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Will Live 8 really matter?

Times Staff Writers

Paul McCartney and the Irish rock band U2 will have history on their minds today in London, where they plan to kick off a globe-spanning chain of concerts to combat Third World poverty by singing “It was 20 years ago today....”

That opening line from the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is meant to invoke the memory of Live Aid in July 1985, when dozens of the world’s top pop musicians rallied together to raise money and food for Africans dying of starvation.

An even bigger conglomeration of rock, pop and rap’s biggest movers and shakers is now taking stages in nine world capitals for Live 8, urging world leaders who meet next week in Scotland for the annual G-8 summit to do more to end poverty and disease in Africa.

“They’re not asking for a handout this time,” says Jack Healey, architect of the Amnesty International concert tours in the 1980s that similarly aimed to effect change, not just collect it. “They are asking people to get the world’s boot off the throat of Africa.”

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Specifically, Live 8 supporters want leaders of the Group of 8 nations -- President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and heads of state from Russia, Japan, Germany, France, Canada and Italy -- to cancel hundreds of millions of dollars in debt owed by Third World countries.

Can Live 8 make a difference?

Despite the big-name lineups or estimates that global coverage of the concerts could reach a potential audience of billions in 140 countries, there remains a monumental gap between political reality and the humanitarian intentions of pop music stars and their fans, many of whom have little understanding of the issues. On Thursday, a London forum with Blair and Irish rocker Bob Geldof kicked off with a videotape in which rapper Snoop Dogg asked, “Excuse me, Mr. Prime Minister -- or President -- Tony Blair, I’d like to know who or what is the G-8?”

A generation after all-star Live Aid and No Nukes concerts, millions of Africans are still starving and the issue of nuclear weapon proliferation is as volatile as ever.

But having studied the limitations and problems of such celebrated rock humanitarian efforts as the Concert for Bangladesh and Live Aid, Live 8’s musicians and organizers, led by Geldof and U2 singer Bono, are implementing a new model of pop music activism, one that’s beginning to yield more significant payoffs.

Where entertainers once were brushed off in the halls of power as politically naive do-gooders, increasingly their voices are being heard.

Geldof, Bono and others have learned the importance of showing commitment to a cause over a sustained period, avoiding partisan politics and exhibiting sophisticated knowledge of complex issues rather than espousing pie-in-the-sky ideals. And they’ve stopped simply urging fans to feel someone else’s pain.

“I think compassion is an old-fashioned idea,” says Bobby Shriver, the Kennedy clan member who now sits on the Santa Monica City Council and is one of the organizers of the Philadelphia Live 8 show. He’s also one of the driving forces behind the “Very Special Christmas” series of compilation albums that has raised money and awareness for the Special Olympics.

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“Pop music as a vehicle for compassion never worked for me,” says Shriver, the son of Peace Corps founder R. Sargent Shriver and Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Following in the family tradition, he and Bono co-founded the nonprofit DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) organization in 2002 to address poverty and disease in Africa. “Pop music is a vehicle for self-expression, for self-discovery about the truth of your own life. That’s what pop music is, and that leads you to justice in your own heart.”

That justice, however, doesn’t automatically translate into easing poverty around the world. So pop musicians increasingly have been backing up their onstage pronouncements by establishing advocacy organizations and working much the same way political candidates do, generating grass-roots support and tapping volunteers to lobby their case to policymakers.

The Live 8 coalition is in sync with Blair, who last month urged G-8 leaders to agree to a doubling of foreign aid to Africa -- to roughly $80 billion a year by 2010 -- and to write off African loan debts, measures Geldof and Bono have been lobbying for for years.

International affairs experts say any long-term results are more likely to stem from years of work leading up to Live 8 rather than from one high-profile day of rocking, rolling and rapping.

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“It’s so easy to do a simple benefit and send people out having had a nice time at a concert never thinking about the issues for which they’re raising money,” says David Gere, acting chairman of UCLA’s department of world arts and cultures.

“But these people are apparently hanging in through the process,” says Gere. “They’ve made a huge investment by putting themselves out there and spilling this rhetoric [about Third World poverty] into the media over a period of many weeks. That’s a different kind of investment than you usually see at these concerts.”

After helping launch Live Aid, Geldof became pop music’s unofficial ambassador to Africa, not just rallying support but traveling to various countries to ensure that money collected went to aiding people in need rather than being usurped by corrupt governments. Blair appointed Geldof as a member of Britain’s Commission on Africa last year, and in the photo of all 17 members on its website, Geldof sits at Blair’s right hand.

Similarly, Bono has made it his mission to stem the effects of poverty and disease in Africa through his efforts with DATA and dozens of meetings with world leaders for which he’s been repeatedly praised for the breadth of his knowledge of the issues.

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“I’m tired of dreaming,” he told Time magazine in 2002. “I’m into doing at the moment. It’s like, let’s only have goals that we can go after. U2 is about the impossible. Politics is the art of the possible. They’re very different, and I’m resigned to that now.”

