Sunday, January 30, 2011


U2 live at Red Rocks.

There was just nothing like it.
Watching that VHS tape on a suburban afternoon in my early teens was as momentous an occasion for me as my first glimpse of Elvis or my subsequent discovery of The Beatles. I couldn’t believe it: the pouring rain, the air of myth and mystery around this strangely-named wind-swept Irish band, Bono’s note-perfect soaring vocal. It was Day One of a whole new musical adventure for me, and I’ll never forget it.

In a way I’m proud to say that I got in on the (almost) ground floor as a U2 fan. By the time I discovered them, “The Joshua Tree” hadn’t even been released yet. I’d had a passing run-in a few years earlier, when I bought the cassette copy of “The Unforgettable Fire” on special at the Pick n Pay Hypermarket. I’d really liked “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” but the album turned out to be odd and inaccessible and nothing like the Top 40 stuff I was used to at the time, so I took it back and reclaimed my R7.50.

But that Red Rocks concert.
Totally changed my life.
I was about to become a fully-fledged, card-carrying teenage melancholic, and U2 was THE perfect soundtrack. When “The Joshua Tree” came along in 1987, it was just more cement to an already solid foundation.

A friend taped his scratched vinyl copies of “October” and “The Unforgettable Fire” for me (one on each side of a TDK C90), complete with jumps that made me think the songs were just like that for years until I heard “Promenade” on CD and Bono didn’t repeat “a spiral staircase” 15 times.

I got older and gloomier, sadder and more self-obsessed, and U2 was just there for me all the way through it. “The Unforgettable Fire” was my theme music. I was too young to realize what was really happening to  my heroes: they had undergone the transition from nascent indie mystics to swaggering (and dare I say it, rich) popstars, while I went through a heartbreaking family tragedy at the worst possible age and clung on to “A Sort Of Homecoming”, “Heartland” and “One Tree Hill”.

All remained fine for a long while. I even liked the band’s reviled “Rattle And Hum”, and the movie inspired me more than ever to make music my life.

Then came “Achtung Baby” and The End Of U2.

I see now why they consciously undid their legacy, chopped down the Joshua Tree and embraced the swagger. It makes total sense, and over a long time I grew to love “Achtung Baby” and admire “Zooropa”. I even sort of liked the Passengers side-step. I was changing, becoming a morose, depressed man, and U2 were still my idols, even though I now felt left out of the party. U2 were suddenly sexy and ubiquitous. Everything I wasn’t. They were no longer “mine”.
They were gods.

My life changed radically in 1996. I embraced religion for the first time, and was relieved to hear about U2’s spiritual leanings. The band’s Christian hope leaked into everything they had done, and I finally saw what it was about them that I had always responded to. My soul soared with them, my spirit was comforted by them, I didn’t feel alone and weak with music like that in the world. I had heroes worthy of respect. They had dignity and values and seagulls coming out of guitar amps and they anchored my life.

Which is why I wish they had just stopped it there.

1996’s “Pop” was the first real commercial backlash against U2. I still really like that record, I don’t get all the negative slagging-off about it. But I remember being secretly a bit relieved when I read that the album wasn’t being well-received and that the PopMart tour was going badly. Good, so my heroes were just humans after all!

That would’ve been a good time for them to quit, I think. Bow out with dignity, on a relative high. Just like The Police did only 5 albums into their meteoric career.

But no.

It’s gone on and on. Best Of after Best Of, weak album after weak album, a systematic dilution of a hard-won legacy. “No Line On The Horizon” in the bargain bin. Songwriting awards for shite like “The Hands That Built America”. A Spiderman Broadway musical. Bono wearing Gucci. Four consecutive eye-peelingly boring live concert DVD’s. Three consecutive crappy album titles. Bono in Armani. Corporate sponsors. Gone is the soaring, goosebump-raising music, instead: turgid “White As Snow” and “One Step Closer”. And, horror of all horrors, “Unknown Caller”. Did Larry Mullen Jr. play that guitar solo?

Is this really the band that summoned down “Elvis Presley And America”? “40”? “Scarlet”? “Walk To The Water”?

I don’t even know if I’m a fan anymore.

They just look like four bored millionaires onstage these days.

I wish it had all stopped years ago.

My fault for taking it all so seriously in the first place, I suppose.

Bono and the secretive Allie in a corny Louis Vitton ad? Are you kidding? Reasons to be pissed off at U2 #56.



  1. So here's a topic I can really sink my teeth into. Firstly I agree that No line is self indulgent rubbish and the Lanois/ Eno combo should be left as a good memory and put to bed. Its almost like u2 feel they owe it to them to allow them so much creative input into their record making which just makes the music so hard to listen to which is so strange given the songs they helped produce in the past. What happened to melody...

