By Eileen Murphy
Really, we love a good press conference, both because it’s usually an opportunity for spiritual growth and it’s handy for checking out the work of New York City’s better caterers. Last week’s NetAid launch at the Millennium Hotel was a star-studded event, attended by UN Secretary General Kofi Anan, singers Bono, Wyclef Jean, David Bowie and Sean “Puffy” Combs, and music legend Quincy Jones. It also featured a lovely buffet spread festooned with bunches of decorative grapes, so it was all good, as the teenagers say these days.
The room was jammed with television, radio, print and web reporters, plus what seemed like every photographer on the eastern seaboard. We snagged a great seat — second row, one in from the aisle — until we noticed that the guys in front of us were tall enough to be visible from outer space. They also had big cameras. Every time Bono scratched his nose, they jumped up to document this for posterity, totally blocking everyone’s view. We passed the time staring at David Bowie’s eyes, which are two different colors and wondering where he got that sweater which was kind of ratty, even by rock star standards.
One of the NetAid organizers, Michael Chambers, gave a short speech outlining the technology that will allow the Oct. 9 concerts in New Jersey, London and Geneva to be simulcast live on the internet. Created by Cisco Systems and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), NetAid’s stated aim is to bring together “the energy and impact of world-renowned artists, the global reach of television and radio, and the vast potential of the internet to help more than one billion people who live on less than one dollar per day.” In plain English, the goal is to raise money to eradicate world hunger and erase Third World debt.
The concerts will be televised live on MTV and VH1 and also broadcast on radio stations around the world. Tickets for the concerts at Giants Stadium and Wembley Arena went on sale last week. The Geneva concert is an invitation-only, swanky type of ‘do.
Chambers introduced the UN’s Anan, who had come straight from an emergency meeting of the Security Council regarding East Timor. Anan spoke of the importance of eliminating world hunger and poverty, and introduced former South African president Nelson Mandela, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President Bill Clinton, who cut the ribbons (so to speak) on the websites for Africa, Europe and North America, respectively.
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Jones was up next, and he spoke briefly about harnessing the power of celebrity to effect change. He also congratulated Bono on the birth of his son, and announced that the Baby’s name was “Elijah Bob Patricius Guggi Q. Hewson.
“That’s a long name for a little guy,” he laughed as he ceded the microphone to Bono.
“It was supposed to be a surprise,” retorted the U2 frontman, who was nattily attired in a long black jacket, black shirt, black satin tie and green fatigues.
Bono spoke about his involvement in Jubilee 2000, a movement that is lobbying to have the richest countries in the world “forgive” the debts of the poorest countries.
“In the ’80s, I was a proud part of the spoiled generation that brought you Live Aid, Band Aid, We Are The World, and all that stuff,” said Bono. “It was an amazing thing, that moment in time when Bob Geldof and a bunch of pop stars raised $200 million.
“Then I learned that Africa spends $200 million every week servicing its debt to the West,” he continued. “That made no sense to me. . . . The debt is mostly unpayable anyway.”
The press conference marked the debut of the video for “New Day,” the song written by Bono and The Fugees’ Wyclef Jean. We didn’t actually see the video; it was more fun to watch Bono and Wyclef watch the video, bopping up and down, whispering to one another and mouthing the words.
Bono and Wyclef plan to appear at all three concerts, going Phil Collins’s Live Aid feat one better. They will no doubt open the Geneva show, then fly immediately to London, sing at Wembley, and jump on the Concorde to JFK in time to close the show over here. They should just make it — always assuming that there are no long lines in the duty free.
Under soggy skies, we got our MTV
Unless you’ve just dropped onto the planet, you know that this year’s MTV Video Music Awards were held in New York City’s famed Metropolitan Opera House last Thursday — or on “nine-nine-ninety-nine,” as the hosts chanted, ad nauseum, between every video the channel aired this year. Figuring that this would probably be our only opportunity to see Ricky Martin in the flesh before his career progressed to singing in the food court of the local mall, we leaped at the offer of press credentials. We want our MTV, thanks.
Of course, this brought up the question of what to wear, and for the benefit of our readers who might face the same decision, we can offer this important advice: don’t ask your brother for his opinion. We made this mistake, only to be told that the sparkly jacket with the ostrich feathers on the cuffs made us look — and this is a direct quote — “A little like a drag queen at a wedding.” Good thing you’re never too old to give a sibling a few noogies.
