Achtung Baby came out 20 years ago. An occasion for curmudgeonly reflection and latent proclamation of mental ossification. First, I welcome being a curmudgeon. Second, I think the junk music today is loads better than the junk music of the 80s and 90s. Third, this may be the best era ever for quality television. There is no way to watch all of it. We live in days of wonder.
I caught onto U2 late. I am not, and have never been, cool. There was a span of time in the early 80s I confused them with The Alarm, a Welsh band deliberately trying to muddle kids on just that point.
Got into them during The Unforgettable Fire, (yeah, yeah. Boy and October and all that. If Casey Kasem or Dick Clark wasn't talking about 'em they didn't exist - remember, me = not cool). Loved the doo-wop part in the background of "Pride (in the Name of Love)" - really, it's there. Got The Joshua Tree and decreed it with millions of others as a Very Big Album imbued with shamanistic powers. It took many months before the sanctimony blockade was broken and some of us peeped to each other that "Bullet the Blue Sky" was really annoying and doofy.
Rattle and Hum came out, people cried hubris. The cowboy ensembles were redonkulous, but the songs and the Think Big, Sing Big, Feel Big, and Rehash Our Hit Song as a Gospel Piece to Show We're Down had highs and lows, but by golly, they were trying. And Bono critiquing lyrics with B.B. King? On film? And Larry Mullen Jr. crying after sitting on Elvis' motorcycle? That shit is just funny. Remember, United Kingdomers grow up with Monty Python running 24-7 (or do they go by metric time there?) so they communicate only through irony. Get it now? Yes, see? Ha ha. U2 was having a laugh.
Word got out U2 was recording with Brian Eno (Bowie fan: So, what's new?) in Berlin (Bowie fan: Whaaaa? Are they doing the "oblique strategies" thing? I don't know what's real anymore.). They ended up doing most of the work in Dublin, but, oh, for a while there...
When the first track off Achtung Baby came out, "The Fly", it sounded really dense. Then the video came out with Bono putting on large sunglasses and a new personna, The Fly - studied poseur and oily, louche behavior - that caused a one-two reaction: 1.) Bono is taking control of the mockery by surpassing it? 2.) is he making fun of Michael Hutchence from INXS?
This was a big deal, the album was even better, and their Zoo TV shows took their cues from the video above. A great artistic maneuver, taking control of public perception and bending it.
But 20 years later, Bono has still not ditched the shades and the distance.
Side note: Henry Rollins Jr. has called Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. the worst rhythm section of any major band. Discuss.
I saw the Zoo TV tour in the Tacomadome in Spring 1992. I think the Pixies opened (?) but didn't know the Pixies very well. They weren't mainstream enough (me = not cool, though I respect the disdainful and wistful look you got on your face just now). The show itself was great. Huge flourishes, sensational, touching songs, big confidence and humor.
Drive back with my buddy was long. 6+ hours. We were exhausted. Risky driving on the road kind of groggy. A stop at AM/PM for provisions was a life-saver. Stayed up all night and went to class the next day punchy. A great 24 hours.
U2 was on the t.v. all the time about how t.v. is so pervasive in our culture. Bono smoking slender dark brown cigarettes, engaged in, using, bemoaning "Las Vegas trash" sensibilities. The phrase is short hand with my concert buddy for evoking the whole period.
Why was I in a years-long dating drought? All so clear now. Too late to rescue him, the dope.
Zooropa was a really good album, continued weirdness. Didn't feel as big a statement, but it was fun to see the band stretching itself. Easy to suspect taking mushrooms or cocaine with Brian Eno in the studio, Daniel Lanois playing with Radio Shack kits to insert bleeps and blurps and to make Eno laugh. Who wouldn't take up THAT opportunity?
POP Mart came out and U2 bored me for good. Save for the occasional uptempo single, their songs now sound like backing tracks for bucolic pharmaceutical commercials with kids frolicking in a pasture, or ads of people finding liberty granted them by a cell phone company boasting about its signal strength. Like Coldplay (sorry Linnae). Bought their album with the single "Vertigo" (the one in the iPod ads) in it as a final act of obedience/loyalty, then have stopped. One or two albums have come out since then. Mehhhh...
Listened to the whole album again the last few days. Doesn't tug at me as it used to. Still like the Achtung Baby song "Ultraviolet (Light My Way)", despite or because of lyrics: "When I was all messed up, and I had opera in my head/Your love was a lightbulb, hanging over my bed". One of those naff things where he's singing about a chick or Jesus or both (a bearded lady with messianic powers?). Video below is from a 2009-10 ish tour trying to sell a DVD. Still, a good performance:
By the way, I have a really funny joke about U2. Ask me to tell it to you sometime.