Re: Bono the chameleon

John J. Hlavaty ([email protected])
Tue, 28 Jul 1998 21:05:11 -0400

Rob wrote:
>It seems a couple of people have short terms memory cramps, my post from
>a couple of days went into gret detail about the 80's blatant U2 images
>and their holier than thou image and the calculated efforts that year.
>So on both counts, you guys simply write whaever is convenient and
>intentionally omitted my posts about the 80's image machine.
>J missed the fact Macphisto is rehash, the 6 inch heels, Bowie-esque
>makeup and glam rock glittery jacket are straight from glam rock, and
>not surprisingly Bono was a fan of Bowie's 70's glam rock so that's
>where he ripped that off from, pretty cut and dry. As usual, j misses
>that obvious one and tries to dismiss all the 90's U2 image as 'only 30
>seconds in the Discotheque' video. Either your blind or oblivious to
>the obvious. It's calculated to the nth degree.

Actually, I have to come to Rob's defense a bit here J. That said,
I think you are BOTH missing the point. J, I fear that in your
arguments with Rob you are overlooking some of Rob's points,
namely that U2 did "copy" some ideas. And Rob, in your
unwillingness to realize the accomplishments of U2
in the 90's, you fail to see how U2 were able to incorporate and
rejuvenate these "copied" ideas into original productions.

As Rob stated, Bono's Macphisto is not original. There's even a
movie called "Mephisto" (check the foreign film section of your
local video store to see it) that was filmed long before
Bono's version of "the devil". The idea of this type of
art in theater (white painted faces) supercedes Bono/U2
by quite some time.

Furthermore, the stage antics and designs of Bowie, the Talking Heads
and Pink Floyd all led to what eventually became ZOO TV.
In essence, U2 took those ideas and modernized them
using the technology available in 1992.

Therefore, Rob is correct in that these aspects of U2
are not original. What IS original is how U2 combined
all of the elements and made them work. Bono's
"Fly" character is an obvious mockery of the "big rock
star" image. But how Bono utilized that character, as
well as Macphisto and the Mirrorball Man, in the
context of ZOO TV is amazing. This is why many fans
feel that the ZOO era of U2's career may be their most
inspired. U2 could have made a "Joshua Tree II" with
a "Rattle & Hum II" follow-up and I'm sure they would
have sold quite well. But this begs the question, would
U2 be here today if they had done so? Furthermore,
the fact that "Achtung Baby" sold 8 million copies
just in the U.S. leads me to believe that MANY people
feel that AB was just as good if not better than JT.

U2 were able to transform the darker themes of their
past music by combining them with modern, more
upbeat sounds. This musical alteration was a huge
gamble in and of itself. But when U2 decided
to add this elaborate stage design full of various
"characters", this made the move even more risky. U2 took some
criticism for their efforts. As with the "POPMart" tour,
many critics felt that all of the "fluff" of the ZOO TV
tours were unnecessary. U2's music is so strong that
these visual stimulations were more distracting than
beneficial. However, the success of both tours proves
that U2's gambles worked. Not only that, but
U2 made themselves a relevant band of the 90's
by altering their style.

At this stage in music, it is rather difficult to come up
with something completely new. And this is where J's
points come in. There have been zillions of dance and love songs.
U2 were hardly the first band to have political themes in
their music. Bono was hardly the first vocalist to
scream at the top of his lungs, use a falsetto or a "spoken
voice". But once again, what works is HOW the image,
music and vocals were presented. Bono's incredible range
affords him the luxury of singing a particular song in
numerous formats to see which works best. Likewise,
U2's anthemic music allows for them to "get away" with their
political expressions.

There is some truth in the saying that nothing in today's world is
original. Everything is based on a some sort of predecessor. But is
this wrong? Just because something has been done before,
should it no longer be pursued? If this thinking were true, we
wouldn't have 400 MHz Pentium II chips floating out
there as people would have stopped with computer designs
back in the 50's. If this thinking were true, we'd all still be driving
Model T Fords (sure, this may be fun for a few minutes, until
we realize that we could ride our bikes faster and wish we
had windshields! ;-D). This same analogy can be applied
to rock music. Elvis was one of the first to bring
sex, swagger and style into fast paced music that shook
us. However, even Elvis's music is based on the jazz
music of the U.S. south. And that itself has roots
that go back even further. It's a credit, not a disgrace,
that musicians have been able to expand upon these early roots
in creating modern music.

