Essays V

I II III IV V VI VII VIII

Thanks to Jaspreet Sidhu ( jsidhu@utdallas.edu ) for the following:

Author: Bono in special Bob Dylan issue of Q Magazine

I was thinking about Bob Dylan the other day, trying to define what it was about him that I respect so much, and what came to me was a line by the poet Brendan Keneally from the Book of Judas , a line which I used for guidance on the Zoo TV tour but which I realised applies to Bob Dylan throughout his whole career. The line is: "The best way to serve the age is to betray it." That is the essence of Bob Dylan: not just as simple as being on whatever the other side is, because that's just being a crank and cranks at the end of the day aren't very interesting, because you always know their position. Dylan was at one point in time the very epitome of what was modern, and yet his was always a unique critique of modernity. Because in fact Dylan comes from an ancient place, almost medieval. It was there at the beginning, when he sang like an old geezer - this ancient voice in a young man's body.

The anachronism, really, is the '60s. For the rest of his life he's been howling from some sort of past that we seem to have forgotten but must not. That's it for me. He keeps undermining our urge to look into the future.

The first time I met him he completely disarmed me by asking to have his picture taken with me; a very Bob Dylan thing to do. But then he sat me down and started asking me about the McPeak Family. I was wondering whether this was a punk group from Arkansas but it transpired it was Irish folk music that I had never heard of.

This was 1985. U2 were making The Unforgettable Fire and feeling like we were from outer space, with no roots at all. Bob Dylan was playing Slane Castle and in one day made us reassess a lot of things. He was the one that sent us on this journey into the past that ended up with Rattle & Hum. He did that to us! Blame him! Anyway, Dylan asked us all these questions about Irish music. He then recited at least 10 of the 13 verses to the "Banks Of The Royal Canal" (aka The Auld Triangle) by Brendan Behan and I realised he had total recall for old tunes. He told me that the ballad singer Liam Clancey was his hero and insisted that what the Irish had that the Americans and people all over the world were giving up was their past. Van Morrison was sitting with us and he understood completely what Dylan was on about, but I felt uncomfortable. My father listened almost exclusively to opera, partly because folk music had these Republican/Nationalist connotations that, my father having married a Protestant girl, weren't very auspicious. So it was this conversation with Dylan and later, another with Keith Richards about the blues, that allowed U2 to rediscover our past.

Looking back of course, that feel that Bob Dylan has for balladry and the biblical nature of much of his imagery, it was ingrained in Irish people. It was a language that we shouldn't really be familiar with, but instinctively we were. Maybe it's that little-known Irish/Jewish axis. My mother's family is called Rankin, and some of them contend that we are, in fact, part Jewish (they're researching a family tree right now).

Bob Dylan is there for you at every stage of your life. And there are songs that made no sense when you were 20 that suddenly become clear later on. Visions Of Johanna is one of them. It's extraordinary. He writes this whole song seemingly about this one girl, with these remarkable descriptions of her, but this isn't the girl who's on his mind! It's somebody else! He does it again in Brownsville Girl, one of his most underrated songs and a song, I would suggest, that altered songwriting. It's a completely new kind of song and also has this spectacular line because he can always make you burst out laughing: If there's an original idea out there/I could really use it now. Again, Brownsville Girl is a beautiful rhapsody about this Hispanic woman with her teeth like pearls, and then, in the middle of the song he says, She ain't you, but she's here/And she's got that dark rhythm in her soul. Again, this song is not really about the Brownsville girl, but rather it's addressed to this other woman who seems to be his muse. And his muse, of course, he refers to obliquely in Tangled Up In Blue. He talks about the Italian poet whose every word came off the pages like burning coals. And at some point you realise that - of course! - this Italian poet is Dante. Every word that Dante wrote was for his muse, Beatrice, and there's a Beatrice there in most Bob Dylan songs. Whether she's real or imagined isn't important to me, but it's extraordinary. In your 20's you're not so much interested in ideas like that. In your 20s you're more interested in The Times They Are A-Changin' .

