Heartland: U2’s Looking For American Soul
An International Virtual U2 Conference For Scholars And Fans
October 18 – 24, 2020
U2 has journeyed – at times uneasily – through an America of pulsating metropolis, rugged heartland and shining sea. It long ago fell under the spell of America, but for just as long has felt it still hasn’t found America.
When U2 talks about America, it often describes it in terms of an idea, a dream or an experiment rather than a physical reality. Bono sings in “American Soul” (ft. Kendrick Lamar) on Songs of Experience:
It’s not a place / This country is to me a sound / Of drum and bass. … It’s not a place / This country is to me a thought / That offers grace / For every welcome that is sought.
In the premiere episode of “Bono Calling” on Sirius’s U2-X Radio, Bono told Chris Rock he has the notion that:
America doesn’t exist yet. The world has never heard it. It’s, like, half-written, it certainly hasn’t been recorded. … The idea that this might be the generation that brings it into being, is what gives me a charge when I see those people out there in the streets.
While looking for something deeper, U2 has decried poverty and undeserved riches in the United States, and exposed racial inequality and political hypocrisy. In his recent “Dear Class of 2020” commencement address, Bono lamented:
I know in recent times, the world is being reminded that America is an idea that doesn’t even belong to a lot of Americans. And for many Black Americans, Lady Liberty’s torch is far from a beacon of hope. It’s often a flashlight in the face.
In the liner notes for Songs of Experience in 2017, Bono expressed:
As we recorded these 12 songs we felt the idea of America was being challenged, maybe even twisted, in newly problematic ways. The rise of the alt right is not surprising – it’s happening all over the world – but to see it in the USA, to see the Ku Klux Klan marching the streets of Charlottesville, without the silly costumes and pointy hats, that was a new level of absurdity and danger. Edge described it as ‘the mental illness of racism’ unmasked. Why did they feel so emboldened? And so we watched the betrayal of those words of Emma Lazarus, at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty, great words ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’ Yes, it felt like a betrayal.
U2 loves, lives in and leverages America, all while feeling free to critique, correct and create America. We invite fans, students and scholars to a week of online conversations and critical inquiry into U2’s complicated history of looking for American soul. We’ll be planning multiple formats for attendees to engage in presentations, connect with each other and enjoy the conference community at different times throughout the week.
Please see our Call for Presentations and our Call for Fan Participation for how you can be on the program. We’ll have more updates soon about main speakers and registration. We hope you’ll join us as we examine U2’s place, space and sound in the American experiment.
- Dr. Scott Calhoun, Professor of English, Cedarville University, Director, The U2 Conference
- Rabbi Daniel Bogard, Central Reform Congregation, St. Louis. Senior Rabbinic Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute
- David Comay, Independent Scholar
- Nathan Frank, Doctoral Candidate, Department of English, University of Virginia
- Sherry Lawrence, Staff Writer and podcast contributor, atu2.com
- Karen Lindell, Independent Writer
- Dr. Kimberly Mack, Assistant Professor of African American literature, The University of Toledo
- Angela Pancella, Director of Development and Parish Life at St. Francis Xavier (College Church), St. Louis. Contributor to U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher
- Dr. Christopher Wales, Associate Professor of Organization and Leadership, NLA University College Oslo, Norway