In defence of Bono and U2
What time is it in the world? When U2 launched the Australian leg of their 360 tour last week in Melbourne, this seemingly nonsensical question was repeated and alluded to throughout the show.
As the apparent motif of their tour, the question begs consideration.
Over the years U2 have consistently encouraged their fans to develop a political and social consciousness, in stark contrast to the spiritual vacuity promoted by most mainstream musicians.
The band’s catalogue of hits constitutes a political history of pertinent issues over the last thirty years:
New Years Day, 1983, about the Polish Solidarity movement.
Sunday Bloody Sunday, 1983, a militantly anti-war song about the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland.
Pride, 1984, a dirge to Martin Luther King Jr., and his enduring legacy.
Bullet in the Blue Sky, 1986, about US involvement in the El Salvadorian civil war.
Silver and Gold, 1987, a condemnation of apartheid in South Africa.
Miss. Sarajevo, 1996, highlights a surreal moment when the citizens of Sarajevo held a beauty pageant to raise global awareness about the largely unnoticed war, while still under siege.
Please, 1997, a plea against religious extremism.
Walk On, 2000, a song of support for Auug San Suu Kyi, Burma’s then imprisoned democratically elected political leader.
The Saints Are Coming, 2005, though not a U2 song, the video features mock news broadcasts of the US military being diverted from Iraq to deliver aid and relief to the refugees of New Orleans. As the video concludes, patrolling troops vanish from the streets and the camera zooms in on a sign reading: “Not As Seen On TV”.
Even in their latest album, No Line on the Horizon, which they are currently promoting, features two minor but two very poignant songs:
White as Snow, narrates the inner thoughts of a fatally wounded soldier lying on a roadside in Afghanistan during his final moments.
Cedars of Lebanon, depicts a war correspondent living in Beirut during the 2006 Israeli invasion struggling as he spent the night trying to make a deadline/squeezing complicated lives into a simple headline.
U2 have historically used their live performances as a means for highlighting issues. At Live Aid London in 1985, U2 gave a standout performance still considered to be the highlight of the groundbreaking concert; In 1986, after being approached by Jack Healey, Amnesty International’s then US Executive Director, U2 interrupted the recording of their Joshua Tree album to headline Amnesty’s ‘Conspiracy of Hope’ tour to promote human rights.
In the early 90s, U2 beamed live satellite interviews from war torn Sarajevo during the middle of their shows to draw attention to the largely ignored conflict.
During the 2005-2006 Vertigo tour, U2 displayed a narrated roll tape of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights across their multimedia screens during a pivotal moment in the performance.
For most of the current tour during “Walk On”, the outer ring of the band’s 360 set would see Amnesty volunteers circle the stage and stand, hauntingly, facing out into the audience with face masks of Auug San Suu Kyi.
It is difficult to be a fan of U2 and not have some social and political awareness: it lies at the heart of the band’s philosophy. Rather than adhere to some dogmatic message, U2 espouse political consciousness itself as an ideology: at least just be aware of issues; be interested in the world.
By asking ‘What time is it in the world?’, U2 are encouraging you to occupy other perspectives, to orientate yourself in a different political and social time-zone, to question your socio-economic fortune.
This notion echoes an earlier lyric from their 2005 song “Crumbs From Your Table”: Where you live should not decide/Whether you live or whether you die. Sadly, it does.
During the bridge of “In a Little While”, a pre-recorded video U2 complied in association with NASA*, sees an astronaut living on a space station reflecting on the beauty of earth from afar, and how small but radiant it is amongst the wider galaxy.
U2’s question forces you to consider the fact that your tiny piece of the world is not the whole world.
To have this relativity simple yet touching notion confront you during a display of rock grandeur can disorientate you if only for a second, but a second’s reflection is all that U2 are looking to achieve.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
Google is planning to build a wireless network to reach a billion people http://t.co/e972OOc2FT ... NBN implications?
@joekiely just beat the crus. No sweat eh?
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…