The news that Simon Cowell has banded together with Take That, Susan Boyle, Coldplay and others to produce a cover of R.E.M.’s ‘Everybody Hurts’ to raise money for the victims of the Haiti earthquake, has, to say the least, divided opinion.
Cowell’s is not the only charity record in the pipeline – U2 and Jay-Z plan to release one too. Lionel Richie is set to re-record an old charity record from 1985, ‘We Are The World’. And obviously, only a heartless cynic would question their genuine desire to help the victims of one of the most appalling natural disasters in recent times.
You do wonder, though, if this is the appropriate channel for their humanitarian zeal. These are enormously wealthy people. Can’t they just give money themselves, quietly and privately? As one US comic put it on Twitter: “U2 & Jay-Z: you want to help Haiti? WRITE A BIG FUCKING CHECK! No further action required. No need to visit a recording studio.”
That might be putting it harshly, but he has a point. Charity should be its own reward. It is for the rest of us. By contrast, in assembling a high-profile coalition of celebrities, the artists involved open themselves up to accusations of doing it for publicity, for the enrichment of their own profiles, rather than a pure desire to alleviate suffering.
But there’s something else I find troubling too – and that’s the choice of song, which feels deeply inappropriate. Because my interpretation of R.E.M’s ‘Everybody Hurts’ is that it’s a personal, intimate song about realising that everybody goes through a little bit of hell once in a while. In the nicest possible way it’s telling you to suck it up. It’s telling you to put your chin up, battle on and life will see you OK. Is that an appropriate sentiment for the people of a devastated country?
Former R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry, who wrote the majority of the song, once explained that the song was penned primarily for, and about, high school kids. Quite clearly, the pain and suffering the people of Haiti are going through is incomparable to that of an unrequited love or a spot of school-yard bullying.
To a lot of people, the song is a battle against suicide. “Cause everybody hurts/ Take comfort in your friends/Everybody hurts/ Don’t throw your hand.” To be singing it to people starving to death just seems wrong. It’s a lazy choice of song. You imagine Cowell and his cohorts chose it after the bare minimum of discussion.
“We need a sad song that people know, a real tear-jerker.”
“How about that R.E.M. one about how Everbody Hurts?”
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Don’t get me wrong. I’m not attacking the idea of charity. If anybody thinks I’m getting into too much of a tizz about a song that’s trying to help people, I’ll be the first to agree. It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. As long as it earns a lot of money that can be used for good, I’ll be happy.
I just wish a little more effort had gone into the choice of song because, for me, ‘Everybody Hurts’ seems like a kick in the teeth to people that have gone through hell and have worse to come.
To try and do my bit, I (aided by the good people of NME) will donate 10p to the American Red Cross for everyone who comments below (negatively or positively) or can think of a more appropriate choice of song. Or thinks, like me, that they should have written an original song, something written specifically with Haiti’s plight in mind.