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Excerpts From “Introduction: U2’s Sacrament of Sound,” Scott Calhoun

Excerpts From:

“Introduction: U2’s Sacrament of Sound,” Scott Calhoun, pp. 1-8.

U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher. Ed. Scott Calhoun
© (Bloomsbury, 2018)

More information here on the book and a Table of Contents.

  • When listening to U2 fans talk about being U2 fans and what their fandom means to them, when I hear them express their reasons, their expectations and their experiences with U2’s music, what I hear from all fans, no matter their disagreements, is that the music moves them. I hear responses which, upon inspection, are foremost about experiencing music as music and the line running through all the individualistic statements of appreciation for U2’s music is much less about lyrics, or guitar solos or Bono’s performances, than it is about the total quality of encountering music.
  • U2’s music subdues us. We are overcome. We are cleansed, healed and empowered. We are lifted up and persuaded to do what we could not do before. We become what we could not have become otherwise apart from the music–we feel we are certain about this. We come to and receive U2’s music for its ability to connect the ordinary to the extraordinary. Some songs are better for a scourging, others cleanse, heal, and fortify one for what’s next. U2 has more songs that do all of the above—such as “One,” “With or Without You,” and “Moment of Surrender”—than perhaps all the other rock bands, which helps explain how U2 became U2 and why this book exists.
  • Bono’s long been a fan of the English hymn “Amazing Grace,” by Issac Newton, and after once telling Steve Turner he thought it was the greatest contribution to music the English have made, Turner was prompted to research and then write the biography of the song Amazing Grace: The Story of America’s Most Beloved Song. It seems Bono can’t get over the opening lines of the first verse especially: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” He’s often revealed his affection and gratitude for grace and its sound in interviews and song lyrics since, but for a short film called A Grand Madness (1997) he said “Amazing Grace” would be his pick for the last song he’d want to play for U2’s last concert ever. Why? “It’s a sound. How sweet the sound. I’ve never been able to figure that one out.”
  • In 2010, while convalescing from back surgery but anticipating U2’s appearance at the famed Glastonbury Festival, Bono told Rolling Stone’s David Fricke that “music is a sacrament for us.” In that interview, Bono explained U2’s new song, “Glastonbury,” was informed by the Christian legends surrounding the flowering white rose of Glastonbury, England, and that for Bono, a pilgrimage to Glastonbury was a more compelling reason to keep U2’s upcoming gig than the typical fun a music festival afforded.
  • In 2014, Bono elaborated on his continuing affirmation of the sacredness of music by implying it is worth a price and therefore Apple had to pay U2 for Songs of Innocence before Apple gave the album away for free: “I don’t believe in free music. Music is a sacrament.”
  • U2 fans with deep attachments to the music tend to respect it as a sacrament too, often ritualizing their listening and concert going experiences, and finding they receive a kind of blessing befitting a pilgrimage. … I find ample evidence for concluding U2 has intended for quite some time, perhaps from its first live performances in the late 1970s, to be more Bach than Bacchus, composing for a pattern and glory found in a higher realm, wanting to draw listeners into a grandeur no wine, dance or earthly sensuality can achieve. As sound, U2’s songs are transformative, as are the vibrations from Orpheus’ plucked lyre, pulsing through us, enchanting even the stones and the stoniest of hearts. We enact our feelings of loss and love with more courage because of this music, and we find that unseen powers seem more inclined in our direction. In return, devoted fans give U2 a high and holy place in their lives, a place typically reserved for an oracle or priest.
  • In thinking of U2’s music sacramentally, or as a pulse listeners seek as a means to an end that body alone cannot achieve, we wish to emphasize in this book the variability U2 offers its listeners who come for this pulse. The dial, whether turned down or turned up, emits good vibrations for its fans, who willingly place their seeking spirits to lesser or greater degrees in the way of the sound.
  • This book is not an attempt to reconcile the individual band member’s beliefs where they differ, nor is it especially interested in ascertaining their individual beliefs. … Reading across all of the chapters, one might detect there are disagreements between contributors as to what is the more important spiritual quotient in U2’s art and how one should best receive U2’s art.
  • How one receives art versus how one uses art is itself a fascinating and revealing study of human behavior, which I suspect is similar to the abiding interest the anthropologist has in religion. But the art U2 creates is intentional in its aim at the things of the spirit, and U2 attempts to voice the human experience in all its moods as it lives in bodily space and time. Bono sings laments and yearnings as willingly as he sings resolve, peace, and joy, and the band plays complementary tunings, chords, structures and tempos with equal integrity and artistry. U2’s “goal” for the soul “is elevation,” welcoming all who wish to journey to a higher place, but U2 will not rush the course or take short cuts along the way.
  • This interest of the fan approaching U2 in a way similar to how a seeker comes to a sacred text and then, perhaps, attends gatherings organized for inculcating the values and practices developed from that text with a desire to accomplish something the seeker feels unable to accomplish on her own is ­what we in this book examine as the religious impulse in U2 fans. U2 functions for these fans in a way that perhaps is best described as a totem, in the sense of Emile Durkheim’s conclusion of how an object or person functions in totemic religions, provoking an energy that loops back through it inflated and amplified by its followers.
  • This book, in contrast to the previous studies on U2 and religion, furthers the field of U2 studies by suggesting reasons based on more than theological analyses of lyrics for why the religious impulse in fans is so satisfyingly met by U2. Additionally, and uniquely in relation to previous studies, this book also examines why a broader group of religiously inclined fans are interested in U2. Two sections of chapters examine matters of sound and space, respectively, while two other sections explore the affective domains in fans who receive U2 and identify with religious elements found in its songs and performances.
  • The impulse for something structured and replicable that can elevate body and spirit is an impulse familiar enough to the human condition to not need much proof of its existence, yet understanding the impulse invites a host of disciplinary approaches. U2 has done very well at meeting its fans along the current of this impulse with its sacrament of music. And in doing so, it has become a myth itself for narrating this common but inscrutable truth: that music moves us, most mysteriously so.

