Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Hype of U2*

I don't remember exactly when it happened. I don't remember the moment where I transcended liking U2 to having to understand every word of every song they sang. Like many, The Joshua Tree was first U2 album that I owned. It was actually one of the first CDs that I owned (Kick was the other).
When I really started to listen to and read the lyrics, I understood that they were more than your average rock band. U2 was trying to tell you something. U2 became, and still is, the rock band with a conscience.
Larry Mullen, Adam Clayton, The Edge (Dave Evans), and Bono (Paul Hewson) joined forces in the late 70's, just some kids from the Mount Temple School that wanted to make music. 11 O'clock Tick Tock was the first the "world" heard of U2.

All of the elements of quintessential U2 are present: Clayton's very present bass lines, The Edge's signature guitar sound, Larry's fast snare, and Bono, the  preacher man. Their religious upbringing helped shape many of their songs, especially on Boy and October. The songs were mainly about teen angst and religion with Out of Control, I Will Follow and Gloria being the best known from those albums.
Politics really entered into U2's realm with the War album in 1983 with songs such as Sunday Bloody Sunday, New Year's Day,  and Seconds (one of only a handful of songs The Edge would sing). 40, based on Psalm 40, still makes the concert rounds. Under a Blood Red Sky and Unforgettable Fire would propel U2 into their role as super group and world savers. The biggest song for them with Pride (In the Name of Love) would ready them for what would come next.
We must give credit to Sir Bob Geldof here. I truly think that he influenced Bono by way of showing him what was going on in the world. It was the 80's and there was a hunger crisis in Africa. Enter: Live Aid. U2's performance at Live Aid was one of their best and when Bono danced with that young lady from the crowd, we knew a true showman was born. But what Live Aid also did was it took Bono and his wife, Alison Stewart, to Africa. Their visit influenced one of rock's biggest selling albums, 1987's The Joshua Tree.

 Every single song on The Joshua Tree could have been a hit. The haunting sounds of Where the Streets Have no Name,Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, and the almost disturbing With or Without You were on rotation on every radio station ... and on MTV. Yes, the age of video most definitely helped U2 close the loop on being the number one band at the time. Not only did you get to hear them, you got to see Bono's brooding, The Edge's hats, and we were introduced to the genius of well thought and produced music videos.
Most don't realize this about The Joshua Tree: it's political. At least six of the songs on the album are about political corruption in the US, Columbia, disappearances, drug abuse issues, starvation, and hopelessness. Bono wanted to be the voice of the voiceless and give hope to the hopeless.
The tour that followed gave us Rattle and Hum, the album and movie. We were essentially on this journey with U2, yes, to quote Larry Mullen, Jr. It was a "musical journey." They had the world at their fingertips. The cover of Time, top selling albums and being called the best band in the world. But what made U2, U2, happened on December 30, 1989
Go away and dream it all up again...

What everyone wanted was The Joshua Tree again but that they were not going to get. What we got was Achtung Baby and a schizophrenic Bono wearing devil horns and pleather suits.

Achtung took many by surprise. It was different, but they liked it. I still cannot and refuse to compare Achtung and Joshua Tree. U2 reinvented themselves but the world was doing the same thing. Tiananmen Square was fresh on everyone's minds, the Berlin Wall fell and East and West were now one. U2 was actually in Berlin when the re-unification happened. This and the entire story of that period of the band's existence is told brilliantly by Bill Flanagan in U2 At the End of the World. Bono faces eviction without his pants, might be the best opening to any bio I have ever read. The world was changing and U2 was leading the charge. 
Next up - ZooTV and Zooropa. Again, U2 would conquer the world via live performance. The stage, complete with screens of all sizes, was a tribute to the out of control TV and satellite world that we live in. Each night, Bono (usually MacPhisto)  would call someone on his phone. The world was Bono's stage. And in the political atmosphere of the late 80's and early 90's Bono was a kid in a candy store.
Now, say what you will about the next album, I loved it (the tour was ok too if you can get over the Lemon Space Ship). Pop. It was disco-y and quirky but relevant. Songs like Please and Staring at the Sun question the violence in our world.
All That You Can't Leave Behind brought U2 away from the supersized techno glitz and re-invented themselves yet again with stripped down, but magnificent songs. Beautiful Day, Kite, Walk On, and Stuck in a Moment brought the fandom back to U2. But it would be the Super Bowl where U2 would bring the world to its knees in one of the most beautiful tributes to 9/11 I have ever seen. The names of those lost, floating up to heaven, never forgotten.  In case any of you are wondering what Bono says before the song starts, he is reciting a portion of Psalm 116:
What can I give back to God
For the blessings he's poured out on me
I'll lift hig the cup of salvation
A toast to God
I'll pray in the name of God
I'll complete what I promised God I'll do
And I'll do it together with his people

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, No Line on the Horizon brought U2 back on the road, and of course Under the Brooklyn Bridge. And now we wait. We wait for what they are going to being us without their lifelong producer, Paul McGuiness.
I am certain though, that every word of every song will be methodically planned. A bible verse, a political jab, or an historical moment will be woven perfectly into the melodies.
Bono, Modern Day Psalm Writer
It is no secret that Bono loves the role of front man, but Bono is also morally conscience and seems to always be looking for something to tell the world about. To me, he is our modern day King David. Bono writes our psalms for us. He also does not shy away from his belief of God. He penned a wonderful piece in the Guardian prior to the release of a new version of The Psalms in 1999. An excerpt:  
David was a star, the Elvis of the Bible, if we can believe the chiselling of Michelangelo. And unusually for such a "rock star," with his lust for power, lust for women, lust for life, he had the humility of one who knew his gift worked harder than he ever would. He even danced naked in front of his troops -- the biblical equivalent of the royal walkabout. David was definitely more performance artist than politician.

The deep religious roots that almost drove the band out of existence in the 1980's still thrives within him. He's a humanitarian, a philanthropist, and a family man. I look forward to what he has to say next.

*U2 fanatics might get the title reference.

Excellent U2 reads:
Walk On Spiritual Journey of U2 - Steve Stockman
U2 At the End of the World - Bill Flanagan
Into the Heart - Niall Stokes

1 comment:

  1. Lovely, just lovely. Beautifully written. I cannot however agree on Pop. One of the ONLY albums I hated.