When I was a kid in the 80’s I was obsessed with music. The music of the late 70’s and early 80’s shaped my perspective in many ways. A Very Special Christmas, a compilation of covers to benefit the Special Olympics was a must every Christmas for a few years there. I loved hearing the likes of the Pretenders and Sting update Christmas classics and add their own spin. When I grew up and worked in a corporate office, they never played Bruce Springstein or the Pointer Sisters on the, all Christmas, all the time – radio stations allowed at work. As a result I started to really dislike Christmas music. I recently found A Very Special Christmas vols 1, 2 and 3 in my i tunes collection and have been revisiting them along with other great songs from the 80’s into the 90’s that got it right.
One of my favorite songs of the time got it less right, “Do They Know its Christmas Time” by the aptly named British ‘Mega Music Coalition’ – Band Aid. Apartheid may have been going strong in South Africa while I was 15 and sitting on my couch watching Beverly Hills, 90210, but in truth the song is a kind of horrible singular vision of all of Africa as victim. The pop goodness of this song is so great that no one I have ever pointed this out to has realized what they were singing along to before. Sadly that wicked good hook is what makes it so damn bad:
It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid
At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty, we can spread a smile of joy!
Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time (all for it)
But say a prayer – pray for the other ones (Other Ones?)
At Christmas time, it’s hard, but when you’re having fun (hard to think of others?)
There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dreaded fear
Where the only water flowing is a bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom (this whole area here, total bummer as intended)
Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you (plain not nice…)
And there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas time (You could say the same for L.A.)
The greatest gift they’ll get this year is life (won’t we all)
Where nothing ever grows (If and where there is famine…)
No rain or rivers flow (In war torn Ethiopia/Etria where the drought and famine was)
Do they know it’s Christmas time at all??” (Christianity is one of the largest areas of faith throughout Africa )
Let me repeat “And tonight thank God it’s them instead of you!” – The booming lick Bono sings so vehemently. I get the intent, and the urgency but dumbing down issues for people doesn’t make a lasting impression outside of a good hook on a great pop song. Did no ONE say to Bob Geldof and Midge Ure at any point during writing and recording this song uh, might be a bit condescending…? Lastly I feel very strongly that Africa could at any point be replaced with L.A. and no one would blink. We too suffer from drought and large scale pre-conceived notions.
I make fun and light of the song with some affection but here is a link to a site that will actually give you some more insight into the diversity of contemporary African people, and the geography so that you too can banish the stereotypes propagated in this catchy number.
Being that I will unconsciously sing along with it no matter how naively simple it paints both it’s benefactors and it’s listeners, I have opted to leave it off this lovely holiday playlist I made just for you!
May you be surrounded by loved and loving ones and good music! Merry Christmas Babies!