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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

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Julie

Being one of the irregular readers (who reads this blog regularly) and one of the two Cleveland U2 attendees, let's just start with a big raspberry, shall we? Thppppppppt. Of course you are jealous that you weren't at that concert.

Now that that is out of the way, I want to lend you my authoritative agreement with your assessment of Bono's lyrics and the power of music to transform them.

This is my favorite lousy lyric by Bono:

And so we're told this is the golden age
And gold is the reason for the wars we wage (New Year's Day)

Oh brother, where art thou?

Of "Beautiful Day" he said after winning "Song of the Year" at the Grammys, "I can't thank God for this lyric. I can imagine God saying, 'It doesn't even have a hook.'"

What is amazing about Bono as a lyricist is his fearlessness. He doesn't let cliche, absurdity, the fact that he's used the line before ("Dream outloud" anyone?) or sentimentality stop him from writing the songs he means to write - getting his ideas out there. And because of all that freewriting, he gets an amazing amount of creative leverage out of his songs anyway.

There are some jewels ("One" comes to mind). "Miss Sarajevo" is another. And I think most of Pop is brilliant. I love "Sometimes You Can't Make it on Your Own" even when he clumsily sings "You're the reason why the opera's in me." It is so honest, like pages right out of his journal.

I wrote an entire sermon for a book on "When Love Comes to Town." Why? Because he gets to some ideas about love that most songs don't even bother approaching.

"Elevation" has to be silly so we can all sing along, didn't you know that? "in the sky, so high, I feel like I can fly" - come on. That's just fun to sing. And the mole is what made me listen to the song sixteen times straight the first time I heard it. I was in shock - a mole digging up my soul! I pondered that baby for an entire trip to Dayton. Woo-hoo!

So to me, what makes Bono among the greats is that he inspires writers to just write, for god's sake. Pomposity, generosity, clarity, ambiguity, sincerity, sentimentality, hope, love, peace... yeah the great staples... these are all there and MORE. And he's got a world class band to back him up.

Lastly, Bono is just vague enough that the lyrics let us lay them as templates across our own lives and draw our own meanings. That is a gift, for sure. Seems to be working. :)

Julie (unabashed sentimental pompous fan)

He is great! And he

Julie

Btw, ignore the lame writing right at the end of my comments. Unedited material snuck through... in honor of da man! :)

Julie

Scott

It is so honest, like pages right out of his journal.

If it weren’t for the "his" I’d have thought you were talking about my old classmate Cookie’s poem. Honest is fine. Honest and awful, not so much. Honest and good, on the other hand, is magnificent. Honest in a politician would be a miracle and a Godsend. Honest from a songwriter takes a backseat to just plain ol’ "good."

"Elevation" has to be silly so we can all sing along, didn't you know that?

I must confess, I did NOT know that was the criteria. Hold on, now, let’s cross-reference that:

"Na na na na na na na, na na na na, hey Jude."

Son of a bitch, you’re right!

Oh, but wait a second…

"Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night
You ain’t a beauty but, hey, you’re all right"

Hmm. Maybe there’s some other criteria in there I’m missing. Because I’m thinking of Peter Gabriel’s "Biko" as another huge singalong and I gotta confess, the silly aspect of that song had previously eluded me. :)

So to me, what makes Bono among the greats is that he inspires writers to just write, for god's sake.

I’d rather writers were inspired to write by having something to say. If they have the ability to do so well, all the better.

And he's got a world class band to back him up.

Oh, no no no. He’s got a world-class band to allow him to function. They lift him up, they guide him, they catch him when he falls.

There’s this story you may have heard. It was the mid 80’s. The Rolling Stones were making plans and late, late one night/early, early one morning Mick Jagger decided that the muse had visited and he could now bestow his pearls of wisdom upon the blessedly lucky other members of the band.

So Mick rings Charlie Watts’s hotel room. As it was something like five o’clock in the morn, Charlie was asleep.

"I’m ready for my drummer now," says Mick.

So Charlie gets up, puts on a suit and tie, makes sure he looks impeccable, goes downstairs, opens the door and lays Mick out with one punch.

"I’m not your drummer," he says to the fallen idol nursing his bloody and even huger than abnormal lip. "You’re my singer."

And back he went to bed. And Mick hasn’t made that mistake since.

Julie

[i]I’d rather writers were inspired to write by having something to say. If they have the ability to do so well, all the better.[/i]

Given the volume of material that he's written, and the core of his message that is evident throughout it, and the fact that millions of us are moved to tears by much of it, I'd say he's up there in that "ability to do it well" category.