Professor Fiona Magowan, Queen’s University, at the U2 Conference 2018

Fiona Magowan

Lecture title: Can Music End Conflict? Ethnomusicology and Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Politics of Persuasion and Peacebuilding

Fiona Magowan is Professor of Anthropology and a Fellow of the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University, Belfast. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and was a former Chair of the Anthropological Association of Ireland, Chair of the Music and Gender Study Group of the International Council of Traditional Music and Vice President of the Australian Anthropological Society. She is a member of the Royal Anthropological Institute’s Ethnomusicology Committee and has conducted fieldwork on the performing arts, sense, emotion and ritual in north east Arnhem Land, Queensland, South Australia, as well as in Brazil and Mozambique. She is author or editor of seven books and PI of the PACCS funded project, Sounding Conflict: From Resistance to Reconciliation (2017-2021) and the GCRF funded project, Dance, Art and Drama in Conflict Transformation in Mozambique (2018).

Professor John Brewer, Queen’s University, at the U2 Conference 2018

John Brewer

Lecture title: 1998 as a Cultural Moment in Belfast

John Brewer is Professor of Post Conflict Studies in the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice at Queen’s University Belfast. He was awarded an Honorary DSocSci from Brunel University and is a Member of the Royal Irish Academy, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a Fellow in the Academy of Social Sciences and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He has held visiting appointments at Yale University, St. John’s College, Oxford, Corpus Christi College Cambridge, and the Australia National University. He has been President of the British Sociological Association. He is Honorary Professor Extraordinary at Stellenbosch University and is a member of the United Nations Roster of Global Experts. He is the author or co-author of sixteen books and editor or co-editor of a further six.

U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher – A New Collection of U2 Studies Available Now

U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher, is an edited collection of thirteen new essays from an international group of scholars studying U2 and its fandom, with a foreword by W. David O. Taylor and an introduction by Scott Calhoun.

