As my Loyal Readers no doubt recall, I wasn’t overly keen on Mad Max Fury Road, a position that put me at odds with many friends as well as much of the Internet in general. My biggest issue with the film — aside from my utter boredom with Tom Hardy in the title role — was that I found it too over the top compared to the (relative) plausibility of the original Max films starring Mel Gibson.
However, every film buff knows that music has a tremendous influence over how an audience responds to the images on the screen. The marriage of the visual with the proper musical selection can raise a lump in your throat, coax the tears from your eyes, chill you to your core, or lift your heart all the way to heaven. A good film score can make the mundane soar… or the outrageous seem entirely natural. For example, witness how much better Fury Road would’ve worked with a, ahem, somewhat different soundtrack:
Tip of the chrome-studded leather hat to HeavyMetal.com… yes, that Heavy Metal, or at least the magazine it was based on, now living online like all the other detritus from my misspent youth…
Live Aid has been called my generation’s Woodstock — Joan Baez herself made the comparison when she took the stage in Philadelphia to kick off the U.S. half of the show — but I wonder if the globe-spanning charity concert really had that same level of cultural impact. I suspect the name “Woodstock” would still mean something to kids today, two generations removed from that epochal event, but would those same kids recognize the words “Live Aid?” I just don’t know. As big a deal as it was at the time, I haven’t heard much about it in the intervening years, at least not until today, its 30th anniversary.
Ah, but thirty years ago today, I was fifteen years old, and Live Aid was just about the coolest thing that I’d ever seen, aside from Star Wars and the space shuttle: a day-long concert taking place simultaneously in two separate venues on two different continents, broadcast live on multiple television networks to a globe-spanning audience of over a billion people, all in the name of charity. I didn’t watch all sixteen hours of it, of course. As I recall, the TV was on all day while I was in and out of the room, going about my lazy summertime routines, and I would stop from time to time when one act or another caught my attention. But even though I wasn’t giving it my full attention, just having the event playing in the background made me feel as if I were… connected… a participant in something of tremendous significance, something bigger than myself. I was a witness to history. Or so it seemed at the time. It could that I was just a 15-year-old music fan who was blown away by the line-up of stars marching across the stages in London and Philadelphia. You can see some of them in the poster above, although that’s not a comprehensive listing. Basically, anyone who was anyone was there, either at Wembley or JFK Stadium.
My main man Rick Springfield, for example:
And then there was Phil Collins, who appeared on both stages, thanks to a supersonic hop across the pond aboard the late, lamented Concorde:
Yes, the ’80s were a very different time, and a lot more things seemed possible then. Even a Led Zeppelin reunion, probably the highlight of the whole day for me:
The mighty Zep had disbanded only five years before Live Aid, but this reunion performance nevertheless felt like something that had been a long time coming, as if the gods of legend had returned briefly from Olympus long enough to remind we puny mortals that the Earth had once been theirs, before vanishing again into realms beyond our ken. The fact that their performance was widely panned by the critics, and even by the surviving band members themselves (who refused to allow its inclusion in the official DVD set released a while back because they’re embarrassed by it), didn’t change the momentous atmosphere that surrounded it.
And that, I suppose, is a handy metaphor for the entire event. Looking back at Live Aid across a chasm of thirty years, I honestly have no idea whether it ultimately mattered, or did anything to help the people it was supposed to help. But at the time, we believed it would help. We really did, all of us who watched. And that was what made Live Aid such a big deal. That simple, naive faith that the world could be united by music to do something good felt… momentous. Sadly, though, it was fleeting. I can’t imagine a similar event happening today, for a lot of different reasons, but mostly because people just don’t have the right attitudes anymore. It’s not that we no longer feel compassion, but rather because, as a society, we just don’t have the same optimism we did then. About anything. So in that regard, I guess I really was a part of a historic event… or at least, of history. Because while it’s difficult to believe 30 years have passed, that optimistic world of 1985 seems as remote to me now as the one where men wore powdered wigs and velvet breeches.
Oh, wait. They did that in the 1980s, didn’t they? Some of them, anyhow. Well, you know what I mean…
I don’t generally enjoy so-called “hard” science fiction, i.e., that subcategory of SF that insists upon scientific accuracy and devotes a lot of time to talking about it. Not that I’m not interested in science, of course. But when it comes to fiction, I’m more of a “warp-drive-and-ray-guns” kind of guy. So I consider it quite a noteworthy accomplishment that Andy Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, not only makes descriptions of chemical processes and engineering problems integral to the plot, but downright gripping as well. Weir accomplishes this by telling the story mostly through the first-person voice of Mark Watney, an astronaut who’s been left behind on Mars after an accident that results in his crew mistakenly believing him to be dead. Watney’s a smart guy, but he’s also an incredible smart-ass, and his frequent wisecracks, childish vulgarity, and gallows humor leavens the logical puzzles he needs to work out in order to survive in a place that is utterly inhospitable to life.
This is an incredible adventure tale that reads like a dramatization of real events. But it’s also a richly human story that evokes the fear, wonder, loneliness, courage, nobility, and above all the danger of manned space exploration. And it’s frequently a very funny book as well… I literally laughed out loud a number of times while reading it. (I was especially amused by the running gag involving disco music.) The time setting is somewhat indeterminate — the book never specifies what year it takes place in, but it must be sometime relatively soon, because an important plot point involves the expertise of people who were operating Mars probes in the 1990s, and of course there is the enduring appeal of 1970s pop culture. Also, none of the technology described is terribly futuristic, all of which contributes to a sense that it could be happening right now. Indeed, the descriptions of how a Mars mission could actually, logistically, take place are so convincing that I don’t know why NASA isn’t already doing it as I type this. (Okay, I do know; my point is, the book is eminently plausible.)
Beyond the “gee whiz” factor and old-fashioned NASA can-do spirit, however, the thing that keeps you turning the pages at a breathless pace is Mark Watney himself. His victories and setbacks and the final, last-ditch, edge-of-your-seat attempt at a rescue mission are the stuff of an instant classic. And no doubt this story is going to make a great movie, too; it’s already in the can and coming soon to a theater near you, starring Matt Damon as Watney… a perfect choice, in my opinion…