We arrived early, as the station suggested, and snagged the best seat in the house: first row, first seat, right next to reporters from Billboard, the Hollywood Reporter, and, most impressive of all, Blast, a teen magazine. The editor, Cheryl, knew all the members of N’Sync by name, and, to our gobsmacked astonishment, assured us that she would be able to separate the Backstreet Boys from 98 Degrees if they were to find themselves mixed up in a big room. (We asked.)
At 5 p.m., our peppy MTV pressroom monitor, Todd, announced that we could go out in front of the Opera House to cover arrivals! We dutifully lined up like kindergartners, two by two, and walked out under ominously dark clouds.
“That doesn’t look very good,” remarked our partner, a small blonde woman with an English accent and a Barbie Doll pen. “I think it’s going to rain.”
“It had better not,” we sighed. With our ostrich cuffs and drippy mascara, we’d wind up looking like Marilyn Manson. That thought was enough to send us scurrying back to the press tent, and not a moment too soon — the rain started lashing down a few minutes later.
The show started at 8 p.m., and all of a sudden the press tent was buzzing with activity. One after another, presenters and winners streamed in, and we had five minutes to shout out probing questions like, “What are you wearing?” “What was the best moment of the night?” and “What did you think about Woodstock?”
One British reporter asked every British performer what they thought of the lack of British nominees in the evening’s show.
Gavin Rossdale, the (sigh) stunningly handsome lead singer of Bush, laughed and said, “I think it’s just bad timing. A lot of bands, like Oasis, have albums coming out later this year.”
“But why do you think you’ve been shut out?” persisted the reporter.
“Because we haven’t released anything,” laughed Gavin. “Wait till next year.”
When Welsh operatic sensation Charlotte Church walked in with co-presenter Wyclef Jean, a reporter yelled, “How old are you, how tall are you and what are you wearing?”
Church was unflappable. “I’m 13,” she said. “And I’m 5 feet, 1 1/2 inches — and that half inch is very important,” she giggled. Gesturing to her lovely blue gown, she continued, “I have no idea what I’m wearing. My stylist picked it out.”
Lars Ulrich, the drummer from Metallica, strolled in. We were ready.
“What made you guys record ‘Whiskey in the Jar’?” we asked.
Ulrich looked surprised by the question, and really, we couldn’t blame him — it’s been out for a year already. But he rallied.
“We just love Thin Lizzy and we’re big fans of Phil Lynott,” he replied. “And also, we think it’s a great song. A beautiful song. We just had to do it.”
Renee Zellwegger, famous for her role as Tom Cruise’s girlfriend in “Jerry Maguire,” wandered in after presenting an award. She was clad in a see-through black dress with only a half slip on underneath.
“It’s Versace,” she said with a nervous laugh. “I’ve never worn a little black dress before.”
“And you’re not really wearing one now,” snickered one of the reporters. She might have heard that, because she scampered off the podium as quick as her six-inch heels would carry her.
The highlight of the night was the appearance of Pamela Anderson, who wore an enormous pink hat and a tight corset. She had barely started answering questions when her ex-husband, former Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, ran in. Naked, except for a raincoat and a pair of sneakers, he flashed Pam, her fellow presenters, and Todd the MTV guy, before hightailing it to the photo room.
Pam obviously saw something she liked.
“I can’t think straight!” she squealed as she ran after Lee, leaving her co-presenters to stare nervously at the reporters.
Ricky Martin stopped by, dressed in Armani. (“Armani, always,” he smiled.) No matter what anyone asked him, he mentioned that he wanted to thank his teachers: The Beatles, Elvis and Madonna. All right, already.
The Backstreet Boys were the last celebs to venture into the press room, and, as they say, no good deed goes unpunished.
“Do you have gay fantasies?” screamed Stuttering John from the “Howard Stern Show.”
The Boys ignored him, and looked relieved when we asked, “Who are your musical influences?”
“The Beatles, the Temptations, all the great singers,” replied Kevin, the cute dark-haired one. Stuttering John, now joined by another colleague, kept yelling rude questions. The Boys were getting angry, but strangely, the MTV security guys didn’t react immediately.
Finally, it was left to Cheryl, the Blast editor, to restore order. She leaped from her seat and shouted, “John, will you shut the [rhymes with truck] up?” There was a moment of stunned silence in the room, and a reporter seized the moment to ask the question that was on everyone’s mind.