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I write all the time, and not just songs. I just like stringing words together. -- Bono

U2 Lists: Top 11 Soundbytes from 2009


Ed. note: This is the 16th in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]

U2 Lists

"OK. It might get loud for a second." Edge delivers that gentle warning in the film It Might Get Loud before he starts to play the guitar riff from "Get on Your Boots." The documentary, a tri-profile of guitarists Jimmy Page, Jack White and Mr. Edge himself, came out in semi-wide release in 2009 after its 2008 premiere.

Yes, Edge and his U2 bandmates were loud throughout 2009, letting us in on the sound mostly in the way we like to hear them: singing, drumming and guitar- and bass-playing to crowd-filled arenas beneath a spectacle of a stage.

The band members were vociferous in other ways, too. With a new album and a tour to promote, they were chatty in 2009, providing plenty of fodder -- via print, TV and radio interviews and appearances (Bono even found his way as a columnist onto the pages of The New York Times) -- for @U2's archive of U2 quotations, aka Soundbytes.

After the 8 zillionth interview, U2 tend to repeat a few chosen lines. Bono, for example, is always a "traveling salesman" with the "right to be ridiculous" (those phrases even made it into lyrics on No Line on the Horizon); and the band members frequently marvel that they "couldn't even play our instruments" in the beginning. The guys do, however, manage to come up with gems every year, whether profound, political, inspiring, witty or something else altogether.

Here are my Top 11 Soundbytes from 2009, mainly starring Bono but with admirable supporting efforts from Edge and the less garrulous Adam and Larry, plus a college president. (Paul McGuinness almost made the list with his comment in a Financial Times interview that "I'm always delighted when Mick makes a record or does a tour because he makes U2 look so much younger.")

My criteria for inclusion in this list kept changing, but eventually I decided on a variety of quotations that somehow reflected a moment in U2's 2009, told me something I didn't know, made me LOL, encouraged me to think or just made me want to listen to a U2 song -- not that I need an excuse for that.

11. "We have to remind ourselves that we are Irish and we really have no right to be here." -- Bono, speaking in January before U2 played a concert at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., as part of the inaugural festivities for U.S. President-elect Barack Obama (Belfast Telegraph, Jan. 19).

10. "The video is based around the idea that men have f***ed things up so badly, politically, economically and socially, that it's really time we handed things over to women." -- Edge, describing the meaning of Alex Courtes' graphics-laden video for "Get on Your Boots" (The Sun, Feb. 6). The collage-like background in the video, with U2 singing in front of it, includes images of rockets, tanks, skyscrapers and a woman wearing shorts, boots and lots of eyeliner.

9. "I thought I looked very sexy in eye makeup." -- Bono, after his "guy-liner" performance at the Grammy Awards (Rolling Stone, March 4). Please, Bono, leave the eyeliner to the gal in the "Get on Your Boots" video. And from all your female fans, can't we ever just see your beautiful blue eyes unhidden behind glasses or makeup?

8. "It was just one of those great moments, you know. This idyllic place, everything is just perfect. … Brian Eno's on one side, you've got the rest of U2, you've got Daniel Lanois doing his thing on his guitar. The roof is open, the sun is shining. And suddenly the birds are s***ting on you! So that brought us back to reality!" -- Larry, describing how birds ruined his electronic drum kit during an open-air recording session in Morocco, for No Line on the Horizon (Hot Press, March 4).Uh-oh -- get on your protective suits next time.

7. "It was never an obvious first single because it's not straight-ahead rock or straight-ahead anything. But it is sly and charming and sexy and playful … and serious. It's an earnest love song. That's what's beautiful about it." -- Bono, talking about "Get on Your Boots" (Rolling Stone, March 4). Could he be describing himself, too?

6. "So ladies and gentleman, there will be class, but you've had the experience of a lifetime." -- The Rev. Joseph M. McShane, telling students at Fordham University in New York to return to their academic schedule after U2 played an early-morning concert at the college that aired on Good Morning America (The New York Times, March 6).

5. "It's not about being greedy. If you think of music as a sort of sacred, sacramental thing, you don't like to see it disrespected and turned into tap water. And we feel at the moment that is happening." -- Bono (National Post, March 10). In a mantra repeated often throughout the year, the frontman made clear his belief that artists shouldn't have to give away their music for free.

4. "I think of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, whose now combined fortune is dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty. Agnostics both, I believe. I think of Nelson Mandela, who has spent his life upholding the rights of others. A spiritual man -- no doubt. Religious? I'm told he would not describe himself that way. Not all soul music comes from the church." -- Bono, in an April 18 essay titled "It's 2009. Do You Know Where Your Soul Is?" that he wrote for The New York Times, one of several he penned as a guest columnist. Read the entire essay here.

3. "I drive everyone crazy. I drive myself totally crazy trying to get the sound that I can hear in my head to come out of the speakers. It's my voice. That is my voice, what's coming out of the speaker." -- Edge, in It Might Get Loud. Bono’s not the only voice of U2.

2. "The biggest misconception about me was that I was some kind of wild, crazy rock 'n' roll firework. It was an easy image to pick up on, but I'd like to think I was a little deeper than that." -- Adam, from a "This Much I Know" first-person piece in which the reserved bass player opened up more than usual (The Observer, Aug. 2). Read the entire column here

1. "[T]o me, it looks like some sort of mad spaceship ... and I just think it stands for, 'Well, we can go anywhere.' Which has always been the throw-down at any U2 show. 'Where do you want to go?' You can stay in the stadium if you want, or we can go to this other place where the streets have no name. We can go to this other place, the place of imagination, the place of soul, the place of possibility, and we can just get lost in it. And a great show, when that happens, people don't know where they are, I don't know where I am. And that's what I think it stands for." -- Bono, describing U2’s gigantic overhead stage contraption -- also called The Claw and compared to a cactus and octopus -- for the 360 Tour (Welland Tribune, Sept. 17). NOW I understand the spaceship connection.

© @U2/Lindell, 2010.