But Bob Dylan's got you from the cradle to the grave. For instance, I loved Slow Train Coming . I even loved Saved . People thought Saved was his bumper-sticker-Christianity album, but for me it sounds like a real cry for help. I don't know if he was in trouble, but it sounds like it. I think his journey into nursery rhyme - all that God gave names to all the animals stuff - is beautiful, like Picasso drawing with a marker pen. And really Picasso is the only character you can compare Bob Dylan to. So I adore his nursery rhyme digressions, the rhyming of "bowl of soup" with "rolling hoop" on Under A Red Sky. I also like the terse verse, the almost Raymond Carver anti-metaphor movement of recent times.

My favourite Bob Dylan album, for its exuberance, is Bringing It All Back Home , but the lines that I can't get out of my head are the opening lines of Visions Of Johanna: "Ain't it funny how the night plays tricks on you when you're tryin' to get some quiet/ We all sit here stranded, doing our best to deny it." That's as good as it gets, really, although Death Is Not The End from Down In The Groove comes close. It's staggering. And Every Grain Of Sand (the Biograph version is better than the one on Shot Of Love) is everything you should aspire to in popular music.

I went to see him open a casino in Las Vegas last year. He was shining in good health. He seemed really happy: you know how he flashes that smile occasionally from stage that seems so generous? Anyway, I noticed that the place wasn't full, and that it had been full earlier for The Blues Brothers, and I wondered how that must feel. And I looked at him and realised that at a very deep level he really, really didn't mind. And I thought, Now that's freedom. Having seen him perform for the Pope and having seen him perform in a casino, it struck me that this was again the very medieval idea of the troubadour: You pay, I'll play. It doesn't matter who turns up or how many. Your music is for whoever wishes to listen to it, from the saints to the damned.

Bob Dylan: suffice it to say I would carry his luggage. And as anyone in U2 will tell you, I'm not great with the old gear.

CRITIQUE OF ACHTUNG BABY

Author: Mandi Klawitter ( u2popmusik@hotmail.com )

Ridicule... panning... slander... just plain mean...

That's the reaction U2 got from critics, whom seemed to have turned on them oh-so quickly. One minute they were winning the Grammy for Album of the Year for The Joshua Tree and the next minute they were big-headed egomaniacs. A swift swing from the critics and U2 fell flat on their butts, sorely realizing, (and obviously too late), that they had walked into it with their chins stuck out and their hands in their pockets. Rattle And Hum was a commercial success, but felt like a failure to the band. They decided that they WOULD NOT let the situation happen again by being so openly honest and revealing. They would not be bullied. They were men. IRISH men, no less and were not to be the butt of any American joke. It was time for not just a change in their sound, but also a change in their image. No more Mister Nice Guys. Bring on the Fly.

At first, the Hansa sessions in Berlin were a complete wreck. Nothing sounded good, and no one was inspired by the music they were making. The four noticed with alarm that it was the first time U2 had gotten into a room to play together and nothing had happened. Bono was raving about dance beats while Edge was drowning everyone in techno music. Adam wasn't quite sure that he wanted to move into those genres and Larry had hardly ever heard of those genres at all, nevertheless decide to play them himself. Fighting became a standard, and everyday U2 were threatening to kill each other. Edge began to speak of breaking up the band and Larry knew that if it were between U2 and their friendships, U2 would have to go.

The sessions dragged on until finally one day Edge pulled up the guitar riff that would become the song "One". The others joined in and after playing it for ten minutes they went into the other room to listen to it. A sigh of relief went through the room as U2 realized they could move on musically and as people.

After such a country and blues oriented album like Rattle And Hum , no one was expecting those first crunching guitar notes. Buzz saw guitar chords, rattling your brain. Genius. Zoo Stationâ comes through the speakers like a breath of fresh air. Dark, jumpy, dance-like air, but air nonetheless. Those first few notes of pure punk drive the album along and end up defining the whole thing. Energy. Sheer energy.

