This 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.