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Rock learns to court

“Are you ready to change history'” an invigorated Madonna asked the 2,00,000 fans gathered in London’s Hyde Park on Saturday for one of the day’s Live8 concerts.

“Yes!” the crowd screamed back.

Whether or not they knew it in their excitement, already the day had changed rock history, although not perhaps in the way they imagined.

Most of the hundreds of musicians who joined in the worldwide concerts simply were extending the grand rock tradition of taking their message to the streets ' many of them, including the Who, with an inspiring energy.

But the lesson of the day was taught by rock singers Bono, of U2, and Bob Geldof, who through hard work and passion have redirected rock star activism from the street into the corridors of power.

In their crusades to combat poverty in Africa, the Irishmen have met and courted political and business leaders, and have been as eager to appear on news-driven television shows as most musicians are to guest on MTV.

Rock ’’ roll usually has been at its best when it is on the attack. There’s almost always an enemy at a music-related rally: ruthless government leaders, heartless international conglomerates, greedy developers.

But a hostile word rarely was detected in the hours I spent watching portions of concerts on AOL. The only enemy this time was poverty. Rather than attack anyone for not acting sooner, the performers chiefly pleaded for the G8 to take action this week in Scotland to help ease the suffering.

One of the day’s most revealing displays of this change came early in the London concert when Geldof did something that would have been unimaginable in the anti-establishment 1960s, when business was perceived by young rock fans as the evil foe.

Describing Bill Gates as “a great businessman” and philanthropist, Geldof introduced the Microsoft co-founder, who drew cheers from the crowd.

Gates praised Geldof and Live8, and he urged the millions of fans watching on television or the Internet to support the cause.

Because he is a much bigger star and spends more time in the US, Bono has been more visible there than Geldof in the musician-as-diplomat role.

In that area, the singer, 45, has moved far beyond what some of his greatest influences, including Bob Dylan and John Lennon, ever attempted. Because of temperament or personal philosophy, Dylan saw his role chiefly as a songwriter. Lennon took activism a step further through demonstrations such as his “bed-in” with Yoko Ono. But he also stopped short of total involvement.

In the 80s, Bruce Springsteen and Sting advanced the process by touring around the world with Amnesty International. Mostly, however, they relied on audiences to take action.

The problem, history has shown, is that rock audiences are hard to mobilise for more than a short while. Even in my most optimistic moments, I wonder how much good these gala rock benefits do ' even one as massive as the Live8 concerts, which included shows in many other cities.

The longer the concerts went, the more they looked like business as usual ' especially on television, where the MTV hosts spoke about how “awe-inspiring” everything was ' Golly Gosh! after Golly Gosh! for hours and, inexcusably, cut away from some of the day’s most anticipated performances for more mindless chatter.

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