Before even opening Achtung Baby , you know it's different and you know it's a winner. With one of the fucking coolest looking covers in the history of rock and roll, U2 pulled away from the black and white photo covers of the past. No religious symbolism here. Just chic poses and four really great looking guys, who, with most of the photos shown, might as well be campy, trash talking models. And in a way they are. But it was all part of U2 reinventing a souring image that had once consisted of fist raising, soul searching and supposed ego stroking. ãIâm ready·Iâm ready for whatâs next.ä

After the distorted vocals and pounding, echoic drums of "Zoo Station"â comes the whirlwind that is "Even Better Than The Real Thing". This could certainly go down as one of the best mixes of dance and rock music ever. With it spin-inducing guitar calls and incredible rhythm groove, "Even Better Than The Real Thing"â entices the listener into the lure of Bono's sexy, drawling lyrics and purposefully raspy, out of breath voice. When Bono pleads "Will you take me higher? / Take me higher..." Boy or girl, you hope you or someone else really CAN take him higher. This song seems to begin the theme of this album. In "Even Better Than The Real Thing" the singer appears to be begging his lover to take him back. He guarantees she won't be disappointed in him, ("...gimme one last chance / and I'm gonna make ya sing..."), and then tries to flatter her and brag about himself in order to get her to give in, ("...you're honey, child / to a swarm of bees / gonna blow right through ya / like a breeze..."). This is the first, but not last time, that the sun (his true lover) will come into play. After a ride at the Zoo Station, Bono is trying to convince his lady not to leave him for it; even though he knows damn well he's going to go back out into temptation as soon as she's not looking. It almost seems like when he sings "can you take me higher?" he is asking her if she can match up to the temptations he has just come across in Zoo Station.

"One" is the argument the two have about his trip into Nighttown. The bitter, cool, composed beginning of the ballad "One" brings an immediate thought of pain, passion, and tension. The lyrics take us to a place most ballads by other artists avoid: the place where not everything is okay, and it may not be love between two people that isn't right, but the whole world. "One" becomes more of an excuse instead of a reason. It gives you the feeling of desperation and disappointment not only toward others, but ourselves. We feel an overbearing pang of guilt for the faults of our loved ones and ourselves and all the people of the world. It seems less a plea for resolution, but a passing of the blame. A testament to the fact that we may try to act as one, but we shall never be the same, nor should we be. But that doesn't make it wrong. Just different and more difficult for most to accept. For U2, Berlin and the song "One" resulted in the understanding that it was okay for the four men to be different just as long as they all wanted and hoped for the same thing in the end. Through the theme of the album, when the argument is over, the singer decides to leave his responsibilities at home and go after his fantasies.

"Until The End Of The World" portrays the deception his lover feels at this desertion. The song sees us going down a spiral of betrayal. The idea of Judas selling Jesus seems very evident, but the song appears to pass it on in a modern way, as if it says, "this is how the story would go if it happened nowadays." The drums propel this song to greatness along with an impressive guitar solo. Larry and Edge both do their homework quite well in this song and would determinedly stick to making the next trip. "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?" is a worthwhile endeavor as well. The song's chiming guitar notes and rattling tambourine give it its distinct sound. With bittersweet lyrics, (supposedly based on the affair of one of the four U2 men with a groupie) the song makes a beautiful tribute to someone dangerous because they're honest and too out there to know what they want. Sometimes, the best thing IS to look back. After all that's what Bono is doing.

