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“Freedom, Risk & Rock ‘N’ Roll: Art’s Call To Action, Not Fantasy” | U2CON 2020 Keynote by Edel Rodriguez

KEYNOTE SPEAKER

EDEL RODRIGUEZ
Artist & Activist

“Freedom, Risk & Rock ‘N’ Roll: Art’s Call To Action, Not Fantasy”

Edel Rodriguez is a Cuban American artist who has exhibited internationally with shows in Los Angeles, Toronto, New York, Dallas, Philadelphia, and Spain. Inspired by personal history, religious rituals, politics, memory, and nostalgia, his bold, figurative works are an examination of identity, cultural displacement, and mortality.

Edel Rodriguez was born in Havana, Cuba in 1971. He was raised in El Gabriel, a small farm town surrounded by fields of tobacco and sugar cane. In 1980 Rodriguez and his family boarded a boat and left for America during the Mariel boatlift. They settled in Miami where Rodriguez was introduced to and influenced by American pop culture for the first time. Socialist propaganda and western advertising, island culture and contemporary city life, are all aspects of his life that continue to inform his work.

In 1994, Rodriguez graduated with honors in painting from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. In 1998, he received a Master of Fine Arts degree in painting from Manhattan’s Hunter College graduate program. Throughout his career, Rodriguez has received commissions to create artwork for numerous clients, including The New York Times, TIME Magazine, The New Yorker, and many other publications and book publishers. Rodriguez’s artwork is in the collections of a variety of institutions, including the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C., as well as in numerous private collections.


Teaching The History, Music And Activism Of U2 In Newly Published Book

Dave Whitt, Professor of Communication Studies at Nebraska Wesleyan University, has published the edited collection of essays Popular Music in the Classroom: Essays for Instructors with McFarland Press (2020).

In addition to editing the book, Whitt contributed an essay of his own, “Songs of Ascent: Teaching the History, Music and Activism of U2,” drawing on his experience teaching a class about U2 at NWU.

Whitt co-presented some of his findings about teaching U2 in a college classroom with Georgia Straka at the 2018 U2 Conference PopVision.

McFarland describes Popular Music in the Classroom: Essays for Instructors this way:

“Popular music has long been a subject of academic inquiry, with college courses taught on Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, and the Beatles, along with more contemporary artists like Beyonce and Outkast. This collection of essays draws upon the knowledge and expertise of instructors from a variety of disciplines who have taught classes on popular music. Topics include: the analysis of music genres such as American folk, Latin American protest music, and Black music; exploring the musical catalog and socio-cultural relevance of specific artists; and discussing how popular music can be used to teach subjects such as history, identity, race, gender, and politics. Instructional strategies for educators are provided. More specific chapter topics include: Elvis Presley, psychedelic music of the 1960s, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, heavy metal, country, and using game theory to teach music.”

For more resources for studying and teaching U2, please see the U2 Studies Bibliography.


This is War in the USA: Notes on 1969 and 2020

Contributed by Theodore Louis Trost, Professor in Religious Studies and New College, The University of Alabama

U2’s third album, War (1983), is conflict-ridden and war-torn. In this regard, it is not far removed from the conditions under which punk rock itself emerged. As Iggy Pop says on The Stooges’ eponymous first album: “This is 1969, OK? War across the USA.” Soon after Iggy uttered those words, four students were killed by national guardsmen at Kent State University in Ohio, and two students were killed by the police near a dormitory off Lynch Street at Jacksonville State College in Mississippi. 

The sense of dread that provided an edge to the sonic explorations of proto-punk rockers like The Stooges also influenced U2’s formative years during the classic punk rock era. And now, well into the 21st century, a similar uneasiness hovers over American society, intensified by a world-wide pandemic. Perhaps once again, U2’s War provides a soundtrack for the times.

The multiple hostilities War explores are exemplified in the album’s opening track, “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”  The title refers to the incident in Derry, Northern Ireland, when soldiers fired upon unarmed civilians engaged in a civil rights protest.