U2 may have lost some fans with "POP". Some
heard "Discotheque" and rejected U2 because
they just couldn't see this "political, sincere band" writing "techno"
songs. How ironic that U2's "Discotheque" helped
popularize this type of music, to the point where
a Prodigy album could debut at #1, the Chemical
Brothers' receive MTV air play and Madonna has a
double Platinum selling techno album. Even more ironic
is the fact that "POP" is not techno. Those who
"wrote off" U2 in 1997 will be retracting their words next
year. Of course, those who are shallow enough to
dismiss U2 simply because they aren't the "flavor
of the month" or a "new band" that MTV put in
their "Buzz Music" section don't deserve to discuss
music. Most likely these people pay more attention
to the image of "being cool" as opposed to what is
actually quality work. If U2 comes out with another
"super selling album" next year, those same fans that
said "U2 are crap" will be once again praising U2's
glories. While Rob may prefer the 80's U2, to his
credit he has at least given the 90's U2 the opportunity.
This alone makes him a far better fan.

While I disagree with Rob's notion that Bono's
vocals were better in the 80's (I have to admit,
Bono's vocals were one of the reasons I became such
a big U2 fan - but after hearing his 90's work,
it seems Bono screamed more than sang back in the
80's), I can relate to Rob's notion that U2 seemed
more passionate then than they do now. But
this is also part of the "image". In 1987 U2 adamantly
stated that they had no image and that one was cast
upon them. Nice try guys, but this "holier than
thou" attitude IS an image, whether you tried for
it or not. ;-D So Rob, you are quite correct in pointing
this out. Matter of fact, U2 tried quite hard at
maintaining this image by squashing bad press and
stressing their positive sides. However, this same
image is what caused the backlash in 1988/89.
So U2 changed. If they had not, they might not
be around today. If you prefer the U2 from the 80's,
then you have 7 albums and eps to listen to from
that decade.

I prefer whatever stage U2 is at any given moment in time.
Being closer to their age, I can relate to many of their
thoughts and ideas about the world around them. The
biggest benefit U2 has going for them throughout their career
is timing. Rock music had become bloated with superficial stars in the
80's. U2 came along as a "breath of fresh air" with their
"fans first" view and political songs. In the early 90's,
U2's ZOO TV was just what was needed after seeing
a string of 80's artists rehash what had made them famous.
Plus, it was a great counterbalance to the depressing
grunge music movement. U2 may have stumbled a bit in 1997
because there were other groups doing techno music and
there were other bands with elaborate stage designs (even
if they copied from U2). For the first time, U2 weren't as unique
in their time as they had been in the past. That said, if "POP" is the
result of U2 being influenced rather than U2 being the ones
doing the influencing, bravo! "POP" is far, far superior
to most of the music out there. It's little wonder why "TIME"
magazine, the L.A. Times and "Enterainment Weekly" all
chose "POP" as one of the best rock albums (and in TIME's
case, one of the best albums period - out of all musical
genres) for 1997.

To J, don't be so quick to dismiss Rob as he has some points. U2 are
not 100% original. But as you stated, that's O.K. What
U2 are able to create from what's around them is incredible.
To Rob, perhaps it's time you looked beyond 1987 and
take a look at today's world. Do you really see a band that
is superior to U2 this decade? Maybe you prefer the 80's
U2, but I would argue that the 90's U2 is light years
ahead of their competition. So much so, that one
can readily see bands copying the sounds of "Zooropa"
5 years after its relase. So much so, that a mega-group
like the Rolling Stones blatantly lifted ideas and stage
designs right from U2's tour. The '97 model of U2
may not have been the "super cool" U2 of the past.
But what does this really mean? That many 14 year olds
don't like U2? Gosh darn... U2's music and ideas
and combination of images from the past still make
them stand out this decade as one of rock music's
best. If U2's strongest competition today is their own
self from the past, that alone speaks volumes about how
talented this band really is.



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