Author Archive | calhouns

U2 and Music Theory Series Debuted on

Professor Christopher Endrinal, Florida Gulf Coast University, writes about U2 and music theory in “Theorectically Speaking,” a new series on @U2.

Theoretically SpeakingHave you ever been listening to a familiar song and suddenly noticed something new about it? This happens to me all the time, especially with U2’s music. If I hear something new or particularly interesting, my music theory training instinctively kicks in and compels me to dive deeper. That’s what this series, “Theoretically Speaking…”, is all about: an exploration of U2’s music through the lens of music theory.

His debut article is Rhythmic Representations of Uncertainty in ‘Zooropa.‘” 

U2 Tattoo Project’s “Ink, Icons, Identity” exhibit to open Aug. 15, 2016

From Professors Beth Nabi, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, and Christopher LeClere, Flager College:

The U2 Tattoo Project is excited to announce our first exhibit, “Ink, Icons, Identity: Exploring U2’s Brand Through Fan Tattoos,” running Aug. 15–26, 2016, in Jacksonville, Fla., at the University of North Florida Gallery of Art.

The exhibit will feature photos and multimedia displays of fans’ U2-related tattoos alongside some of the original artifacts that inspired these tattoos in an exploration of the transition from ephemeral marketing to permanent body modifications. Lectures and panels are being planned to accompany the exhibit, as well as a special fan gathering at the gallery Saturday, Aug. 20.

Look for more details in the coming weeks. Follow news and updates about the U2 Tattoo Project. 

New Study: Emotions in U2 Fan Videos

From this Media Release:

Music fans’ emotions could be used to help them find new songs online, according to research at the University of Strathclyde.

A study of 150 music videos made by U2 fans uncovered a range of methods, both visual and musical, used to convey emotion, through location, style of music and video content.

Dr Diane Pennington, a Lecturer in Strathclyde’s Department of Computer and Information Sciences, carried out the research. She said: “Although music holds no emotion in itself, it can elicit very deep emotions in listeners and performers.”

The videos were covers of U2’s Song For Someone, from their 2014 album Songs Of Innocence. They were made and posted on video streaming website YouTube, after the band invited their fans to create their own clips, which would “make (it) your song.”

The research found that the videos, and viewers’ responses to them, were highly individual but often also social, with shared emotions creating a sense of community.

It also found that such emotions could help to inform searches, recommendations and playlists in online music providers.

Dr Pennington said: “The emotion music evokes is the main reason people listen to it and many would like to be able to search for music videos that meet an emotional need, such as a desire to be cheered up.

“However, information retrieval systems, such as those used in video streaming sites, don’t currently support this well. To advance these systems, new systems need to be envisioned that go beyond traditional keyword-based or subject-based queries and process information requirements in new ways.

“I chose the Song For Someone clips as a case study after U2 called for fans to make them. This was because it would be a rich source of information and because, for their fans, U2’s songs and concerts are highly emotional; this is reflected in the content of the Song For Someone clips and the reactions they produced.

“Many of the cover versions were personalised by people recording their own versions in their houses or bedrooms, or including images of their loved ones. Others signified their devotion to U2 by using their original version to accompany the clip or by including U2 paraphernalia, such as t-shirts, posters and photos.

“Emotions are difficult to define tangibly and describing them in a way which could benefit information retrieval presents a challenge. However, this research could inform commercial music service providers on how they might include emotional factors in their recommendations and automatically created playlists.

“Allowing retrieval system users to search, browse and retrieve by positive emotions could also have a contribution to make to music therapy.”

Dr Pennington’s research has been published in the Journal of Documentation (


Book Review: U2 Above, Across, and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Assessments

“This is heady stuff written by individuals who’ve given serious thought to U2’s ‘missteps, disappointments, failures…and ordinary problems.’ … [t]here is ample (and stimulating) intellectual discussion of the Irish band’s ‘proclivity for change’ in a world that doesn’t always welcome it. And each of the eight articles (none longer than thirty pages) makes for an easy-to-digest, hour-long patch of premiere rock and roll reading.” — Peter Roche, Cleveland Music Examiner

Read the full review here.

“U2 and The Beatles” Session at the PCA/ACA National Conference 2016

If you’ll be at the PCA/ACA national conference in Seattle March 22-25, 2016, you might want to catch “’Taking on the Shape of Someone Else’s Pain’: U2 and Irish Postmemory” by Jason Cash of Southwestern Oklahoma State University, on Tuesday, March 22, 1:15 p.m.2:45 p.m. 

