"There has been a lot of talk lately" to quote Bono from Sunday Bloody Sunday. There has indeed been a lot of talk lately, and while Bono is notorious for talking too much, I think it might be time to consider what he is saying as serious.
Recently I watched the BBC documentary, "From the Sky Down". Some liked the film, others did not. I thought it was a very well made piece, although it did not seem to tell the whole story well enough of the period in time when U2 "dreamed it all up again" in their making of Achtung Baby in 1990/91. One comment from the film felt noteworthy to me. The filmmaker described the concept of a rock band as similar to the anthropological concept of a clan. The members of U2 clanned together in their early days and were a clan for a long time. They spent nearly all of their time together and thought and acted as a unit. This clan like mentality helped them to forge a deep bond which has seen them stay together much longer than many bands in rock history.
It has often been said that one of U2's strengths is their longevity. They have now been together as a band for 35 years. Bono jokes that being in U2 is like being in the mafia or the priesthood, you can only leave in a coffin.
During U2's time many bands have come and gone. Recently I have reflected on this. Many of my favourite bands over the years have now split up (or sometimes more politely "finished up"). Each time a band does this I don't seem to have the same inspiration to listen to their music anymore. I also get equally annoyed when a singer leaves a band to launch a solo career. This is counted as disloyalty in my book. This is one of the reasons I have never really got into Sting.
There has been a pattern emerging in the age of post-modernism. So many bands I can think of have now split up. Sure some of them have reformed, but they are just cashing in on the reunion touring phase of their careers. Such a list includes: REM, The Police, Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, Audioslave, Rage Against the Machine, Silverchair, Oasis, Crowded House, Midnight Oil, Extreme, Delirious, Powderworks, The Cranberries... the list goes on.
Due to the decline in the number of bands producing music these days, I have noticed that my iTunes is feeling a bit dry, lacking in new material. I was shocked to realise that the only new material I have bought this year is from Coldplay, and before that from U2 in 2009. What a lonely world it would be with only Coldplay to listen to. I do love their music, but somehow for me it only seems to make sense in a musical landscape that has hope in it. U2 provide hope in the musical landscape. Coldplay can not exist without U2 (in my opinion). Is it any wonder that Coldplay have waited to release their new album during a silent period from U2? The same can be said of Snow Patrol (another band I do enjoy).
So, back to the rumours about U2 splitting up. Neil McCormick claims there is nothing to worry about:
Fans worrying that Bono’s remarks suggest U2 are about to call it a day could not be more wrong. What he really wants to do, indeed what he feels he needs to do, is for U2 “to go away and create the album of their lives.” -Is it time for U2 to call it a day?
Guggi, one of Bono's close friend begs to differ. Guggi says, "I get the impression that they're thinking, and thinking very seriously about it (breaking up)." -Unforgettable fire flickering out as U2 ponder end of the road.
Who to believe more? Neil McCormick may be a high school friend, but if his film "Killing Bono" is to be believed, they have not stayed close friends as adults. Guggi is a close friend of Bono's and as such could possibly be believed more.
The debate has been started by Bono. Bono has said things like:
"I just don't know what we are going to do next."
"Does the world really need another U2 album, there are enough of them out there right now."
Perhaps the most depressing comments that Bono has made can be found here:
Audio recording, found on the Globe and Mail.
Bono says, "perhaps it's time to go home and go to bed." Edge has a chuckle and says "and then come back with something great." Bono disagrees with him in response.
It is very possible that U2 (or Bono anyway) feel that they have achieved everything that they set out to do as a band (and then some more). They are so successful now, and after 35 years perhaps they feel that there is nothing left for them to do.
I dearly hope that they are able to find new inspiration and come back in a few years time with something great. But, I am actually starting to have my doubts. Something that Neil McCormick said got me thinking.
Their fans may still like to believe that U2 live in Ireland and meet in the local pub or prayer meeting (hence the ludicrously inaccurate tax avoidance charge that keep being made against them). In fact, Bono lives mainly in New York now, The Edge in LA, Adam in London and only Larry remains a more or less full time resident of Dublin. They have all (apart from Adam) got wives and children who need time and attention. They have the kind of extreme wealth that ensures fabulous comfort. And Bono, their driving force, finds his time and energy much diluted by his sprawling range of extra-curricular interests and commitments, particularly political and charitable activities that inspire much antagonism in people who think a rock star should be in the business of making rock music.
I have always considered myself a dedicated fan of U2. But I'm not an Uber Fanatic. I have not and will not buy the Achtung Baby Deluxe 10 cd set for $400 or what ever price it is being sold at. But I do own every album, have been a fan since 1989, and have always seen the band live when ever I had a chance. But I confess, I was one of those fans that liked to believe they still lived in Dublin and regularly hung out at the Clarence Hotel. I was shocked, Neil McCormick burst my bubble when he told me that they live in four different cities in different parts of the world. Larry takes the prize for being the most down to earth, Adam was always a bit English anyway.
In "From the Sky Down" Bono remarked that when Edge got divorced it was the first cracks on their tight knit community, or the clan as the filmmaker put it. But with Neil McCormick's latest bombshell I now wonder how long it is since U2 already ceased to be a clan. I begin to think, "so what if they are still a band, they don't have that intense loyalty to one another that they once had."
Yes, U2 may come together to work againafter a year off, which I am sure they sorely need. But even when they do, will they have the same spark that they once had? It is the spark, "the whole being more than the sum of its parts" that has always made U2 so special. So if in the past they had managed to make 1+1+1+1=5 or even 10, now I fear that they are simply 1+1+1+1=4. They are no longer more than the sum of their parts if they live so far apart from each other. They are no longer a whole, just four individuals with a job.
Maybe U2 have already split up, maybe they are "separated" and now contemplating whether to get a divorce. I find this to be terribly depressing. I don't want to be stuck in a musical landscape with only Coldplay to listen to, and no genuine hope.
I am now taking a deep breath and holding it to see what the future holds.