Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Bono, Nietzsche, and All of Us

Is Bono "one of us"? Can the anti-war movement make such a claim? Yes and No.

Read the Rolling Stone and other interviews conducted since 2003, and Bono is clearly against the invasion and occupation. But listen to the shows, and Bono clearly "supports the troops."

So perhaps, every single one of us can claim that Bono is one of us. Maybe hat's the whole point. Bono's music is the megalomaniacal and messianic magic that belongs to "all that have ears to hear."

Of course, he's like me when he's against the war, but not when he's praising Condy Rice or Billy Graham--which is enough for "the right" to claim him as theirs.

After Atlanta, I said it this way (see my full review here):

We're all "One," just not the same.

And of course, Bono loves to make the links and loathes the divisions he sees between us—the real and imagined trenches between right and left, fundamentalist and free thinker, soldier and protester, preacher and punk. When Bono introduced "Sunday Bloody Sunday" by saying, "America, this is your song now," I don't think he simply meant to invoke the woeful tragedies of war and hurricanes.

Rather, I think he spoke to the war within, the divisions in our country since the culture war intensified, in our school and church communities, about dogmas and social demons, over drugs and religion, in our blurred and fatigued attitudes towards the war in Iraq, in our treatment of others with whom we disagree, including those we saw in the seats at this very show. With a "tough-guy" preteen onstage with him, Bono in his "coexist" bandanna offered his prayer for the next generation, "That in order to defeat a monster, we don't become a monster."

One more addendum: that last quote seems clearly a paraphrase of another radical thinker: Friedrich Nietzsche.

He said: "He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."

Of course, I have always tried to remind myself of this in another context: when I rebel against the stagnant status quo, I do not want to become the stagnant status quo. Bono, I think, uses this as challenge for Europeans and Americans in the so-called War on Terror. In both cases, may we not become monsters. And as we intend, may it be so.

Friday, November 18, 2005

We're the same soul: my pre-Atlanta love letter

Imagine a love affair that lasts longer than a marriage—22 years! Since age 16, I’ve been driven by this passion, and even after absences that could last years, I always come back for more.

My magical and mystical object of affection is not a lover at all—but a band. Even though I like to call Bono “my boyfriend,” we’ve only met briefly before and after shows, with me in my fan’s capacity, one of the many.

A child of the first MTV generation, I wore out my dubbed copy of the Red Rocks show. My primal attraction to the white flag of Christian pacifist radicalism matched only by what this man’s voice does to my soul.

Of course, over the years, Bono Hewson would at times confuse the Christ within with his own messianic charisma. But this intense ego and eager magnetism were not the result of his massive fame—but rather the reasons for it.

As an anomaly within the punk-new wave underground, U2 shunned the fashion statements for an even more pretentious anti-fashion statement. On the late spring US leg of the War tour, U2 did gigs on college campuses. When Bono climbed the scaffolding or did a stage dive from the speaker stacks into the balcony, his reckless intensity infected U2’s growing fan base. He played for 200 or 2000 then with the riveting abandon he offers arenas and stadiums today, which of course inspires critics to cheer that he transformed a basketball hall into a basement gig.

When he boasted in Rolling Stone that U2 would be one the important bands, like the Beatles or the Who, people scoffed. I remember believing Bono, sharing the quote with a friend, and getting laughed at.

The only thing I should laugh at now is my obsession!

At 38, we’re packing the whole family into a car for a rock and roll road trip. I’m talking Mom and Dad (both a young 65), my wife, and my 16-year-old stepson. Because we share a fascination with the convergence of theology, politics, and pop culture charisma, yes. But really, for me, this is an emotional pilgrimage as much as anything.

Because these are songs about the love that hold us together and tear us about. The intimate family and the infinite family.

Bono’s latest love songs are family songs, with a universal specificity and a special universalism that brings tears to a middle-aged man as if he were a teenage girl.

We know Bono wrote this for dad, but it also describes my relationship with my partner of six years (who is also my wife of three).

You don’t have to go it alone

And it’s you when I look in the mirror

And it’s you when I don’t pick up the phone

We fight all the time

You and I

That’s alright

We’re the same soul

I don’t need to hear you say

If we weren’t so alike

You’d like me a whole lot more

I’ve been looking forward to sharing this with my family live since I learned of Vertigo 2005. Tonight, at the first of my two “family” shows, I finally will do just that. Atlanta here we come.