From the description page:

Two songs on U2’s 2014 album Songs of Innocence, “Raised by Wolves” and “The Troubles,” return directly and indirectly to the band’s signficant engagement with Irish politics and violence. These songs explore the complex experience of historical trauma both as an observer and as a people steeped in a storytelling culture that celebrates and condemns militaristic nationalism, often at the same time. Using Marianne Hirsch’s concept of postmemory, a term she has used to describe the transmission of memories from survivors of the Holocaust to their children, this paper will argue that U2’s challenge and rejection of this process in popular media ensures that postmemory will continue. This paradox sheds light on the difficulty and the importance of reassessing inherited narratives continuously, a project with particular resonance for a band as self-aware as U2 and for a nation whose identity is as defined by storytelling as Ireland.

Cash’s presentation is the only one on U2, while there are three more on The Beatles. The full panel presentations are listed here.

Conference: Bridging Gaps: What are the media, publicists, and celebrities selling?

This conference of The Centre for Media and Celebrity Studies in Barcelona, Spain, July 3 – 5, 2016, might be of interest to scholars working in the field of U2 studies.

The deadline for presentation proposals has passed and there’s no program posted yet to see if Bono or U2 will be a topic of conversation, but if they are, it could likely be at a roundtable discussion at the conference on “Celebrity Activism” with Dr. Nathan Farrell and Dr. Jackie Raphael on July 4, 2016

See the conference website for more information and to watch for a program to be posted.

Call for Chapters — Mysterious Ways: U2 and Religion — Bloomsbury Press

Call for Chapters

Mysterious Ways: U2 and Religion

Bloomsbury Studies in Religion and Popular Music

Edited by Scott Calhoun

I invite proposals for chapters in an edited collection with an interdisciplinary focus on U2 and religion for Bloomsbury’s series on Religion and Popular Music. U2’s art, inclusive of its songs, videos, live concerts, concert films, graphic design, live staging and production design, performance visuals, material artifacts, and activism, has long sought to investigate and present the human experience as also a religious endeavor, with metaphysical and physical concerns, and as such U2’s art is various, extensive, and culturally engaged.

As editor, I’m especially interested in new examinations which broaden and deepen the understanding of U2’s interest in issues of religion, ethics, and spiritually informed identities and practices.

New examinations of U2 and religion might start by pursuing an unconventional line of inquiry into U2 and religion topics. For example, new examinations might start by considering U2 as comprised of artists working in an Anglo-Irish, post-colonial milieu, who, though influenced by close-to-home religious contexts and popular music traditions, sought other cultural experiences and understandings found in intersections of religion and popular music, such as in Caribbean, African-American, North African, and Arabic contexts. (The suggested relationship between Celtic Sean-nós and North African musical traditions as possibly influencing U2, for example, might complicate and enrich an understanding of religion and music in U2’s art.) New examinations might also look at how U2 has employed sectarian and nonsectarian themes to popular success with sectarian and nonsectarian audiences. New examinations might take a musicological interest in examining U2’s songs as joining or disrupting established religious musical traditions. New examinations might focus on understanding and/or critiquing fandom rhetorics and behaviors that approach U2 as a religion. Or, perhaps, new examinations might pursue how and why U2 has framed issues central to both traditional and nontraditional religions by employing or redefining language, forms, and images often identified with a specific religion.

Traditional lines of inquiry can still produce new examinations of U2 and religion of course, and are therefore most welcome.

Religion, when considering U2 for this Bloomsbury volume, should be broadly understood as meaning a system of beliefs, ceremonies, and prescriptions used for worshiping a/the transcendent divine and maintaining a connection with it, which also directs the adherent’s actions in the world.

Studies coming out of, but not limited to, interests in folk, popular, rock, classical, and sacred music traditions, as pertaining to U2, are welcome.

Studies coming out of, but not limited to, disciplinary interests in art, anthropology, cultural studies, communication studies, fan cultures, literature, material cultures, philosophy, psychology, musicology and music performance, religion, rhetorics, sociology, theater, and theology (as broadly understood), as pertaining to U2, are welcome.

Recent essay collections in U2 Studies with some essays on religious topics are Exploring U2 and U2 Above, Across, and Beyond, both edited by Scott Calhoun. Additional scholarly and bio-critical works on U2 are listed on the U2 Studies Bibliography.