    However I confess like you that I've tried to cling onto all that was good about U2 and having seen them 4 times over many years around the world in various cities and about to watch them again in both cities when they hit our shores - there is still something magical that happens when they go live. Something unique that few have captured in our generation. I want to be able to hold onto this thing that U2 have so that we don't just end up saying things like "Our parents were so lucky to have had all the best bands in their generation" (even though its true!).

    Thankfully U2 are totally aware that the songs that made them great still make up the bulk of their shows with 'Streets' remaining the zenith of every concert no matter what era you refer back to. A clear indication of where the timeless music lies in their catalog.I try look past their recent mediocre albums and simply enjoy the spectacle of their live show while deep down inside always hoping they can redeem themselves with at least one last great song, let alone album. I mean even Bono is quoted as saying "3 crap albums and you're out". Wonder if they given that any thought lately.

    Just for the purpose of anthology - as much as The Joshua Tree was simply epic with the hallowed 3 songs Streets, Haven't found and With our without you remaining evergreen to my ears and fond memories of a 2 day party with my brothers that was simply The Joshua tree on vinyl repeat until we blew 2 hifi's - Achtung baby turned out to be my top U2 album of all time. It was edgy (no pun intended) dark and mystical and not as obvious as anything they had done before. You actually had to think about this one. I loved the characters Fly and McPhisto - the transformation and over the top approach just blew my mind. I love Bono for that. He's an artist deep down inside. I miss the angry Bono.

    I tried to understand Bono's desire for change and influence by reading several books about the band and him and I think I get him now. He's for real and yes its refreshing that he has a deep rooted conviction about his faith, albeit in a proudly Irish manner with the swagger and swearing which I believe is actually part of Irish tradition. There are some really amazing stories about how he bible bashed the hard line US republican senator Jesse Helms about his position on Africa's poverty which help spark off billions of dollars of debt relief for Africa. I respect that he was willing to make an ass of himself for something greater that his band, to become a rock star cliche.. And by the way the band thought he was making an ass of himself too when he became chums with No.43, old baby Bush.
    PS - they're both born again.

    Anyway John I digress but in my heart as I am sure deep down you do too - wish they could go out with a bang. Seems like they desperately trying to salvage something. I hear Will.I.Am and a fellow called Danger Mouse are going to produce 2011's new album. Hope and pray boys, hope and pray its a cracker...maybe Bono should never have written "I still haven't found what I'm looking for" seems like he really holds onto that.

  2. john... are you just jealous because you don't have a ticket to the concerts here and that's why you're slagging them off? or maybe cos they're not playing in durban?? hmmm?

  3. Going to the concert in JHB so I went and bought 360 and Rattle and Hum on Blue Ray yesterday. Watched them both back to back. John is right. The fire is gone big time... seems like they're going thru the motions - no passion what so ever.... and the Edge making many obvious mistakes on their classics! what the hell is that!


  4. hm. less agree. probly cos i don't 'get' music enuff. older stuff definitely better but i do like a bunch of the new stuff. standup comedy - "stop helping God across the road like a little old lady" - great line!

  5. Hi John I see where you are coming from but I have to say I think I have been a fan of U2 for probably as long as you from when is was not cool to like to U2 and to again when it seems like its not cool to like U2. A lot of the negative publicity comes from Bono and his god like complex as some call it.

    I have been privileged to go to a number of their concerts the last being on the vertigo tour and there is still something amazing and spiritual seeing them live even in a large stadium or a small intimate venue in dublin, live in concert they give their all. Their passion and commitment is 100% and its that same passion and commitment that Bono gives to his politcal/religous views most of which he is ridiculed for by both christians and non christians yet for some reason I get him I know that he is just a man trying to make a difference in both his music and his life and that is more than I can say for 90% of the rest of us. Bono says that he likes the idea of christianty but falls short of attaining it, this is something I can identify with.

    I have always supported U2 the band but its the lyrics that capture my heart and still do today I think Bono is one of the best lyricists who is not afraid of putting himself into his lyrics which is the same thing I like about your music.

    Having said all that I still think it comes to opinions of our view on music and these days I have become more all encompassing than I ever thought I would.

    Good Luck with "Come out fighting"

  6. So whatever shall they do then? You must submit direction correction for them. You know you should. As for you, youve gone in reverse to them haven't you? The edge of their career spawned "Yahweh". And you're about to write "Ya? Where?"

    heh heh :)

    The Ashton

  7. In my opinion NLOTH is a masterpiece, far from mainstream radio play material and any expectation of what their most recent album was anticipated to sound like; two years on and I'm still loving the sound and the lyrics. A number of 360deg in the flesh concert attendances later, to me and fellow attendees they never appeared bored on stage, more like a complete 100% effort from each band member every time. So, the guys are rich, well, they do more for good causes directly and through their influence inspire others at all levels to do more for good, than a commoner like I could ever do.