This is from Eammon Forde’s article in the July issue of Word magazine. He is talking about the black hole created by U2 when they “sucked the life out of Irish music” in the 1980s.
A glut of ‘U-Me-2s’ naturally followed, such as Aslan, An Emotional Fish, The Adventures and Energy Orchard. What they all had in common was the swapping of intention and emotion for bluster and the husk-like ‘grand statement’. Bono is complicit in delivering us a generation of singers who over-emoted and painted in broad, grey, meaningless brush strokes about, you know, life and politics. He was also a massively conservative force, genuflecting to the past despite being forged in the furnace of iconoclastic punk. His reverence, too, for the blues and gospel was less about treating them as living, breathing, evolving, passionate genres and more about proffering them as signifiers of a romanticised ‘realness’, ‘honesty’ and ‘earthiness’ that he would absorb through the osmosis of false emotion. He took the organic and made it synthetic, all plastic words and polyurethane statements.
In my early teens I was swept up by the sound of Bono’s voice, his earnestness, the sense I got that he cared, and that what he and the band were doing was important, or that it mattered. But Forde’s writing about Bono’s appropriation of the blues and gospel strikes a very real chord with me.
It reminds me of the desire for spectacle in art works — in the synthesisation of ‘emotion’ and ‘big ideas’ at any cost. I feel myself stepping further and further back from any sort of scale whatsoever. But negotiating personal integrity (whatever that might be, and however one feels it) with the lure of ‘exposure’ is demanding … in carefully working through ideas, gently questioning their worth, their value, and then imagining and playing with the possibilities of their representation, and the ways in which they provoke other thoughts and actions.
And at the risk of ruining this entire post, I still listen to U2. The Unforgettable Fire album remains one of my all-time faves.