Saturday, November 12, 2011
DEAR BONO: SHUT UP.
First off, let me get this out of the way. I'm not a hater or a U2 detractor. In fact, I have every U2 album. I went to see you guys on the Unforgettable Fire tour in April of 1985 and it blew my mind. I've seen every tour since. I've stuck with you and also the band through everything. Lemons on the Popmart tour. The Million Dollar Hotel. Spider-Man. Your well intended collaboration with Jay-Z and Rihanna. Everything. Your music has always meant so much to me.
I've always respected the fact that you and the band have try to use your position to make the world a better place. Your reach may exceed your grasp, but still you try, and I love that. I don't mind that you have no problems with enjoying the spoils of your success, either. And I don't think that it makes you a hypocrite when you talk about working to eliminate extreme poverty. I've always been interested to hear what you have to say. I've always read interviews with you, and have been honored to interview U2 twice.
But some of the stuff you've been saying lately is ridiculous and insulting, and I'm calling you on it right now.
Apparently you told The Sun that "We've been on the verge of irrelevance for the last 20 years, dodged, ducked, dived, made some great work, I hope, along the way – and the occasional faux pas." I'll argue the point that a lot of the music you've made in the past 20 years holds up to your first ten. "Dirty Day," "Numb," "The Wanderer," "If God Will Send His Angels," "Gone," "Please," "Wake Up Dead Man," "Your Blue Room," "Staring at The Sun," "Beautiful Day," "In A Little While," "Stuck In A Moment," "Walk On," "Electrical Storm," "Vertigo," "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own," "All Because Of You." You created a second classic version of "One" with Mary J. Blige and brought "The Saints Are Coming" to a huge audience via your powerful collaboration with Green Day. U2's past 20 years have been more relevant than most bands at their peak.
This quote stings: "Whether we can play music for small speakers of the radio or clubs or where people are living right now, remains to be seen, we have to go to that place again if we are to survive." Yeah, I know you want to be played on the radio. What terrestrial radio channels play new music from a band that's been around for more than 20 years? Terrestrial radio is completely ageist. And of the bands they support, how many are actually good? Bono, what do you mean by "clubs and places where people are living right now?" Are people who don't go to clubs anymore not "living"? Are they worth writing songs for? Your fans who went to see you on the Unforgettable Fire tour, the Joshua Tree tour, the Achtung Baby tour... and even the Popmart tour. They're not "living right now?" They're working, and raising families and trying to make their way in the world. Are they really less important than people who pay tons of money to hear David Guetta or Deadmau5 spin records? (I'm not done - click below to see the whole letter.)
Bono, one of things that I've always respected about you is that you don't subscribe to the idea that the best music should be secret. To you, the fact that Patti Smith and Lou Reed and The Clash and The Ramones didn't headline Madison Square Garden was some cosmic error (and by the way, no one ever doubted their "relevance," even though the radio mostly ignored all of them). It was an error to be corrected, and you tried to correct it by bringing their music to huge audiences. It worked. I got into Patti after hearing your cover of "Dancing Barefoot." U2 citing The Velvet Underground as an influence is one of the reasons why I became interested in their music. Thanks for that.
You embraced being the biggest band in the world, and you did it on your terms. I remember reading an interview where you said you wished that Pearl Jam and Radiohead wouldn't be afraid of mass popularity, or something to that effect. I agreed. But now, I would say you could afford to learn a thing or two from them (especially Pearl Jam). Backspacer and In Rainbows are among each band's finest works. Both bands sell out arenas (if not stadiums), and their new music means a hell of a lot to their fans. I realize part of being U2 for the past 25 years has meant being THE biggest band in the world. But why don't you take a(nother) page from Bruce Springsteen's book: don't worry about being the biggest. Being the best should be enough, everything else will take care of itself. Speaking of The Man, does the fact that The Rising had less radio singles than Born In The U.S.A. make it somehow not relevant? Not to the thousands of people who sing along to "The Rising" or "Lonesome Day" or weep to "You're Missing" or "My City Of Ruins" at his shows.
If you say that No Line On The Horizon isn't your best effort, I'll agree. That said, it has some incredible songs, especially "Moment Of Surrender." When I first listened to that song it stopped me in my tracks. A younger man or woman simply could not write that song. Would young people want to listen to it? I don't know. All I know is that I listened to it over and over. As I did when I first heard "Wire." And "Exit" And "Zoo Station." And "Dirty Day." I was surprised that Lars Ulrich from Metallica cited it as the best song of the decade in Rolling Stone, and that he reacted to the song in a similar way as me. I live in a small house and Lars owns several very large ones. Yet we were both moved by that song. You're still relevant Bono. You're acting childish to suggest otherwise, just because Z100 won't play your songs.
Here's your challenge, my friend. It isn't to get your songs on playlists of radio stations that play Lady Gaga, the Black Eyed Peas, Ke$ha and Katy Perry. It's to write records that matter. Allow me to name a few: the aforementioned Backspacer, In Rainbows and The Rising. I'll add some more to that list: Bruce's Magic. Bob Dylan's Together Through Life. The Roots' How I Got Over. Elvis Costello's Momofuku. Mavis Staples' You Are Not Alone. Tom Waits' Bad As Me. Joe Strummer's "Coma Girl." Public Enemy's "Harder Than You Think." R.E.M.'s Accelerate.
You're in uncharted territory, Bono. No band has meant so much for so long. There weren't really high hopes for The Ramones' albums in the last few years of their career. When The Rolling Stones or The Who release an album, they aren't met with the expectations that U2 has to live up to. How many other bands were promoting new singles as they were being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? What other artists played new music at the Hall of Fame's 25th anniversary concert?
One last thought, Bono. A couple of years ago, I had the great honor of interviewing Tom Petty. I told him that my wife and I had seen him and The Heartbreakers in concert a few months earlier, and we were surprised by how many young kids were there. I asked him if he had noticed that, and how he explained it. He grinned and said "Because we don't pander to them." (Also, the show was affordable for young people.) Make good music, and people of all ages will dig it.
Little Steven says that it's never unpatriotic to question your government, and it's in that spirit that I'm calling you to task for your quotes. It's because the band has meant so much to me.
P.S. The photo above was taken by my good friend and fellow long-time U2 fan Ashmi Elizabeth Dang. Everything she does is interesting, so follow her on Twitter.