_inbetween_'s Reviews > Is That It?

Is That It? by Bob Geldof
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Aug 09, 08

Read in August, 2008

More than two decades ago I bought this, imported, for about 40 dollars, the most expensive book I ever got - and then I never read it.
I fear it's usually too late to read books you once desperately wanted, and while perusing little Bob's childhood stories I just think that all biographies are the same - all stories are the same.
Now that I read about Bob's behaviour after the thrashing by his father, I do not understand why I don't sympathise, when my views on corporal punishment correspond with his.
I read with odd detachment another familiar story, how he's a child alone in a house that's always dark and cold, sometimes just eats sugar on bread, but still dreads the sounds heralding his father's return, the weekends forced to spend with him. Bob has a man's body explode over him (hit by train), gets deflowered at 13 by a woman, nearly gets raped in a pea factory, never studies, becomes the mascot of a big-bellied whoreing road crew, does drugs and shoots bands in London and teaches in Spain.
The chapter where he sees the misery of Dublin upon his return (where I mainly wondered about vegetarian Jews) and then moves to Canada aptly has him say that his life seemed like a movie without a point - like the book so far, episodic, more experiences than ordinary folks, yet pointless. When he fears to be raped in a motel in Canada I not only wonder why this sounded out of time and unreal, but also if he isn't obsessed with being an object of male attention. He's 22 and hasn't had anything to do with making music yet.

Canada is the great divide, not the first time he's out of Ireland, but further away and sufficiently different to suddenly have him be a success, develop into a fully fledged doer, with the previous episodes giving no clue why he managed either. Returning to Dublin stiffles him like such a return does most exchange students, but while trying to set up an ads paper, he accidentially becomes a member of a band. The rest are described as mostly-just-talkers, so from now on it seems Bob single-handedly brought the Boomtown Rats to fame.

While the book becomes more engrossing, it's bafflingly short on relation to music, but then that is explained by Bob being an organiser first and foremost, who spends the pages around 160 deriding anybody talking (pop) music seriously. While seeing Ginsberg as a smart, tiring poseur and Bono as a shifty, nervous guy his groupie rejects, the attacks against The Clash of course go against my grain: leaving aside clothes and the press, it seems ludicrious (esp. today) to claim they had only a few minor hits and only the Rats knew how to write melodies, when The Clash wrote nothing but, while the Rats don't sound particularly catchy or melodic. Similarly, while ranting against the NME as a punk enclave and the destructive seriousness of the "movement", Bob loves Johnny Rotten for being against anything out of principle (a "great Irish trait" - whereas Bob's energy comes from the hatred against all that's "typically Irish"). It's interesting to hear how the Rats supposedly were the biggest and best band around; it's more easily imaginable that they got along better with The Police et al (Bob used to know all Cliff Richard songs by heart :)).

After Bob enjoyed "real" Mongolia and China, he stars in Pink Floyd's "The Wall" (He was also wanted as an actor in Flashdance. Hee.), then goes back to the invigorating "real" Asia. In-between he lables Vidal Sassoon a poofter because he's a pompous ass, then realises (later than the reader) that the beautiful Indian whore is a (former, operated like many) boy and doesn't fuck her, despite wanting to, because it would make him feel insecure as a man ... (p. 246). A few pages later another young man has to be thrown out of his bed in a train, and as with others of Bob's strong opinions, his creed to live everything is contradicted repeatedly. His pleasure in Third World countries can only come from the security of being a man (tall, white), and this is the only instance where he balks. He does close a paragraph with the insightful comment "there is a cowardice in living vicariously" though.



Bob continues now in full swing as an organiser, and it reads like an endless list of primary tasts set and achieved or diverted. I actually laughed twice, when Bruce Springsteen sang when the high voices were meant to, and when Geldof's 2yr old gave Lady Di her flowers with the words "More fish, please". But as Band Aid happened out of the blue(s after the Rats' failure) and Live Aid right afterwards, I didn't mind the endless list as much as not really knowing what he did - all the seeming details about phone calls could not distract me from that. I guess a bio isn't a How To book, and Geldof himself often wonders about serendipity (but then he is at least a closet Christian), but I would have believed some things more readily if I had an inkling of what direct action produced which results - apart from the big mouth.

Geldof remains a supporter of the famous, be it pop stars or politicians, although he underpins that by describing them as talented, hard-working and succesful and saying most of the line-up wasn't his personal type of music. I became more and more cynical as he described the details of the stars 5-15 min sets and the distribution of Aid's money. The first were stunts like Phil Collins et al flying from London to Philadelphia in the Concorde to play both - despite Bob's statement that the donations always increased at certain acts he had been sure were needed to get more money, many details like this or the Mick-David-duet I still don't believe. When it seemed like he was the first one to point out the food that has to be expensively destroyed in the EU and US (after having been funded before) should go to Africa - apart from the fact that this is obvious to the layman (and so would the repartee be: it's often cheaper to throw something out than to sell it on ebay and pay the shipping costs). Not only would that have been obvious to others, even the powerfeal heads of state would have been told before - on that basis I am still utterly unconvinced how English speaking Geldof had gotten all that insight into African situations that no other person working in famine relief had. Only in one respect did he again, belatedly, make clear he was aware of facts and meant it: he'd have used millions to help people certain to die in KZs as well. And I most admired his stance at the Black Caucus awards, though of course as an Irish annoyed by "American Irish" it was easier for him.

It was with great reluctance that I made myself tackle the second half of the book; I might have appreciated it more, been interested and moved once, back then, when I didn't allow myself to eat anything after lunch for a long time in the face of starvation suffered by others.
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