My poor roommate. One minute I’m saying how happy I am that today I finally put down my deposit for the English department’s summer study abroad: London! Last time I was out of the country, I was three.
But then I get a text from a friend, and the next minute I’m throwing my cell phone because U2 has announced they’re starting their next tour in Salt Lake City on June 3, which is a week before I get back.
For the next 10 minutes, I actually considered passing up London.
Why? Even I have to admit Bono doesn’t write extraordinary lyrics, and The Edge is an incredibly talented guitarist but he hasn’t done anything that innovative.
I think I first gave U2 a serious listen when I discovered their first few albums. “Boy” and “October” are both good albums, but they sound like a band that’s about to break into New Wave. “War,” the album with “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” could have been the beginnings of a talented punk band. And “The Unforgettable Fire,” which has “Pride (In The Name of Love),” is an album I keep going back to that’s a grand step above these, but still in the same vein. (Not to mention Larry Mullen Jr. was a looker in the 80s.)
I guess that’s why “The Joshua Tree” kinda blew my mind. It sounded nothing like the others. It’s a desert soundscape of a lonely, violent and God-fearing America. It captured many of my own early impressions of the distinction between the humble islands of my parents and this old frontier that had evolved into a sprawling world celebrity. And even with that making a solid impact, they surpassed it with “Achtung, Baby”: the same idea of a mythic America, but updated to the 90s.
I started watching concert videos, and I couldn’t believe how completely self-confident and out of control U2 are on stage. “The Joshua Tree” may have granted them their place in rock history, but they play around with that rock star identity by making complete buffoons out of themselves. Dressing up in glitter, heels and horns? Making prank calls to the White House? Entering the stage by coming out of a giant rotating lemon?
That’s mainly why U2 keeps entertaining me. They’ve reinvented themselves so many times that even as old men they don’t seem to take anything seriously. The band has experimented with a wide range of rock sounds — including techno, salsa, country, blues and Moroccan jazz — and Bono’s range has gone from pop falsetto to crooning with opera singer Luciano Pavarotti. U2 love being stars, but they only care about the fame if they get to poke fun with and recreate it.
I’m definitely still going to London, so I’ll have to catch Bono and his sunglasses next time around. (I know how it sounds, but he actually does have a medical condition that necessitates his famous shades.) But I’ll definitely take some U2 with me on the plane ride should I want to rock out — not Zeppelin-style, but like an idiot pretending to be a bigshot. Like Bono says, “There’s a part of me that wants to riot.”