x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Artists who say their golden geese were really turkeys

Bob Geldof may have disowned his 1985 hit Do They Know It's Christmas? but such claims ring a little hollow so late in the day.

The Band Aid team at Wembley Stadium, London, in 1985. From left, Tony Hadley, Midge Ure, Gary Kemp, Adam Ant, Bob Geldof and Elton John.
The Band Aid team at Wembley Stadium, London, in 1985. From left, Tony Hadley, Midge Ure, Gary Kemp, Adam Ant, Bob Geldof and Elton John.

For many people, it has become the archetypal festive song. Despite its startling call to action and blatant tugs at the heartstrings, Do They Know It's Christmas? blares out of shopping malls across the world at this time of year.

The money raised by Band Aid for the famine-wracked people of Ethiopia in 1984 made its co-writer a hero. But, 26 years on, Bob Geldof has finally had enough of the song that, alongside Band Aid's American cousin We Are the World, was the soundtrack to one of the most successful aid campaigns ever.

"I am responsible for two of the worst songs in history," he told the Daily Telegraph in Australia this week. "One is Do They Know It's Christmas?. The other one is We Are the World. Any day soon, I will go to the supermarket, head to the meat counter and it will be playing. Every Christmas."

Geldof is actually being rather hard on himself. It's only the ubiquity of Do They Know It's Christmas? that makes it, in the end, so irritating. Taken in isolation, it has all the components of a lasting pop song; a singalong chorus, verses that actually mean something, and a genuine sense of emotion. As far as charity singles populated by masses of eager pop stars go, it's actually rather good.

Geldof's very public disowning of Do They Know It's Christmas? does, though, reveal the latent punk still hidden within him. The former Boomtown Rat no doubt finds it deeply uncool that his most famous song is a staple on the carol-singer circuit. He's not the first artist, either, to distance himself from his own work.

In 1997, Be Here Now by Oasis became the fastest-selling album ever in the UK, winning widespread praise from critics who did not dare speak the unmentionable truth - that one of the biggest bands in the world had produced a complete dud. Not that it took long for everyone to recognise - including Noel Gallagher. He admitted to misgivings even before it was released, but it took a few years for the man who wrote Be Here Now to issue a full mea culpa. "If you bought it on the day it came out and listened to it, I'd have thought it was mind-bending too. But it really doesn't stand up now," he said in 2009. "The songs are too long and the lyrics are appalling. I can't listen to any of that album now." His brother, Liam, ever the arrogant, swaggering frontman, still thinks it's amazing. Obviously.

The commercial success of Be Here Now means it's a bit difficult for Noel Gallagher to eradicate all trace of it. But sometimes, artists are so appalled by something they've produced that they'll do anything to wipe it from the public domain. The director Stanley Kubrick became so embarrassed by his first feature film, 1953's Fear and Desire, that he is said to have spent years buying up all known prints so it couldn't be shown. He went so far as to issue an official statement calling it a "bumbling amateur film exercise". But far from dissuading his fans, Kubrick's actions gave the movie a cult cachet.

Of course, established directors, writers and actors are usually slightly embarrassed by the first sketchy encounters with their art. Brad Pitt has distanced himself from nearly all of his early work - and if you've had the "pleasure" of seeing him in Seven Years in Tibet, rightly so. Still, you can bet he wasn't admitting to these poor performances at the time.

More recently, Shia LaBeouf admitted to The Huffington Post that the "heart was gone" from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. He went on to confess that the other recent blockbuster he starred in, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, had been awful, too.

"I feel like I dropped the ball on the legacy that people loved and cherished," he said. "I think the audience is pretty intelligent. I think they know when you've made slop. And I think if you don't acknowledge it, then why do they trust you the next time you're promoting a movie? The actor's job is to make it come alive and make it work, and I couldn't do it. So that's my fault. Simple."

Should we admire LaBeouf for being so honest? Not really. We can't remember him being so forthright when he was promoting these films. And that's the real subtext behind all these public apologies for creative misdemeanours. They're meant to make us feel that these artists are more human, just as susceptible to failure as the rest of us. If they really thought their work was rubbish, we'd respect them all the more if they did something about it at the time.