"[M]usic has lost the personality of human beings and musicians. It's got so shiny that it's as if there's a surface of Formica over it. And it's something that doesn't let you in."
-- Edge, 2003
Column: off the record..., vol. 14-609
March 09, 2014
Wow! The recent barrage of U2 news has left my head spinning. We thought we were seeing the run-up to an album release: lots of interviews with Bono, special appearances by band members at events, performances on The Tonight Show and the Academy Awards and specific mentions of new material by The Edge and Bono.
And then ... disaster. For those who missed it, a Billboard article on March 7 reported that there will not be a new album or tour in 2014. Apparently, U2 aren't yet happy with the current project and have scheduled more studio time. Furthermore, Danger Mouse (the current producer for U2) has indicated a fairly high level of frustration with the album's progress.
To be honest, I'm feeling a bit uneasy — a mixture of frustration, sadness and compassion all at the same time. Twitter, Facebook and forums across the Internet have been in high gear, speculating about the future of a new U2 record. Many doubt U2's resolve to even finish an album. Rumors abound, speculating about strained relationships within the band, personal health issues, lack of focus, or, on a lighter note, that this is all just a ruse and the album will be released quietly on iTunes very soon (April 1?).
I don't pay much attention to the theories that are circulating. While interesting, they're not very helpful or productive. Speculations, in general, are the stuff of high drama, often revealing more about the one who shares them than the one they're about. As I filter through the recent U2 news, I've identified four things that help me understand this great band and their ongoing journey. See if any of these resonate with you.
1) Age. I'm now in my early 50s, just a year-and-a-half younger than Larry. If our four favorite Irishmen are experiencing life anything like I am at this stage, I have a lot of sympathy for them. I'm a reasonably healthy guy with good personal habits, but I'm feeling the effects of age: I wear glasses most of the time now, I blew my knee out and had to have surgery last summer and the doctor keeps wanting to cut stuff off of my body! I'm slowing down, reflecting on the previous four decades and becoming more grateful for the little things. I still have lots of love for life, but in a very different way than when I was an ambitious, aggressive 20- or 30-something.
I'm ready to let Bono, The Edge, Adam and Larry do the same. I remember walking out of a 360 venue more than once thinking that this was the end. How could these guys, in this stage of life, keep up the energy? How could they top one of their best albums and supporting tours in what might be their late 50s? In many ways, Glastonbury could be seen as the pinnacle of a wonderful career. It might be time to let the boys enjoy the fruit of their years.
2) Uncertainty. I hate unpredictable situations; I love to control my life. And it would be much easier to be a U2 fan if the band was anything close to predictable. But isn't that why we love them? We never know what will come next. Good art is unpredictable. In many ways, U2 are being good artists by living into the uncertainty of the very fragile and volatile world in which we live. They'd be boring and we'd resent them if they traveled down the same carefully sequenced road as other pop performers. The real problem for many of us is that we're mad because we can't plan next summer's vacations. Keep saving those frequent flier miles.
3) Community. This U2 family I've found with all of you is the best. One of the reasons I want another tour is so we can all be together again. I attend a fair amount of concerts, but nothing compares to getting together with the U2 tribe. It's not any one individual I want to reconnect with — it's the whole community. I miss telling stories and making memories while we sit for hours in the queue, stand on the floor anticipating the white belch of smoke from a giant spaceship, dance, hug, exchange emails and take that last photo during "Rocket Man." Can we all just have a big virtual hug right now? (Even better, let's get Scott Calhoun to organize a third U2 conference!)
4) Music. This seems obvious, but it needs to be stated - we genuinely love the music and we'd cherish more. If the powers that be are listening in on this one, thanks for two great new tunes, can you give us some more? I'm going to keep signing up for my U2.com membership for no other reason than I hope the club becomes a great source of U2 songs that never made it — or never will make it — onto an album. That might be one of the main ways we get new material in the future.
I'm into U2 because of their message through music and activism. That's what draws me. No matter what the future holds for U2, I know I'll have plenty of time ahead to explore the richness of the U2 catalog for years to come. Don't lose heart, U2 fans. We've got a lot more to explore and experience together.
(c) @U2/Neufeld, 2014