"Isn't all art an attempt to identify yourself, really? At some level, I've made a career out of personality crisis."
'Exit' Is the New 'Bullet'
August 03, 2017
OK, quick word association: “One hundred …”
It’s safe to say most fans would continue with, “TWO hundred.” Some ZooTV aficionados might even go so far as to add, “THREE hundred … fourrrrrr.” It’s what we all affectionately know is part of The Bullet Rant. Yet a funny thing seems to have happened during The Joshua Tree Tour 2017: While “Bullet The Blue Sky” maintains the intensity it’s had during its 30 years of existence, there seems to be a new outlet for U2’s anger and passion, one not seen or heard since the ’80s.
“Exit” is the new “Bullet.”
The song hadn’t seen the light of day (or darkness of night) live since Oct. 14, 1989, in Melbourne, Australia. Although no member of the band ever came right out and said so, it was widely assumed the song might never get played live again due to its prominent place in the trial of Robert John Bardo, the man convicted of murdering actress Rebecca Schaeffer that same year (chronicled in excellent detail in March by our own Tassoula E. Kokkoris). Of course, when U2 committed to playing The Joshua Tree in its entirety for this tour, its return became inevitable.
But almost no one – except this guy – saw what was coming in the shadows. Or, more precisely, in the Shadow Man. Adorned with a hat reminiscent of one he wore frequently on the original tour in 1987, Bono literally puts on the clothes of a character in a way he really hasn’t since the trio of characters he played on the ZooTV tour. Whereas those characters – the Fly, the Mirror Ball Man and Macphisto – were all designed with camp clearly in mind, Shadow Man is much more dangerous, because he seems much more real.
He might share the same occupation as Mirror Ball Man, but he’s more a direct descendent of the original Joshua Tree tour’s “preacher in the Old Time Gospel Hour,” made famous in Rattle & Hum (yet another throwback to “Bullet”). But there’s a twist: The preachers in that line of the business are in it because they want people’s money. Watch Shadow Man closely, listen to his words outside the song lyrics, and it becomes quickly apparent he’s not interested in your money – he wants your soul.
“Hold out your hand,” he implores repeatedly as Edge rips through the song’s first searing solo, while Adam and Larry continue their rhythmic assault. Then Shadow Man pauses as the music comes down off its crescendo. Dramatically, because … well, that’s what preachers do.
“Where you come from is gone,” he continues, channeling Flannery O’Connor’s godless minister Hazel Motes in Wise Blood. “Where you were going was never there. And where you are is no good – unless you can get away from it.”
Where are we exactly? Like any good art, it’s open to interpretation. But for the purposes of the U2 fan, we’re inside the world of The Joshua Tree, 30 years on. Perhaps there’s a point to be made here about the album’s original working title, The Two Americas. Maybe we came from the first America, the one Bono is constantly saying isn’t just a country but an idea. Is it gone? Is where we’re going even there to begin with? And where we are now is no good – are we in the second America, where the ideals of our ancestors give way to the pragmatism of now and the seeking of power for power’s sake? Can we get away from it, or is it too late?
All heady questions to consider, and not exactly the light fare many concertgoers are seeking on a night out. Yet this is the band we’ve come to know and love over the last four decades, pushing the envelope by exploring simultaneously the dark sides of both the individual and group (read: American) psyche in a way that feels fresh, even if the song technically isn’t.
It seems as if the battle for U2 back in 1987 was through politics and collective action – making “Bullet,” with its direct references to U.S. involvement in Central America, the logical place for expressing anger and rage. And it has served well in its subsequent tours of duty, including this one, as The Bullet Rant has been repurposed several times for different battles. But the battle that has returned to the forefront with “Exit”? It’s more individual. More spiritual. More personal.
The quote from O’Connor’s twisted minister concludes this way: “Where is there a place for you to be? No place … nothing outside you can give you any place … in yourself right now is all the place you’ve got.”
“Put your hands against the screen!” he implores, invading perhaps the most personal space we now possess in our culture – our digital space. “Put your hands against the screen!” Then, as quickly as he appeared, the man recedes into the shadows.
© @U2/Wilson, 2017