Edited by Scott Calhoun
Studies in Religion and Popular Culture, Bloomsbury Press, 2018

U2 and the Religious Impulse examines indications in U2’s music and performances that the band work at conscious and subconscious levels as artists who focus on matters of the spirit, religious traditions, and a life guided by both belief and doubt.

U2 is known for a career of stirring songs, landmark performances and for its interest in connecting with fans to reach a higher power to accomplish greater purposes. Its success as a rock band is unparalleled in the history of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest acts. In addition to all the thrills one would expect from entertainers at this level, U2 surprises many listeners who examine its lyrics and concert themes by having a depth of interest in matters of human existence more typically found in literature, philosophy and theology.

The multi-disciplinary perspectives presented here account for the durability of U2’s art and offer informed explanations as to why many fans of popular music who seek a connection with a higher power find U2 to be a kindred spirit. This study will be of interest to scholars and students of religious studies and musicology, interested in religion and popular music, as well as religion and popular culture more broadly.

Available as a hardback and e-book from Bloomsbury and Amazon.

“U2 and the Religious Impulse provides a wide ranging, deep and thoughtful investigation of the relationships between popular music, religion and spirituality. Exploring areas such as music, lyrics, staging and cultures, the writers examine how fans navigate flows of meaning created by and beyond the band, offering considerable insight into the functions of the sacred within popular culture.” –  Rupert Till, Professor of Music, University of Huddersfield, UK

“This truly excellent collection of lively, provocative essays shows that digging into and reflecting on U2’s work is well worth the effort. Without constraining the band’s output and impact by interpreting their music in any simple, narrowly religious way, these multi-disciplinary investigations reveal U2’s importance for spirituality, theology, politics and ethics. The book provides compelling evidence of the profound significance of popular culture.” –  Clive Marsh, Head of the Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning, University of Leicester, UK

“The relationship of U2 and several western religions has been a topic of debate/discussion since the band’s debut album Boy, in 1980. Subsequent releases found the group consistently addressing spiritual and religious themes in an attempt to reconcile faith and ever increasing popular music stardom. Here Calhoun takes on the varied and diverse religious elements in the music of the long-lived, world-renown band. As the band, itself, culls religious influence from a host of sources, so U2 and the Religious Impulse expertly addresses these myriad sacred cues in a measured and thought-provoking volume.” –  David Moskowitz, Professor of Music History, University of South Dakota, USA

Table of Contents:

List of Figures

Contributors

Acknowledgments

Foreword by W. David O. Taylor

Introduction: U2’s Sacrament of Sound (Scott Calhoun, Cedarville University, USA)

Part One: “Meet Me In The Sound”
1. “Edge, Ring Those Bells”: The Guitar and Its Spiritual Soundscapes in Early U2 (Henrik Marstal, Danish Institute of Popular Music/Rhythmic Music Conservatory, Denmark)

2. “Looking to Fill That God-Shaped Hole”: The Evolution of U2’s Spiritually Evocative Musical Gestures (Christopher Endrinal, Florida Gulf Coast University Bower School of Music and the Arts, USA)

3. Divine Moves: Pneumatology as Passionate Participation in U2’s “Mysterious Ways” (Steve Taylor, Flinders University, Australia)

Part Two: “Lift Me Out of These Blues”
4. “Hold On To Love”: U2’s Bespoke Exorcism of the 1960s (Nicola Allen, The University of Wolverhampton, UK and Gerald Carlin, The University of Wolverhampton, UK)

5. Sarajevo and the PopMart Lemon: The Fractured Form and Function of U2’s Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Richard S. Briggs, University of Durham, UK)

6. “You Carried the Cross of My Shame”: From Crippling Stigma to Infectious Joy in the Songs of U2 (Mark Meynell, Langham Partnership, UK)

Part Three: “Escape Yourself, And Gravity”
7. The Technological Reach for the Sublime on U2’s 360° Tour (Kimi Kärki, University of Turku, Finland)

8. The “Moment of Surrender”: Medieval Mysticism in the Music of U2 (Brenda Gardenour Walter, Saint Louis College of Pharmacy, USA)

