If Bob Geldof were a hero in the marvel Comics mold, his name would almost certainly be Profanity Man. In a single sentence, Geldof can use his favorite expletive in noun, verb and adjective form, obliterating the rules of grammar and polite conversation. His copious use of cursing began as a bit of rock-'n'-roll affectation a quick way of broadcasting his identity as the Boomtown Rats' chief rogue but over the years it's become a foundation of his character. These days when Geldof, 54 this week, takes the public stage, it's usually to speak about Africa and the failure of wealthy nations to pay attention to the poverty and disease that kill 30,000 children a day; his great geysers of curses barely express the fullness of his indignation, but they force people to listen, and often shame them into action.
As the screenwriter of Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love Actually, Richard Curtis has used dashes of blue language, but he retains the title of least threatening man on the planet, and with good reason. In his frequent public appearances on behalf of Comic Relief, which he founded in 1985, and the Make Poverty History campaign, Curtis, 48, always looks like he has had his hair attentively combed by his mother. He is lovingly ridiculed by friends for wearing Marks & Spencer jumpers to posh events like film premieres, but those jumpers are as much a declaration of character as Geldof's yawps; the sturdy wool announces the presence of a modest, rational and practical person, and so it follows that Curtis' approach to Africa, which he first visited after Live Aid in 1985, is utterly judicious. His standard plea (and it's best if you hear Hugh Grant in your head) goes: Africa is plagued by problems that we, the relatively privileged, have the means to solve, so, perhaps then, we ought to get to it, and, you know, see what we can do? Proving his seriousness, Curtis took a year's sabbatical from lucrative multiplex work to write The Girl in the Café, the first ever romantic comedy about global poverty.
Profanity Man and Jumper Boy make an odd couple, but their skills are complementary and their goals indeed heroic. Through indignation and organization, Geldof and Curtis (as well as their mate Bono) somehow managed to pull off Live 8, the one-day, 10-venue, completely free Live Aid anniversary concert designed to raise global awareness of the G-8 summit. Audiences 1 million saw the concerts live, with an estimated 2 billion watching on television would have paid plenty to see Coldplay, U2, Madonna, Paul McCartney and Pink Floyd on the same bill (as they were in London's Hyde Park), but the idea was not to raise cash. Instead, it was to pressure the eight most powerful leaders in the world to change their Africa policies and help end famine and poverty once and for all. It was, as Geldof says, "a lunatic f______ idea," and it required all of his rage and magnetism to get the musicians to play for free on six weeks' notice and all of Curtis' logic and decency to get the various city fathers to let them.
The event was not perfect. The shows were linked to a poorly planned march to the G-8 summit near Edinburgh (Geldof encouraged amateur British sailors to re-enact Dunkirk and sail with their French brothers across the Channel, and then well, never mind). The impact in the U.S. was muted, partly because there was no single authority onstage to deliver the message. And the calamity of fatal bombs in London on July 7, just five days after, stole plenty of thunder.
But the music was not just memorable; in many cases it was historic: McCartney and U2 playing Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, Pink Floyd not killing each other. The G-8 leaders were sufficiently pressured to make unprecedented commitments at the Gleneagles summit to eliminate African poverty, something that decades of policy statements and angry demonstrations alone never accomplished. Making sure they live up to those commitments, though, will require another level of heroic effort. And perhaps just as importantly, Live 8 proved that nuance can be communicated to masses of people just as easily as slogans. A week before the shows took place, Curtis told Time: "We hope it will be a slightly different kind of event. We want people to understand that they are not powerless to affect change, and that they can make their leaders speak for them simply by paying attention." Spoken like a true Jumper Boy. Equally true to form, Geldof added: "And they better f______ had, because the consequences of inaction are no longer acceptable."