"[T]he lyrics aren't literature; they are only part of the story."
Column: off the record..., vol. 13-579
August 11, 2013
A few days ago I had reason to go back and read this interview with Bono talking about U2's "new" album:
... this is where popular music, and rock, is at right now. ... People are buying video games more than they are buying records. And I have to ask why would people buy albums now? That's why I think records should be more of a trip, literally. If it's about songs, taking the great songs from all over the place, but for me it's got to be more than that. For me great records are, and have always been, like books and movies. They're another place. And I'm not talking about concept albums! Certainly our new record isn't a concept album. But the music of the Sex Pistols was "concept" music, a "concept album" all told. It was a world you entered into at 16, a sonic experience hauling you in by throwing images at you. And you disappeared into it.
That was Bono speaking to Irish music journalist Joe Jackson about Zooropa in 1993. Zooropa recently turned 20 years old, and to mark the occasion I talked with Flood about producing the album. Back then, Bono came up with the idea of visiting the Land of Zooropa -- another place -- and he was telling his band mates and Flood they should turn what was going to be an EP into a whole album of what it would sound like to be in that place.
The reason I was re-reading Jackson's interview was because he just published Bono: Soul Searching and Uncensored, an eBook collection of the full-length interviews he did with Bono from 1993 - 2001. There are four interviews in all: the Zooropa interview from 1993; the Bono on Elvis interview from 1994; the profile "Bono: Sex 'n' Drugs 'n' Rock 'n' Roll from 2000"; and the Bono on Beckett interview from 2001. Both the Zooropa and Elvis interviews in Jackson's eBook are substantially longer than what was originally published at the time, and the extra material really allows you to hear Bono talk through the "soul searching" topics of fame, his Christian faith, and the tension inherit in the marriage of sex and the spirit in rock 'n' roll.
Jackson's eBook is a homemade eBook and there's nothing fancy about it. I wish it had more documentation of when and where each interview was conducted, as well as when and where the material was first published. Parts or all of these interviews have been printed before, but as I said, the extra material that was never printed is great to have. Jackson says only 20% of Bono on Elvis has been shared before. He has posted a few video clips to go along with the book, and the videos are him playing the audio from the Zooropa interview when Bono shares samples of the music, and some snippets of Bono talking about Elvis.
But what I found most interesting were the comments, reflections, and backstories Jackson wrote as context for each interview. You get a little insight into Bono's approach to giving interviews and you get a taste of all that Bono can say in the span of an interview. Reading all of it reminded me of just how thoughtful and purposeful Bono was during the ZooTV era about art, commerce, show business, and the lessons U2 had already learned from the history of rock 'n' roll. You also get to read about some of the soul searching Jackson himself did because of U2. There's a bit about interviewing Johnny Cash around the time he recorded "The Wanderer" and Jackson's urging of Bono to go with "The Wanderer" as the title for the song.
There is also Jackson's reaction to having the misfortune of writing in 1999 that The Edge was arrested in 1989 for possession of marijuana. It was Adam who was arrested, we all know now, and it was Jackson's mistake-of-fact for switching the names, but it resulted in Jackson and the newspaper that printed the story feeling the legal force of U2, Inc., when a mistake has been made that damages the reputation of a member of the band. Jackson's experience brought to his mind what Eamon Dunphy went through for writing his biography of U2, The Unforgettable Fire, and Jackson shares a bit about that and a conversation he had with Dunphy about how he handled it.
What does any of all that above have to do with U2's next album? Well, reading Bono talk 20 years ago about how he wants albums to take him on a trip to another place made me think that now, 20 years later, U2 are still on that quest and their choice of Danger Mouse makes even more sense. Back in 1993, Bono also told Jackson,
"That's what the whole thing's all about. ... Doing anything you can to feel the ground going from under your feet and enjoying the sensation! ... If we're committed to the art of rock 'n' roll at all we have to move forward to see what we can make of the beast by pushing everything to its limits."
This all is right up Danger Mouse's alley. His page with the William Morris talent agency describes him as:
not a stereotypical producer -- he's a full collaborator. His projects feature his instrumental work, his compositional instincts and the full range of his aesthetic. Like the pop artists and filmmakers who inspired him, Danger Mouse is defined not by his skills, but by the choices he makes. His projects generate self-contained worlds, best explored in context.
I can't wait to go explore the new world U2 and Danger Mouse have created, and I can only wonder about all the context they are dreaming up to help flesh out that world. Let's go!
(c) @U2, 2013.