While that conflict centered on religious differences ostensibly summarized in the binary opposition of Protestant vs. Catholic, the phrase also echoes other “bloody Sundays,” including the racial strife in America typified by the brutal response of police in Alabama to marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

“How long must we sing this song?” Bono asks. This question, as old as the Psalms, returns on the album’s closing track “40.” In between, other songs of political strife impinge upon and shape the contours of romance and longing. 

“Refugee,” for example, introduces the tragedy of displacement, perhaps as the consequence of war, and the ensuing quest for refuge in the “promised land” of America. It is not clear, by the song’s last stanza, whether the refugee’s hope to live in America is satisfied.  But the fate of her 21st century counterpart is less in doubt: walls are being constructed to keep her out.

“New Year’s Day” depicts the struggle for solidarity in the face of seemingly intractable social polarizations; it juxtaposes the labor union cause with the desire of two lovers for union, affirming: “Though torn in two, we can be one.”

Then, in “Two Hearts Beat as One,” the beatings inflicted upon innocents caught up in political conflicts (as suggested by the martial-style drumbeats that characterize Larry Mullen Jr.’s playing on this particular album) are transformed into the singular heartbeat of lovers caught up in the dance. 

“I will begin again,” Bono sings on “New Year’s Day.”  This new year’s resolution is held in tension, as the album concludes with the song “40.” The singer wrestles with a wearying inheritance, wondering: “how long to sing THIS song?” In response, a counter-chorus appears: “I will sing a new song.”  

This kind of conviction, this “way out of no way,” is the exodus Martin Luther King Jr., pointed to from the steps of the state capitol in Montgomery at the end of the march that had begun in Selma. 

“How long?” King asked rhetorically. He answered, “Not long!” and provided a series of justifications for that sentiment.

But, to paraphrase Iggy: “This is 2020, OK? War across the USA.” And while camouflaged federal troops patrol the streets of Portland, and while the “Wall of Moms”  and “Naked Athena” appear before them in protest, War leaves the listener dangling between the resolution to sing a new song and that relentless question that lingers as the album slowly fades away: “How long?”

One hopes for King’s “Not long” while calling out, “Too long!”

Guardian News/YouTube

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Would you like to contribute to the U2 Studies Network? We’d love to feature your short commentary or essay of 300 words or less on our 2020 conference theme of U2 and America. Or, make a short audio or video comment of around 2 minutes if you’re not the writing type.

We’re looking for personal narratives, updates on your U2 research, reflections on a U2 song you just listened to, a book you just read or reactions to current events. Just keep it focused on you, U2 and America.

Contact us here for more details on how to make your contribution.  


We have so many ways for scholars, students and fans to be on the completely virtual international U2 Conference program for 2020. Read about the theme of Heartland: U2’s Looking For American Soul and then please see our calls for more details on how to submit a proposal:

The deadline for proposals for presentations and fan participation is August 31, 2020, and the deadline for proposals from musicians is Sept. 15, 2020.

Submission details are at the links above. All presenters accepted for the program will receive a discount on what will be a modest registration fee.


In The Year Of Election, U2 Wants You To Vote Baby

Contributed by Sherry Lawrence, Staff Writer and podcast contributor, atu2.com

A 1992 U2 ZooTV tourbook with Rock the Vote messaging, Vote Baby pin and Votes for Women pin. Image contributed by Sherry Lawrence.

It was 100 years ago today (August 18) that the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, guaranteeing and protecting women’s right to vote. It took more than 70 years to get the nation to that point in 1920. Even then, though, many Americans, male and female, still weren’t able to vote, as various restrictions prohibited Asian Americans, Native Americans and Black Americans from casting their ballots.

A century later, women in the United States — especially women of color and those from disadvantaged backgrounds — still struggle to exercise their voting rights. This is documented in Stacey Abrams’ 2020 book Our Time Is Now, highlighting the many ways voter suppression is still prevalent in the United States.