A description of the Bloomsbury Studies in Religion in Popular Music series with other titles is here.

Complete proposals are due by February 1, 2016, and will include an abstract of about 400 words and a current CV, which should include institutional affiliation or independent scholar status, a record of presentations and publications, and contact details. Proposals should be sent to

Notification of acceptance for the collection will be sent by February 15, 2016.

Chapter submissions of 6000-7000 words, including references, are due by October 1, 2016, with anticipated publication of the volume in late 2017.

I invite inquiries about potential chapter proposals at

Scott Calhoun
Professor of English, Cedarville University
Director, the U2 Conference

Scott Calhoun

Book Review: The World And U2

Reviewed by William R. Upchurch, University of Pittsburgh 

The World And U2, by Alan McPherson, a professor of international and area studies at the University of Oklahoma, and a longtime U2 fan, is subtitled “One Band’s Remaking of Global Activism,” but it might be more accurate to think of this story as one about how global activism remade a band. Despite the band being mentioned twice on the cover, McPherson’s narrative primarily follows Bono’s personal transformation from “Mount Temple kid” to “superstar lobbyist,” and is written with a Shakespearean eye for tragedy and a historian’s eye for the details needed to bring the drama to life. Bono emerges as a Joseph Campbell-esque hero who finds himself in the dragon’s lair after a journey through the many layers of global poverty, sickness, and war. The supporting players are all accounted for, but as Larry Mullen, Jr. said, “Nobody could argue with what he was doing, it was clearly too important.” Bono’s activism was important for whom, though?

The World And U2 is a short book, at 104 pages plus notes, which works both for and against it. The brevity makes it a breezy read, particularly for U2 aficionados who are well-acquainted with the different periods of the band’s history. After losing touch with his youthful passion for the band and writing six books on what he calls “serious” issues, McPherson decided to “reconnect with Bono and the band by writing about something we should all take seriously — their activism.” The book’s meticulous notes and bibliography are an obsessive U2 fan’s dream. (U2 fans tend to share their idol’s love affair with data.)

The book’s chapters are arranged in chronological order, following the band members’ adolescence through Songs of Innocence and what McPherson judges to be “the final stage of their career.” Community, faith, and action are presented as both the “pillars of U2’s activism” and as “lessons … that all activists or would-be activists should carry with them as they fight injustice.” As with many books about U2, each era is brought to life through a combination of cultural and historical context and the band’s own words, of which there never seems to be a shortage. McPherson does a better job than most at connecting the two, though, and he is able to draw out some nuances in the band members’ thinking that other books gloss over. For example, he links the rant against televangelists in “Bullet the Blue Sky” to the band’s eye-opening first encounters with American televangelists in the early 1980s. These details blending historical context with the band’s broadening global awareness are worthy additions to U2 lore.

Whether intentional or not, U2 has always tried to be relevant by pitting its musical identities against the tides of both dominant and counter-cultures: Bono’s rejection of punk’s disdain for its audience; earnestness in the face of the “false optimism of Ronald Reagan”; self-aware irony in the face of the band’s earnestness; and most recently a celebration of nostalgia in the face of a fetishization of the future. U2’s activism demonstrates its identities have been a part of its collective personality from the very beginning and has, perhaps, functioned as an outlet for the complexity that’s actually in the band, which can get obscured by the process of making and selling records.

Examining U2’s global claims and consciousness apart from its songs – even while telling those stories in parallel – is one of McPherson’s outstanding contributions to U2 scholarship. So much of what is written seeks to imbue the songs with personal meaning drawn from the band member’s lives, but The World and U2 clarifies the distinction Bono has attempted to articulate for years: Regardless of how they spend their free time, they’re still in a rock band. McPherson’s inductive approach more closely mirrors U2’s creative process than does the usual approach of textual analyses of lyrics, and is wholly appropriate for the book’s subject. It illustrates the recalcitrance of injustice and inequality, in whatever form they take at a given time, which is an underlying theme of both Bono’s and the reader’s journeys. It is a startling and universal realization for activists of all stripes, and since informing activism is one of McPherson’s goals, it helps put the book into a clear focus. Community, faith, and action are not presented as a template for successful global activism, they are merely what keep the members of U2 grounded and fighting. Readers are challenged to find their own pillars, and perhaps to reflect on the story of how one group negotiated the complexities of living in a world it desperately wished to change.

