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Saturday, May 30, 2015

The only U2 album I own is the one Apple put on my iPhone. I don't even have any other U2 songs. I am pretty sure that if I've ever listened to any U2 album straight through it would only have been once. I have seen them in concert. So much of pop culture is when you come to it, and U2 appeared at exactly the moment when I'd lost interest in the kind of arena rock that they have, I think, always been interested in making. When Boy was released in 1980 I was deeply engaged with punk, and although that record was somewhat punk rock or New Wave associated it sure didn't sound like The Clash. And there-- right there, at the end of that last sentence, lies the heart of my U2 problem. In 1980 The Clash were "The Only Band That Matters", a slogan derived from The Rolling Stones' self-annotation as the "World's Greatest Rock & Roll Band". U2, in their grandiose Irish way, set out to secure some amalgam of those designations for themselves. As Robert Christgau said in his review of Frankie Goes to Hollywood (remember them?) hype is "almost as intrinsic to rock and roll as" guitar, and in fairness U2 is as guitar a band as it is a hype. Here's the thing, though: both The Clash and the Stones earned their sobriquets. U2 merely aspires to them. In a way it's like Norman Mailer's striving to be Hemingway or Tolstoy. It would be one thing to work towards that, but it is another altogether to say it out loud. If I am being completely fair, I have to admit that the band seems to be actually engaged with its social mission, although I am am also put out by the way they go about it. Matthew 6:5, you know? Still, if hype is one of your main tools, then every problem-- hunger, third world debt, AIDS-- looks like something hype can address. You go to your two tool toolbox, pick up a guitar solo, say, "Nah," and then pick up hype. "That's the ticket," you say, and then you visit Jessie Helms to talk about Africa.

I will close with this: my customary way of listening to music when I'm in the car is to put my phone on 'Shuffle Songs', and every now and then one of the Songs of Innocence tunes pops up. When I'm caught unaware like that it seems to me that they aren't bad. Maybe U2 is onto something. They are obviously trying, so I guess I owe them an occasional attempt at listening.

| Comments:
That's the spirit! It took me 35 years of (off and on) trying to figure out why everybody gets so gaga (ahem) over D. Bowie, but a couple of months ago it finally clicked for me and I haven't been able to listen to anyone else since. I love it when a huge body of work I was indifferent to suddenly captures my imagination.
 

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