Join Date: Oct 2003
Local Time: 08:19 PM
The following ten paragraphs in the article can be summed up in these two sentences:
As Rattle and Hum the movie heads for videocassette and Rattle and Hum the album continues its stay in the top Ten, it's clear that U2's problem is more than simple overexposure. After years of favorable fan and press reaction to the band's music; years of dramatic stage performances; years in which underground credibility turned into mass success; years of articles based on intense conversations with a hyperbolic, socially minded lead singer and his three more retiring band mates; years of grainy black-and-white photos of deadly serious, brooding faces, growing from dewy-cheeked youth to bestubbled adulthood; after all that, the U2 backlash has set in.
No sooner have the members of U2 settled into a small, high-walled private booth in a pub down the road from Dublin's Guinness brewery - "the snugs," these little rooms are called - than Larry Mullen Jr. is recommending U2's favorite local band. It's called the Joshua Trio.
"They're hilarious," says Bono quickly. "They do things like 'Nobody Cares': 'What about unemployment? What about the ozone layer? Nobody cares. No, wait! Bono cares!' "
It's a measure of the band's impact in its home town that another group exists doing nothing but U2 spoofs. Another measure is the fact that the only way the band can spend a few hours in uninterrupted conversation is to reserve one of the snugs, booths originally built so that Dublin's drinkers could sequester their wives away from the exclusively male territory of the main pub.
In fact, the fame means they have to chose their pubs more carefully, too - especially after Bono's introduction to "Sunday Bloody Sunday" in Rattle and Hum, in which he excoriates the Irish Republican Army and ends by saying, "Fuck the Revolution." Since then, says Edge, "certain pubs in Dublin we don't feel as comfortable in. But I think our position has changed in Ireland, irrespective of that. We now drink in little boxes like this." Adds Adam Clayton, "Our world gets smaller the bigger the band gets."
As they hang up their jackets - which range from a leather New York Police Department model for Larry to a blue pin-striped number for Bono, who's looking corporate in vest, tie and gray beret - the boys in the band order a round of the locally brewed dark stout (except for Larry, who sticks to coffee) and settle into the little box. Larry thinks it's "a bit claustrophobic." Bono likes it. Adam says he feels like he's "in a men's toilet." And after listening to his band mates argue the snug's merits, Edge speaks up quietly. "It's a bit like being in U2," he says.
But if the four men who've come to this pub on a cloudy January afternoon are feeling enclosed, uncomfortable or affected by the storm that Rattle and Hum stirred up, they're also more willing to talk. As usual, Bono takes center stage and summons up his characteristic fervor when the conversation turns to U2's music, but everybody chimes in when the talk deals with Ronald Reagan's place in history, or the months the band spent living in Los Angeles last year, or the band members' admiration for musicians as diverse as Jerry Lee Lewis and Nanci Griffith, or their plans for their own Mother Records label, which will soon release a record by Guy Clark and is looking to sign other veteran country and folk performers like Joe Ely and John Prine.
"I must say," says Bono, "that my heroes at this point in time all have lines on their faces. I mean, if U2 set out to see through the Fifties rebellion in the Eighties - because it didn't work, and it was stupid to think that somebody with a safety pin in their nose and a leather jacket therefore had something to say - well, then, this other idea of a generation gap is also out the window in the Eighties. The young-punk idea is nonsense. I prefer to spend a day with Johnny Cash than a week with some up-and-coming pop star."
This is precisely the kind of thing U2 began to do during the American tour that led to Rattle and Hum - listening to blues and gospel music, recording at Sun Studio, cutting songs with B.B. King and the New Voices of Freedom gospel singers, doing versions of "Helter Skelter" and "All Along the Watchtower." But in the process, the band drew charges that it was using past heroes to boost its own status.
"Everyone slags us off for comparing ourselves to great groups," snaps Larry Mullen, "but that's bullshit. I mean, they said that to the Beatles, as well."
When the laughs die down, Bono picks up the argument. "Seriously, folks," he says with a chuckle, "we're in this big band, but in our own heads we're still fans of the greats, from Elvis Presley and Billie Holiday to Bob Dylan to the Band to the Waterboys to whoever.
