"It's a trap when you agree to being one person because when you step out of character with that, you look like a hypocrite."
-- Bono, on his Macphisto persona
Column: off the record ..., vol. 16-742
September 25, 2016
What a weekend for the hundreds of fans who came out to our Dublin and Cleveland festivities to celebrate #U240. A lot of hard work was put in by many here to bring all of the events together. Huge thanks to The Grand Social, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland Cinemas, The Joshua Tree, December, Ivan McCormick, Dave Fanning, and everyone behind the scenes who brought this weekend to life. Special thanks to all who traveled great distances to come out in support. Between the two event locations, we had over 20 countries represented — phenomenal!
We are grateful for all of the support — let’s do this again for the band’s 50th, shall we?
Oh...one more thing: Adam "Partycrasher" Clayton, you can drop in anytime you'd like. I'll have tea ready and waiting.
Forty years ago, a 14-year-old boy pinned a note on a high school notice board asking others to meet up in his kitchen to join a band. Little did any of them realize the impact that meet-up would have on them. The band whittled itself down from The Larry Mullen Band, Feedback and The Hype to the current incarnation known universally as U2.
In the earliest of days, U2 took a stand on social justice issues. It has been part of the band’s DNA from the get-go. On the Innocence + Experience tour, we were all transported through the Troubles and the terrorism in Ireland at the time of the band’s formation, all the way through to present day with pleas for human rights and equality. All those who consider themselves U2 fans do so knowing that U2 will expose us to social justice issues along with a demand that we better educate ourselves about these issues and make an informed choice to do something about them.
It goes back to the beginning: One of the earliest gigs U2 did was the Phoenix Park Peace Festival on Aug. 5, 1978. A year later, they did a show called “Rock Against Sexism” on Aug. 28, 1979. Over the 40 years, U2 have performed more benefits than we can count, but more important, have put themselves on the line for these issues. By latest count, the band has publicly supported more than 50 charities and they are private patrons of countless others that we may never know the full extent of.
U2’s discography is ripe with songs that tackle social justice issues. “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Pride (In The Name Of Love),” “Walk On,” “Bullet The Blue Sky,” “Miss Sarajevo” and “New Year’s Day” are all obvious examples most people can easily point to. This is not a band that takes lightly the topics it tackles in song, and the production that goes into its live performances transforms the song’s message profoundly. Think “October,” “Zooropa,” “Where The Streets Have No Name,” “One,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” — these have shifted to fit the issue being raised. Integrating the Declaration Of Human Rights into the band’s Vertigo tour was a profound statement that definitively stated EVERYONE, no matter what race, ethnicity, religion or gender, has the right to life, liberty and security of person. Articles 5 and 6 state, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Everyone has the right to recognition as a person before the law.”
“Where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die” is a mantra Bono has been saying for years now, and many of these crises are due to where people live. Geographical social justice issues U2 has tackled over these 40 years include hunger, disease, terrorism, civil war, human trafficking, domestic violence, prisoners of consciousness, mental health, climate change, apartheid, gender inequality, natural disasters … need I keep going? U2’s commitment to change the hearts and minds on these and many more issues continue to drive them.
Let’s take a step back. In the ‘80s, U2 took bold political stands across the globe, and have remained a pain in the backside of politicians in the U.S ever since. Their disdain for U.S. President Ronald Reagan and his policies carried through their first decade and seeped into the early ’90s and the ZooTV tour as President George H.W. Bush continued to take his predecessor’s stances. It can be argued that U2 influenced the 1992 election when they had friendly banter with Bill Clinton on the campaign trail. With President Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush, Bono pushed for debt cancellation and anti-retroviral medication in Africa. It was at this point that the shift happened: While the rest of U2 weren’t pleased with Bono for hanging out with members of the U.S. Republican party (like Sen. Jesse Helms), Bono realized that compromise and partnership were vital for progress to be made. From that point on, Bono has successfully met with world leaders to propel compromise and understanding on the dozens of social justice issues the band has stood for since its inception.
I cannot underscore this enough: Bono knows a thing or two about diplomacy and compromise. U2 have a pretty good track record of backing causes that make a profound difference on a global scale. They partner with organizations whose mission it is to defend human rights. Amnesty International and Greenpeace are obvious examples of this. More recent followers will point to the One Campaign and its vast network. The band has thrown its support to other world events as well: the Northern Ireland peace process, ending apartheid in South Africa, peace in Sarajevo, justice for the Mothers of the Disappeared, and more.
If you need more examples, check out Tim Neufeld’s four-part series on “Have U2 Changed The World?” I believe I can unequivocally state that the band’s resume is quite robust on this topic.
It is with this backdrop that U2’s opening number during Friday night’s iHeartRadio Music Festival was not a surprise to me, and it shouldn’t have been a shocker to any U2 fan. Bono hinted that the band was planning on something during his interview with Charlie Rose earlier in the week when he expressed his sentiments toward the U.S. Republican party presidential candidate, Donald Trump. He didn’t mince words; however, he also underscored that he is not telling anyone how to vote. This is the sound byte that did not get airplay, but if you watch the full interview segment, it’s there.
For the iHeart Music Festival, U2 opened with “Desire,” containing all the pomp and circumstance as 1992’s ZooTV version. Here we have the Mirrorball Man (sans mirrorball suit) throwing money into the air and as it falls, there’s Trump extolling the virtues of capitalism (a shift from the ’92 Mirrorball Man.) Bono asks everyone if they’re willing to take a gamble, a nod to the gig’s Las Vegas venue, as the band is cranking out the tune. The Trump dollars that fell from above are designed similarly to the ZooTV dollars and the Zoo ECUs with similar messages.
U2 certainly made a statement, but it might have been lost on many. A friend of mine who was at the show on Friday said the women in her section were all chatting about how they were so happy that U2 was supporting Trump because “why else would he be on the screen behind them during the show.” The backlash on social media and across the various forums (not to mention comments on Periscope from one feed broadcasting from Friday’s show) has been filled with more hate speech against the band than I’ve ever seen in the decades I’ve been following U2. I have received several emails this weekend from people (who probably think that I work for U2) with such vile and hate-filled pro-Trump rhetoric.
For 40 years, U2 have been doing this — holding up a mirror to the establishment and those who want to become part of that establishment, challenging them on their motivation and commitment to equality for all. Trump is no different. The band continues to be united in promoting the Declaration Of Human Rights, and Friday’s “Desire” performance underscores that they are not going to be silent when it comes to someone potentially throwing those rights out the window.
I hope all those who have traveled to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, visited the “Louder Than Words: Rock, Power, Politics” exhibit. If you haven’t seen the exhibit yet, GO! The Rock Hall has curated a fascinating walk through 60 years of “rock music’s power to change attitudes about peace, equality, patriotism and hope.” Bono’s full interview is woven through the exhibit, and we were given permission to share with you a part of it. It was a very fitting exhibition for the #U240Cleveland festivities to commemorate the band’s anniversary.
While watching Rattle And Hum, U23D, and other video clips from U2’s career this weekend, I was reminded of this common thread of social justice. I believe a fitting tribute on this 40th anniversary is to acknowledge that while a lot of progress has been made on these issues of social justice, we are by no means done — and neither are U2. They haven’t been scared off by opposition over these four decades and they sure as hell won’t be now or in the future. They will continue to be that voice for the voiceless, the face for the faceless and the heart for the heartless. That is the type of legacy I am most proud of.
Any opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily represent the views of @U2 as a whole.