Leave it to Sir Bob Geldof to turn the SXSW keynote address into a 45-plus minute combination elaborate cultural history of the past 60 years with rock and roll at the center, personal narrative of how rock and roll ("pop with a hard-on") shook loose his inner social activist, and dressing-down of the music business for losing its way.
The founder of the Boomtown Rats and Live Aid (and Knight of the Realm) said rock and roll is confronting "The End of Relevance" because "the lingua franca of the planet" is no longer saying anything. It's disengaged from the dialogue that spilled from the suggestive words and music of Little Richard, Elvis, Bob Dylan, Johnny Rotten, and the Ramones into the streets.
America, the cauldron that brewed rock and roll, is "exhausted of being America," Geldof said, even as the music it gave the world continues to foment revolutions in Cairo, Tripoli and Tunis.
"Where are our Ramones and Pistols today?" Geldof said. "Do we need them? Yes. Will we find them? Maybe not."
In other words (and there were a lot of words), in the age of iPads, "everybody's got the means to say whatever they want, and nobody's got anything to say," he said. Music is adrift in a sea of "continental navel-gazing," he said, and the disgust and rage that drove so much great rock and roll has been bleached away.
Geldof being Geldof, though, he salted all the policy talk, rhetoric and examinations of shifting context with an appropriate Irish greeting - "I'm the only on here who can properly wish you a happy St. Patrick's Day" - and lots of f-bombs. Rocks Off attempted to keep track.
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- "Fuck" - said shortly after he was introduced by SXSW director Roland Swenson
- "Fuck off" - his translation of Little Richard's iconic "wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom" yelp
- "Don't fuck with me" - his interpretation of "Blue Suede Shoes"
- "The whites were supposed to be more articulate, the blacks just said 'fuck you'"
- "When we love or hate someone, it's not enough to say 'I love you'... you have to write some fucking pathetic poem"
- "I'm your worst fucking nightmare" - Johnny Rotten's message to the world
- "Get the fuck out of the way" - the message of the Clash, Sex Pistols, Ramones and his own Boomtown Rats to John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, etc.
- "It's a fucking piece of metal... it's not fucking cool" - on iPads
- "The Glee Club-ificiation of my music... fuck off"
- "John Wayne can fuck off over the hills" - a somewhat blunter way of putting his concept of "the siren cry of individualism acting together"
- "A good plumber is there to fix your toilet, and fuck off talking about your politics"
- "Thousands of bands all saying fuck-all" - Geldof's assessment of the present musical state of affairs
- "Fuck a great sound... it's only a great sound when it exactly expresses the writer's intent... the rest is just knobs and dials"
Well said, Bob.