Monday, November 14, 2005

This week's vertigo

What a week to indulge my enduring fandom as I wait for my first U2 gig of Vertigo's Third Leg, this Friday at the Phillips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.

My week of U2 geekness began early this morning, making mixes for my family members who will join me for the show.

Now, while working, I'm watching the Slane documentary from 1984, the first year I saw them live.

As one other distraction this morning, I updated my log of the shows I've seen.

This one coming should mark #22. Here are the rest, most of them in 1980s:

1. 12/08/1984 Detroit, Fox Theater
2. 12/09/1984 Cleveland, Music Hall
3. 03/23/1985 Joe Louis Arena - Detroit, Michigan
4. 06/13/1986 Rosemont Horizon - Chicago, Illinois
5. 04/02/1987 Arizona State University Activity Center - Tempe, Arizona
6. 04/04/1987 Arizona State University Activity Center - Tempe, Arizona
7. 04/05/1987 Community Center - Tucson, Arizona
8. 04/12/1987 Thomas And Mack Arena - Las Vegas, Nevada
9. 04/13/1987 San Diego Sports Arena - San Diego, California
10. 04/14/1987 San Diego Sports Arena - San Diego, California
11. 04/17/1987 Sports Arena - Los Angeles, California
12. 04/18/1987 Sports Arena - Los Angeles, California
13. 04/20/1987 Sports Arena - Los Angeles, California
14. 04/21/1987 Sports Arena - Los Angeles, California
15. 04/22/1987 Sports Arena - Los Angeles, California
16. 04/24/1987 Cow Palace - Daly City, California
17. 04/25/1987 Cow Palace - Daly City, California
18. 04/30/1987 Pontiac Silverdome - Detroit, Michigan
19. 03/27/1992 Palace Of Auburn Hills - Detroit, Michigan
20. 05/04/2001 Rupp Arena - Lexington, Kentucky
21. 05/09/05 United Center, Chicago Illinois

Friday, November 04, 2005

God is the Funky One: Going to Church With Bono

(the Rev. Cecil Williams, of Glide Memorial Church)

Bono’s spirituality is no secret among his fans and many of us connect to his songs at the soul level—in our guts, at the root, in the ether, with eyes wet and arms waving.

In late 2004, it was not admiration of pure musicianship or political activism that brought me back into the safe belly of serious U2 fandom after some years of casual listening. In fact, the soulful-emotional pull of Atomic Bomb sucked me back in. Within weeks of the latest album’s release, I was updating my CD collection, learning about the vast U2 bootleg trading community, reading websites, articles, books. This gravity can be felt most especially in new songs like “Miracle Drug,” “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own,” “Original of the Species,” “Crumbs from Your Table,” and “Yahweh.”

For some U2 fans, one of the band’s concerts is church enough. Fandom itself could be likened to a secular religion. Bono himself has been confused with Priest and Deity. Bono is proud to call himself a “believer”—not in an abstraction but in the God of the Bible. To say it bluntly, Bono’s a bit of Jesus freak.

Much media has been made of his preaching to Jesse Helms and Helms’ alleged repentance on the issue of AIDS. (That is, Helms’ condemned the victim before Bono and learned a little compassion after Bono. I don’t think good ol’ Jesse has exactly embraced his inner queer or anything.)

Myself, I’ve feared that Bono’s taken the “love your enemies” stuff so seriously that he might become my enemy. I do not have to hide my righteous rage at the actions of his friends George Bush and Condy Rice. But as my day-job requires me to work with arch-conservative students on a daily basis, I’m trying to take a page from Bono’s playbook and exercise the values of tolerance and compassion I would accuse the far Right of lacking.

Now, if Bono were a collection-plate carrying member of any church, it’s not likely to be one where Helms (or even his pal Bill Clinton) worships. When it comes to an actual church worth attending, Bono is still on the freaky fringes of faith—and apparently proud of it.

Last night, I watched a wildly interesting documentary on the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. It’s a serious look at the “revolutionary” mood of the 70s and the specifically hyped actions of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA).