But hey!

My husband thinks Bruce is wordy...

To each his own, eh wa? (Arabic for kwim?)

Scott

Given the volume of material that he's written, and the core of his message that is evident throughout it, and the fact that millions of us are moved to tears by much of it, I'd say he's up there in that "ability to do it well" category.

There was an Elvis album you may have seen. He wore he gold lame suit on the cover, and the title was "50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong!" (Technically it was his second greatest hits collection.)

Here ‘tis:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/B000002W7X/103-3866791-0082257?v=glance

Well, 50,000,000 Elvis fan’s WEREN’T wrong…but they could indeed be. I believe quality will (almost) always out in the end. You know the drill: Bach was considered inferior to his sons, Mozart was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave, folks thought Mahler’s music bizarre and unlistenable, Robert Johnson never got much beyond some minor regional fame until decades after his death and so on.

But the film Independence Day grossed $816,969,268 . And that’s just in theatres. Who knows how much more it got from cable and DVD? The mind reels. One of the worst blockbusters ever made, so bad I started wondering if it was actually a satire (it wasn’t).

So popularity is nice. But it doesn’t equal quality. After all, the Monkees outsold the Beatles, Barry Manilow has crushed Bruce Springsteen in sales and Britney Spears’s debut album, Hit Me Baby One More Time, has sold nearly twice as much as Achtung Baby and four times as much as War. Would you think Britney—who I quite enjoy—is four times as good as our boys from Eire?

The point, once again? None of that matters. It’s nice that Achtung Baby has sold something like 8,000,000 copies. But if it’d sold fifty copies it’d still be a masterpiece.

Of course, I’ve seen both Britney and U2 in miniskirts, and without question, Britney’s got the edge (so to speak) there.

Robert Lindsey

Great, you just ruined my Christmas!

Scott

Great, you just ruined my Christmas!

Why? No! No, no, no.

This was supposed to be a piece in support of my boy Bono and his backing band. :) I've been watching their live DVD from Boston 2001 and it's magnificent. Go return that necktie you didn't want and buy the DVD instead. That'll help make your Christmas better.

Julie

You forget, Scott, that the fans of Britney and the fans of U2 are of an entirely different nature. I didn't want that popularity was the key, but that we were moved to tears. :) I was not appealing to popularity but to the depth of attachment that the huge number of fans feel toward Bono's lyrics specifically... similar to the devotion of Boss fans and Dave Matthews Band fans.

This is not about popularity (as in pop culture or over- promotion of a bad film), but about how many long-term and new fans have found U2 to speak for them through both their superb music and Bono's meaningful lyrics.

So the occasional dud line or even silly song really doesn't mar the gift so many of his songs really are to us. I would say: gifted! Fo shizzle.

Julie

Tom Heilman

A reply to Julie's comments:

A while back I read Scott's comments on Bono with considerable interest. I have been a fan of U2 and Bono for many years. They are right up there with Van Morrison, Dylan, Bruce, and Joni for me.
I do think it silly to generalize about people who enjoy their music though. What possible similarities can the fans of Bono have that would permit someone to confidently generalize about them except that they are fans of Bono and even then there are surely many different individual reasons for being a fan of Bono.
Why, I know many people who enjoy Mahler's music and claim the 8th symphony as their favorite symphony but also claim it's not important at all to understand the text of the symphony, feeling that it is entirely possible to enjoy the symphony in the same manner if the telephone book were being sung instead of the text composed. I know others who claim the symphony as their favorite Mahler work because of the text alone. I know others who prefer the work sung in English rather than Latin and German. What do they have in common on just the symphony alone? Little. Beyond the symphony? Who can know?
I am curious to know how you portray the fans of Britney Spears. What are their characteristics, the qualities that make them so very different from the fans of U2 and Bono? What makes you think her fans do not find her music moving and that their reactions to it are every bit as sincere as your reactions to Bono's music? You seem very close to denying the validity of the experiences of others, and you definitely seem to be extending opinions and values you place on music to other people who enjoy the music.
You wrote, "You forget, Scott, that the fans of Britney and the fans of U2 are of an entirely different nature." Boy, that's a bold statement. I've read that several times trying to permit you some wiggle room, but you say it with such certainty and such clarity I just can't. An entirely different nature? Entirely?
Well, perhaps I am some sort of musical hermaphrodite then because I enjoy the music of Bono and Britney. I enjoy them in different ways and for different reasons, and I admit I probably wouldn't have paid attention to Britney's music at all if not for hearing it coming from my daughter's room a few years ago, but enjoy it I do. In fact, go to my website (http://tlhman.typepad.com/thelaststepintothecellar/) and you'll note I have one of her albums in my Good Listening section. It's been there for sometime now. I've also been spending a huge amount of time with Beethoven's string quartets, though I suppose by extension your earlier statement should read, "The fans of Britney and the fans of U2 and the fans of Beethoven are of an entirely different nature." Music is a tremendously important part of my life. It defines my present understanding of myself and redefines me constantly as I continue to explore it, and it's not something I generalize about and I dislike being made part of any generalization regarding it.

