Saturday 21 September 2019

Ganging up on Geldof - for playing the punk

The British establishment has been waiting in the long grass to take down Bob. Get him home and into the Aras, writes Brendan O'Connor

SNAKESKIN SUIT: Bob Geldof has always wanted to be the rock star — and his audience got one in Essex. However, he faced a backlash on social media and in the UK Daily Mail after his comments
SNAKESKIN SUIT: Bob Geldof has always wanted to be the rock star — and his audience got one in Essex. However, he faced a backlash on social media and in the UK Daily Mail after his comments

Brendan O’Connor

Geldof is pretty attached to the snakeskin suit he's been wearing for the Boomtown Rats reunion gigs. I saw one of the first gigs they did at the Marquee in Cork a couple of years ago. They put bands one-third of their age to shame in terms of energy, attitude and, indeed, a back catalogue of fantastic songs.

The word at the time was that Geldof was doing a favour to some of the band who needed the cash. He, obviously, didn't. But obviously it was more than that. Geldof never wanted to be the save the world merchant. He never wanted to be the millionaire media mogul, Sure, he wanted those things. But that wasn't what he really wanted. Geldof really wanted to be a rock star. He wanted people to come and listen to his music. But just as he became Mr Feed The World, that aspect of his life was slowly slipping away, and it would forever more be overshadowed by all the other things Geldof did.

Around the time of Band Aid and Live Aid, The Boomtown Rats released an album called In The Long Grass. It was as good as anything they had done. Singles like Drag Me Down and Dave should have been hits. But it did nothing. Geldof was one of the best known rock stars in the world but he couldn't sell albums. I remember seeing them in the City Hall in Cork on that tour and you could sense his frustration, even as he had buckets passed around for Band Aid, that people were not here because they loved the Rats's new album. They were a legacy band mixed with a celebrity turn. Apart from the die-hard fans, people were there to see the Feed The World guy and to hear Rat Trap and I Don't Like Mondays.

By the Marquee, a couple of years ago, he has made his peace with all that and he seems to be relishing playing the part of a rock star. And he talks a lot about the suit, which is the skin he dons again to be Bobby Boomtown, the sneery guy with the spit flecks coming out of his mouth as he spits his disdain for the bourgeois world.

And Geldof is clearly enjoying revisiting that period, even if he doesn't need the cash. Mainly he seems to be enjoying pointing out how right he was about so many things. How Banana Republic exposed the hypocrisy of the Irish church and state before it all came out in the wash, how even a song like Someone's Looking At You was prescient. And when he puts on the snakeskin suit in homage to rock and roll, Geldof does what he always did, which is to tease and taunt his audience a bit. Because he's a rockstar and they're not. Like Bowie once said. "I'm David Bowie, and you're not."

When you're on the legacy 1980s circuit and many of the people who come to see you are couples on a date night who got a babysitter and went for dinner before the gig, and there are even people who don't need a babysitter anymore, the temptation to poke fun at them must be even worse. But Geldof should never forget that there's always Someone's Looking At You these days, and that someone, whether it be Twitter or the UK Daily Mail, is always waiting to be outraged. And when you berate the crowd for wearing Primark - as Geldof did at the Brentwood Festival in Essex - that might be okay when you are a snotty-nosed youngish lad from Ireland, dealing with an audience that remembers the punk days, when the band gobbed on the audience and the audience gobbed back.

But when you're a rich media magnate and a political player you might not get away with it as easily. So naturally the likes of Katie Hopkins leapt on it, and Geldof got a right kicking.

But of course certain parts of Tory Britain have always been waiting in the long grass for Geldof anyway. As much as he is part of the establishment now, he will always be a Paddy upstart to them. And taking something said in half jest, in character, as part of a rock and roll gig, is enough for them to take revenge for it all. Revenge for the fact that they had to put up with his foul-mouth antics when he was Saint Bob, revenge for the fact that they had to put up with him becoming incredibly successful and rich in the media sphere. And revenge for the fact that this upstart tried to tell the UK to stay in the EU.

And they got him on the Primark thing. Here is this privileged rich oul' fellah, with the sense of entitlement that comes from going to one of Ireland's premier fee-paying schools, and he's looking down on the ordinary folk who pay their hard-earned cash to come to one of his gigs. When in reality, Geldof was just doing what they paid to see Geldof do, gobbing on the audience as if it were the post punk years again.

But fundamentally the uproar over Geldof's banter was rooted in the fact that he isn't one of them, and as much as he became a naturalised part of the establishment, when it comes down to it, he isn't one of them and they will never truly accept him, no matter how many influential pals he has and how much money he makes.

If we had any sense here in Ireland, we would look on this as Ireland's opportunity. We get Geldof. We always have. We understand his contradictions and his flaws because they are ours. We understand how a member of the establishment can remain a quintessential outsider. We understand how charming it can be to be mildly offended. We can only hope that Geldof might feel rejected in his adopted homeland and that he might, in his dotage, look at retiring home.

And with his feel for politics, poetry, passion and compassion, he would make a natural president.

He's a natural diplomat in his spiky way and he is also someone who has lived a bit, who has absorbed the slings and arrows with dignity. He rarely moans about it. He gets on with it in the face of extraordinary adversity.

He is quintessentially Irish, quintessentially contrary, quintessentially attention-seeking, quintessentially wedded to telling his truth - no matter what people might think.

He's a terrible loss to this country. Let's get him home. And let's get Geldof in the Aras.

Sunday Independent

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