The closest parallel to Live 8 may be the Amnesty International concerts, which, executives say, not only led directly to the release of several political prisoners whose cases were spotlighted at those concerts, but they also boosted its membership rolls, produced a wave of new volunteers, put new chapters in several countries on solid financial footing and led the way to establishing the 2,200 student chapters now on American high school and college campuses.

Results aren’t always dramatic, but they can be.

“There have been several instances in the last 20 years where I believe we’ve absolutely had an effect on government policy, from credit issues affecting farmers to getting much better organic food standards,” says Carolyn Mugar, executive director of Farm Aid, born the same year as Live Aid to support family farmers.

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“This really has been about the farm movement and the good food movement, and after we helped alert the public, people wrote 250,000 letters about five years ago to the USDA, and the USDA changed its organic food standards.”

In addition to London, Live 8 concerts today will be held in Berlin, Paris, Philadelphia, Moscow, Tokyo, Toronto, Rome and Johannesburg. Among the musicians participating in the shows: Elton John, Madonna, Coldplay, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, the Dave Matthews Band, the Who and a reunion of Pink Floyd.

The notion of wealthy pop stars trying to affect world politics has generated criticism, inside and outside the music community, of their ambitions and their ability to deliver.

“I frankly don’t care why artists show up, what their motivations are or whether people criticize the whole thing,” musician Dave Matthews said. “The goal is what is happening right now: a crisis that too often goes ignored is getting attention.”

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Geldof and Bono have urged all Live 8 performers and supporters to maintain a positive posture this weekend, avoiding any bashing of President Bush, who holds much of the power to turn the Live 8 goals into reality.

“I will get down on my knees and thank George Bush and will have grudging admiration for him if he makes this happen,” Matthews said. “He and the G-8 can change the world with the strokes of their pens. If these shows ... help get it done, nothing else matters.”

Few people are expecting anything so dramatic to happen.

“There are some very complicated, very tough politics around [the G-8 summit], politics that go beyond people’s concern for poverty,” says Wendy R. Sherman, a partner with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the Albright Group, a global strategy firm. “There will be intra-European politics at play and global politics at play.

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“But if what happens on Saturday with Live 8 is successful, it will say there is a constituency around the world that is growing,” Sherman says, “and you might hear Tony Blair say that these concerts show there are people all over the world who want us to take on poverty, and we’re either going to lead the people to solve the problem or we’re going to be led by them. I could see him saying something like that.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Who’s playing where

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Here are some of the acts that will be taking the stage today at the Live 8 concerts.

London

Paul McCartney, U2, Coldplay, Elton John, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Pink Floyd, R.E.M., the Killers, Snoop Dogg, Sting, the Who, Bob Geldof

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Philadelphia

Alicia Keys, Black Eyed Peas, Dave Matthews Band, Destiny’s Child, Jay-Z, Josh Groban, Linkin Park, Stevie Wonder, Toby Keith

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Paris

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Andrea Bocelli, Cerrone/Nile Rodgers, the Cure, James Brown, Muse, Shakira, Sheryl Crow

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Berlin

Audioslave, Brian Wilson, Green Day, Sasha, Roxy Music

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Rome

Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Duran Duran

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Tokyo

Bjork, Good Charlotte

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Cornwall, England

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Thomas Mapfumo & the Blacks Unlimited, Angelique Kidjo

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Toronto

Barenaked Ladies, Bryan Adams, Celine Dion, Gordon Lightfoot, Jet

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Johannesburg

Lucky Dube, Mahotella Queens, Oumou Sangare

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Moscow

Pet Shop Boys, Red Elvises

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Los Angeles Times

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Tuning in

Here’s how to watch and listen to Live 8. All times are PDT.

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Computer

America Online will carry six of the nine concerts live on www.aolmusic.com. The concerts will also be available “on demand” for six weeks, starting immediately after each performance. AOL membership not required.

The schedule:

* Berlin: 5 a.m.-10:30 a.m.

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* London: 6 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

* Rome: 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

* Toronto: 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

* Philadelphia: 9 a.m.-3 p.m.

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* Paris: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

See www.live8live.com for complete lineups and related details.

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Television

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* MTV, VH1 and MTVU: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The coverage will be primarily live, with some tape-delayed segments, and will focus on London and Philadelphia.

* VH1 Classic: highlights 5 p.m. Sunday and Monday.

* CMT: highlights 8:30 p.m. Sunday; 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Monday.

Radio

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* XM satellite radio: 4 a.m. to 5 p.m. Same concert lineup as AOL.

* KKBT-FM (100.3): reports and musical segments between 1 and 7 p.m.

* KLOS-FM (95.5): highlights starting at noon, including the Pink Floyd reunion in London.

* KCXX-FM (103.9): selected performances throughout the day, starting at 9 a.m.

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Other

Cellphone telecast through GoTV.

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Los Angeles Times

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