"Our music in the early '80s, it might have been ecstatic, but it wasn't really sexy, was it? Now we're sexy and ecstatic."
-- Bono, 2001
William Gibson: U2 Connections
Author William Gibson became one of the founders, if not the founder, of the genre that came to be known as "cyberpunk" by writing Neuromancer; his books often show off a darkly digital world, interactive and anarchic. That view of a computer-hacker-infested future (a future that was not too far off, as it turned out) was coaxed into reality with U2's money to become ZooTV. The Edge and Bono read a lot of Gibson before they planned this multimedia extravaganza, and Niall Stokes also mentions him in relation to the song "Zooropa" in Into the Heart:
Bill Flanagan in U2 at the End of the World views Achtung Baby in light of Nighttown, a locale in James Joyce's Ulysses, "a nocturnal urban world that promised knowledge in exchange for innocence." He also notes that an updated equivalent of Nighttown is in Gibson's vision of Tokyo in Neuromancer: "Gibson's name for the darkest section of the twenty-first century technolopolis is 'Night City,' an overpopulated hot-wired extension of Joyce's Nighttown." (Gibson, a college professor once told me, did not write Neuromancer based on his own knowledge of computer hacking or anything he knew firsthand about computers. He extrapolated his vision of the future by watching kids play video games. When someone finally got him a computer, he tried to take it back, thinking that the little light coming on meant there was a problem with it, like when the little light comes on in your car it means "Service Engine Now." He didn't realize it was the "on" light.)
William Gibson was tapped a couple of times in the ZooTV era to make contributions to that spectacle, just as Bono was asked to act in the film version of Gibson's Johnny Mnemonic. The cyberpunk writer filmed segments for 1992's Thanksgiving TV special, along with William Burroughs and Timothy Leary. He also interviewed Bono and Edge for Details magazine. During the interview Bono reflected on the differences between a human being and a celebrity: "At first, when you're reading stories about your life in the media, who you're supposedly sleeping with, how much money you're supposed to be making, what you had for breakfast--you feel violated. Then you start to realize that the person they're describing has very little to do with you and is in fact much more interesting than you are." This prompted Gibson to bring up the idoru, the "idol singers" of Japan, "constructed from one girl's looks, another girl's voice, and a P.R. team to handle moments like these."
In 1996 Gibson wrote Idoru, a novel about a totally virtual Japanese popstar and the half-Irish, half-Chinese Rez, lead singer of Lo/Rez, who apparently wants to marry her. Lo/Rez is a band fronted by Rez and a quiet, technically minded hat-wearing guitarist.
Gibson says Lo/Rez isn't U2, but what he says in an interview about his made-up band can only be said by someone who knows celebrity musicians personally, and is very illuminating:
What is captured by Idoru is the oddity of sharing a planet with celebrities, those whose very personhood is threatened to be swallowed up by the public's perception of who they are. He has a keen sense of the culture of fandom, particularly internet fandom, which allows every era of a group's career to be present at once, and appreciated for its own sake. Here's a passage describing a member of the Lo/Rez fan club:
Anyone who has witnessed an online debate of the virtues of The Joshua Tree Bono versus MacPhisto versus Pop Bono can find resonance in this passage:
Edge, when talking recently of the launch of U2.com, spoke of it hardly being necessary until this point, because of all the fan sites already devoted to U2. He could have quoted Gibson:
Gibson, perhaps inadvertently, also parallels the way U2's world stands in direct opposition to tabloid culture.
The U2 connection is hilariously demonstrated by a story in the @U2 archives from the National Enquirer, which was forced, in the absence of anything titillating, to report that U2 were squares.
Gibson has the last laugh. The whole time I read "Idoru" I was picturing Bono as Rez, and then what does he call the last chapter? "Fables of the Reconstruction." (Early R.E.M. title, if you were wondering.)
Some other connections worth mentioning: in a 1994 interview with Giuseppe Salza, Gibson talks about Edge teaching him some Internet tricks:
U2 contributed incidental music -- including Numb (the Gimme Some More Dignity mix) and Salome (the Zooromancer remix) to the audio book version of Neuromancer. This might be worth checking out at your local library. (Thanks to Joel Schander for the tip.)