AC/DC's lead singer Brian Johnson gave an interview in Australia where he stood up and criticized both Sir Bob Geldof and Bono for the unforgivable sin of trying to make the world a better place and for helping those less fortunate than themselves. Or Brian, for that matter.
Certainly, Brian has a right to make his opinion, however, moronic it may be.
Any grown man willing to share a stage with a man in his 60s dressed as a school boy has more courage than most. Any man who, at the age of 62, can still claim to being knocked out by American thighs might also be worthy of respect on some levels.
However, when it comes to criticizing celebrities who stand up for causes and charities and especially when it comes to criticizing Geldof and Bono, Brian Johnson proves to be as ignorant as those music critics who don't recognize "Back In The Black" as a truly great song.
Johnson, the gravel-voiced British singer of Australia's biggest rock band, has joined a growing group of critics of Geldof and the U2 singer over their very public charity work, saying they should stop lecturing audiences about charity work and instead do their good deeds in private.
I believe just the opposite.
I believe that of whom much is given, much is expected. In fact, I have great admiration for those whom life has blessed who remain not silent and private with their charity, but willing to stand up for what they believe in although when they do so, they are criticized by those who are unwilling to do so.
Namely, overweight, aging rock stars who are more than willing to scream for a multi-million dollar paycheck, but god forbid, not actually speak out for someone else.
It is true that many of those who are blessed in life financially do their good deeds in private. Virtually every major fundraising campaign for a good cause, a new hospital wing, or a children's center, has a major donor by the name of Anonymous, and Anonymous is a powerful force of good in the word.
However, we live in a world where Anonymous only goes so far. There are two types of celebrity spokespeople I see in my work. The first is the celebrity who is willing to stand up for a cause and speak out in public. On the two presidential campaigns I have worked on, I've discovered a basic fact:
Celebrities draw crowds.
No, Mr. Johnson might not be aware of this fact, but perhaps now that he is, he will reconsider his remarks.
I personally have asked, begged, pleaded and groveled to have celebrities show up for a number of causes and events. While Mr. Johnson presumably has been writing large checks in private, I have watched Larry David crack a synagogue up in South Florida on a Friday night when I assure you, he would have much rather been far, far away. I have seen what happens when Bruce Springsteen shows up for a free concert. I assure you, it works.
Think of what Mia Farrow has done to bring attention to Darfur (along with George Clooney and others.) Think of the good she has done for thousands of people.
Or, if you wish, think of the $57 million dollars that was raised recently by the Haiti telethon. I am sure that Mr. Johnson has written a sizable check to the Haiti relief -- after all, just three AC/DC shows in the US recently grossed almost $6 million.
But using Mr. Johnson's logic, and I quote:
"Do a charity gig, fair enough, but not on worldwide television."
Right. Because Lord knows, what are those poor people in Haiti going to do with $57,000,000 in aid. What a huge mistake Wyclef Jean and all those involved. Don't they understand that a single show, held I presume without advertising, behind closed doors would have been so much smarter?
The second issue I have with Mr. Johnson's attacks is far more basic.
The two celebrities he called out are actually two of the celebrities who actually know what they are talking about. The reason that Bono and Sir Bob Geldof have been successful is because they have learned the issue of aid to Africa inside out. And actually, do some of their best work in private.
Like other celebrities, think Leonardo DiCaprio with the environment, Geldof and Bono can show up at government conferences, or in Washington, and while their celeb status most definitely opens the door, it's their ability to speak about the issue and understand the true challenges of the issue that keeps the door open.
For example, a few years Bono went to Washington in search of promised mosquito nets that will save lives in Africa.
Mosquito nets, not the sexiest topic. Washington, not the best city in the world. Bono went around the Capitol talking to whomever he could to find out what happened to the promised mosquito nets. Disappointed, he was quoted.
"I don't know who to blame. Democrats are blaming Republicans. Republicans are blaming Democrats. But the million people who were expecting (mosquito) bed nets don't know who to blame. They just know that a promise made by the United States to keep their families safe is in danger of being broken next year."
Finally, I have two more thoughts, and they surround Mr. Johnson's considerable pride that he and his band were smart enough to opt out of Live Aid, some twenty-five years ago, meaning clearly that Mr. Johnson's determination to do as little as possible to help the world is not a new found sentiment.