You wrote, "So to me, what makes Bono among the greats is that he inspires writers to just write, for god's sake. Pomposity, generosity, clarity, ambiguity, sincerity, sentimentality, hope, love, peace... yeah the great staples... these are all there and MORE. And he's got a world class band to back him up.

Lastly, Bono is just vague enough that the lyrics let us lay them as templates across our own lives and draw our own meanings. That is a gift, for sure."

I find your two statements confusing and wonder if you can clarify them for me. Could you give me an example of when Bono is writing with clarity and "is just vague enough that the lyrics let us lay them as templates across our own lives and draw our own meanings."

Tom Heilman

Julie

Hey Tom.

Thanks for the hand slap. I should not be writing posts with such exaggerated efforts at clarity.

I felt misunderstood by Scott's comment. I was not suggesting that Bono's lyrics were good because they were popular (as in pop culture, or top forty charts) but because they evoke a response that is a part of what generated their fan base. In other words, U2 fans seem devoted to the band for more than the music... but also because of Bono's lyrics specifically. U2 has not written pop hits mostly. In fact, some of U2's best loved songs have never made the top forty. Adam Clayton (I believe it was) once said that "Beautiful Day" was U2's attempt to go up against Britney... and they lost. :)

So I was rejecting the idea that U2's popularity was no indication of whether or not Bono's lyrics were any good. I was trying to say that Bono's lyrics are well-loved by fans because the fans consider them powerful and good. Iow, the lyrics are a signficant reason why U2 has fans to begin with!

I know Scott was also giving them props for delivery and that he does consider Bono to have delivered some powerful lyrics as well. I just still felt that on balance, Bono is a gifted a song writer and it appears to me that his songwriting is a signficant reason why U2 has so many fans.

I should have been more careful in what I communicated about Britney (my kids have been fans for years). It's not that she has no talent or that her fans are inferior. And certainly, fans of any star have similar qualities in how they express their devotion. What I was driving at is not some insider knowledge of Britney's fanbase. Rather, I was trying to say that U2 has generated a following whose attachment to U2 is as much due to U2 lyrics as to its music. I doubted that that was the case for Britney.

For instance, there are scores of books, articles, and online sites devoted to unpacking U2 lyrics specifically (I even contributed a sermon to a book of sermons based on U2 song lyrics _Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog_). I don't think that the same is true for Britney's music.

U2's following is bound up in not just the music, but in the lyrics themselves. And while Bono may throw out some lame lines or even lame songs from time to time, to me that doesn't negate the power of his song writing effort over the last twenty-five years.

You asked for an example of a "vague" song. :) "One" is probably the most universally used song to convey the need to come together in love when things go wrong... yet the initial idea for the song had to do with a father - son dialog about AIDS.

One of the TV stations played "One" over the memorial for 9/11 just days after the two towers fell. It fit... yet it wasn't about that.

I think that happens a lot with U2 songs.

At the most recent concert, Bono told the audience that "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" is now America's song.

I've read analyses of songs like "Grace," "Miracle Drug," "Stuck in a Moment" and "Mysterious Ways" that take them metaphorically, theologically or personalize them to be about specific people.

There's lots of wiggle room in Bono's lyrics.

Anyway, off to clean up Christmas. :)

I hope that this post is more appropriately nuanced. :)

Julie

Tom Heilman

Thanks for the hand slap.>

My pleasure!

>>I felt misunderstood by Scott's comment. I was not suggesting that Bono's lyrics were good because they were popular (as in pop culture, or top forty charts) but because they evoke a response that is a part of what generated their fan base. In other words, U2 fans seem devoted to the band for more than the music... but also because of Bono's lyrics specifically. U2 has not written pop hits mostly. In fact, some of U2's best loved songs have never made the top forty. Adam Clayton (I believe it was) once said that "Beautiful Day" was U2's attempt to go up against Britney... and they lost. :)

So I was rejecting the idea that U2's popularity was no indication of whether or not Bono's lyrics were any good. I was trying to say that Bono's lyrics are well-loved by fans because the fans consider them powerful and good. Iow, the lyrics are a signficant reason why U2 has fans to begin with! <<

A couple of thoughts come to mind, Julie. When you say that Bono's lyrics are well-loved by fans because the fans consider them powerful and good, what exactly are you saying about Bono's lyrics? How are they powerful? What do you mean by "good"? What is this "response" you say the lyrics evoke in U2s fans and how can you separate that response from the musical experience? How do you define pop culture? How is it different from U2 fan culture?