"What happened around the album is remarkable," he says, "maybe even a bigger work of art than the album. The very idea of Rattle and Hum was, if not to burst the balloon, to let the air out of it. Everything about it, from doing really bad cover versions, which is how we started... A big band should be able to be a garage band if it wants to. Being brilliant is to take risks. I don't mean taking risks in the shallow water of the avant-garde but in the deep water."
Bono takes off his beret and runs his hand through his slicked-back hair. "You know," he says, "they say in the Eighties that rock & roll is dead. I don't think it's dead, but if it's dying, it's because groups like us aren't taking enough risks. You know, make a movie. Put yourself up there against what's out there, Robocop and Three Men and a Baby. That's great for rock & roll, not just for U2. I think you've got to dare."
Edge cuts in. "Like Megadeth doing 'Anarchy in the U.K.'," he says.
"Yeah!" says Bono with a grin. "We mustn't be responsible, we must be irresponsible, artistically speaking. Wouldn't it be awful if we said, 'Oh, we're in a big group now'? Rock & roll ought to be irresponsible, at least in the sense of being able to do a wicked cover version or say something like... How's it go? 'This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We're stealing it back.' If that's gonna get up some people's noses, all the better. I don't even know what it means. It means something, though."
To many people, it means U2 is announcing itself the heir to the Beatles.
"Let's get down to the Beatles, here," says Bono, the evangelical gleam in his eye getting fiercer with each word. "We're not saying we're a better band than the Beatles. But we are more of a band than the Beatles. We are. There's four of us - a street gang essentially, who drew no lines. Not Lennon and McCartney songwriting and Ringo's the drummer. When we walk onstage, it is the band that is the real work of art, the four of us.
"And when we were sixteen," he says, "we didn't think, 'Oh, let's not be the Beatles.' I thought, 'Fuck the Beatles, fuck the Rolling Stones.' They may have been our musical idols, but every band in the world thinks it's better than the Beatles. They are the blueprint. And we are fans and in awe of their music, but we're not reverent. It'd be childish of us to say we're better than the Beatles, or we're worse than the Beatles. I'm just saying that we're more of a band."
Larry Mullen, who fidgets as Bono grows feverish, sighs. "Back to that one again, are you?" he asks, rolling his eyes.
Edge looks over and laughs. "Oh, shut up, Ringo," he says.
Beatle jokes aside, though, it's unlikely that many of Rattle and Hum's detractors would be convinced by these arguments, because for anyone who thinks U2's music is overstated or pompous, the band's interviews can seem similarily self-serving and humorless. And while it may have been daring to make a movie, that movie didn't make a case for humility.
The band members never really address the issue. They talk about the album but around the movie, other than to complain about the compromises they had to make for the cameras. "I think the movie is great for them," says Phil Joanou, "because in a way it's them, but they don't have to take responsibility for the film because they didn't make it. It takes some weight off them, and that's good."
And the relentlessly serious tone? "That's totally my fault," says Joanou. "The movie was meant to be a fairly serious depiction of their music, as opposed to a light one. I have footage that could have changed that, but my plan was to do an aggressive, grab-people-by-the-throat-and-shake-them kind of movie rather than a romp through America with U2. A romp with U2 wasn't something I could swallow, so I went for" - he chuckles - "an overly serious, pretentious look at U2. That's a fair criticism, but what the hell?"
But if the members of U2 are perfectly capable of being funny guys, Bono doesn't seem to mind the "humorless" rap. "The time we live in, nothing is taken seriously," he says. "Part of the yuppie ethic is 'Let's not take everything so seriously, man.' The fact that a third of the population of the earth is starving, let's not take that so seriously. The fact that we're moments away from oblivion because of nuclear weapons... You know, these subjects don't get big laughs. That's why I admire people like Robin Williams, who can make their point and make people laugh. That's his job. I don't know, maybe our job is to make people cry, weep, tear their hair out, gnash their teeth... I mean, we are a very serious band about our work. We are. Deadly serious. Annoyingly, appallingly, boringly serious about our work."
And what is their work?
"To go where no band has gone before," he says, as the entire group howls with laughter. "To boldly go where no rock & roll band's gone before, to search out old soul records and steal their spirit..."