"AC/DC were asked to play at the Live Aid concert in 1985, but turned down the chance to play at the charity event, which raised an estimated £100 million for famine relief and made an international celebrity activist out of Geldof."
He did what he though was right at the time but it didn't work," Johnson said of Geldof's Live Aid concert.
In this instance, Mr. Johnson is both wrong and right.
Wrong in that Live Aid did deliver aid to Africa. According to one of the leading Catholic Charities in Ireland:
From the proceeds of the first single alone, Band Aid organised seven emergency flights and three ships to Africa. Included in the contents were six trucks, twenty-two land rovers, eight land cruisers, eighteen water tankers, twenty three hospital tents, one hundred and forty tons of high energy biscuits, one thousand two hundred and forty tons of dried skim milk powder, twenty five tons of full cream milk powder, two tons of gold top milk, fifty two tons of medical supplies, five hundred and ten tons of vegetable oil, four hundred and fifty tons of sugar, one thousand tons of grain, fifty two tons of reinforced plastic sheeting and ten tons of cooking and eating utensils. All of this amounted to real, practical, immediate and badly needed humanitarian aid.
He is right in that Live Aid was not the full rescue for Africa that some of the artists hoped for. And, in fact, it launched some of them, primarily Bono, on a journey to understand what was happening in Africa.
Some twenty-five years later, Sir Bob Geldof and Bono are still on that journey. Still looking for ways to help, Bono's venture with Bobby Shriver, (PRODUCT) RED has raised over $140 million to help fight AIDS in Africa. $140,000,000 is a lot of money, and that project alone has saved thousands of lives.
Twenty-five years of working and helping others. Twenty-five years of saying, no, I will not be silent. Ironically, I saw Live Aid from a pub in Dublin all those years ago, and the pub, full of working men and women that Mr. Johnson claims to speak for, roared when U2 came on. That moment was part of my journey to help. And I am sure that day inspired people around the world to help. By the way, according to CNN, Live Aid remains, after Princess's Di's funeral, the second most-watched television event.
I presume Mr. Johnson was too busy to join the 1.7 billion people around the world who tuned in that day. Ironic too, that that event was topped only the funeral of a woman who like Mr. Johnson's two antagonists, saw injustice and inequity in the world. and chose not to remain silent. Not to remain private, but to speak up.
In fact, many within the AIDS community believe the moment when Princess Di held a child with AIDS in her arms did more to eradicate prejudice against those suffering with the disease than any other single moment.
Perhaps Mr. Johnson holds his views because he has never seen what is happening in Africa, or in any other part of the world. His band's latest tour managed to hit the comfortable cities but avoided the entire continent of Africa. Surely, with a two year world tour, they could have managed to have a private concert somewhere in an entire continent that needs so much help. Imagine if they could have done a show that brought in the $2 million plus their single show in Mexico brought in. With retroviral drugs now well under a dollar a day, that would have saved the lives of thousands of people suffering in Africa. Oh well. Maybe next time, Brian.
Finally, there is one more simple point that Mr. Johnson's misses. A remarkable achievement for such a simple man.
"When I was a working man I didn't want to go to a concert for some bastard to talk down to me that I should be thinking of some kid in Africa."
I took my ten-year-old son to his first concert this past fall, U2 in Boston. He loved the spaceship stage. He recognized many of the songs, both he and his sister do a great version of "Still Haven't Found What I Am Looking For." I don't recall being talked down to about some kid in Africa, but there was a moment I recall.
When the band played "Walk On" they invited audience members to walk with masks of Aung San Suu Kyi. And her face showed on the screen.
"Who is she?" he asked.
"She's a woman under house arrest in Burma, she was elected to lead the country but the military put her in jail." I replied. "It's been over a decade." He knows his grandfather, my father, worked in Burma for the State Department decades ago.
At this point Bono said something like, "'this is when we reach out from here to Burma, from here to Aung San Suu Kyi."
"Do you think she can hear us?" he asked as the song echoed.
"I don't know Oliver, but we have to try."
I am proud that my company is part of the team that works on (PRODUCT) RED. Unlike Mr. Johnson, I am all for saving the lives of those less fortunate through any means possible. The Global Fund awaits your check, Mr. Johnson.
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