Without going into a full review, one fascinating part of the film was the formation of a coalition of activists that tried to act as a liaison between the Hearts and the SLA. During the SLA-mandated distribution of food to urban poor with Hearst money, a preacher began to speak in a rhetoric we know well from the Dr. Kings and Jesse Jacksons of the world. With a full Afro and a multi-colored dashiki, Cecil Williams praised the distribution of food. “Wow, this guy is pretty radical,” I mused. Some could wrongly interpret him in this section as an SLA sympathizer.

Cecil Williams? Glide Memorial Church? Where do I know these names? Hey, that’s Bono’s preacher!! As recently as this past April 10, Bono, Ali, and the kids attended church at Glide. One Bay Area blogger describes sitting in church with the Hewsons and watching Bono join the choir for a song.

In an interview, Bono has said, “But there's one church that if I was living close by I'd definitely be in the congregation. It's in San Francisco—Glide Memorial. Rev. Cecil Williams there looks after the homeless, gays, straights; he marched with Martin Luther King, he's funny as hell—pardon the pun—and you can get an HIV test during the service. Now that's my kind of church.”

With Williams, Glide has deep connections in the left coast counterculture. One brief online biography explains, “He opened the church to jazz music, gays, hippies, addicts, the poor, poets, and anyone else who wanted to come. He hosted political rallies and services, including a Hooker Convention, speeches by Angela Davis, and the Black Panthers.” Williams' own words show that he takes the gospel message of embracing the outcast quite seriously: “The true church stays on the edge of life, where the real moans and groans are. Most church folks settle in, get comfortable and build doctrinal walls.”

And big names in pews notwithstanding, this is not a superstar church like you might find in Los Angeles or Nashville. In “SPIRIT WILLING: Glide Memorial Church,” Don Shewey explains, “But it's worth remembering that the rich and the famous don't just show up at Glide to get VIP treatment and their names in boldface. They come like everyone else, to be ministered to. On the occasion of Cecil's 30th anniversary at Glide, Bono faxed a letter from London saying, ‘I know I only get there a few times a year, but Glide still feels like home to me. It's the one venue I don't mind queueing to get into.’ Acknowledging that the song ‘Love Rescue Me,’ from U2's Rattle and Hum movie soundtrack, was inspired by the Glide Ensemble, Bono wrote, ‘The land of street angels that we call your choir are proof God is the funky one.’”

So Bono’s getting sanctified San Francisco style—in San Jose, he put on lipstick during the “Send in the Clowns” segement of “Electric Co,” the same day he had attended services at Glide. One side effect of this, of course, is severe backlash from the right wing. While “googling” around to uncover more about the connection between Bono and Cecil Williams, I found some hate-filled websites bashing Bono for condoning perversity.

David Cloud—of a group called Fundamental Baptist Information Service—penned an almost 5000 word diatribe against U2. Of course, according to hate-mongers like this, one of Bono’s sins is his support of gay and lesbian people. My parents, devout and active Christians, have made tolerance and inclusion one of their primary witnesses in their own church. Clearly, as this piece shows, honoring our queer sisters and brothers as sisters and brothers is a cause they share with Bono and the boys.

Frankly, I must confess I enjoyed this piece immensely for its detailed documentation of U2’s celebration of the bacchanalian aspect of all authentic spirituality, especially against the backdrop of prudish piety still parading itself as pure. It’s amazing how this writer blasts Bono for being “of the world” when the writer defends the rigid line that the current religious society promotes in the realm of mainstream politics.

Another website encourages Christians to withhold money from groups like DATA, as a sort of protest against Bono’s tolerance, or as they put it, “The reality is Bono accepts, condones, and welcomes immorality including homosexuality—one of the core issues of the problem he claims to be aiding; therefore, he adds to the problem of AIDS, and his fundraiser is in vain.”

I don’t attend church as a matter of principle but do seasonal rituals with my collective; my church is the one tree hill at back meadow on our communal land and the valley that leads to it, the cathedral of creation, a canyon of peace. But the next time I’m in the Bay Area, I sure want to attend Glide, where God gets the funk on, and the Dionysian Christ dances arm-in-arm with the old testament War God. That could describe a U2 concert.

As much of this blog is about my love/hate affair with Bono, his activism, spirituality, and politics, he seems to return to humor and humility in perfect counterpoint to his vigorous vanity. Or as the screen flashed during ZooTV: “Contradiction is balance.” So, like Whitman, Bono contains a multitude.