Bono and I go way back. My first exposure to U2 was in about 1984, when my brother Isaac brought home The Unforgettable Fire album. I told him I didn't like it, but cut me some slack, I was only 9 years old. Back then, Isaac had a friend whose older brother was in high school and taught him all about Polo brand products, pegged jeans, hair gel and music. Isaac came home with tapes of Depeche Mode, Scritti Politti, Ebn Ozn, Captain Sensible, INXS, etc. Maybe I really didn't like U2 then, or maybe I was just being obstinate, I don't know. But Isaac has never let me live it down. And in light of my later obsession with the Irish quartet, and his subsequent move toward Bobby Brown, MC Hammer, and Vanilla Ice (can you believe the latter two came here in concert last month?) I can understand his frustration.
By 1986 I was a fan. When I joined Columbia House for 12 LP's for a penny, The Joshua Tree was one of my choices. I also remember getting a Bill Cosby record, a Billy Crystal record, 'Til Tuesday, and Thompson Twins. The rest I have forgotten. Of course, The Joshua Tree was undisputably one of the best albums ever, and without doubt the "three-chords and the truth" of Adam, Larry, Bono, and the Edge worked to shape the synaptic connections of my developing brain.
It was common knowledge that a seventh-grade classmate of mine had a brother who was a U2 superfan. I gave him some blank tapes and in a few days had some great U2 mixes which I played over and over while reading the Chronicles of Narnia. I didn't know the names of any of the songs, but I loved them.
The pattern continued when I was the first in my family to acquire a CD player. Isaac gave me an MC Hammer and a Bobby Brown CD first, but the first CD I got of my own volition was Rattle and Hum.
When Achtung Baby came out I was eagerly anticipating it's release. It wasn't what I expected but it became the soundtrack of my high school years. The heartache expressed in songs like One, So Cruel and Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses was echoed in my own experiences with dating, kissing, and getting dumped. I must have listened to most of those songs two or three times a day for three or four years. In the morning I would program my CD player to play tracks 1,2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10, drag a speaker into the bathroom (I had spliced together a really long cable) and sing along in the shower. (I took really long showers then, apparently.) I would listen to Achtung Baby again while driving to work, and often while at work as well. My senior year I took a design class in which I cast the U2 rings from the album cover art. They didn't look nearly as good as the originals, pictured above, but they were pretty cool.
Years passed and still I was a U2 superfan. Zooropa, Pop, All That You Can't Leave Behind, and How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb were released. I spent stupid amounts of money to see the band play in Salt Lake on the last three tours. The Popmart concert was almost a religious experience for me. The subsequent two concerts I saw were slightly less breathtaking. Yet still I bristled when I read this. I was ready to defend their work and I truly liked a lot of the songs, right out of the box so to speak.
Now U2 have released another album. It's called No Line on the Horizon. The first single is called Get On Your Boots. If you haven't heard it yet, let me forewarn you, the song sucks even more than its name. And though it's hard for me to admit it, the rest of the album is pretty lame too. It's like listening to a U2 cover band. It sounds like U2, but it lacks fire. I think that in their comfortable, grown-up lives, they've lost touch with the the hunger that made them great.
I've listened to it several times hoping to get into it, or for it to get into me. I hoped to find a gem of lyric, or a really great bridge that made an otherwise mediocre track great. I haven't found any such thing yet. One song has pretty good sound, but the lyrics include such crapulence as, "force quit and move to trash, restart, reboot yourself." Seriously Bono? Computing metaphors? (He must be running windows by the way.) But that isn't rock and roll. Rock and roll metaphors shouldn't be based on middle-aged cubicle life. What the H? You're not Wilson Phillips for crying out loud, you're U effing 2! Grow a pair!
Ok, I'm back from that tirade. I should probably delete it, but I think it has merit.
All of this has forced me to face facts about myself. If U2 is no longer relevant, if their music no longer beats to the pulse of the youth of the world, what does that say about me?
I swore I'd always be cool, that I would rage and rage against the dying of the light. I swore to be in tune and on board. And I didn't think it would be hard for me, but now it's becoming clear that I am obsolete and irrelevant too. And no matter how hard I try, I'll never be cool again, not even if I reboot myself, metaphorically speaking.
I do take some comfort in the fact that though I fooled myself into thinking otherwise, in reality I never was cool anyway.