Monday, March 02, 2009


Every artist I know struggles with how the popular culture interacts with their art. Those who create visual art like paintings or literary art like poetry find the masses quite impatient and largely unwilling to spend any real time digesting or reflecting on the power of the art they've spent months creating.

In short, popular media has largely eliminated the instropective power of art to resonate within our souls and provoke us to reflect on deeper questions of faith, life, love and beauty. We're a sound bite culture. We're looking for music that rocks, fiction that tittilates, art that pops and poetry that reads like clever marketing copy. We're not looking for an opportunity to allow art to saturate our minds, resonate in our souls, probe our motives or reveal our inconsistencies.

People forget that U2's Josua Tree was their sixth record, not their first. It took them that long to invade the psyche of the average music fan. Even then, most of those who did embrace that dark snapshot of American consciousness did so because of a video they saw on MTV or perhaps the catchy melody of "With or Without You" got stuck in their heads. Many who purchased that seminal record failed to follow the band beyond the "Rattle and Hum" era and by the time "Achtung Baby" hit the shelves and the airwaves they had long since moved on to other musical soundscapes.

As someone who discovered U2 through a borrowed "Unforgettable Fire" album, I have to confess that it has taken repeated listens to fully appreciate the more recent catalog of the band. However, that process of slow dissemination is one of the reasons I so dearly love the band and their music.

I remember the first time I heard "The Fly". I had waited in front of my television set for two hours waiting for MTV to launch the "World Premiere" video of their new single from their hotly anticipated "Achtung Baby" Cd. When the song finished I remember blinking my eyes and saying to myself, "They've lost their minds".

My opinion didn't change much the evening I first heard the Cd in its entirety. I really only liked two of the songs ("One" and "So Cruel") and the rest I thought was a feeble attempt to be cool. However, as I continued to listen and translate the lyrics I found myself listening to this disc almost exclusively. Today it's still my all-time favorite U2 album, hands down.

Simply put, the average U2 song, and album, requires multiple listens to fully appreciate and that can be a dangerous thing in our sound bite culture. Even for someone who is predisposed to purchase everything they ever record, (and I nearly have), the first-time listen through their new music can be less than convincing.

The first time I heard "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" the band was playing it on Saturday Night Live just weeks before the "Atomic Bomb" Cd released. My wife and I listened to the lyrics and feared that Bono and his wife must have gotten a divorce. "And it's you when I don't pick up the phone. Sometimes you can't make it on your own." However, I later learned that this song was written for his dying father. Suddenly the song took on new, and profound meaning.

When I heard "Until The End of the World" for the first time I only heard a song they had written for another mediocre Wim Wenders movie. Later, when I heard Bono explain that it was sung from the point of view of Judas singing to Jesus after his betrayal the song became poignant beyond words and now I love it dearly.

The first listen through the "All That You Can't Leave Behind" album left me cold. However, after a dozen listens I found I couldn't make it through "Walk On" and "Kite" without tearing up. And even now I am still discovering new things to love about some of their songs that I've heard hundreds of times.

Because of this, I find it's best that I not attempt to review the new U2 Cd, "No Line On the Horizon" just yet. I've heard it online now about 3 times. The first time I heard the single "Get On Your Boots" I loved the music but the lyrics left me cold. I mean, seriously, "Get on your boots? Your sexy boots." Nothing close to the usual lyrical finesse found in their previous rock standards like "Elevation", "Vertigo" or even "Discoteque". But then I saw the video for the song and it shed new light on the song and the meaning behind it (which I now take to be the empowerment of women).

So, until after I've listend to the new U2 record a few hundred times I reserve the right not to review it or comment on how much I love, or don't love, their new songs.


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