At the beginning of this review I asked, “For whom was Bono’s activism important?” During a 2000 interview, Bono defined rock and roll as “that thing of wanting to change the world, or take on the world, at least the world inside your head.” The World and U2 articulates the band as an expression of this ethos, and presents Bono, in particular, as an archetype for whom injustice becomes a metonym for the turmoil inside his heart. The frustration felt by young Bono manifested itself in his early insistence on small-scale action as a catalyst for change. It came out stronger and clearer when at the height of the band’s success/excess, Bono turned to advocating larger structural solutions for redirecting the world’s wealth and power to bring about justice. The farther removed he became from his mother’s death, his father’s stoicism, economic uncertainty, and the street violence of 1970’s Dublin, the more cerebral his activism became. McPherson’s writing conveys a real sense of loss as the deeply personal spirituality of U2’s early activism gave way to the detachment and cynicism, however necessary, of managing a series of global activist brands, such as ONE, DATA, (RED), and even the brand of Bono himself.

It is a social justice hero’s journey, but McPherson does an outstanding job of weaving commentary on the changing contexts of activism over the period into the book. In a clever turn, he uses U2’s celebrity to call attention to a serious issue, just as Bono trades on his own fame. And here is where I think the book’s length works against it, especially in the final chapter: McPherson hints at a critique of contemporary celebrity activism that I would have liked to see developed more fully. The end of the book floats away amid a relentless stream of facts and statistics, yet the underlying narrative about the changing face of global activism is what makes this not just another book collecting quotes and anecdotes to tell the well-worn story of U2. McPherson drops bits of commentary here and there, but I would have welcomed more of the author’s voice in expressing the significance of the story just told, and I think it would increase the book’s appeal for a broader audience.

Still, I recommend The World and U2 to both activists and fans alike. For fans, it evokes the “feeling” of the band better than any book except U2 By U2. For activists, it transfers those feelings to a particular history, helping make sense of the very public twists and turns of U2’s activist career. At one point, McPherson reports Bono’s claim that The Clash “gave U2 the idea that social activism could make for a very musical riot.” As it turns out, the combination of activism and U2 also makes for a very readable and interesting book.

William R. Upchurch is a doctoral candidate in Communication at the University of Pittsburgh, where he is also an instructional designer and teaches Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. His work focuses on the intersection of rhetoric, social media, and game studies, with an emphasis on the development of online culture and identities. You can reach him at or his blog

William R. Upchurch

U2 College Course at Nebraska Wesleyan University

Nebraska Wesleyan UniversityThis semester at Nebraska Wesleyan University, where I am a Professor of Communication Studies, I am teaching a class titled Songs of Ascent: The Music and Meaning of U2. The course is part of a larger offering of classes known as the Archway Seminar (AWS). Basically, an AWS is an introduction to the first-year experience, but with topics that are not part of the traditional curriculum. For example, this semester there are AWS courses on jazz, Bob Dylan, James Bond, Hamlet, the Necessity of Wilderness, and the seriousness of humor.

After almost five weeks, I’m happy to report the class is going exceptionally well (at least I hope it is). We’ve been moving chronologically through each U2 album and reading U2 by U2 as well as chapters from Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘N’ Roll?  Students receive discussion questions based on readings, write about their personal music history and knowledge of U2, and will analyze a concert (ZooTV, I+E, etc.) and give presentations later in the semester about an organization U2 supports (RED, Amnesty, International, etc.). Their major research paper is “U2 in 10,” arguing for which 10 songs, albums, and/or events best represent the music and meaning of U2.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to report from the class is how little students know about U2. Some had never even heard of U2, that is until I played brief snippets of a few songs the first day of class. Some recognized the song “Beautiful Day” but didn’t know it was by U2.  I guess this shouldn’t be surprising considering U2 isn’t really on Top 40 radio anymore. While reading their first papers many students commented that the only way they know about U2 is because of their parents. In fact, I get the feeling some parents are more excited about this course than their kids are.

Although most students are not familiar with U2’s history, they have been interested in their stories of growing up in Dublin, becoming a band, and their creative struggles and breakthroughs along the way.

I don’t know if I have any U2 converts yet this early into the semester, but at the very least they’re beginning to understand not only why I enjoy U2, but more importantly, why U2 is a relevant subject of study.

David Whitt

The U2 Conference logo and site design by Beth Nabi.