9. “In God’s Country”: Spatial Sacredness in U2 (Michael R. MacLeod, St. Mary’s University, Canada and Timothy Harvie, St. Mary’s University, Canada)

Part Four: “You Give Me Something I Can Feel”
10. “You Don’t See Me But You Will”: Jewish Thought and U2 (Naomi Dinnen, Independent Scholar, Australia)

11. “Like Faith Needs a Doubt”: U2 and the Theist / Non-Theist Dialogue (Angela Pancella, Independent Scholar, USA)

12. Finding What They’re Looking For: Evangelical Teen Fans and Their Desire for U2 to be a Christian Band (Neil R. Coulter, Center for Excellence in World Arts, USA)

13. U2 and the Art of Being Human (Mark Peters, Trinity Christian College, USA)

References

Index

“‘Tangle of Matter and Ghost’” Studies U2, Leonard Cohen, and Blakean Romanticism

A new academic essay on U2 titled “‘Tangle of Matter and Ghost’: U2, Leonard Cohen, and Blakean Romanticism,” by Lisa Plummer Crafton, Professor of English, University of West Georgia, appears this month in the new anthology Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2 (Lexington Books, 2018), edited by James Rovira, chair and associate professor in the English department at Mississippi College.

Rovira’s website for the book is a sort of launching point for “scholarship with a soundtrack,” with links to chapter summaries and an iTunes playlist for each of the eleven studies in the anthology.

He summarizes Crafton’s essay this way:

“‘Tangle of Matter and Ghost’: U2, Leonard Cohen, and Blakean Romanticism,” triangulates Blake’s, Cohen’s, and U2’s songwriting to illustrate how each artist represents, responds to, and addresses different life stages as they engage themes such as ‘social and cultural protest, the conflation of erotic/spiritual love, and the representation of the rupture of that symbiosis, especially in the poetic treatment of Judas, Yahweh, and Jesus.’ Life stage writing, therefore, is demonstrated in Crafton’s chapter to be a vehicle for sociopolitical critique. Critique is simultaneously and alternatively inwardly and outwardly directed: politics are the outward manifestation of inwardly present ‘mind-forg’d manacles’ and the external force forging those manacles from the start. Blake’s answer to this quandary, a Romantic response repeated by Leornard Cohen and then by U2 through both Blake and Cohen, is to address the mind first through imaginative vision.

The songs Rovira and Crafton suggest listening to are:

  • Leonard Cohen, “I’m Your Man,” “Nevermind,” “Sisters of Mercy,” “Story of Isaac,” “Suzanne,” “Who by Fire”
  • Van Morrison, “Let the Slave“
  • U2, “Beautiful Ghost,” “Bullet the Blue Sky,” “Grace,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “MOFO,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Until the End of the World,” “Wake Up, Dead Man,” “With or Without You”

Crafton’s essay is the only chapter in the anthology about U2, but fans and scholars of popular music and Romanticism will surely find the entire book stimulating reading.

Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2, appears in Lexington Books’ On The Record series, edited by Scott D. Calhoun, Cedarville University, and Christopher Endrinal, Florida Gulf Coast University. It is available starting February 15, 2018, from the publisher and Amazon.

Andy Rowen & Steve Stockman @ The U2 Conference 2018

We are honored to have Andy Rowen and Steve Stockman appear at the U2 Conference 2018 for a special In Conversation session titled “If You Twist and Turn Away: The Power of Songs to Change a Life.”

The Rowen family has a long history of friendship with the Paul “Bono” Hewson family, as many U2 fans know. Bono wrote “Bad” for The Unforgettable Fire (1984) in tribute to Andy and later explained in U2 By U2 (2006):

‘Bad’ is just a huge promise of a song. A friend of mine, about as close as you can get, squandered his intelligence and his gifts to heroin. Dublin in the late Seventies and early Eighties was a capital for smack. The Shah of Iran had been deposed, and people smuggled their money out of that country in white gold and pearls, by which I mean heroin. It was cheaper than weed, it was cheaper than smoking spliff, and a lot of sweet teenage kids, who just liked to smoke a little bit of ganja, were offered this cheap high, something beyond their imagination … I tried to describe that with the song, ‘Bad,’ what it was to feel that rush, to feel that elation, and then go on to the nod, awful sleep that comes with that drug …

