision to give him an honorary degree. Bob Geldof agrees with me that rock stars should not be looked at as having integrity when he says, “You can't trust politicians. It doesn't matter who makes a political speech. It's all lies... and it applies to any rock star who wants to make a political speech as well.” I do think that he would meet the standards of the USC Code of Ethics which says we should behave, “in a fair and honest manner, and [have] a commitment to respecting the rights and dignity of all persons” Bob Geldof would never go against this although, some of his behavior may be non-traditional.

If Bob Geldof were to give a commencement speech at USC I would hope that it would be for the Annenberg School of Communication. I believe that Geldof’s work is a perfect example of how music can communicate ideas and cause change. In his speech, I would hope Geldof would address how he believes that music is one of the best means of communicating change. More specifically, he would draw on his own experiences and explain how he thinks his music and concerts helped change the world. He would talk about his work with some of the most famous musicians and politicians of our time. Most of all, I believe that he would impart the message that the only way the world will get better is if we work hard together.


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