"[I]n the early '80s . . . there was this rather ridiculous idea . . . that if it was big, it was bad. Which of course rules out Elvis."
Column: off the record..., vol. 12-531
September 09, 2012
It brought me great delight to drop both of my children off at school on Friday. First days are always fun because teachers usually ask the traditional question, "What did you do on your summer vacation?" This year, my kids have enough to talk about until February vacation. During the summer, I got to catch up with a lot of U2-related items that have been on my checklist for a long time. For example, while visiting London to catch some Olympics events, my husband and I visited the Tate Modern to catch the Damien Hirst exhibit.
As I mentioned in my May OTR column, Hirst's impact on U2 goes back almost two decades. I deliberately did not want to study Hirst prior to going through the exhibition as I wanted to let Hirst's own voice speak to me. Hirst's video commissioned for U2's "Even Better Than The Real Thing" Glastonbury performance was featured in the exhibition. That video is a compilation of his art pieces throughout his career. Understanding his fascination with death, medicine and religion put a completely different spin on "Even Better Than The Real Thing." I was really taken by his use of flies and butterflies from before birth to after death. The piece "A Thousand Years" showed the full circle of life for a fly as well as the unfortunate choice the fly makes as it gets electrocuted by the fly zapper. I was left considering what caused it go into the zapper in the first place: Was it attracted to it and looking to be instantly gratified? The fact that I was more concerned about the dead fly than about the rotting cow's head on the floor providing the flies with their food was also interesting to me.
By the time I walked out of the exhibition I could see just how fragile we all are, how much reliance we have on others and how instant gratification can be your downfall. Taking Bono's comments on "Even Better Than The Real Thing" into consideration, it is no wonder why they asked Hirst to provide a visual for this song: "It was originally called 'The Real Thing,' which is a dumb title for a song. 'Even Better Than The Real Thing' is much more reflective of the times we were living in, when people were no longer looking for the truth, we are all looking for instant gratification." If you're in the mood, Tate Modern posted a 12-minute video walkthrough with the curator and Hirst, and Channel 4 did an in-depth program about the exhibition featuring Hirst. The exhibition has just closed, but these two videos are a great vacation memory.
Another thing I got to do on vacation was finish Bill Flanagan's book, Evening’s Empire. It's written in the voice of a lawyer (solicitor) who finds himself suddenly managing a rock band. Although it is a fictional tale, I found myself envisioning meetings Paul McGuinness might have had with U2 or Chris Blackwell at certain points in the story. It did my heart good to read the acknowledgements at the end, "Special blessings to all on Sir John Rogersons Quay and upstairs at the Clarence." In the story, Flanagan brought his characters through 40 years as their careers ebbed and flowed as a result of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle mixed with the way the music business changed as a result of technology. As a fan of a rock band, I empathized with how we fans can be perceived by the musicians we follow, especially in the age of social media. I feel there was a lot of truth hidden in the fiction. I highly recommend both this book and its companion A&R, which is written in the voice of an artists & repertoire executive at a major label.
While on vacation, we had a family reunion in the Normandy region of France. I loved channel surfing in the car and finding U2 being played on the radio with more frequency than I'd hear back home in Massachusetts.
In case you missed this news, the African Well Fund has surpassed the $1 million mark in funds raised to support clean water initiatives in Africa. The organization reached this milestone during the 10th annual Build a Well For Bono's Birthday campaign. In an announcement, the group said it has funded more than "300 projects in 14 countries that are benefiting over 335,000 people since its founding in 2002. All of this has been made possible by our legion of supporters."
The African Well Fund is gearing up for its annual November Got Water? auction fundraiser. It has posted on Twitter how you can get involved or donate an item for the auction.
I am 28-for-28 when it comes to watching the MTV Video Music Awards. I realized that no matter how much I have tried to stay up to speed with current music, trends and gossip, this was the first year where I didn’t quite "get" it. I also believe this year's award show had more profanity bleeped out than the other 27 combined. Then again, for a channel that removed "music television" from its channel name back in 2010, I should be happy that they have music being performed on it.
Sitting on my couch on Thursday made me realize another piece of the relevancy argument in regards to the music industry. MTV gave out an award for "Best Video With A Message," which Demi Lovato won for "Skyscraper." If your music isn't conveying a message, then how relevant is your music in the first place? The VMAs used to be a great barometer for the upcoming year in music and popular culture. If that was the case this year, then someone has to convince One Direction they don't have enough profanity in their lyrics and that they are overdressed.
And finally ... in honor of the VMAs, here is a compilation of U2's performances over the years.
Have a great week!