Andy was on Bono’s mind again for a second song later in life as he wrote “Raised By Wolves” for Songs Of Innocence (2014). In the album’s liner notes, Bono said:

Ireland in the ‘70s was a tough place. On any other Friday at 5.30 pm in 1974 I would have been on Talbot Street in a record shop. On May 17th I rode my bike to school that day and dodged one of the bloodiest moments in a history that divided an island. 3 car bombs coordinated to detonate at the same time destroyed Dublin’s city centre. My old friend Andy Rowen (Guck Pants Delaney we used to call him) was locked in his father’s van as his dad ran to help save the victims scattered like refuse across the streets. The scene never left him, he turned to one of the world’s great pain killers to deal with it, we wrote about him in our song, ‘Bad.’ Andy says, ‘Heroin is a great pain killer until it kills you.’ He survived. A hero to me.

Rev. Steve Stockman, also good friends with the Rowen family, has long been involved in peace and reconciliation efforts in Northern Ireland. He is minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast, a co-founder of the 4 Corners Festival and a regular contributor to BBC radio. He is a blogger, poet, and peace activist, and wrote Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2.

Andy and Steve will present a conversation between friends on the role music has played – and can continue to play – in helping all of us in very personal and very communal conflicts “let it go,
and so to find a way.”

December To Play @ The U2 Conference 2018

We’re very excited to announce the band December will play The John Hewitt Friday night June 15 at 9:30 pm to close out the U2 Conference 2018. Performing selections from their new album of originals, Sisters and Brothers (out March 2018) and from 33, their 2017 celebration of U2, December is also working up some specials just for the U2 Conference guests.

The concert is free and open to the public, so arrive early, settle in and enjoy the night. December is putting their heads and hearts into making this happen, and to tell them thanks as well as help the band cover travel costs and some equipment hires, please visit their GoFundMe page for the event and make a contribution. Thanks!

While you are at the historic John Hewitt, take a moment to see the Pipes of Peace, a work of art using pipes that belonged to three key players in the Northern Ireland peace process: Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams, ex-PUP leader David Ervine and former UVF leader Gusty Spence.

The John Hewitt is at 51 Donegall St., Belfast, UK.

Follow December on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

33 – CD           Sister and Brothers – CD pre-order

Greg Clarke Reviews U2’s Songs of Experience

Songs of Experience coverU2 Album Review: Songs of Experience

Love, Rock and the Problem with the New U2
Greg Clarke

On first listen, I thought it was Duran Duran. Then Hillsong. And just a smidge of Taylor Swift. The slick production, the musical phrasing, the mawkishness, and the high emotion. I was repelled before I was attracted.

But I’ve sat with the new U2 album since it was released, just to see if I’d keep coming back to it. And I have. I played it during a particularly intense work strategy session when I needed to see above the clouds. I wallowed in the opening track in a despairing moment in the car. I found myself shouting a few of the choruses for no apparent reason. It’s seeping in.

And that’s what U2 is for me—musical worldview therapy. Bono looks at the world, looks at himself, looks up into the heavens, and then sings at you. He’s like an aggressive counsellor, challenging you to stop pretending, and to remember your first loves. No one does that like U2, at least for this Christian middle-aged white bloke.

Ironically, the turning point was when I read the liner notes in the CD. Yes, I bought the CD. I heard it first on Spotify, but being of a certain age I didn’t feel like I ‘possessed’ it until l had the CD in my hands and was reading the lyrics (vinyl is now too hipster to feel real, I regret to say).

In the liner notes Bono does something unusual—he ‘explains’ his songs. Usually, the music speaks for itself, but this is a memoir-style work. It’s personal, introspective and self-referential to the point of using samples of U2’s previous lyrics and music. But the liner notes reminded me of what is going on with a U2 album. It’s always a prayer; it’s always a hymn; and it’s always a lament. It is religion for the non-kneelers, God from street view, Jesus as a boxing coach.