U2 took Americans’ rights to vote very seriously during the 1992 ZooTV tour. Before the concerts, crew members handed out “Vote Baby” bumper stickers and pins. The band’s dressing room was decked out in “Vote Baby” messaging during the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards.

The tour book included an action postcard for Rock the Vote as well: “It’s 1992. ARE U READY 2 ROCK?” For the band’s 1992 ZooTV Outside Broadcast stadium shows, the concerts began with EBN’s footage of President George H.W. Bush “rapping” “We Will Rock You.”

Bono also made it a point to call the White House every night, dressed as the Mirrorball Man, trying to speak with Bush.

Some might say U2 swayed some voters in 1992 as a result. At Bill Clinton’s inauguration, Larry Mullen Jr. and Adam Clayton joined Michael Stipe and Mike Mills for MTV’s inaugural ball as the mega band Automatic Baby to perform “One.”

Fast-forward to 2016. U2 performs “Desire” at the iHeartRadio Music festival as Donald Trump asks, “What have you got to lose?” and Bono answers, “Everything.” The message is more blunt a few weeks later at Salesforce’s DreamFest event. That evening’s “Bullet the Blue Sky” performance included a lengthy plea to voters on what was at stake in the election.

In the spirit of 2018’s #WomenOfTheWorldTakeover, 2020 is an important year for the United States. Women across the country are mobilizing to get out the vote. History was made when California Sen. Kamala Harris was chosen as the Democratic nominee for vice president.

Although it is still unclear whether U2 will use its SiriusXM channel, U2XRadio, to mobilize the vote, history has shown U2 has the capacity to comment in the year of election.


This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is U2-Con-Invite-to-Write.jpg

Would you like to contribute to the U2 Studies Network? We’d love to feature your short commentary or essay of 300 words or less on our 2020 conference theme of U2 and America. Or, make a short audio or video comment of around 2 minutes if you’re not the writing type.

We’re looking for personal narratives, updates on your U2 research, reflections on a U2 song you just listened to, a book you just read or reactions to current events. Just keep it focused on you, U2 and America.

Contact us here for more details on how to make your contribution.  


We have so many ways for scholars, students and fans to be on the completely virtual international U2 Conference program for 2020. Read about the theme of Heartland: U2’s Looking For American Soul and then please see our calls for more details on how to submit a proposal:

The deadline for proposals for presentations and fan participation is August 31, 2020, and the deadline for proposals from musicians is Sept. 15, 2020.

Submission details are at the links above. All presenters accepted for the program will receive a discount on what will be a modest registration fee.


You. On The U2Con Program. Let’s Go!

We have so many ways for scholars, students and fans to be on the completely virtual international U2 Conference program for 2020. Read about the theme of Heartland: U2’s Looking For American Soul and then please see our calls for more details on how to submit a proposal:

The deadline for proposals for presentations and fan participation is August 31, 2020, and the deadline for proposals from musicians is Sept. 15, 2020.

Submission details are at the links above. All presenters accepted for the program will receive a discount on what will be a modest registration fee.


Deep Roots Grow Optimism for America

Contributed by Monica Moser. Monica majored in political science in college and is constantly keeping watch over events that impact America and the world. She’s been a U2 fan for 20 years and they are a constant source of inspiration for her.

U2’s roots in America run deep – maybe not as deep as in Ireland, but the band has had a profound impact on this nation. I’m so happy I found a band whose members feel the same hunger for justice and peace that I do.

From writing about Martin Luther King Jr. in “Pride (In the Name of Love),” to performing on the Conspiracy of Hope tour for Amnesty International during the summer of ’86, they’ve never shied away from standing up for what they believe in.

Their song “Bullet the Blue Sky” was at that point their most blatant diatribe against unwise American foreign policy, and its words ring as true today as they did back then.

