Tag Archives: Bono

Reflections on Bono at 50

Hard to believe that today, U2’s lead singer turns 50.  Without a doubt, Bono is one of the best (if not the best) frontmen to ever grace a stage.  Unlike a lot of other rock stars, Bono somehow manages the impossible feat of making the universal feel intimate.  He tries to connect with every single person in the stadium and arenas that he commands.  U2 has always aimed for every in large scales.  And Bono is the key to U2’s success, because just like Bruce Springteen, Bono believes in the power of rock and roll.  Unlike Springsteen who views rock and roll as a means to escape a pedestrian life, Bono sees and roll as a secular salvation.  In “Thunder Road”, Springsteen sings, “Well I got this guitar and I learned how to make it talk.”  Contrast that with Bono ad-libbing during a performance of “All Along The Watchtower” – “All I got is a red guitar.  Three chords, and the truth” and you catch my drift.

If you’ve ever seen any video of U2 performing live, you probably know that he will do absolutely anything to get every single person’s attention.  There’s the infamous Live Aid performance of “Bad” where in front of some 20,000 people (and millions watching) he jumped off stage, grabbing a girl from the audience and began dancing with her leaving the rest of the band wondered what the hell just happened to their lead singer.  Then there’s U2’s performance on Saturday Night Live in 2001.  During “Elevation” (which is either a great rock song or just plain dumb depending on your point of view) Bono made a normal performance into an event by again jumping off the stage, shoving his face in the camera, wandered around the sets, and demanded the crowds attention.  I haven’t seen that many Saturday Night Live performances, but from what I’ve seen most artists just play their songs and hang it up.  What other artist would bring Salman Rushdie up on stage during the height of the Satanic Verses controversy?  Who else but Bono would bring the mothers of children who had been taken by Death Squads in El Salvador on stage?  By doing this, Bono doesn’t try to connect with everybody when he’s on stage – he’s also trying to make a global connection as well.  You can argue that sometimes his speeches about Africa before “One” go on for a while, but he’s taking a risk, and it’s a risk worth taking.

My favorite U2 album is Achtung Baby, and it contains some of Bono’s best singing and lyrics.  Throughout the album he looks to the future for inspiration (“Zoo Station”), agonizes over being torn apart (“One”), moonlights as Judas talking to God (“Until the End of the World”), and evens questions his validity as a rock star with his faith (“Acrobat”).

Of course, rock and roll isn’t always about salvation – sometimes you can just be a fan as well.  Bono’s essays on Bruce Springsteen, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, and Frank Sinatra rank up with some of the best writing about other musicians by a musician.  He’s constantly slipping in lines of his favorite songs into U2 performances.

But above anything else, Bono also wrote this song:

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Best Frontmen

Recently saw that the British music magazine Q created a list of the 100 best frontman in rock.   I’m shocked that they named Liam Gallager of Oasis as number one.  Maybe Oasis was bigger in Britain,with their brand of Beatles re-writes turned up 10 11,  but Liam Gallager could not command an audience.  He just stood at the microphone and sang.  Not much of a frontman if you ask me.

So here’s a list of who I’d consider to be among the best frontmen: (no particular order).

Mick Jagger

Bono

Bruce Springsteen

Joe Strummer

Iggy Pop

Ian Curtis

John Lennon & Paul McCartney

David Byrne

Eddie Vedder

(Note: I would include such greats as Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Elvis, and James Brown who were all great performers, but they’re not part of a group.)

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Just End It Already…

The Spiderman Musical – Turn Off the Dark appears to be dying a long and slow death.  First production costs pushed the premiere back, and now Evan Rachel Wood (as Mary Jane) has left.  As if as Spiderman musical weren’t absurd enough the musical score is written by Bono and The Edge.  I like U2, but this?  No.  If U2 had written a concept album such as Tommy and or The Wall then maybe I could understand.  Thank God they didn’t and let’s hope Turn Off the Dark disappears before everyone involved embarrasses themselves.  I think Evan Rachel Wood had the right idea.

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Charity Singles

Over the past week, most of the (major) music sites have been posting articles about the  “We Are The World” remake.  Sure it’s a good cause, and I suppose that most of the artists that are contributing are feeling good about their contribution.  I’m not that cynical that I believe most of these artists are in for publicity.  (I usually do believe that, but when it comes to tragic circumstances, not so much.)

My problem with the sudden over-flow of charity singles is that they all suck.  The original “We Are The World” wasn’t that good either.  It was a bloated mess full of musicians singing one line.  Before the remake has anyone really thought about that song in about 20 years?  Probably not.  It’s not the classic that lots of people think it is.  

MTV has a couple of articles about Lil Wayne taking over Bob Dylan’s “classic” line.  Honestly, as a huge Bob Dylan I forgot he even sang on that song.  Before I YouTubed the original video, the only things I remember about it was  Dan Ackyroyd hanging out in the back looking like he was important, and Springsteen singing earnestly in his jean-jacket.  So as you can see, the original had a huge impact on me.  But I really could care less about Lil Wayne singing Dylan’s line, because Dylan didn’t write the song so it’s not like he could claim the line as his own.  

Even worse than “We Are the World” remake was “Stranded” – the collaboration between U2’s Bono and Edge, Rihanna, and Jay-Z.  Apparently it was written in a couple of days, and recorded in a week.  And it felt like it too.  At much as I dislike both versions of “We Are The World” at least it was somewhat catchy.  I just listened to “Stranded” for the second time, and seconds later I forgot the melody.

If you think I’m being too cynical here, perhaps I am.  The idea of charity singles is great, but Quincy Jones was behind “Thriller” – a pop masterpiece.  Yet when it came time to create a song that actually meant something, he came up with something trite and bloated.  The same goes for Bono and The Edge.  They’ve written many great songs about the troubles in Ireland, and Africa.  And when a song actually has the potential to make an impact they create one of the worst songs they’ve contributed to since 1997’s Pop.  

It’s not Christmas anymore, but this gets my vote for best charity-single ever:

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