I can’t decide what is worse: Bono declaring that rock music has gotten “girly,” or people getting their knickers in a twist because Bono has declared that music has gotten “girly.”
The Irish lads who make up U2 recently released a new album, Songs of Experience. The days have long since passed when the release of a new U2 album -- or any album, really -- could be classified as an “event.” But in certain quarters, people still go through such motions.
So U2’s bespectacled guru, lead singer Bono, sat down to chat with Jann Wenner, guru of Rolling Stone magazine -- yup, that’s still around. Each pontificated about the things they both know best: the state of the world and the state of popular music.
“I think music has gotten very girly,” Bono opined. “And there are some good things about that, but hip-hop is the only place for young male anger at the moment -- and that's not good.
“When I was 16, I had a lot of anger in me. You need to find a place for it and for guitars, whether it is with a drum machine -- I don't care. The moment something becomes preserved, it is f***ing over. You might as well put it in formaldehyde.”
Said Bono to the guy who has done more than anything to “preserve” rock ’n’ roll in “formaldehyde,” in the from of that tourist trap mausoleum known as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, whose entrance criteria seems, at this point, to be: “Christ, we just coronated Bon Jovi, The Cars and The Moody Blues…who can we turn away at this point?”
Which is totally fine, by the way. A museum dedicated to deciding which popular music is and is not “important” was destined to descend into absurdity.
Only in the last few years have Wenner and his minions at the hall in Cleveland figured out that rap and hip hop are kind of like rock, and, oh, by the way, there were also kind of a few righteous bands like Depeche Mode who weren’t exactly rock, but kind of deserve acknowledgement as well.
And we haven’t even gotten into Bono’s terrible choice of words in critiquing the state of “important” music. After all that’s gone on this year, “girly” is certainly not the best word to use in any pejorative sense.
To be fair, Bono did add acknowledge “there are some good things about,” you know, being “girly.”
Anyway, in the spirit of such back-handed compliments, let’s turn our attention to the good deed done by Bono and U2, in the form of their first single from Songs of Experience, “American Soul.”
As with The Joshua Tree from 30 years ago (gasp!), as with so many U2 songs and pronouncements, this song is an “important” statement about America.
But you know what? That’s not so terrible. In this day and age of endless flippancy and negativity, it’s not such a bad thing to listen to an earnest reminder that America is “not a place/This country is to me a thought/That offers grace/For every welcome that is sought.”
Some 50 million Americans, including lots and lots of Irish, might not be here right now if that sentiment were not true.
The whole business at the heart of the song, about “you and I” both being “rock ‘n’ roll,” well, I don’t know about all that. Maybe, maybe not.
But then comes the truly radical idea in the song: that America is “not a place.” That America is actually “a dream the whole world owns.”
Yeesh. Be careful who you say that to these days, Bono.
In our rush to build walls and retreat from anything with the stink of the ”international,” we in America have forgotten that every now and then we have our inspirational moments. It sometimes takes some outsiders, like an Irish rock band, to remind us.
Or else it might just get you beaten up for saying something kind of girly.
Tom Deignan is a contributing writer for the forthcoming book Nine Irish Lives: The Fighters, Thinkers, and Artists Who Helped Build America (Algonquin). Contact at tdeignan.blogspot.com