As I was driving this evening I was listening to XM Radio when the (in)famous Christmas based cry for global help simply known as "Do They Know It's Christmas?" made its presence known. That little blast of reality made me think back to a time that had me firmly entrenched as a junior in high school but it opened my eyes to the past and forced me to think back.
November 28th, 1984, that's the date the song "Do They Know It's Christmas?" was released to the world, and the fact that I know that date is simply because I looked it up, but that date does take me back. I'm from this small Midwestern town smack dab in the middle of where in the hell am I and coupled with the fact that this town didn't have MTV or its ilk its a wonder I ever heard that song.
The world was an even scarier place than it is now, sure we have the Mayans predicting the world will end in 2012, but when I was growing up we had the USSR and a real threat of nuclear war (from both sides I might add). Not many of us had computers, there were no cell phones and the most I knew about the Middle East was limited to Lebanon and Israel. Current events were learned by snippets gleaned from the newspaper and from moments I would catch on the 6 o'clock news. As any good junior in high school I ignored much of the newscasts but I had seen and read about a terrible famine in Ethiopia but my life went on.
Hindsight being what it is I catch myself thinking back to that time and I realize I am actually haunted by those images still to this day. I guess that junior must not have been as cavalier as I thought because I still see images of children with jaundice, its telltale yellowing of the whites of their eyes, bloated stomachs and flies landing on the children that were too weak to even try to swat them away. I remember seeing the dry soil, cracked from drought and more children, it was mind blowing.
I hate to admit to this but I tried to forget everything about those images I mean I was from an area with farmland as far as the eye could see. My parents had great jobs, Thanksgiving was coming as was Christmas so I could hide behind all of that, shielding myself from the images. In all honesty I think it would be safe to assume that I was actually in the majority of people attempting to hide from the images and masking their feelings about the whole thing.
With an occasional glimpse at the news and a serious dislike of all of the radio stations in my area it is surprising that I heard "Do They Know It's Christmas?" at all but somewhere along the line I did hear it and it put a mark firmly on my soul. Certainly that last statement is included as some poetic, cheesy attempt at trying to introduce the song into this little blurb right? Wrong. That song has stayed with me for the 27 years since its original release, and I simply feel sad if I don't hear the song every Christmas.
The song has great meaning to me, it makes me relive that time every year and reawakens something in my soul each and every year. Like some fool I catch myself singing along with the performers and actually attempting to emulate their vocals (its truly scary). Although the song has been reviled for its simplistic, bubblegum qualities coupled with the fact that it has been included in the "100 Worst Songs Ever" (it ranked #74), the song has a quality (at least for myself) that proved the world could make an attempt to make a difference.
The song itself was a microcosm for the entire decade as it reflected much of the similar strife we as a planet were facing. The recording of the song was rife with clashes amongst the performers, tension between the leaders (the writers), drug usage (reportedly cocaine and alcohol flowed freely), and the get it done now attitude made the entire project what it became. Despite all of those issues (whether real or imagined), each performer came together for one common goal, relief.
The interesting thing about relief is what it does to the people that try to provide it is that THEY find comfort in the attempt. Certainly some type of difference was made with the release of this record and subsequent donations to agencies trying to help as well but with any human endeavor its the underlying rationality that is important. As humans we find it necessary to make an attempt to help and then wash our hands of the issue because we have done something to help. Help is the important word here because regardless of the outcome we can say we did something to help therefore we are absolved from further assistance.
The fact is wasted unless we realize that globally we become apathetic once we think that the problem is solved and unfortunately all of the great work that came of this record could only make a scratch in the problem as a whole.
I wonder if that is the reason that song sticks with me today? Is the song a reminder of what I did 27 years ago and I can pound my chest and say I made a difference? There is a reason that song still touches me, and it could be any of the aforementioned reasons but maybe its more simple than all of that. Maybe I can actually say that this one song did something that no one has been able to do again (until 9-11) and that is to bring social consciousness to a planet during a time of celebration of giving thanks for religious freedom and the birth of a man that gave Himself for all of us.
I guess that the reason "Do They Know It's Christmas?" touches me every year is because I want it to. The song can remind me of the idea of two men that wanted to make a difference and despite the minor problems that got them to their goal, humanity prevailed. Ask yourself that question this year, and make a conscious effort to make that song the catalyst to try to make a difference. Maybe that is the real reason after all.