On one of the most sarcastic notes of U2's lengthy career, "So Cruel" comes through as a song were the sucked in desperately attempts to criticize his manipulator only to realize in the end it's his own fault for giving in to such a flighty character. He accuses her and practically makes fun of her, but in the end, he still comes back to her. It seems almost a song of regret and Bono brings that through eloquently. A little too good for him not to have known what the feeling of the poor sap singing was like. This is a point where the singer is trying to resist the temptress who has dragged him into Nighttown and kept him there by insulting her. It can be felt that he's not saying this to convince the temptress who she is, but himself as a way to try and resist her.

"The Fly" is the essence of what Achtung Baby was to mean. People thought Bono was an egomaniac. A megalomaniac. In Bono's opinion, if they wanted a megalomaniac who was he to disappoint? If they considered him an egotistical bastard, he might as well have FUN doing it. "The Fly" is smart and quite ingenious, lyrically. Filled to the brim with new, brilliant aphorisms such as "a liar won't believe anyone else" and "ambition bites the nails of success", Bono tapped into what people wanted him to say and to be. He felt it was his duty to fill the job and fill it well. Go all the way. "You all want a hero." Bono said to an interviewer during the ZooTV tour, "but if I accepted the job, you'd kill me! So, I'm backing out." In reality, he was taking on the job full tilt, but doing it so blatantly that no one could possibly take it seriously. In the lyrics, he sings of the stars falling from the sky, but his look says everything is all right. With the song, Bono set out to prove that once he produced in real life the personality the media had fabricated about him, that the media would no longer recognize it as their own creation. Ultimately, he proved himself right as the hoopla U2 built around Achtung Baby and ZooTV exceeded anything the media did and in fact, confused the media. Imaginative in its originality, "The Fly" possessed not only that hard rock edge of rip raw guitar cries, but also of deep, throaty vocals with high falsetto vocals in the back, showing two totally contrasting ideas working well together, much like Bono and his alter-ego the Fly (perhaps that's where Bono got the idea?).

"Mysterious Ways" is one of the best songs U2 has ever done. Period. Lyrically, it's totally fascinating to hear Bono sing of his savior the sun through the whole album and then force himself to admit in "Mysterious Ways"â that the moon (the temptress) DOES move in mysterious ways and sometimes he strays toward her. To see the "man inside the child" speaks almost openly of Bono's love for his wife, Ali. In a relationship where he has been quoted to say that sometimes he feels like "a bit of a baby" and tends to put his wife on a pedestal, "Mysterious Ways" can almost be directly linked to his love for Ali, and not always understanding (and usually in awe) why on Earth this woman would want to put up with him. It just seems in some songs Bono gets more of an answer than he bargained for. The moon isn't just a temptress. She's a spirit. And she moves us through these miracle days. This seems to make a blatant reference to a belief that the Spirit, or God, is of female origin. This goes back to the thought that Bono tends to sometimes worship women, especially his wife Ali. Sometimes it just seems like Bono says more than he really means to.

In "Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around The World", the man in "Even Better Than The Real Thing", "Until The End Of The World", "The Fly"â and "Mysterious Ways"â has finally tested to see how far he could go before losing his way back and is coming home to his lost love. The lethargic, bubbly bass line mirrors what he feels after a night out on the forbidden areas of Nighttown: exhausted, exhilarated, upset, joyful, disillusioned, afraid, pleased, spirited, unaware and nursing a terribly bloody nose and horrible hangover. Only the basics for a guy running home after almost losing himself in the openness of his own fantasies. His confusion is innocent here with lines like: "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle". It sounds as though the singer is so lost in everything that his repeating bits and pieces of conversations he overhears and visions he catches snippets of. Then he declares that he would run to his woman if only she would stay still. He doesn't seem to yet realize that HE is the one moving, not her.

