Thursday, February 01, 2007

Walk On

Let me tell you, I'd call myself a pretty solid U2 fan and a considerable admirer of Bono, but this book Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 was just over the top. I learned a few things, but not much. Quite frankly, with a bit of research and maybe a trip to Dublin for a few interviews around the band's old stomping grounds, and I could have written this book just based on album covers and lyrics.

I'm not really opposing much that the book said. Yeah, I agree that the church has many times dropped the ball on social justice and I think Bono could be considered to have a "prophetic" role in that regard. Yeah, their lyrics and music are spiritually compelling. Yes I have been frequently impressed by their live performances and their more recent expressions of faith. I am incredibly impressed by Bono's clout in global concerns. I anticipate each album. I would even say that I enjoy finding honest and even faith-driven lyrics that I can connect with.

But this book just takes all that and basically makes a cult out of it. Even as a Bono/U2 fan it made me want to puke. It was just so much fluff and flattery. I felt like it was a defense of the guy in court. I guess Christians have been somewhat critical of U2 in the past, but honestly, does it warrant an all out propaganda pamphlet for Bono's sainthood? This thing was dripping with it. At the end I was skimming just to get through it and see if there was anything I didn't already know. It didn't even talk about the Super Bowl halftime show, one of U2's, and America's, finest moments.

To be fair, this book was fairly interesting. But I don't think a critic of U2 would be convinced by it, nor will a fan of U2 really be all that enlightened by it. Probably the only person who might benefit from this book will be the casual observer who doesn't mind the sap. There are some good messages here, mainly from Bono himself. Stockman 's soapbox issues weren't bad, but they got to be a bit much. It is a tribute to Bono that he emerges from this book with some respectability intact despite the rancourous praises being sent his way. I am more impressed that Bono apparently declined to participate in the making of this book than I am with anything that I was supposed to have learned within it.

So let me reiterate: I still like U2 and admire Bono. But this book ironically puts Bono on the very pedestal he has so wisely resisted his whole life. I'm all for bringing down the line between so-called "secular" and "sacred", but does that mean that everything has to be just awesome? Even with the respect I have for Bono, as I read this book I was longing for something bad to be sad about him, just to remind me that the author knew he wasn't God!

I give this book 1 star out of 5, what a lot of bubbles and butterflies. (I must apologize to Relevant Books, who published this book, as they have been kind enough to be the first people to also publish me! To be fair, I think it was a decent idea, and they do publish some quality stuff I think)


Tony Tanti said...

I thought this might be the way this book turned out and I'm glad you've saved me reading it.

It's not a bad idea to write about the spirituality of people the church has labelled "secular" and blurring the lines between "secular" and "Christian" is a great idea too, but it's disapointing to hear that the book didn't cover the human failings of Bono. Glossing over this reality in people is one of the biggest faults of the "Christian" alternatives movement.

matthew a. wilkinson said...

Ha ha. This is great!

I'm a huge U2 fan myself; but over the past few years I've grown increasingly frustrated with the way they are portrayed in the media as rock'n'roll saints (and Christian media is the worst). I'm glad to hear I'm not alone in this.

Every once in a while 'The Daily Show' does a segment called 'This Week in Bono.' I love that!

Lets hope U2 never believe their own myth. For all Bono's talk of his discomfort as a rock star in the world of politics; with every speech and press conference he looks more like a politician and less like a rock star.

Honestly, it seemed like with their last album they were beginning to believe the myth. It was the first boring work they've released in their entire career. Artistic ambition seemed to take a backseat to Bono's warm-hearted politics and sentimentality. It felt like they were pandering to top fourty radio; and thats always disgusted me.

But hey, when Bono speaks, I will always be paying attention.

Tony Tanti said...

"It was the first boring work they've released in their entire career." Strong words when you consider the existence of Pop and Zooropa.

For me Pop is their worst album ever and may even be one of the most boring, directionless and uninteresting albums in rock history.

How's that for a statement.

matthew a. wilkinson said...

'Zooropa' is awesome; and regardless of whether you like it or not, you can't deny its ambition. Plus, it works as a great companion piece to the largely unheard 'Passengers' experiment.

I know a lot of people don't like 'Pop,' but I think it is a fascinating and misunderstood (if imperfect) album. 'Wake Up Dead Man' is still one of my personal favourite U2 tracks. And the 'If God Will Send His Angels' EP is amazing.

You found these albums boring? Really?

For me, one of the things I love about U2 is the way they are always pushing themselves and reinventing their style. Every album is a progression from the one before it; and this was especially true in the nineties, when they seemed to be overflowing with ambition. But 'How to Dismantle...' felt like U2 on cruise control, poorly regurgitating their greatest hits. 'Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own' was the only track that came close to interesting me.

I'm looking forward to the new album with Rick Rubin.

This is fun.

Coutts said...

Rick Rubin eh? No matter what I look forward to it.

I agree that the latest one is more boring thant the rest, it does seem sort of normal. "Sometimes" and "Yahweh" were highlights but the rest sounded like rejected songs from other albums. I didn't like Pop that much but don't think it was boring. It was interesting, and even though it was a departure, I still liked a couple of the songs. Zooropa was stinking awesome. In my ipod I have Zooropa without "Babyface" or "Daddy's gonna Pay..." and as such it is up there with the best.

