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Old 11-14-2004, 07:32 PM   #1
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HTDAAB and ATYCLB: a political critique

I put this on the review thread, but since it is only semi-relevant to an album review, I thought it was worthy of its own thread. Note, again, that this was originally written for my own livejournal blog (as a newbie, I can't post links, but its www livejournal com / users / satyadaimoku). As such, the writing isn't really meant for U2 diehards, but believe me, i've been as hardcore a u2 fan as anyone over the past 15 years.

First of all, and before there is any question about this, I think it is a really good album. It's not as good as the big three of Achtung Baby, Rattle and Hum or Joshua Tree, but it is a solid CD with a lot of good tracks that I have enjoyed the first couple of times through (and, generally speaking, I'm likely to end up enjoying the album more on each successive time listening to it).

However, at the same time, the album has crystalized for me some of the ambiguous feelings I had about All That You Can't Leave Behind. Like that album, Dismantle is so melodic and sweet and... nice. Really nice. And therein lies the problem.

Let me use an example. The best song on HTDAAB (even the acronym is too damn long) is probably "Love and Peace or Else", a cool song with power chords and a nice sound to it. The song contains the following very nice lyrics:

Lay down your guns,
Are you daughters of Zion?
Are you Abraham's sons?

Isn't that nice? It's an appeal to a conflict torn region by trying to bring them together in lyrics celebrating their common humanity and religious principles. It reminds me of a song I heard once by a band who did the same thing in a different part of the world (what was their name again?)

Broken bottles under childrens feet
Bodies strewn accross the dead end street
But I won't heed the battle call
It puts my back up, puts my back up against the wall

The problem is not that they are unoriginal - believe me I have no problem with a literally infinite number of songs on this theme. It's that they did it much, much better the first time around. In the 1980s, U2 declared War - not on the Irish nor on the Brits but on the existence of hatred and violence among both peoples. Today they gently cajole people to Leave Them Behind through soporific homilies. An even worse example is the dreadfully titled "Crumbs on your table", in which Bono sings:

Where you live should not decide
Whether you live or whether you die
Three to a bed
Sister Ann, she said
Dignity passes by

I'm not asking for Bono to be Che Gueverra here. I know U2 isn't, and shouldn't be, Public Enemy or Rage Against the Machine. But if you are going to write a rock song about international poverty, could you say something that would make Dick Cheney at least slightly uncomfortable? If you can't shock, at least provoke. And if you don't have anything that is going to effectively provoke then don't say anything, or write love songs. "Crumbs" seems like the kind of song in which, during live performances, they should send around a collection plate and show images of starving children, ala "Bui-Doi" in Miss Saigon. What happened to this:

Plant a demon seed, raise a flower of fire
See them burning crosses, see the flames higher and higher

U2's tribute to Desmond Tutu was one of the most passionate, intense and angry appeals to justice that I've ever heard put to music. There's nothing nice about it:
Broken back to the ceiling
Broken nose to the floor
I scream at the silence, it's crawling
It crawls under the door
There's a rope around my neck
And there's a trigger in your gun
Jesus say something
I am someone, I am someone
I am someone
They talk not just about liberation, but the heat of oppression, the blood and the guts and the passion of hatred. They talk of a man "who is at the point where he is ready to take up arms against his oppressor." On ATYCLB, The best they could do for Buddhist leader Aung San Suu Kyi - who has spent years in prison for the heinous crime of being elected president of Myanmar - was to "leave it behind" (in Walk on). Where is Bono telling the Edge to communicate El Salvador on his guitar? Of all people, Bono echoes Justin Timberlake in asking "Where is the love?" Well, Bono, where is the anger? Where is the rebellion? Where is fatwa against injustice and anger and violence that you issued to my generation? 17 years ago, you sang,
And in our world a heart of darkness, a firezone
Where poets speak their hearts, then bleed for it
Jara sang his song, a weapon, in the hands of love
You know his blood still cries from the ground
What is the ATYCLB and Dismantle Bono's weapon? What will his blood cry from the ground for? Niceness?

