Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Thoughts On Bono

Recently, I've somehow gotten back into U2 a little bit. I used to be a big U2 fan, before I knew dick about music. You know, around the same time I also liked 80's Genesis with Phil Collins. I mean, there's nothing wrong with 80's Genesis with Phil Collins until you hear 70's Genesis with Peter Gabriel. Then 80's Genesis with Phil Collins will never sound the same again. It's the same with U2. There's nothing wrong with U2 until you hear their contemporaries, such as Simple Minds, INXS, and The Clash.

So the more I explored a wider and more varied taste in music, the more I drifted away from U2. Now it's been nearly ten years of limiting my U2 exposure to a few songs on a very sporadic basis, and I think I finally got whatever it was that made me tired of them out of my system.


I'm still sick of a lot of their more popular songs. I don't really care if I ever hear "Sunday Bloody Sunday" or "One" again. Their last couple of releases have only been marginally good for one or two memorable songs at all. For instance, I don't think there's a U2 song I got sick of faster than "Elevation" or its complement "Vertigo." Yet songs like "All I Want Is You," "Love Is Blindness," "Please," "Running to Stand Still," "Red Hill Mining Town," and the haunting "Dirty Day" or the explosive "Exit" keep bringing me back to them. I wish they could still compose imagery as vivid as any of those songs.

I started reflecting on Bono and why so many people hate the guy now, and I decided that some of the criticism he has received in the past few years has been unfair and misguided. Granted some of it has actually been quite accurate. I can't agree with their decision to move their song catalog out of Ireland to an Amsterdam tax shelter that charges minimal to nonexistant taxes unless the percentage the Irish government proposed to impose on their songs was exorbient. I mean, way to give back to your home country, guys.* There's also some criticism of his charity work in Africa, but I can't really comment on it because I'm not there, and I don't really have any intention of going there, primarily because it's hot, mosquito bites can kill you, and I fail at learning foreign languages.

Many of the other complaints I hear about Bono just seem ill-conceived and just slightly bitter and resentful. I find this fairly amusing considering that Bono doesn't even really, technically, exist. Technically. I mean, he exists in the sense that he's a flesh-and-blood person, but the person that is Bono is completely fabricated. Whenever someone talks about how conceited and egotistical Bono is, the first thing they need to keep in mind is that the personality that comprises Bono was created specifically to be a conceited and egotistical rock star.

To criticize Bono is akin to criticizing Bugs Bunny or Forrest Gump. Bono is a character adapted by Paul Hewson the same way Bugs Bunny or Forrest Gump are characters adapted by Mel Blanc and Tom Hanks. Paul Hewson created the identity of Bono as a separate, alter-ego personality to distance himself from the criticism many artists receive for openly expressing their views in their art. With the persona of Bono, Paul Hewson could inject his ideas and views into the music without suffering the personal attacks that so many other artists suffer. Notice that you don't really hear about Paul Hewson or his family in the news, even though you do hear about Bono. Bono absorbs the flak so Paul and his family don't have to. To criticize Bono out of jealousy or spite is the same as criticizing Bugs Bunny or Forrest Gump or any other fictional character. Yeah, it does seem like fictional characters have it better than us; that's why they're fictional, just like Bono is fictional.

The other thing Bono is most criticized for is his charity work. If there's one thing middle class Americans can't seem to understand it's the ability to care about other people who are not, specifically, themselves. The main complaint I tend to hear is that people resent Bono for asking them to give up any of their money for these causes when Bono is, himself, rich. Apparently, the rich are obligated to donate their entire earnings to the poor so that the middle class can continue donating nothing but their arrogant indifference.

Everyone cites how much Bono and U2 are roughly worth, which are figures available to the public, but no one seems to note donations that Bono or the band makes to charity, particularly because there is no real quantifiable evidence. This is because the band demands their donations be kept private, which is how donations are supposed to be made, modestly. If someone flaunts their donation, they're doing it for vanity or recognition. However, when the president of Amnesty International or Careflight says U2's donation was "sizeable," I'm sure they're not just bullshitting us.

The problem with the argument is that Bono could donate his entire net worth to charity, and it would still only make a dent in the campaign, and then Bono would be just as poor as the people he's trying to help. Everyone would regard it as an amazingly stupid move, despite it's pretty much what everyone wants to see him do right now, and he would lose his political clout because no one would respect his judgment anymore. It's easier to ask hundreds of millions of people to give dollars than it is for one person to give several million dollars. It'd be easier to write a check and be done with it; it costs a lot more to give your time for upwards of three decades now. The next time you're brandishing Bono a hypocrite for preaching charity while being rich, ask yourself how much money you've donated to charity lately. Even if Bono donated nothing but his time, it'd still be far more than the majority of his detractors have donated, so shut the fuck up.

Some people complain that Bono is just too conceited. Well, he's a rock star. More accurately, he's a fabricated rock star characterization. Keeping that in mind, it's almost entertaining to watch his cocky behavior. Paul Hewson is actually very modest. He knows he's not the best singer. He's aware that there are bands out there that can play circles around U2, like pretty much any moderately successful band. The secret to U2's success is that they put on one hell of a show. Seeing U2 live isn't as much a concert as it is an experience, and that is what makes them memorable. Bono's seeming arrogance is all part of the act. Disliking Bono for his arrogance is like disliking Hugh Laurie because you think his character, Dr. Gregory House, is an asshole. It's absurd.

No Bono can't sing well. His voice falters a lot, especially during the Eighties, but he injects a passionate enthusiasm into all of his songs and a charismatic confidence in all of his performances. I'd consider him one of the Twentieth Century's greatest lyricists, and I think that's saying a lot because the Twentieth Century had some great lyricists, but few hit the mark as consistently as Bono could. He's not nearly as pretentious in person as he acts when in character, and he fights for and donates to the causes he believes in. So maybe a good number of his critics should hold their judgment until they contribute something meaningful toward any of the campaigns Bono has been fighting for decades.

* Okay, I just found out that the taxes imposed on their songs was going to rise from nearly 0% to 42%. Yeah, I'd move the product of my work out of the country too if my government were going to start taxing nearly half the revenue from it. That's just good common sense.

np: King Crimson - "Sailor's Tale"


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