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Backstage in London: An 'A' for Live 8

Live 8 | Luther Vandross

Backstage in London: An 'A' for Live 8

Bob Geldof is either a genius or a saint — no one is quite sure which.

Even though there was plenty to quibble about, I was with 200,000 rock fans on Saturday in Hyde Park as Geldof pulled off the rock concert of all time.

You had to be there to believe it, and I was — backstage, that is, and as far as I can tell, the only journalist who scored a much-cherished and coveted deep purple wristband for the occasion.

Maybe you saw this extraordinary event as it unfolded. I have no idea what it looked like on TV, but from the trenches (and these were trenches with a lovely VIP tent and ironically overflowing amounts of catered food, a gelato bar, and a, thank you, regular bar properly supplying Red Bull and a bottled water called Bleu Water) the whole thing was simply the most amazing gathering of pop icons since the Constitutional Congress.

The leaders of the G8 had to have been tapping their feet, quietly humming along, and realizing that the hot breath of a generation was at their necks.

Geldof, besides raising international awareness about poverty and hunger in Africa, did something far more immediately important: He reunited Pink Floyd.

For the first time in a quarter-century, Dave Gilmour and Roger Waters not only played together, they actually broke bread.

On Friday night, all the members of Pink Floyd and their wives, etc., ate together at the famous Ivy restaurant. Roger made the initial call, an insider told me, leading to this unique gathering.

Now the speculation begins: a new album, a tour, is any of it possible? From the rousing reception they got, something tells me more is to come.

But back to the backstage, where at any time over a seven-hour period you could stop and chat with Paul McCartney, Sting, Annie Lennox, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, the aforementioned Pink Floyd, Mariah Carey, Harvey Weinstein, Jimmy Fallon (who'd come over just to see Pink Floyd), "Saturday Night Live" creator Lorne Michaels, MTV chief Judy McGrath (here to celebrate her birthday), John McEnroe (fresh from Wimbledon), Patti Smythe, Sir Ian McKellen and even Bill Gates.

Mind you, this is where MTV's Van Toffler made a direct pitch to Roger Daltrey to sing with Green Day at the Video Music Awards in August in Miami.

Said Roger: "There would have to be a rehearsal. We could do one of theirs and one of ours."

Toffler: "That would be right."

Daltrey: "Green Day is the real thing. They're the kind of rock band that really bites it. The others just suck it. The Who bites it."

The backstage area was actually two: One was a kind of larger affair, with full-on catering supplied by the Hard Rock Cafe.

It was called the Gold Circle, and there were several famous faces spotted in that crowd: Oscar winner Faye Dunaway, "Girlfight" star Michelle Rodriguez and the estimable Susan St. James, among others.

At various times Miramax's slim and trim, bearded Harvey Weinstein, with a group of young people, buzzed out to catch different performers.

You had to leave the actual backstage party and mix with this semi-exclusive crowd if you wanted to see any part of the show. But ah, that lucky purple wristband meant a quick return to the real action.

That was where I first encountered a beautiful young woman wearing an oversized, lidded Kangol cap clamped to her head, accompanied by a very tall, good-looking guy in a baseball cap and sunglasses each trying hard to be unnoticed.

Who were they? Scarlett Johansson and Josh Hartnett, who turn out to be a very much "together" (as they say in US Weekly) couple. Shhhh.

You may have seen the very blond Brad Pitt make a short speech from the stage about midway through the show. I saw him, too, just before that, as he painstakingly practiced that speech right before Annie Lennox's breathtaking performance of "Why."

Brad, who was alone — no Angie, sorry — really read and re-read the copy someone had handed him, mouthing the words and preparing his delivery. Since the crowd seemed to love it, I guess we've seen up close how the mega-movie-stars get it right.

On his way out, Brad stopped to greet Sting, Trudie Styler, and McKellen, all of whom had come up to watch Annie. Brad gave Sting a hug (not sure they actually know each other), in a nod to the absent-from-the-proceedings Bob Dylan (that's a "Blonde on Blonde" on reference).

Mind you, Brad is really blond, like almost comic-book gold, which made him a little bit of a beacon in the gray London skies when he went back to the socializing area. Photographers and fans followed him everywhere.

Meantime, the music kept on coming, with lots of less-well-known acts punctuating the Big Star atmosphere: The massive number of fans in Hyde Park sang along in unison to Travis on "Why Does It Always Rain on Me," to Snow Patrol on "Run," to Keane on "Somewhere Only We Know."

A gangly 25-year-old kid named Johnny Borrell, who looked like he might be Bob Geldof's unknown spawn (he's not), from the group Razorlight stole his part of the show with local hits called "Vice," "Golden Touch," and "Somewhere Else."

Borrell preceded Madonna, although to many of the younger fans, the Material Mom might not have existed at all.

But it was Madonna everyone wanted to see, and even the most jaded of the A-list poured out from behind the celebrity barrier to catch her three-song set of "Like a Prayer," "Ray of Light," and "Music."

Dressed in her white mom-goes-to-a-chic-dinner suit, Madonna launched the first song with a gospel choir and had the newly dense crowd swaying and clapping.

But was this Madonna or a replacement android? Maybe she even sensed it.

By the time "Ray of Light" began, off came the jacket, up went the middle finger and she sent out the F-word to wake up her old fans. Madonna was back!

And here's the thing: She's never looked better. Her face is tight and shining. Her body is lithe as ever. Her voice is rich, supple and perfect.

However she's doing it, Madonna is defying logic. She's doing Madonna, and while it seems a little sterile compared to the real Madonna, it works. She's still the superstar.

Joss Stone, the 18-year-old phenom, should take note: You can have a great voice, but you need a persona. Madonna's is overflowing.

But Madonna, like U2 and Coldplay, did not stick around long enough to take bows. She was in and she was out, a passing ship through the back area, even though she lives in London and probably could have stuck around.

Maybe she was worried about the London Underground not running after midnight. Only London would make sure not have to trains running, with 200,000 people outside at a late public gathering. You sort of see how Monty Python got its ideas.

There's more, of course. It was the kind of night that ended around 4 a.m. with Jude Law and Sienna Miller dancing in a private club, but not before Mariah Carey, in a dress that had to be constructed on her, entertained Snoop Dogg in her dressing room, and Sting looking more like a movie star than any of the actual movie stars told me of his performance: It was like being thrown down an elevator shaft and waking up at the bottom.

More tomorrow on Geldof, his overburdened and worrying compatriot producer Harvey Goldsmith and what Bill Gates told Trudie Styler he was good at in school.

Questions Surround Luther Vandross' Death

The magnificent soul singer Luther Vandross died yesterday at age 54.

He had suffered a stroke in April 2003 from which he never quite recovered. Vandross, who was beloved by everyone who knew him, suffered from diabetes and severe swings in weight.

But those close to him tell me that Vandross didn't have to die. What will come out in the next few days will be the story of how his manager, Carmen Romano, fought to keep Luther on track with his medical care. Opposing Romano were Vandross's mother and sister.

"They did not keep appointments he was supposed to have," a source said. "It was a constant struggle to get Luther the attention he needed."

Vandross, I am told, was having physical therapy at the time of his death.

"They were walking him and he just collapsed," a source said.

More to come, most certainly.

Also not to be forgotten today: Obie Benson, the 69-year-old bass baritone of the Four Tops. Only two Tops remain, but lead singer Levi Stubbs has been in fragile health himself for some time.

The Four Tops' hits are many, including "Baby, I Need Your Loving" and "I Can't Help Myself." Nothing in modern pop music holds a candle to either the Tops or Luther.