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February 7th, 2007

The U2 Philosophy @ 04:08 pm

fiveandfour:
I find myself feeling the same emotions in this stage of U2's career as I did when The Joshua Tree exploded onto the scene: alternately proud and despairing. Back then, I was half thrilled that more people would finally pay some attention to them because they were good, damn it, and they deserved it. But I was also fearful and sad about the potential backlash and all the other downsides that larger fame can bring. (Not to mention selfishly concerned about the fact that there'd be no more chances to see them in small venues...at least for a long time to come.)

When I refer to "this stage" of their career, I mean this stage where they've been around a significant amount of time and still together, still doing quality work, still attracting an audience - and thus "worthy" of attention in the way that bands like the Rolling Stones are deemed "worthy". The band history is reviewed ad nauseum every time they do something new. The present work is constantly put into context of both the group's history and the larger music scene they are a part of. It never just "is" in the way that new work just "is" when it's released by most other artists.

But then there's this unique aspect that I've never seen with other bands: this thing of preaching their music in churches and examining their messages in books. I've been partly fascinated and proud that people are taking them seriously. And partly afraid that it'll calcify them or push them into a corner, or perhaps reduce them into something smaller than what they are, even when that's the opposite of what all those authors and preachers are attempting to do.

All of that was a lead up to say that today I came across U2 and Philosophy: How to Decipher an Atomic Band while browsing at the bookstore. I was wary. I thought, "Here we go again..." But I read part of the first essay anyway, comparing some of their early works to Plato and Platonic ideals, and it didn't seem to have much teeth, but at least it displayed a new perspective I hadn't seen examined before. Then I got into the second and third essays and found them right up my alley.

I've long thought of Bono as one of the great cultural synthesizers of our time. What I mean is, he has an ability to ingest complex thoughts and ideas, then speak (or sing) of them in a relatable way. It's a rare and valuable thing, I think, akin to what Joseph Campbell could do. So I find scholars comparing the original philosophies and ideas that inspired certain lyrics against the songs themselves interesting. I've seen several things recently that have spoken strictly on the Christian perspective of U2's work; I think I'm going to like seeing their words and actions put in context amidst the wider perspective of Western philosophy beyond Christianity.


Perhaps I'm worried too much and this attention is really like the kind of scholarly attention Buffy has received - which hasn't reduced Buffy in the eyes of the wider world in the least (or so it seems to me). Do you have any thoughts on this recent spate of attention U2 has been getting? Do you think it's been good or bad for the band, for the fans, for the previously unitiated - or has it had no true affect at all?
 
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From:inklingfair
Date:February 8th, 2007 02:11 am (UTC)
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Funny, I was thinking almost the same thing when I came across that book in the bookstore shelves. My roommate and I were also talking yesterday about some stuff she'd come across in some local forums and a lot of negative stuff were being said about U2 when they won the Grammies last year - apparently some people were resentful that they were too big (and thus part of the establishment, they should've let some newer artists win, etc.)!

I think it's funny how people begin to turn up their noses on artists who go "mainstream". It's "cooler", I suppose, to say you loved this popular artist or that popular rock group - but only their earlier work (even though their songs aren't actually declining in quality). :)
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From:fiveandfour
Date:February 8th, 2007 03:28 am (UTC)
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So perhaps if there is an effect, it's on people who - in the grand scheme of U2 fan-ness, don't matter much anyway. I mean, for any large band there will always be a certain percentage of those who are actively against liking them, so maybe these are just those people - only using slightly altered arguments than would be used for other bands.
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From:volare
Date:February 8th, 2007 02:17 am (UTC)
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I'm with you on remembering JT's effect on their US popularity.. I tend to be in a similar headspace as you regarding the increased attention on them. I do feel it alters their effect and their impact, if that makes sense.
Not sure how much of the change in songwriting has to do with the fact that they're like anyone else, constantly growing and changing direction in life, and how much is from the exposure and expectations placed thereof. The lyrics have gone over the years from obscurely personal to.. I dunno, more broadly based.
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From:fiveandfour
Date:February 8th, 2007 03:34 am (UTC)
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I do feel it alters their effect and their impact

I agree, though perhaps the impact is different from what I expect sometimes. I mean, I never imagined churches actually doing sermons based on their music! To me it makes it seem as though these people are about 2 steps below nominating them for sainthood or something - which apparently ignores that a great part of their appeal is the rock-n-roll package that message is wrapped up in. In other words, it pays attention to them selectively and not wholistically - or so it seems from the outside of the church.
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From:andberlin
Date:February 10th, 2007 11:06 am (UTC)
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Obviously I'm not everyone, and the pastor of my church has never pulled out U2 to preach on or make a point, but I love the Rock'n'Roll package that their philosophical and spiritual arrives in. For me it breaks down the stereotypes of black and white sprituality where everyone is either good or bad, what I love about them is the down to earth nature of their spirituality, the fact that it's messy, not always clean-cut - it's ral spirituality being lived by real people.

I'd love to get my hands on that book you picked up.
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From:fiveandfour
Date:February 11th, 2007 03:47 am (UTC)
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the down to earth nature of their spirituality, the fact that it's messy, not always clean-cut - it's ral spirituality being lived by real people

I think you put your finger on it very well. So many of the examples of spirituality that are out there as examples people are supposed to want to follow are of an idealistic kind of faith that I can't relate to. It often doesn't seem to take into account that people need more out of a relationship with God besides some rules and strictures (do this, don't do that) to live by.

Wrapping up spiritual thoughts in a dark-edged package works for me. And it's not as though I want to deny others the opportunity to have it work for them, too. It's more that I fear it'll mean that dark-edged package will be ignored, but without, the very thing that made the whole package special will be gone.
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From:andberlin
Date:February 11th, 2007 06:43 am (UTC)
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It's ironic that the idealistic/unrealistic way these spiritualities are portrayed has a lot to do with what draws people to them: those who are disillusioned with their experience of the world and see something refreshing and inspiring in the otherness. And yet, for me, my experience (of Christianity anyway) is that it is so rooted in the reality of every day experience (and the messiness that comes with it) that it's not funny.

It's disappointing that some people can't see beyond the dark-edged package that their spiritual message comes in, and you're right, the message wouldn't be anything without that package - it would be just like every other cliched delivery of spirituality in music.

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