In "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)"â he discovers this. The song deals with the time after the singer makes it back home. U2 could have ended peacefully with "Tryinâ To Throw Your Arms Around The World", but they won't let their fans off that easily. The song begins with a confession: "sometimes I feel like I don't know / sometimes I feel like checking out/ I wanna get it wrong / can't always be strong." Then he tells her, full of hope, that their love won't be long. In the song, Bono seems almost to be trying to convince his love and himself why they are so important to each other and even as he reasons why he needs her, he criticizes her: "you bury your treasure where it can't be found / But your love is like a secret that's been passed around." There is also a revelation in the fact that because the singer went out to the temptations of nightlife, things are no longer the same at home and the two must now own up to their responsibilities to each other. This idea can lead back to U2 struggling in the studio during Achtung Baby and realizing that they also had to own up to their responsibilities in the band and as friends. The singer pleads, as he searches for the way things once were, for his baby to light his way so he can find it. The heartbreaking chorus "Baby, baby, baby. light my way / Oh, c'mon, baby, baby, baby/ light my way" makes his doubts about his loved one and himself clear and extremely painful. All he needs is a little light.

We can tell with "Acrobat" that he does not receive the light he has pleaded for and discovers that not only has he and the relationship changed with his straying into temptations, but so did his lover. She can no longer live up to her strong attitude of the past and has to be warned by the one who sinned against her that she mustn't believe everything she sees and hears, but instead what she feels: "Don't believe what you hear/ don't believe what you see / if you just close your eyes you could feel the enemy". Bono once said when asked about how touring affects his home life, "I don't think the problems start when you leave. I think the problems start when you come home." This ideal can be heard strongly throughout this whole album. The singer feels anxious for himself and her and seems determined not to give in despite extreme disillusionment. He tries to be understanding with his lost baby ( "I know youâd hit out/ if you only knew where to hit"). He admits to the hypocrisy in himself when he sings "and I must be an acrobat / to talk like this and act like that". As the drums reflect the passion and desperation of the lyrics, the guitar seems to reveal the frantic searching and the bass rumbles as the back noise of what is coming between and confusing them.

"Love Is Blindness" --a beautiful piece of work with Spanish sounding percussion, (Larry proving that he is more than capable of playing something soft and painful as Edge does with his guitar), heart-thumping bass, organ reminiscent of church organs, (possibly where the singer would go to repent for his sins?), and wailing, crying guitar chords-- is one of U2's most pained works besides "One". With the heart breaking conclusion that love is blindness, the singer goes off to ask forgiveness for all he has done and realize and accept the consequences on his home life after going out into Nighttown. Bono's lasting plea to end U2's best album to date sums up the most important thing he has learned from life and, most likely, from U2's fans: "oh, my love / it's blindness". I suppose that is one of the many important things U2 has learned in their legendary travels. Sometimes, you really don't wanna see.

U2 went into Achtung Baby four separate people who no longer knew where the other three were coming from or who they even were, unsure they could be the friends like they'd once been. They left Achtung Baby the most dedicated best friends they'd ever been to each other, who now understood the meaning of true friendship, true temptation, true pain, true sacrifice, true compromise, true love, true art, true music, true lust, true spirituality, true talk, true walk, true hypocrisy, true SWAGGER. Bono was right when he said, "We've got no style. We've got swagger, NO style." U2 doesn't have any style except their own. U2 is U2 is U2. No matter how they twist and turn it, trash it and muck it or burn it and flip it, it's always U2 because it's always Bono, Larry Mullen, Edge and Adam Clayton. In Achtung Baby , there is every album U2 had done before it, every album they've done since and every album they will EVER do from this point on.

But Achtung Baby shone with something that will be very hard to ever capture again. A moment in time. There will never be another 1990. There will never be another Berlin. There will never be another wall to tear down. There will never be another feeling of unification and of confusion and of uncertainty pulsing throughout all of Europe. And, because of that, there will never be another Achtung Baby . But the greatest thing about U2 is that they don't burn bright very quickly and then burn out like some distant star. They burn bright and stay there like our very own sun. Whether it's out of a long lasting, loving friendship or out of the pure pigheadedness of four determined Irishmen, there is one thing we DO know...

U2 has many more moments ahead of them to capture.

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