U2 were pivotal in the Jubilee Drop the Debt campaign in 2000, and Bono has shown time and time again his willingness to work across the political aisle to fight for the world’s poor. He used his talent of persuasion to convince U.S. President George Bush to start what became known as PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), which to this day has saved 18 million lives.

After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, U2 reached out to America as part of the Tribute to Heroes benefit concert. Their performance of “Walk On” is forever etched in my heart — it was my first time seeing them perform, and started my love affair with this wonderful band.

Their performance at the Super Bowl halftime show was even more stunning and heartfelt.

Their participation in the ONE campaign has been essential to securing support for this global movement to end extreme poverty and preventable disease.

America is going through treacherous times right now, and her very soul is at stake, but with the right guidance this country is capable of incredible things.

Bono stated recently that “America might be the greatest song that the world has never heard.” U2 haven’t given up on the idea of what America can be, and neither can we.


An Unforgettable Fire 75 Years Ago; America’s “Thin-Threaded” Power Still Today

Contributed by Dr. Timothy D. Neufeld, a marriage and family therapist in Fresno, CA, and an adjunct professor at Fresno Pacific University. He is the author of U2: Rock ’n’ Roll to Change the World along with numerous academic and popular essays on the intersection of U2 and pop culture. He hosts an innovative online chat community called The Crystal Ballroom and invites you to follow him on Twitter and Periscope at @timneufeld.

August 6, 1945. Hiroshima. Eighty thousand people killed in a flash.

August 9, 1945. Nagasaki. Forty thousand lives unmade in seconds.

In the days and months following the dropping of two atomic bombs by the United States 75 years ago this month, tens of thousands of Japanese died of radiation exposure, while hundreds of thousands faced severe complications from nausea, bleeding, and cancer. In Hiroshima, two-thirds of the buildings were destroyed, and most medical personnel were killed in the collapse of hospitals. Nagasaki’s heavy industrial complexes, as well as schools, churches and other services were obliterated.

America is the only country to unleash the horror of nuclear warfare. The U.S. created the term “ground zero” as a way of identifying the site of detonation. History’s telling of that event is contentious. Was it necessary to end a world war? Or, was it an act of singular barbarism?

In 1983, U2 stepped into Chicago’s Peace Museum to see an exhibit featuring artwork of blast survivors. The display, taken from a book of the same name, was titled “Unforgettable Fire.”

It’s here the Irish quartet found the heartbeat for its next album. Bono later recalled: “The images from the paintings and some of the writings stained me, I couldn’t get rid of them.”

Reflecting on that moment of America’s unprecedented use of nuclear weapons, psychoanalyst Carl Jung famously stated: “The world hangs on a thin thread, and that is the psyche of man.”

U2’s The Unforgettable Fire teases out that thread, reminding our collective soul of both the power of the American spirit — as particularly championed by Martin Luther King, Jr — and its potential for death and destruction. With prescient clarity, U2 continues to call out the protester and the patriot in each of us. The band’s reflection on Hiroshima and Nagasaki warns us that peace is fragile and a responsibility of all.

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Browse through the Unforgettable Fire: Drawings by Atomic Bomb Survivors to experience what U2 drew inspiration from in 1983.


The Garden Tarts Ask: Is America Torn in Ribbons and Bows?

Contributed by the Garden Tarts

Hello from the Garden Tarts. We are Hillary and Jenny and we’ve been bestest friends for over 25 years. Our favorite thing to do is talk U2, so we thought we’d do it with you!

In 2019, we discussed The Joshua Tree Sides A and B in two episodes. We are excited to share a clip of our chat about “In God’s Country” from our “Joshua Tree, Side B” episode, where we wonder if Bono had a vision warning him of the siren call of America?

Hear the entire episode on your favorite podcast player or right here on our site.

Hang out with us on our U2 podcasts as we talk about albums, tours and our various U2-related adventures with a whole lot of opinion peppered with dashes of facts. Also, we might be drinking whiskey … you’ll have to listen to find out.


