Ending and Beginning
The obligatory press conference. Wednesday, 10:00 a.m., Studio A of A & M. Where the risers stood thirty-six hours ago, shaking under the weight of the chorus, now a platform with five rolling chairs and in them, Bob Geldof, Ken Kragen, Quincy Jones, Harry Belafonte, and Marty Rogol, Executive Director of USA for Africa. Things will be explained. Who, what, where, when, how, why? Stories will be told. Stevie Wonder will teach Bob Dylan his lines once again, and forever onward. All parties will bask in the glow of altruistic accomplishment. When Kragen tells the press, “We have fifty sweatshirts to give you,” Geldof straightaway commands, “Sell them!” Kragen admits, “That’s a good idea. Okay, we’ll sell them to you.” Geldof looks out at the press. “Sorry, guys.” Kragen glances over his shoulder at Bob and softly asks, “How much should we charge?” Geldof shrugs, scrunches his shoulders, decides. “Ten bucks.” Kragen then summarizes the lesson: “Bob has the right idea about all of this.”
Each of the five gentlemen makes a speech to the assembled eyes and ears of the American populace. Kragen’s is informative; Quincy’s warm and bittersweet; Belafonte’s eloquent; Rogol’s strictly “nuts and bolts.” In his, Geldof searches for an image to convey the enormity, the urgency of mass starvation. Surprisingly, he finds it not in statistical overload, not in a scene of thousands stricken, but rather in the actions of a single figure. As he speaks to the ferocious cameras, the countless hissing tape recorders, the scratching pens, his eyes tear. He says, “I was flying in one of the RAF troop transporters. They practice low-level flying in the Nile Valley. It’s constant desert, scrub, like bits of the Mojave. And now and again you see individuals wandering through this desert, which is scorched like it was burned with a hot iron—streaks of black against the ground. At one point I saw a woman with two children in the middle of this vast desert. She must have walked, at that point, seventy-five miles, just heading in the direction where she heard there was food. She looked up at the plane. She was heading one way and the plane was heading the other, and she turned and headed in the direction of the plane, followed the plane, because she knew she’s eventually get to food and water.”
As the press conference winds down, a young woman approaches Geldof with a fistful of dollars. It’s $510 for sweatshirts, from the press. Bob takes the bills, the very first direct contribution to USA for Africa, and stuffs them furiously into Ken Kragen’s jacket pocket. For the moment, just for the moment, he looks happy.