So let's do this. Rank em. HEre's mine:

1. Boy (listen to this while reading Narnia: a life-changing experience)
2. Zooropa
3. The Unforgettable Fire
4. Achtung Baby
5. Joshua Tree
6. All That You Can't Leave Behind
7. Rattle and Hum
8. War
9. How to Dismantle...
10. Pop
11. October

That was hard. Actually, the bottom two are just there because I own neither of them. I'd probably like them both more than How to Dismantle.

I actually could easily switch it the top 8 around in any order at any given time in my life. They have all been my favourites at some point.

How's this? Take it to the next level. Top 5 Most "Favouritest" or most underrated U2 Songs ever:

1. New Year's Day
2. An Cat Dubh/Into the Heart/Out of Control
3. Peace on Earth thru to Grace
4. Side Two of Unforgettable Fire
5. Like A Song thru to 40
6. The First Time thru to the Wanderer

Okay, that was even harder. I ended up lumping a bunch of songs together since the whole 20 minute experience is unforgettable, and fun to come back to again years later.

matthew a. wilkinson said...

Wow, 'Boy' at number one. That's interesting.

Amen to 'An Cat Dubh;' its the song that made me love them. And ‘Side B of Unforgettable Fire’ -Yes Yes Yes! I bought it on vinyl a few years ago and had that side on constantly

Top ten albums:

10. Boy
9. Rattle and Hum
8. Zooropa
7. Passengers: Soundtracks Volume 1 (does this count?)
6. Pop
5. War
4. Achtung Baby
3. Million Dollar Hotel Soundtrack (does this count?)
2. Unforgettable Fire
1. Joshua Tree (Yeah, I know its the safe choice -but it really is my favourite)

Most Favouritest Under-rated U2 songs (this could go on forever):

10. Dancing Barefoot [When Love Comes to Town Single]
9. One (Live in Modena) [Miss Sarajevo Single]
8. Van Diemen’s Land [Rattle and Hum]
7. 40 [War] (okay, maybe its not under-rated)
6. Falling at Your Feet [Million Dollar Hotel]
5. Slow Dancing (w/ Willie Nelson) [If God Will Send His Angels EP]
4. North and South of the River [Staring at the Sun Single]
3. Wake Up Dead Man [Pop]
2. Seconds [War]
1. Running to Stand Still [Joshua Tree] (unquestionably my all-time favourite)

Tony Tanti said...

First let me address the issues raised. Yes I certainly found Zooropa and Pop boring. I think of them quite differently as for me they were ill conceived departures from the meaningful, message driven and passionate rock and roll that U2 has usually made. 'Wake Up Dead Man' is not bad nor is 'Staring at the Sun' but again the "good" songs on Pop even bore me and the bad songs (discotheque, miami..)are truly terrible. Zooropa is a total write off, an album they rushed out to meet contractual obligations and whose highlight is Numb, a song written and performed by Edge alone.

ATYCLB and HTDAAB have been examples of U2 going back to their roots, rock and roll with a message. Yahweh, Sometimes You Can't Make it On Your Own, Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of, Beautiful Day, In a Little While - these are all great songs.

We'll obviously have to agree to disagree. Here are my rankings.


5) I Stil Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Rattle & Hum version)
4) All I Want Is You
3) With or Without You
2) Sunday Bloody Sunday (Live Aid version)
1) Running to Stand Still (we agree on something)


1) The Joshua Tree
2) Rattle And Hum
3) War
5) Achtung Baby
7) The Unforgettable Fire
8) Boy
9) October
10) Zooropa
11) Pop

Sorry to confuse with going bottom to top and then reversing it for albums. Don't know what happened there.

Picking songs was hard, albums wasn't as hard for me.

Coutts said...

very interesting. its nice because I can respect HTDAAB more if I know someone else likes it. Same with Pop. You guys are right about Running to Stand Still. Have you heard the version on their ZooTV live video? AMAZING. I had it on my list and then I realized I should just count album versions or it would get too complicated. Then Matt went and blew my mind with all the "extra songs" and I realize there is still so much to hear.

I used to avoid the U2 singles and B-sides just so I wouldn't become one of the U2 worshippers of my high school. But I suppose its time I went back to some of that stuff.

Great lists. Anyone else out there want to chime in before I post my review of "An Inconvenient Truth"?

Coutts said...

ONe thing I learned from "Walk On": Stuck in a Moment was written for/after Michael Hutchence. Crazy. Gives it a whole new meaning beyond the NFL kicker version you get with the video.

Another thing I should point out while we are on the topic. Because I had read "U2 At the End of the World" a few years back, which was written during their ZooTV/Zooropa tour and was precisely NOT interested in their spirituality, I felt like I knew stuff about U2 that the author of Walk On was either a) sweeping under the rug, b) ignorant of (which is unlikely since he had quotes from that book, or c) sanctifying.

I don't mind the Christian take on the songs and on BOno's life, I'm sure Bono meant a lot of it that way (among other ways) and I imagine he is a full-fledged Christian (not that its my place to say, although it is nice to feel that kinship), I just think the author of this book was being dishonest, and I would rather have had a more real picture of things rather than this "pitch for sainthood". Even if its true, and even if alot of Christians need to be straightened out on their demonization of Bono, I found it aggravating to the extreme.

Nuff said, I think!