Listen to Bono: Movement as Metaphor for a More Peaceable America

Contributed by Steven Croft, a lifelong U2 fan

My first U2 show was on the Unforgettable Fire tour at the Jacksonville Coliseum in Florida in 1985. I had been listening to their albums over and over for years. Back then, Elvis Costello could make me laugh, a lot; me, who didn’t laugh a lot, because I knew how bad the world was. Back then, U2 could make me hope, a lot; me, who didn’t hope a lot, because I knew how bad the world was.

U2 came loud and with aggression, but they knew that to make the world better, one must make friends with — out of — enemies. They came singing the lessons of MLK, bearing the wisdom of Nelson Mandela.

We were eager, too. Before the ’85 show, we were packed at the stage barrier. The fire marshal came out to say, “Take three steps back or I’ll cancel the show.”  

No sir. If anything, we moved closer.

Bono then came out and said, “Everyone, listen to this man, move back.”

Somehow, he made us do it to be nice to the fire marshal. The shouts went out in the crowd to move back and we did.

When I watched U2 play “Get Out of Your Own Way” for the 60th Grammys, I felt Bono was speaking to the crowd that is America. Like “Born in the USA,” if you listen past the energy of the lyrics to what the songs are saying, you can hear both U2 and Springsteen’s “ethos”-themed anthems sing of their longtime love-examine relationship with America.

“Get Out of Your Own Way” was telling us what was wrong with America. U2 told us with aggression, but also with hope, and the wisdom of Mandela. I could just feel that we, the crowd, once again were listening, knowing we should all be nice to each other.

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This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is U2-Con-Invite-to-Write.jpg

Would you like to contribute to the U2 Studies Network? We’d love to feature your short commentary or essay of 300 words or less on our 2020 conference theme of U2 and America. Or, make a short audio or video comment of around 2 minutes if you’re not the writing type.

We’re looking for personal narratives, updates on your U2 research, reflections on a U2 song you just listened to, a book you just read or reactions to current events. Just keep it focused on you, U2 and America.

Contact us here for more details on how to make your contribution.  


Please see our Call for Presentations and our Call for Fan Participation for how you can be on the U2 Conference 2020 program. We hope you’ll join us as we examine U2’s place, space and sound in the American experiment.


Extra Resources And A Discount For U2: A Love Story


Contributed by Brian Johnston, Ph.D, Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Media, Journalism & Film, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio

As co-author of U2: A Love Story, I invite you to visit our website for the book. My favorite pages on the site are “The Mix Tape” and the “Classroom.” The “Themes” page explains how we understand “Myth,” “Love,” and “Liminality.”

I also want to invite you to name your own price for the book if its cost is too high for you right now. I have copies to sell and and if you email me, I’d be happy to accept what you can afford. My contact page is here.

Our study of U2 is unique. It’s from the perspective of love, specifically agape, amor, and eros. Susan Mackey-Kallis and I are both fans of the band, and rather than hiding this we embrace it and work that into our study of U2’s ongoing popularity. We also see a profoundly mythic journey in U2’s career, co-constructed by the band and its fans, that makes sense in hindsight but was not really visible from the start — which is precisely how mythic journeys play out.

One final point about the book that helped me understand my own fandom more clearly, as well as my personal journey and struggle with spirituality and faith, is how love is made into a force unto itself bigger than the band, more encompassing than a mere personal experience. And the central message, over time, seems to be Tat tvam asi — the Hindu expression in Sanskrit meaning “thou art that” — which we U2 fans have long understood as “One, but not the same” or “No them, there’s only us.”

We understand that the Spirit throes itself out to us through whatever medium it chooses, no matter where we are, who we are, or what we think we are about. But then it takes real work, real community, and at times painful lessons (culturally) or transformations (personally) to realize its full potential. Our study of U2, its fans and the mythic journey they’ve been on as such is one we hope you’ll enjoy.

If you’re interested in our book, want to talk more or need some help buying a copy, please don’t hesitate to contact me.


The U2 Conference logo and site design by Beth Nabi.