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Ryan Piurek
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Thursday, June 9, 2005

Live Aid: A defining moment?

JUNE 9, 2005

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Woodstock. The Monterey Pop Festival. The Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

They are regarded as defining moments both in the history of rock 'n' roll and for the generations who experienced them. But what about Live Aid, the charity concert that will celebrate its 20th anniversary next month and has spawned a sequel, Live 8, to be held on July 2? Did Live Aid transcend the actual performances like its predecessors? Does it still resonate like those events?

Perhaps the better, more telling question is: Do you remember where you were during -- Live Aid?

Photo by: IU School of Music

IU music professor Glenn Gass says Live Aid fails to measure up to other legendary moments in rock 'n' roll history.

Print-Quality Photo

Indiana University Professor of Music Glenn Gass, who founded the first for-credit course on the history of rock 'n' roll at any college or conservatory, remembers where he was: frantically videotaping the Philadelphia and London concerts in hopes of having some memorable footage to show his students. He hasn't played clips from Live Aid for many years, though, and he believes the resonance of the event faded long ago, right along with the concert's many one-hit-wonder artists.

"I think (Live Aid) had a staged feel to it and lacked the legendary big moments -- like Jimi Hendrix playing The Star-Spangled Banner -- that have survived as landmark statements that reflected the times and sensibilities of the artists and audience," Gass said. "For better or worse, the cause (famine relief in Ethiopia) fades from view depressingly quickly, and you are left with the concert itself. You simply don't see much footage from Live Aid on the rock documentaries. It has not been kept alive the way Woodstock and the Monterey Pop Festival have been.

"Part of that is due to the fact that so many of the artists, especially at Monterey, were young, new and truly explosive," he said. And many of them died early, he added, citing Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Otis Redding. "The new artists who played Live Aid simply haven't grown much in stature, to say the least. The older ones were already elder statesmen by then, and the reaction to them was fawning to the point of embarrassment."

Though Gass commends the charitable impulse behind Live Aid and its performers' willingness to use their popularity for a good cause, he feels the corporate presentation of the event put it in a lesser league than "true moments" like the Beatles' Sullivan debut in 1964, the Monterey Pop Festival, which kicked off 1967's Summer of Love, and 1969's Woodstock concert.

"It shows the difference between 1969 and 1985," Gass said. "The baby boom radical freaks became the core yuppie market for Madison Avenue, with the rock songs and artists from their youth the most immediate emotional tug on the heartstrings -- and purse strings."

Whether the upcoming Live 8 event will measure up to rock's grandest moments remains to be seen. Its purpose is to highlight the problem of global poverty. Bono, lead singer for the rock band U2, has said the concert will be "a defining moment for our generation."

But the original Live Aid didn't quite get there, according to Gass. Blame the packaging and the quality of the music, he said. Blame the changing times, too.

"I suppose Live Aid was a significant uniting event for the first MTV generation, but somehow that lacks a certain romance," he said. "Woodstock seemed like an almost heroic event, not because of the artists, but because it demonstrated just how big the counterculture had become. As Neil Young said, 'it showed just how many of us there were.' What would a similar statement about Live Aid mean? What would 'us' mean in 1985? The unity of the rock audience was long gone by the middle of the Reagan years."

Gass teaches a series of classes that he developed on the history of rock music, as well as a class on the music of the Beatles. He also teaches an overseas study program, "The Beatles in London," which includes lectures, Beatles-related walking tours, subway journeys, bus trips, movies, videos and a six-day trip to Liverpool, England.

To speak to Gass, contact Ryan Piurek, IU Media Relations, at 812-855-5393 or