Live Aid organizer and activist Bob Geldof isn’t convinced the world will change for the better following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Certainly, it’s already interfered with The Boomtown Rats’ first album in 36 years, Citizens of Boomtown, which came out March 13 – Friday the 13th – just as the world ground to a halt due to the virus.
“The Achilles heel of humanity is its hubris,” said Geldof, the frontman of the late ’70s Dublin rock band best known for such hits as I Don’t Like Mondays and Rat Trap.
“We think that we can dominate everything but nature just comes along and wipes us out. What’s positive is that people understand how fragile we are and they also understand the bravery of all the people who are working to help, things like that. But that will fade over a very short period when we go back to the same old, same old. It’s simply a function of globalization and that’s not going anywhere. “
We caught up with Geldof, 68, down the line from his home.
Where are you today?
Same as I’ve been for the last f—ing month, on the sofa in Kent.
So staying at home isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?
I’m lucky that I can do my job at home. If I feel like it, start doing music, write songs, and I can call the guys, we can chat to each other and stuff. I can fire things down the line and they can work on them, and all of that. Plus, I have a large garden. I’m restricted but in as much as only the length of the garden. But I’m okay. I’ve got my daughters here with their husbands and stuff like that. For me, it’s only a drag. For other people, it’s extremely difficult, it’s extremely worrying.
Your long-established activism has come into play already given you helped British singer Rita Ora come up with a logo (a virus contained within a peace symbol) for the WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund?
I didn’t. She just called me up and she said, she wanted to do ‘x’ and I said, ‘Okay, good.’ And I thought the main important thing is to have a central locating device like a logo, or stuff like that, or some slogan that you can gather round, so we talked that up and that same afternoon she sent me down a picture of herself in that T-shirt and all this stuff with the logo.
Will any good music come out of the post-COVID-19 era?
That’s the function of art. And there will be an awful lot of s–t though, that’s for sure. But there will be a few great songs come out of this because there’s great writers out there. But the rock ‘n’ roll period is over. The song, Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, that’s true. As a musical force it won’t die. But as the central spine of the culture it’s finished. It was the medium where by all moral, social, political, economic, cultural ideas were conveyed or transmitted was through pop music from ’56 to 2000. And then you actually had technological medium and that reduced music to be valueless – you get it for free.
The Boomtown Rats were supposed to be touring Europe but COVID-19 put a stop to all live performances so many artists are doing them online. Would you consider doing that?
No, I barely know how to operate my phone. It doesn’t interest me anyway. It’s the same thing as you know saying, ‘Hey do an acoustic version at a radio station.’ Well, we don’t do folk music. We do rock ‘n’ roll. And that requires, for me anyway, a live audience. That’s when the loop, the complete circle is closed. You come up with a song, you rehearse it, you record it, but it only really breathes when there’s a pair of ears at the other end.
Why did you bother getting The Boomtown Rats back together after 36 years?
I think this band actually only works at times of confusion and chaos, that’s when “the glorious noise” of The Boomtown Rats, as Bono calls it, makes sense. That’s when it has a contemporary resonance as opposed to just being more music as another band.
Will you play in Canada eventually?
I lived in Vancouver for a year back in the day (where he worked for the Georgia Straight weekly newspaper). I would have been more than happy to have spent my life in your country. It was the one country that gave Bob a shot. They couldn’t get their head around the formality of calling me Robert, which sounded too posh, or Geldof, which sounded almost like a third party. So they started calling me Rob or Bob. And they just said ‘Get on with it,’ you know and I did. So really, for that moment on, I got to understand what I was capable of being and doing until the Mounties got me and threw me out. Had the band not started, I had already applied for Canadian citizenship, when I came back to Ireland. That was my escape route. That was my get out of jail free card. So the answer to that question is yes. Now then you have to ask yourself, ‘Will anybody show up to see us?’ (Laughs).