If anyone is still wondering whether you can find the Christian message in a U2 song, stop trying. You obviously don’t get it. For nearly 40 years they have been unravelling the gospel in public, twisting and turning themselves around it, begging Jesus to be who he claims to be in Scripture. From the early youth-group style anthems and psalms (think ‘Gloria’ and ’40’) through to this album, the sea in which they swim is the Christian faith. They just do so in a way that gives everyone a chance to ride the waves, drown a bit, then resurface and try to keep afloat. I love it.

To the songs:

‘Love is All We Have Left’ is the Hillsong moment. This beautiful melody opens the album, but it feels like a natural closer. U2 deliberately placed it first as Bono pointed out in his liner notes: “You start at the end”. Love remains. Love will be there at the end. Choose love.

‘The Blackout’ is the Duran Duran moment. It’s pop apocalypse, a jaunty list of extinction events suggesting that “When the lights go out, throw yourself about/ In the darkness where we learn to see”.

‘American Soul’ revisits a popular theme of Bono’s, that the idea of America has been lost. It’s about ‘Refu-Jesus’, which may or may not be a nod to the song with that name by hip-hop group, ARTificial Christian. It must be amazing in an American stadium, as Bono urges the throng to ‘be’ rock and roll. They’re going to have to work out how.

‘Get Out of Your Own Way’ is the Taylor Swift moment (sorry, but there’s something in the chorus that brings it to mind: “I can help you, but it’s your fight, your fight”). It’s a catchy track trying to ‘pop’ a bit of activism into the listener as she dances.

‘Summer of Love’ reflects in a strangely mild manner on the horrors of Syria (the ‘West Coast’). ‘In the rubble of Aleppo/Flowers blooming in the shadows/For a summer of love’ is a softer croon than ‘See the bird with a leaf in her mouth/After the flood all the colours came out’ from ‘Beautiful Day’. Both are calls for hope in recovery, but ‘Summer of Love’ seems less compelling.

There’s plenty to enjoy in the baker’s dozen of tracks on the CD (there are extras all over the web and in the various formats). I’m still coming back to songs I’ve ignored or disliked on first listen. Did I mention I’m a fan?

But I do feel the album isn’t angry enough. American Soul has some grunt, but it’s not Sunday Bloody Sunday or Bullet the Blue Sky. The themes of protest are there, but love really is winning in U2’s hearts. And the love seems to be somewhat resolved, settled, requited. And that’s hard to rock.

Much of the earlier album, Songs of Innocence, was in fact about experience: of Irish terrorism, of the untimely death of Bono’s mother, of miraculous conversion. This follow-up album feels more like a Songs of Second Innocence, such is its sense of resolve and satisfaction.

It is telling that the most brutal, challenging section of lyrics on this album are sung by a guest. Kendrick Lamar sings guest vocals at the close of one song and the beginning of another. These make a startling riff on Jesus’ Beatitudes from Matthew’s Gospel and are worth quoting:

Blessed are the arrogant, for theirs is the kingdom of their own company.

Blessed are the superstars, for the magnificence in their light we understand better our own insignificance.

Blessed are the filthy rich, for you can only truly own what you give away like your pain.

Blessed are the bullies, for one day they will have to stand up to themselves.

Blessed are the liars, for the truth can be awkward…

Blessed are the bullies

For one day they will have to stand up to themselves

Blessed are the liars

For the truth can be awkward

Perhaps this new ‘sermon’ is an extension of Bono’s lyric on ‘City of Blinding Lights’, with its wonderful final line, “Blessings not just to the ones who kneel, luckily”. This general grace is a hallmark of U2’s theological expressions.

I find myself pondering Lamar’s incredible twist on the biblical teaching more than any other lyric on the album. Have U2 reached a point where they need to outsource the innovation and insight? Have they relaxed into grace? It wouldn’t surprise me, since the Christian view of life does tend to generate both contentment and the urgent quest for justice and mercy, each at the same time.