And I think it is pretty obvious what happened to Bono: he grew up. He ceased to be an idealistic young musician trying to wake people up and radically changing the way we see the world. He became, instead, an idealistic middle aged musician and politician trying to increase US foreign aid to fight AIDS in Africa by 75% over the next six years. The first reviews of his new CD came not from Rolling Stone but from Kofi Annan. It is literally impossible to criticize this transformation from any legitimate political perspective. A single educated, articulate individual is lightyears more effective as a challenge to the powers that be than thousands of Rage Against the Machines or Chumbawumbas. But we don't look to rock musicians to be politicians (after all, we have bodybuilders for that). We look to rock musicians to be rebels; to channel the collective alienation and sense of injustice from their audience and turn it into activist fury. And perhaps it is impossible to do both things at the same time; perhaps the man who has Jesse Helms on speed dial cannot sing "if you plant a demon seed, you raise a flower of fire, see them burning crosses, see the flames higher and higher". But I miss that Bono.

And the idealism of this album is, quite frankly, much harder to listen to in this era. ATYCLB's giddy optimism was a lot easier to swallow in the idealistic last days of the Clinton administration. With Bush re-elected, idealistic people concerned about social injustice can't weep empty homilies. Now more than ever what we need is War. Now, more than ever, what we need is an artist willing to say this:

They ain’t gon’ stop us - they can't
We're stronger now, more then ever
They tell us "No", we say "Yeah"
They tell us "Stop", we say "Go"
Rebel with a rebel yell
Raise hell - we gon’ let em know
Stomp, push, shove, mush..
Fuck Bush
Until they bring our troops home

Of course, the artist who sang that also sang this:

Don't put out, i'll put you out, won't get out, i'll push you out
Puss blew out, poppin' shit, wouldn't piss on fire to put you out

And I ask myself... if I were, once again, a 15 year old alienated left wing teenager looking to musicians not just for their music but as role models in the context of a psychotic imperialist administration, who would I end up listening to? The guy who wants to leave his options open to slightly influence the guys in charge to be somewhat less evil? Or the guy who puts it perfectly, succinctly, precisely: Fuck Bush.
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Old 11-14-2004, 08:06 PM   #2
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That was an interesting read. Thanks for posting.

I also miss the Bono who wrote the words to Bullet the Blue Sky and Silver and Gold. I admired him so much for standing up for what he believed in through his music and not mincing words. However, I find it highly unlikely that anyone has ever changed their mind about who to vote for based on song lyrics, so Bono is probably a lot more effective these days as far as actually doing some good in the world.
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Old 11-14-2004, 08:27 PM   #3
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Great post, great insights, and some great thinking...I've been making the same arguments on and off for QUITE some time, now...

For the record, my home-made "FUCK BUSH" t-shirt got me thrown out of my local polling place... IT WAS FUCKING WORTH IT, TOO!!! I still got to vote!

Anyway...in all seriousness, I do agree with you wholeheartedly. I'd love to say something eloquent or deep or meaningful or something....but you already said it all, friend! Excellent job--you've perfectly articulated the feelings of--I'd imagine--a good number of your fellow posters.
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Old 11-14-2004, 08:49 PM   #4
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I can see where you're coming from with this, and I'm sure we all agree that the rompin' stompin' Bono was the shit, but I'm not so sure about a few things:

(this comes from a Canuck, by the way, and we're hugely pro-Democrat up here)

1) U2 aren't American. I know they've had a huge infatuation with it for their entire careers, but in the end, the political 'feel' in the U.S. isn't likely what the band feels on a daily basis...especially since they operate on a more worldwide basis than someone like Eminem. That's not to say Em isn't popular elsewhere, but his work will always be more defined in an American sensibility.

2) Bono has said openly that he doesn't dislike Bush. He disagrees with the war, but he has a fondness for Bush since his primary concern lies with the people in Africa and the Republicans donated a load of cashola to his cause.

3) I can understand that just prior to the election, there should be war waged by those in the popular media. Get the word out to youngsters -- fuck bush and whatnot. However, now that Americans are firmly entrenched in a four year stint with the Bush administration again, isn't this a great time for people to have some anthemic tunes of love...to enjoy life (cuz who knows how long it'll be before it gets even worse) and appreciate the privileges of a North American lifestyle. Perhaps we can save the musical war for times when change will once again be an issue at the forefront.

Just my thoughts. Oh, and if I kill this thread too, I apologize as I seem to have a knack for it.
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Old 11-14-2004, 10:51 PM   #5
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You bring up some great points regarding Bono's angry lyrics. And yes, I remember how he got me engaged because of how passionate he was when he took the stage.