>>I know Scott was also giving them props for delivery and that he does consider Bono to have delivered some powerful lyrics as well. I just still felt that on balance, Bono is a gifted a song writer and it appears to me that his songwriting is a signficant reason why U2 has so many fans.<<

Are you still just talking about lyrics? I think Bono a talented, charismatic performer. I think his writing mostly sophomoric, and I'll suspend believing that U2's success is due in any significant way to Bono's lyrics until the band quits performing and issuing albums and decides to make its money on Bono's writing alone.

>>>I should have been more careful in what I communicated about Britney (my kids have been fans for years). It's not that she has no talent or that her fans are inferior. And certainly, fans of any star have similar qualities in how they express their devotion. What I was driving at is not some insider knowledge of Britney's fanbase. Rather, I was trying to say that U2 has generated a following whose attachment to U2 is as much due to U2 lyrics as to its music. I doubted that that was the case for Britney.<<<

I won't argue against that, but I would still like to know what you, rather than this generic blob of fans, find so worthwhile regarding Bono's lyrics. I often find them clunky, heavyhanded, absurdly vague, lacking focus, absent effective imagery, and scented with false profundity. Many of the lyrics are similar to writing I see from 9th and 10th graders.
Here's some of the lyric from "One"

Is it getting better
Or do you feel the same
Will it make it easier on you now
You got someone to blame
You say...

One love
One life
When it's one need
In the night
One love
We get to share it
Leaves you baby if you
Don't care for it

Did I disappoint you
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without
Well it's...

Too late
Tonight
To drag the past out into the light
We're one, but we're not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other
One...
Have you come here for forgiveness
Have you come to raise the dead
Have you come here to play Jesus
To the lepers in your head


The verse, "We're one but we're not the same" is to me an example of a lyric that smacks of false profundity. It appears to say a lot by its dramatic, though contrived, contrast but all it really does is restate the obvious and it doesn't do so in any meaningful way or with any enlightening insight. Bono's constant use of the pronoun "it" without any clear reference defining the pronoun in any meaningful way seems troublesome to me. What is this "it"? Do you know Frost's poem "Desert Places"? If so, compare Frost's use of "it" to represent the vagueries of loneliness in the line, "The woods around it have it--it is theirs." with Bono's use of "it" in, "When it's one need/In the night/One love/We get to share it/Leaves you baby if you/Don't care for it". What is Bono's "it"?
I suppose I am to assume it has something to do with love but even that is troublesome within the context of the fuller lyric. If "it" represents love in some way and they share it then why do they need it in the night? If "it" represents "one need", what need does it represent and how does a need need caring for? If this is an example of Bono's being deliberately vague, I suggest that yes he is vague but that he is not in control of his own writing.
And that last line is laughably bad, comically bad, at least to me. "Have you come here to play Jesus/to the lepers in your head?" I get a chuckle out of that every time. I have lepers in my head? What the hell are they doing there? How do I get them out of there? It's comic and doesn't work with the tone I think Bono was going for. It's poor writing. It sounds clever but it's bad writing because the image works against the tone of the lyric and all for a silly rhyme. Why did Bono want a rhyme here? I assume to draw attention to these lines as there are not many instances of rhyme throughout the lyric. Yes, Bono seems to be saying something dramatic and important here, an accusation of selfish motive perhaps, a lack of sincerity perhaps, but his writing gets in the way of the import of the meaning, at least to me.
And I don't see much difference between Bono's writing and the writing in the songs Britney Spears sings. Look at "Where are you now".

Calling out your name
Your face is everywhere
I'm reaching out to you
To find that you're not there
I wake up every night
To see the state I'm in
It's like an endless fight
I never seem to win

I can't go on as long as I believe
Can't let go when I keep wondering

[CHORUS:]
Where are you now, what have you found
Where is your heart, when I'm not around
Where are you now, you gotta let me know
Oh baby, so I can let you go

I can hear your voice
The ring of yesterday
It seems so close to me
But yet so far away
I should let it out
To save what's left of me
And close the doors of doubt
Revive my dignity

Now, I grant you there's nothing great up there, but I don't see those lyrics as being in any way inferior to Bono's. Perhaps this U2 fan base so in love with Bono's lyrics should look to Britney as well. They might find another guru to worship, not that I recommend that.