Approaching their 60s, have these rockers found themselves leaning into contentment? After all, they are songs of experience. In the liner notes, Bono quotes poet Brendan Kenelly telling him, “If you really want to get to where the writing lives, write as if you are dead”. It’s great advice; but death for Christians means trusting in God, confident in resurrection, longings fulfilled, spiritual peace. That’s not very rock and roll.

But I’m a fan, so my stance is always to go with U2. With this album, I feel they have chosen love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and the rest of the Spirit’s fruit. It’s a protest without sounding much like one. It’s simple reminiscence and reminders (even repeats of their own music and lyrics!). It’s a bit like being in youth group with your older brothers.

This is an album about love, Jesus and changing the world. It’s about America, injustice, hope and hanging on to yourself. It’s not much new for U2; in fact, it’s deliberately nostalgic. I hope it’s not the end of the story for them, but I feel it might well round off one era and introduce the next. I’m happy to swim out past that headland with my brothers.

Greg Clarke originally posted his review here and has kindly shared it with the U2 Conference.

Angela Pancella Reviews U2’s Songs of Experience

U2 Album Review: Songs of Experience
Angela Pancella

Songs of Experience coverThe Bono who’s imagining himself already dead is cheerfully unconcerned with whether or not you think his rhymes are dumb.

And you know what? I do think a lot of the rhymes on SOE are dumb, but I’m going to side with Bono here against my own aesthetic. My aesthetic is entirely beside the point.

Bono once said that the best way to appreciate Michael Jackson was to pretend he was singing in a language you couldn’t understand. That’s not quite the way to best appreciate SOE, but it’s a hint. I think Bono is singing in a language he doesn’t fully understand. We’ve been here before…all the time, in fact. U2’s willingness to let their reach extend waaay past their grasp seems to give them access to places (or maybe A Place) where language collapses, yet, bless him, Bono can’t shut up about it.

Bless him, because at least he’s not trying to hoard the experience. What he’s found, he wants to give away. Luckily Bono’s in a band, because what language struggles to say comes out in a melody just fine. And so a sentiment like “Love is all we have left,” which would sound stupid if spoken, rings out and resonates in the core of my being when I hear it sung.

This is a great album because it has that mysterious quality U2 had in their songs before they could play instruments. Now they can play their instruments, and Bono has developed unmatched command of his vocal phrasing. The miraculous thing is that they’re not relying on these honed skills. They get out of their own way.

A few words about Leonard Cohen and David Bowie before I go–two heroes of Bono’s who did in fact release songs that serve as their farewell letters. As much as SOE is ringing changes on musical/lyrical ideas from throughout U2’s catalog (most directly from Songs of Innocence, but homages to older songs are sprinkled in too), it’s also reaching out beyond self-reference, and invocations of Cohen and Bowie are especially loving and playful.

“I saw you on the stairs,” Bono sings on “The Little Things That Give You Away,” “You didn’t notice I was there.” It’s a sly tip of the hat to Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold the World,” of which Bowie had once said, “I guess I wrote it because there was a part of myself that I was looking for.”

And then there’s “Love Is All We Have Left” (which, with its strings and crooning, may be putting Bono in dialogue with Bowie’s “Nature Boy”–remember the message the title character imparts). When Bono sings “Hey, this is no time not to be alive,” it’s quite the snappy comeback to Leonard Cohen’s “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye.” Only Bono could get away with chastising Cohen for exiting the planet!

U2 FANS: CALLING FOR YOUR PROPOSALS

U2 fans are the hearts and minds of a great U2 Conference. We can’t do it without you and we wouldn’t want to try.  You can be on the programme in a variety of ways:

  • giving a presentation
  • speaking on a panel you’ve organised with friends
  • leading an open-call round-table discussion on a topic of your choice
  • presenting a poster display
  • sharing your own creative expression of your U2 fandom

There are many ways to contribute and we are open to your suggestions. Leave us a reply below if you want to talk through your ideas, but we need a proposal submission from you to make it official. Submitting your proposal is easy. Check out our full Call for Presentations for more information about the POPVision conference theme, but we also invite general U2-related topics, particularly related to U2’s latest album Songs of Experience. The deadline for proposals is December 31, 2017.

