Wednesday, May 28, 2008

1984: A Sort of Homecoming

U2: A Sort Of Homecoming


To my knowledge no one has broached the topic of U2 yet on this blog, and I'm a little hesitant to be the one to do it.

Here's the deal: To appreciate any art, music included, it's important to remember the time-context in which the piece was produced. Sgt. Pepper released in 2008 might be a pretty cool album, but the same album released in 1967 was landscape-changing. The Ramones' initial release would sound simple and over-done now, but in 1976 it was an oasis in a desert (or so I'm told -- I was only nine).

With that in mind, I think it's very difficult at this point in history to see U2, the band, the way they were in 1984 when we are so accustomed to seeing U2 the band, the ego, and the political/media machine as they are now.

I know all too well what they have become. I have watched them as their musical chops have diminished even as their egos and their popularity have, paradoxically, exploded. They are not a great band anymore, at least not in my opinion. They are really not even a good band any more. But, c'mon -- to talk about 1984 without talking about U2 would be ridiculous. They were definitely a great band back then.

I think you have to be at least my age, or close to it, to remember U2 before they had "greatest band in the world" status. They were never a punk band, as they laughably claim now, but they were incredibly unique, powerful, and at times even moving. I saw them on their Unforgettable Fire tour in San Francisco in 1985. They played on a small stage that was completely devoid of giant lemons and shopping carts. They all wore t-shirts and jeans. If I remember correctly the tickets were $9. And they played to the crowd more than any band I had ever seen.

So, close your eyes and see if you can block out all of the images (and sounds) of the last 10-20 years and hear the music of U2 when the music was good, and when the music was still what it was about.


pudenda shenanigans said...

You're so right about U2. Back when Unforgettable Fire came out, it was as if a bomb had gone off. My friends and I were hooked. It didn't take long til Mr. Bugeyed Sunglasses ruined it, but it was a great ride til then. They were so poetic, so Irish, and so unpolished.

BWR said...

pudenda: Thanks for the validation. Sometimes nowadays i feel crazy and wonder if my memory is working properly. But i swear these guys were awesome back then. They were so authentic. War was also an amazing album.

boyhowdy said...

I saw u2 during the Joshua Tree tour -- they were playing HUGE arenas by then, but I think they had not yet adopted the poses that they ultimately adopted for such stardom, as I remember them looking a little lost on the stage. Or maybe it was just because they looked so damn tiny from the nosebleed seats.

These days, my rule is: unless I've got backstage passes, seats within the first thirty rows, or the "general admission" ability to show up early and cozy up against the stage, I don't see music in spaces that seat more than a few hundred. I see slightly less music, but I never end up having to listen to second-hand sound muddied by crowd noise played by musicians I can't really see anyway,.

boyhowdy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BWR said...

Yeah - I think Joshua Tree sort of took them by surprise. I remember hearing Bono saying something at the time like, "who would have thought that a band like U2 would ever be on the cover of Time magazine?"

I like JT, actually. Achtung Baby has some nice spots too. After that it's pretty sketchy, and their last two records, especially, have just been horrible.

riggity said...

I'm by no means a U2 expert, and my opinion may be nothing more than a reflection of my particular age (I graduated from high school in 1995), but I always felt like everything up to and including achtung baby was great. Achtung was their last great album.

U2 just suffers the same fate as so many artist who continued to make music into older age. Paul McCartney is one of the best songwriters in history, but you wouldn't know it from his more recent output.

So, who cares if U2 sucks now. They're old and massively popular. They don't have to be good anymore. That doesn't change the fact that Unforgettable Fire is really great.

BWR said...

Hey Riggity - Nice to see you. I think the difference between U2 and McCartney is that no one treats McCartney as if he were at the top of his game. U2 is actually more popular now than they have ever been at any point in their careers (except maybe immediately following Joshua Tree). That's what makes it weird.

But - still, I agree. One other thing: Even though JT and AB are both pretty good, they were never an intimate band playing to a niche crowd again after 1984. They belonged to everyone on the planet as soon as JT came out.

Anonymous said...

U2 love em or hate em this was a great album and one of the best from that year in my opinion. The title track alone still holds up as a pretty incredible number. Unfortunately when you add money and big ego's together the music always suffers as a result. I liked Dave Matthews first two albums and look at the crap there doing nowadays. I don't see anymore stadium tours in their future. U2 they'll be selling out stadiums until there 80 or until Bono's head explodes.