However, what did it get him then? Did the violent rants onstage really make that much difference in the world? I think now, when he's not partisan to one ideology, when he's not taking sides...but rather trying to muster the positives of both sides to see/understand his cause, he is most successful.

I watched his interview with O'Reilly during the Republican convention and thought he was actually able to turn O'Reilly to his point of view. He did it through an intellectual discussion.

As much as I loved the Fuck the revolution speech during R&H, Bono has not been as effective as he is now when he's used his "softer" side, using reason and logic, to get both sides (left and right) on his bandwagon.

Screaming and name calling would not have gotten him where he is now.
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Old 11-15-2004, 12:19 AM   #6
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To everything there is a season.

Bono isn't the 20 something idealist anymore, so he need not act like one. Since he's been cooperating with both Republicans and Democrats to help fight the AIDS/Africa crisis, it would be kind of dumb to start writing and screaming anti-Bush lyrics now.
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Old 11-15-2004, 07:29 AM   #7
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Maybe an all-out, no-holds-barred frontal assault isn't the best way to get people to come around to your way of thinking. I'm more receptive to a clever, well-thought-out antiwar song like the one on Sting's last album, than see Eddie Vedder impale a Bush mask with his microphone stand and repeatedly smash it onto the stage.
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Old 11-15-2004, 07:32 AM   #8
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i'm not sold that love and peace or else is a political song... i think it's a song about a rocky relationship
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Old 11-15-2004, 07:36 AM   #9
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i thinks it both due to the bono man's ways
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Old 11-15-2004, 07:38 AM   #10
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Re: HTDAAB and ATYCLB: a political critique

Quote:
Originally posted by SATYAdaimoku


And I ask myself... if I were, once again, a 15 year old alienated left wing teenager looking to musicians not just for their music but as role models in the context of a psychotic imperialist administration, who would I end up listening to? The guy who wants to leave his options open to slightly influence the guys in charge to be somewhat less evil? Or the guy who puts it perfectly, succinctly, precisely: Fuck Bush.
Thank you for taking your own political views and skewing them to make it look like it's a musical subject.
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Old 11-15-2004, 10:04 AM   #11
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Saying "Fuck Bush" is great - so is saying "plant the demon seed". Fantastic - you showed your views. Good job.

Now do something about it!

That's the Bono we have today. And I think the WORLD is better off for it.

We don't need Eminem or Bono or anyone else singing about how bad the current regime is. We need people of action. You don't like Bush? Great, got it. I don't like him either. But singing or writing about it does little. He's what we have and to get things done, one needs to go through him. Bono wants billions of $$ for Africa. That type of cash goes through Bush. Would Bono rather have Clinton or Kerry? I'm sure he would - but he doesn't. So why alienate Bush?

In the 80's, Bono sang about Africa. Now he's really doing something about Africa. It's great to take a short trip to Africa and write "Where the Streets Have No Name". It's fantastic to write about the injustices of South Africa. It's another to donate 5 years of one's life to helping relieve debt and quenching AIDS in Africa.

Do I miss the Bono of old? Nope - because the Bono of today is far more effective than ever!
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Old 11-15-2004, 10:11 AM   #12
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Bono now is as cool as he has ever been. People actually used to make fun of his 80's "rants" (see SNL)
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Old 11-15-2004, 10:33 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally posted by doctorwho
Saying "Fuck Bush" is great - so is saying "plant the demon seed". Fantastic - you showed your views. Good job.

Now do something about it!

That's the Bono we have today. And I think the WORLD is better off for it.

We don't need Eminem or Bono or anyone else singing about how bad the current regime is. We need people of action. You don't like Bush? Great, got it. I don't like him either. But singing or writing about it does little. He's what we have and to get things done, one needs to go through him. Bono wants billions of $$ for Africa. That type of cash goes through Bush. Would Bono rather have Clinton or Kerry? I'm sure he would - but he doesn't. So why alienate Bush?

In the 80's, Bono sang about Africa. Now he's really doing something about Africa. It's great to take a short trip to Africa and write "Where the Streets Have No Name". It's fantastic to write about the injustices of South Africa. It's another to donate 5 years of one's life to helping relieve debt and quenching AIDS in Africa.

Do I miss the Bono of old? Nope - because the Bono of today is far more effective than ever!
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