>>>For instance, there are scores of books, articles, and online sites devoted to unpacking U2 lyrics specifically (I even contributed a sermon to a book of sermons based on U2 song lyrics _Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog_). I don't think that the same is true for Britney's music.<<<

My experience with writing that needs unpacking to generate a meaningful experience is that it wasn't packed very well to begin with.


>>You asked for an example of a "vague" song. :) "One" is probably the most universally used song to convey the need to come together in love when things go wrong... yet the initial idea for the song had to do with a father - son dialog about AIDS.<<<

Well, I would argue that the song would be stronger if it were more focused. Vagueness does not equate with universality in my book. Vagueness in an attempt to create a "one size fits all" message results in creating little more than a tube sock. Yeah, it's a sock, but it's a crappy sock.
And I asked you to provide an example of when Bono is writing with clarity and "is just vague enough that the lyrics let us lay them as templates across our own lives and draw our own meanings." With "One" you've certainly given me an example of Bono's being vague, but I certainly don't see him writing with clarity at the same time.


>>At the most recent concert, Bono told the audience that "Sunday, Bloody Sunday" is now America's song.<<<

Well, that's a bold and arrogant generalization. I didn't know that all of America thought alike. I didn't know that Bono was an expert on American culture. Is there a defined American culture? What the hell does he mean? It's so easy to speak in such hollow generalities and pompous rhetoric. I don't admire stuff like that. It's nothing more than a little burst of adrenalin.


I've read analyses of songs like "Grace," "Miracle Drug," "Stuck in a Moment" and "Mysterious Ways" that take them metaphorically, theologically or personalize them to be about specific people.

There's lots of wiggle room in Bono's lyrics.<<<

Yeah, tube socks do that for you. Tube socks are cheap though and if we keep staring at them long enough watching Bono wiggle around sooner or later we'll be treated to little more than Bono's big toes wiggling through the holes. And I don't know about you, but I don't want to watch that without the band behind them.

Tom Heilman

Julie

Whoa Tom!

I didn't think I'd have to write a term paper to defend my love for Bono's lyrics! :D

I had one point and one point only: Bono's lyrics are one of the reasons for the band's success. I used myself and other fans' love for these lyrics as support for that statement.

You don't have to like his lyrics and you can think they are sophomoric and vague and inconsequential. But from my perspective, they have moved me and dare I say? scores of other fans. What to do about that? How can "bad lyrics" move people? That's a worthwhile question for you to answer.

Bono's lyrics have moved me to rethink how I understand and express my faith, how I love, why I love, what it means to live in uncertainty, why we ought to care about our neighbors who are on the other side of the globe, how to keep faith and retain hope and more.

Perhaps you'll say this is as much a result of Bono's showmanship as his songwriting. Maybe. But I didn't see U2 perform until after I began listening to their music. And it was the words to the songs themselves that kept blowing me away... making me stop and think and rethink.

It's not possible to deconstruct (and thereby discredit) the impact the lyrics have had on me... but while Bono's song writing might not rise to the level of a Bruce Springsteen in terms of poetry and artistry, somehow Bono's writing seems to repeatedly penetrate the hearts of fans like me, moving us emotionally and to action.

Honestly, with as much love as I have for Bruce Springsteen's song writing, I have not ever been as moved by his songs as I have been by U2's. And you know what? It's not the music. It's the words and ideas expressed in them.

My only rejoinder to Scott was that while he made a decent case for the idea that Bono is not a consistently great song writer - a point I conceded as valid (and Scott took that further to say that therefore Bono cannot be counted among the greats - however he defines that), I wanted to point out that for many, many of U2's fans, the lyrics really are key to their love for U2's music. So there must be something to it, don't you think?

You can show me why you don't think the lyrics are well written, but then why do they move people like me?

You can say we are idiots for being moved, but hey! I'm just not that good at controlling my reactions to fit established norms of what makes great art or not.

So my conclusion is that there must be some greatness hidden within those lyrics if they continue to move and inspire me and others, even if on the surface English Ph.D.s can deconstruct them beyond recognition. :)

Btw, have you read any of Bono's editorials, speeches or interviews? These are quite apart from his song writing and he succeeds as a writer and communicator, I feel. Scott has one of his speeches posted in one of his June blogs, I think. Bono once said that if he hadn't been a musician, he would have enjoyed being a speech writer. :)

Julie

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