Here are some suggestions (and that’s all they are: suggestions!) to get your thoughts started:

  • If you became a U2 fan during the POP era, how did it define you? How does it separate you from U2 fans born of other eras?
  • Did you attend the PopMart Tour? How does it stand up next to the other tours?’
  • How should Pop be regarded in the U2 catalog? As one of their best albums? A mistake or failed experiment? Was it a necessary step for U2?
  • What connections do you see between Pop and Songs of Innocence and Experience? How are both U2 eras related and what progression do you see from Pop to Songs of Experience?
  • In what ways is Pop underrated or critically successful compared to other records of the time?
  • Seen as the great “unfinished’”album, what has been the real impact of Pop in U2’s catalog and career?
  • Have the single mixes or The Best of 1990–2000 remixes changed your view of Pop?
  • Is the Pop album itself paradoxically the least important part of U2’s POP era?
  • Do you prefer the irony, parody and hyperbole of the POP era to U2’s more straight-ahead approach to messaging in the Songs of Innocence and Experience era? Which U2 is more effective?
  • Do you want more music from U2 like what’s on the Songs of Innocence  and Experience albums, or do you miss the experimentation, weirdness and genre-bending of the band in the 90s?
  • U2 have not released an anniversary remastered version of Pop. Should they do so and if so what should a deluxe edition include?
  • Do you feel so strongly in favor or against the Pop album that you would be willing to participate in a panel discussion with other fans?
  • Are you a musician and do you perform Pop songs as part of a band? Has it changed your appreciation of U2’s achievements on the album? Would you be willing to talk about playing the songs?
  • How much of the “pop” aesthetic of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and related artists did U2 absorb and employ? How did U2’s use of this imagery relate to the initial emergence of the Pop Art movement?
  • Did U2’s Pop Art homages stand in contrast to the album’s content? Did Pop Art’s spiritual overtones and pathos find commonality with U2’s long running themes?
Individual presenters should submit all in one Word document: a paper title; a 300-word abstract; presenter information including full name, institutional affiliation/independent scholar/student status; contact information; and, one-page listing credentials and recent publications, presentations or other notable activities. Individual paper presentations should be about 15 minutes long.

Panel proposals should specify either three or four presenters and should be designed to finish in about 60 minutes. Panel proposals should submit all in one Word document: a title for the panel; the name of the panel chair; a 200-word abstract describing the panel’s purpose and theme; a 200-word abstract for each presentation on the panel; presenter information for each panel member, including full name, institutional affiliation/independent scholar/student status; contact information; and, one-page listing credentials and recent publications, presentations or other notable activities for each presenter. 

Poster display presentations should submit all in one Word document: a title for the poster; a 150-word statement explaining the thesis for the presentation and the method(s) of demonstration on the poster; the anticipated size of the poster; presenter information including full name, institutional affiliation/independent scholar/student status; contact information; and, one-page listing credentials and recent publications, presentations or other notable activities. An image may be placed in the Word document to help demonstrate elements of the poster.

Performances or other creative presentations should submit all in one Word document: a title for the presentation; a 150-word statement explaining the thesis for the presentation and the method(s) of demonstration; the anticipated duration for the performance, size of space needs, technical support needs, etc., presenter(s) information including full name, institutional affiliation/independent scholar/student status; contact information; and, one-page listing credentials and recent publications, presentations or other notable activities.

We welcome proposals not fitting into the above categories. Please ask for submission advice. 

Delegates who also wish to chair a session not their own should also submit a separate Word document including full name, institutional affiliation/independent scholar/student status; contact information; and, one-page listing credentials and recent publications, presentations or other notable activities.

The deadline for all proposal materials is December 31, 2017. Submit all proposals to U2Con2018proposals@gmail.com. Every effort will be made to notify all who submit a proposal of its status by January 15, 2018. Registration for the conference will open February 1, 2018 and all presenters are expected to pay the registration fee.

 

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