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"I can't really work out why anyone would buy a U2 record. When I listen to it I just hear all the mistakes." — Bono

Special for @U2: Interview with Stephen Catanzarite

Catanzarite is the author of the recently published book Achtung Baby: Meditations on Love in the Shadow of the Fall, in the 33 1/3 series by Continuum.

You mention Candida Bottaci at Principle in your acknowledgments, saying that she helped you get on the right track early on; I'm curious about the guidance she offered.

Also, was it a conscious choice to not include any direct quotes of lyrics, or did that have to do with the red tape of getting permission to use the lyrics?

My guess is that these questions might be related...

Ms. Bottaci contacted me shortly after word got around that I was writing the book and, as I recall, she just wanted to know what 33 1/3 is. So David Barker at Continuum sent her a bunch of books from the series. She didn't try to throw up any road blocks to the project or anything, but she did advise me that quoting lyrics would require a license (which I pretty much knew). I don't know that I would have quoted lyrics extensively in the book, but I know I didn't want to bother with a bunch of legal/financial hassles while trying to write it. So it was sort of conscious and sort of mandated. I actually found the "constraint" of not be able to quote lyrics rather freeing and inspiring creatively -- it pushed me to take the book in some different directions. I'm happy, for the most part, with how it all turned out. I have no regrets about any of the choices I made. The only thing I knew I wanted going into the writing of the book was to do something original and bold for an album I obviously treasure. That is a tall order, since other writers have done such great, creative things in the 33 1/3 series.

Who do you see as your target audience? Who do you hope picks up the book? How is this book being marketed?

None of that really matters to me -- I wrote the book I wanted to write. This is the same book I would have written if I were self-publishing it or just writing it down in some notebook, never to see the light of day.

I ask about audience because you had said in your Credo that your intention was to write a "catholic" book. Could you tell me more about this intention? I'm also interested in the story of your contact with the folks behind 33 1/3. Did you approach them after reading other books in the series?

I stressed "catholic" with a small c because it means universal. I want the book to reach as many people as possible. As for 33 1/3, I had a couple books, and my best friend from college wrote the Beastie Boys book, so that's what motivated me to submit a proposal. Continuum is a great company to work for.

Bill Flanagan in his U2 at the End of the World presents the "plotline" of Achtung Baby as a relationship in trouble. Was this an inspiration for the story that runs through your book?

No. Flanagan's book is great (I quote it and cite it -- it is the best U2 book on the market), but from the time the album came out, everyone picked up that the album was about a relationship in trouble. Lots of critics wanted to link it to the fact that the Edge's marriage was dissolving around the time of the recording (which I wanted to stay away from because I don't know a thing about the man's personal life and it has next to nothing to do with my engagement with the album). So Flanagan is not unique in that regard. His book is wonderful, and his thoughts on the "plot" of the album are great -- I just happen to think he didn't go far enough. The plot in my story is about love in the shadow of the Fall. That's more than just "a" relationship in trouble. That's ALL relationships in trouble. And I don't think anyone else has picked up on that in reviewing the album -- the Fall of Man theme -- even though to me, it was an obvious thing from the first time I listened to the album, which was on the first day it was released.

"Until the End of the World" is a Jesus/Judas story, as you point out, but it is also a relationship story. How come you did not link it in with the other songs by incorporating it into your "man and woman" story?

Variety. I wanted it to be a chapter that is sort of an "intermezzo" and to have a different focus and flavor. That's why it is called "A Word from Our Sponsor." It's like a commercial break -- a commercial for evil and betrayal. I also wanted to deal in a more universal way with the nature/reality of evil and betrayal. The focus of the book is love in the shadow of the Fall -- it is more interesting to think about the love between Jesus and Judas in that song, frankly. I agree, it is a relationship story -- the relationship between Jesus and Judas. As you know, the song was based on Brendan Kennelly's Book of Judas. [I think they actually came out around the same time -- AP]

How come -- particularly in discussion of "Mysterious Ways," with its celebration of feminine genius -- you don't quote any women writers/poets/mystics etc?

I wrote the book I wrote, I quote the people I quote. They are the poets and writers and saints that came to mind as I worked on the book. I guess I could have quoted Flannery O'Connor, Julian of Norwich, St. Therese, and even Germaine Greer...but the fact is I worked with and under the inspiration that came to me at the time; my inspiration is my inspiration -- yours is yours. I don't subscribe to some sort of "fairness doctrine" when I am writing. If that is a weakness in the book, so be it. But I would also say, being a man, that there is something about the album itself that is particularly male-centric. And in that regard, it is not a particularly flattering portrait of men!

You pick up on something interesting when you talk about the album being "male-centric." Was this also why, in the relationship story, there is more emphasis on the bad choices made by the male character?

I think that the album is written from a male perspective...and I think it is the whole "boy" becomes a "man" thing that infuses that album...and I'm a man, a son, a husband, a father, and I recognize how I make some stupid choices based on my own selfishness in all of those roles.

So I focus on the man because that is what I hear in the songs -- a male perspective...you might hear something very different...I think it would be fascinating to read an interpretation from a female perspective.

What was your motivation to stick with describing the songs in how they relate to personal, one on one relationships, and not examine their relation to how the Fall plays out in political life? (Especially given Achtung Baby's relation to the landscape of the early '90s, the fall of the Wall, the Gulf War, etc)

Because I believe the personal trumps the political on the album. I know all about the landscape of the early '90s in relation to the album, and in the epilogue I discuss some of that and some of the more political issues and events surrounding and perhaps informing the album. But the focus of my book was on the personal in the midst of a universal condition. Besides, the whole fall of the Wall / Gulf War angle has been done (to death, in my opinion). Flannagan covered that in his great book -- I felt no need to go down that road very far. Had I done so, and done it properly (because I happen to be very much interested and engaged with politics and statecraft) the book would have ballooned to three times or more its size. Such a book would not be a 33 1/3 book. I should also say this -- I never really bought the whole Gulf War as a major influence on the album theory. Maybe on the Zoo TV tour and the live performances, but on the album itself I have always found that dubious. As I say, the personal clearly trumps the political, in my view.

© Angela Pancella, 2007.