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WORTH REPEATING: Why U2 Still Matters
BY JONATHAN VALANIA Because some bands have greatness thrust upon them and other bands thrust greatness upon themselves. Because U2 knew that if they had it both ways, they could be bigger than Jesus. Because in the early ’80s, if you listened closely, you could actually hear Bono’s mullet. Because the Edge figured out early on that with the right ratios of pinging echo to pealing delay, the electric guitar could build cathedrals of sound that are holier than thou. Because Bozo-haired bassist Adam Clayton and pretty boy drummer Larry Mullen Jr. could make rock do what it does best: rattle and hum.
Because in the greed-is-good ’80s, speaking out about faith and hope and sex and dreams and peace on earth was a thankless job. Because U2 actually went down to the demonstration to get their fair share of abuse. Because Jesus spent 40 days and 40 nights in the desert being taunted by the devil and never cried uncle. Because U2 went to the desert (aka Joshua Tree National Park) and were tempted by Elvis Presley and America and cried “hallelujah!”
Because by the end of the ’80s U2’s anthemic pieties had grown insufferably self-serious. Because in the early ’90s U2 learned the importance of not being earnest. Because Bono told Rolling Stone: “I’ve learned to be insincere. I’ve learned to lie. I’ve never felt better!” Because Achtung Baby was the sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree, and it was even better than the real thing.
Because all the cyber-punk theorizing and dystopian consumerist burlesques of the PopMart tour were dead-on, even if the songs were not. Because 9/11 turned back the clock on the promised 21st-century hypercapitalist utopia of a free-range chicken in every pot, an SUV in every garage and high-speed wireless everywhere in between. Because it’s no longer too late, tonight, to drag the past out into the light. Because on that soft September morn, we were harshly reminded of all that we can’t leave behind.
Because despite all that, sometimes even new messiahs have to put down the weight of the world, look up at the sky and notice that, hey, it is a beautiful day, and then step back and let the Edge take it from there. Because during the Elevation tour, U2 reapplied for the job of best rock ‘n’ roll band in the world, aced the interview and got re-hired.
Because How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb proves that U2’s new sincerity is the same as the old sincerity, only better. Because if the Nuggets-meets-War garage-shake-bamalama of “Vertigo” doesn’t completely rock your world, we seriously need to send out a search party for your groove thang. Because when Bono sings, “The boys play rock ‘n’ roll/ They know that they can’t dance” and follows it up with “at least they know,” well, pardon my French, but that’s fuckin’ funny.
Because U2 should be doing commercials for Apple. Because I dare you to name two other artsy commercial entities with their combined mega-unit-moving stature that are quantifiably trying to change things for the better. Because, as Bono sings on “Miracle Drug,” “freedom has a scent like the top of a newborn baby’s head,” and don’t let anyone, not even the president of the United States, tell you that some people hate the scent of a newborn baby’s head.
Because only a fool would try to save the world, and Bono was fool enough to care — and God bless him for giving it the old college try. Because Bono was willing to sleep with the devil if he could lift the boot of world debt off the necks of the dying. Because, as the man sings from behind those ever-present blue-state-tinted shades, where you live should not determine whether you live or die.
Because “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own,” and we all need something to lean on — be it God, dope, rock ‘n’ roll or your father’s deathbed. Because, in the words of Max von Sydow’s character in Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters, “If Jesus came back and saw what’s going on in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.” Because Bono recently told The New York Times: “I don’t talk about my faith very much, because the people you might want to talk with, you don’t want to hang out with.”
Because we live in a time when religion is no longer, in Karl Marx’s famous estimation, the opiate of the masses — it’s the crack cocaine. Because U2 knows that the last thing the world needs right now is more cocaine. Because what the world needs now, in the words of another great philosopher, is love sweet love. Because only love can dismantle an atomic bomb, and no band on earth has a bigger, more immaculate heart than U2. Because you can snort, you can scoff, you can even hate on them, but you simply cannot deny that they come in the name of love.