"This was the best punk rock band ever, because they actually invented something."
-- Bono, on the Ramones
Column: off the recordâ€¦, vol. 12-522
July 08, 2012
It was a lot of fun reminiscing about the U2 360 tour during U22 day on U2.com. I chimed in a few hours into the 11-hour event and enjoyed the trivia, photographs and tour stories that everyone shared. It's special days like this that make my membership to the fan club worth it. On Thursday, it was announced that U2.com will be rebroadcasting the April 2011 U2 360 show from Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the Zootopia mods mentioned on Twitter that it'll be on July 28 for subscribers. I really hope this is the start of something big for members. With a treasure trove of live material, they could offer a monthly live show special for us to all enjoy. The fans certainly have embraced U22 with open arms and have been clamoring for live material, so it would be a slam-dunk if they started to offer streams of live shows on a regular basis. The way the folks behind the scenes at U2.com have been listening to the subscribers gives me hope that this could happen.
Understanding the demographic is something the band appears to need. While it's refreshing to have Adam's perspective in the liner notes for U22, I have to wonder if he or they have a firm understanding of their audience. In describing "Bad," he said, "Considering that we didn't play it that much and that many U2.com subscribers wouldn't be of the vintage to have known it from way back, it's a real surprise that this track proved to be the most popular in the voting. Perhaps the fact there have been very few live versions since the EP Wide Awake In America in the 1980s helps explain why a version from this tour would be in such great demand. It's amazing that it's held so close in people's hearts.”
I have to disagree about the "vintage" statement. I don't know what the demographic breakdown is for U2.com subscribers, but from reading the various boards, mail lists and talking with many longtime fan club members, songs like "Bad" stand the test of time because of the power behind the song. After all, it was the top vote getter for U22. Anyone who has picked up on being a U2 fan over the past decade should have been indoctrinated with the importance of this song from the Live Aid performance in 1985. There are songs in the U2 treasury that are important not because they were chart toppers, but because they are so strong performed live. As much as fans ask when the next studio recording is going to be released, they know that once it's released it means the band is going back on tour. Larry's famous "Live is where we live" statement is where the U2 fan community is at, and if given the opportunity, I believe we'd take live material the majority of the time.
Recently, I picked up a secondhand version of the super deluxe box set for No Line On The Horizon. You can find them online for anywhere from $11-$33 depending on the seller. I wish I had read the 64-page hardcover book back in 2009 when the album was first released, because Catherine Owens' interview with the band offers an understanding that I did not get from magazine interviews or from the music itself. I appreciated the way each band member spoke about his role in the band, as well as what each brought to the recording sessions. While it didn't change my opinion of the album as a whole, it allowed me to understand just where Bono was coming from in the writing of the tracks. He explains the characters in the songs, why he wrote them in the third-person, and most important, gave the back story for where we're picking up the song. He described the character in "Unknown Caller" as the same one in "Moment Of Surrender":
Here is another character, a war veteran. In my head he was part of the Somali Adventure that went so wrong. We think about him as someone who has not been able to reintegrate or re-enter earth's atmosphere yet. He hasn't managed to return to himself. I believe insanity is the sane response of sane individuals to insane situations. In "Moment Of Surrender," he has dragged his wife into drugs and booze, and he can't live with what he has done to her and so he breaks down beside an ATM machine and begs God to deliver them. He ends up in a motel room at the end of his rope. He picks up his cell to call someone either for help or drugs, we don't know, but he can't get a signal. Then something mad happens. The phone starts to text him instructions. He doesn't know where the messages are coming from, he is not sure whether they are from someone he knows or has met… Are they from his conscience, is it a crank, or is it God? This altered state is the driving force in "Unknown Caller."
I did not pick up on any of this simply in the lyrics, nor did I really pick up on this elsewhere. I believe that had more people read the thoughts behind these songs, the album might have resonated more. It was a shame that these interviews weren't more readily available because they bring a deeper understanding to the music.
Another item that came up in the book was the topic of relevancy. While Bono may have been questioning the band's relevancy earlier this year, apparently it's something Adam has been contemplating for a while too. Owens asked Adam, "So what drives U2 to push beyond previously set goals? Is 'OK' ever enough?" Adam’s response was, "No, not really ... I think you learn that staying relevant is an important struggle, it goes back to the concept of surrender. If you assume that there is some kind of limit, it allows you to give up. But I think with U2 it's more about finding the truth within the work, finding a truth is probably what art does best. I think that is true for U2 as well."
Perhaps the relevancy struggle is really in how the band truly defines what it means to be relevant. Adam's approach was more artistic, while Bono's focus was getting the band's music back in clubs and on the radio. Perhaps this difference of opinion is the fuel allowing the band to continue to make the best music they can.
If you're a Comcast XFinity cable subscriber, you can find the Island Records 50th Anniversary show, Island 50, in the music section of On Demand this month. Go to On Demand > Music > HD > Palladia > Main Stage. The gig was recorded in May 2009 in London and features U2 performing "One" with Baaba Maal and "Vertigo" about 50 minutes into the show.
And finally ... I wonder if the band's significant others had to abide by these musician dating rules.
Have a great week!