Saturday, December 5, 2009
"Tears are Not Enough" by Northern Lights (1985)
It's funny how the music industry works, really. The singer of a moderately-popular Irish band, the Boomtown Rats, sees a report on TV about famine in Africa and is inspired to 'do something' about it. Somehow, his initial impulse spirals into a super-huge phenomenon that, while certainly noble and practical in value, does cause a deluge of rather bad music circa the mid-eighties.
Not that it started out so bad: Bob Geldof's own “Do They Know It's Christmas?”, recorded with such luminaries of the British and Irish pop music industry as Status Quo, Big Country and Ultravox, is actually quite decent, if you can get over the cringe-worthy moment when Bono grunts “thank God it's them instead of you” and the entire ethnocentricity behind the song's hook in a nation that's 34% Muslim and 44% Eastern Orthodox (celebrating Christmas in January). Michael Jackson came to the aid of Ethiopia with the more insipid yet still tolerable “We are the World”.
And then... then we have Bryan Adams. The man responsible for an endless stream of bland MOR-“hard rock” anthems all of which sound identical. Being Canadian (and what's more anglophone Canadian), Bryan Adams decided to help the people of Ethiopia by rounding up some of those globe-straddling heroes of Canadian music as Salome Bey, Carroll Baker, Liberty Silver and Alfie Zappacosta...
The result is, in the grand tradition of all-star charity tributes, horrible but imbued with a sense of seriousness that makes you feel bad for admitting it's horrible. How bad is it? Well, most of its terribleness can be summed up in about 15 consecutive seconds of the song, starting from the moment Corey “Sunglasses at Night” Hart takes the mic. A man afflicted with the same disease as Mick Jagger and forced to sing all of his lyrics through pouted lips, Hart gamely grunts out the line “it's time to send our message everywhere” (since until this time Canadian musicians were operating in silence on the topic of African famine) before adding a faux-Michael Jackson “cha-know” that ups the ridiculousness one point, before heading into...
Two lines in French, stuck in by three performers crowded around one mic, to represent the one-third of Canada that speaks French, in an otherwise entirely English-language song. Forced bilingualism is nothing new to Canadians, but the crassness of this particular example of tokenism is worse than normal. Rightfully sickened, Quebecois artists decided to go it alone, recording the unknown-outside-of-Quebec “Les yeux de la faim” instead. With no token English lines.
As if that weren't bad enough, the thrown-in French is followed by what is by far the most heinous moment of the song, the ludicrous jingoism of the line “let's show them Canada still cares” (sung by the generally politically-sound Bruce Cockburn) in order to reassure any starving Ethiopians who had been heard to say, “you know, it seems like Canada's just not as caring as they used to be”. Neither Britain, nor the USA, nor even Quebec felt the need to stick such a line in. It's immediately followed by Geddy Lee, one of the silliest vocalists in recorded history, “taking flight” on the line “oh, you kno-ooow that we'll be there” (hand-delivering food aid, presumably).
True understanding of this song can be achieved only in watching the video, where all of the principals hunker in turn around a mic in what might be a Sears Portrait Studio, invariably clenching their fists in front of them as if to signal to a passing eighteen-wheeler to pull its air horn. The song builds to its inevitable crecendo of group-sing-along of the chorus (this is a feature of every all-star charity song ever) over which certain principals, overcome presumably with emotion, break rank to 'improvise' key phrases from the song, such as “bridge the disawwwwnce, yeah” in a very orderly fashion. In the video, the chorus of Canada's best-and-brightest suddenly transforms to a rink full of hockey players. Yes, swaying and singing the song. I kid you not. Canada's turn at the all-star charity single game features Wayne Gretzky and whoever else gamely singing along. Which is, to be fair, not that much more ridiculous than the studio chorus including a handful of comedians such as Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara.
Because, you know, the whole thing wasn't already enough of a joke.