It's A Wrap

And so the blog reaches a natural conclusion today. The plan was to write about U2 every day for 365 days, and that is where we are. This was intended as a writing project and to help me organize my thoughts about the band and their music. Plus a kind of log of the year, not quite a diary, although if I go through there are many moments where things pop in like that. And of course there was the whole tour to follow, and a record of the four shows I attended in Chicago.

So I completed the initial goal which was to write a post every day for 365 days, and to write at least 500 words each day. I had a couple of minor stumbles - the day the blog went a little crazy, and I ended up manually posting a few minutes after midnight, and then there was a day I really didn’t want to write (the night of the Paris terror attacks). So if you want to be strict about it, I missed the goal, but I am not counting either of those as a miss.

The thing I am happiest about is getting that goal of writing so much. As I said the other day, I passed 200,000 words in the blog this year, and that’s the equivalent of a couple of novels. Now that I have forced myself into the habit of continuing the writing, I am going to continue it next year. I don’t know where or how just yet, but I will. I have a couple of sites in mind, although they won’t be daily sites, and nothing to do with the band so I’m not even going to link to them here. I also have a novel that I have worked on this year, which I think I will turn into my daily writing project. Taking those 15 or 30 minutes to write each day and putting it into that will be very useful. But definitely something.

Organizing my thoughts on the band was greatly interesting. As I thought about it, as I went through the year and opinions changed on a few things, I had some songs bubble up here and there, and sneak themselves into my more regular rotation. One of the more interesting items was just a couple of days ago, writing my top ten and finally setting them in an order. It was quite challenging to get that order the way I thought it should be, debating over songs being a spot above or below where they were. I suspect if I did it again a year from now, it might be different still.

How has my writing changed over the year? I think things are a little more organized now than they were at the start. My own opinion is that I loosened up later in the year, there were times when I was trying to force songs into a particular religious or sexual theme, and that didn’t always work. Once I moved away from those themes (although they were always there in the background) I think the blog improved. I also think that the best months for the blog were January and December, the first because of the newness of the blog, and the last because it was coming to and end and I was relaxing more. There were times - especially around October and November - when it became a bit of a slog to get things done. If you were to check the timestamps, you’d see that to be the case because there were nights when I was writing and immediately posting, just to get that day done in time. It worked much better at the times when I was a day or two ahead of things (which may be the biggest lesson from the year).

One other thing I must mention is errors. I know there have been a few places during the year where I have said one song and meant another. My memory is as good as yours, and by that I mean that every one of us mixes things up in our memory now and then. So I’ve written something about one song meaning another, and maybe repeated that same thing later in the year about a different song. That’s just the way it works. Unintentional errors, obviously, but I will say that I regret them.

I don’t think I’m the greatest U2 fan in the world, but surely I’m up there somewhere. Top 1%? Top 10,000? I don’t know. I know a heck of a lot more about U2 than the vast majority of people, but over this year I have surely learned that there are many people who know a lot more about U2 than me. I have learned a lot about the band, and about individual songs. I hope that I have reflected some of that in the blog; I hope that you maybe learned something somewhere along the way from me.

I do not plan to write any more on this blog, but I expect that one day I will. Once the band gets back on the road, or releases the new album, you will probably see some posts from me here. So, if you’re following me in RSS (and I have been pleased to see some growth in the stats of people reading my writing), keep me there, and you may one day see a post or two.

As for the band themselves, I have had a great year with them. I saw four shows in Chicago (and took my son to his first), and dozens more online thanks to many U2 fans around the world. I got up close with the band at the shows, within 20 feet of each of them when they were on the catwalk, and I shook the hand of Paul McGuinness, perhaps the highlight of the year. A great U2 year, all in all. Thanks for reading.

December Review

And we approach the very end of the year, and the end of the blog (for now). Tomorrow I will have a final wrap-up of the year, but today I will wrap the reviews I ran in December. This month was interesting, it was perhaps the best month I had all year. In part due to content - I enjoy writing some of the essay-type stuff as much or more than writing a review of a particular song - and in part due to planning. I have planned on and off this year, but too often ended up just randomly picking a topic or song from a list to write about that day. This month (actually late November, if I remember correctly) I planned out the entire month, by sitting down and listing everything I wanted to write for the rest of the year, putting them in order when I wanted to do them, and following that list. There were only a couple of days all month that I switched the list up, due to other commitments costing me time. But having that list really helped me stay focused and interested. I hope the content showed that.

This month I did a lot of essay writing rather than reviews. I count only about ten songs in the list, which is probably by far the fewest in the month. That is an intereting lesson for me, that I feel better about my writing when I am not being so specific, and when I am not locked into something like a song, where I feel I have to talk about the same types of things each time. Being more freeform, within a general topic, was much easier to write and much more interesting to stick to. And I filled out a number of end-of-year topics that I had been planning for a while, which was fun.

So tomorrow I will be back with a wrap of the entire year, but today I take a quick look back at what I wrote this month. If you are new to the blog, I wrote a monthly review every month on the last or next to last day of the month. If you click on the month in the links on the right, you can scan back through and see each month fairly quickly.

Here’s everything I reviewed this month, with the ratings I gave them:

Angel of Harlem 6  

On The Road With U2 (book) 7 

Glastonbury 3  

Films Of Innocence

Conspiracy of Hope 

Dancin’ Shoes

Neon Lights

Treasure (Whatever Happened to Pete The Chop) 3  

End Of The Road 

Bad 10  

Hallelujah 

Rumors

Red Light

Vertigo (DVD) 10 

Covers 

The Bono Guitar 

The Fool

Achtung Baby Video Collection

Never Let Me Go

Outside It’s America 

Early Songs

Covers Part II 

Ch Ch Changes 

Do They Know It’s Christmas? 

Christmas Bonus

360 At The Rose Bowl 10  

Bottoms

Top Of The Pops

Live Live Live 

Live Live Live

Counting down to the end of the year, I want to take a look at the live show I would want to see. I’m not talking about a particular show from a particular tour, but what I would want if I were choosing the playlist for the show. Some of the songs will be specific versions, but many will not. And one of the problems I have with doing this is that I would really like them to play every single song ever, but I know that’s not possible. So I’m going to limit myself in some way. I’m going to make it eight songs for the first and second half, and two five song encores. This will make it 26 songs, which is a good length for a show (although I might want it to go forever).

Pre-show song: I cheat by putting Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me in here, playing it on the video board, but it’s the version from From The Ground Up, because I really like the “what time is it in the world? Showtime” to open the show and get the crowd jumping (even though I don’t think it has ever been used as an opening song in a show).

First Half:

We start the show proper with Where The Streets Have No Name, the Rattle And Hum version. This is the song I conflict on the most, because it has been played in so many varieties and in so many places in the order, but I think the definitive version is from R&H.

Next is Out Of Control, a great second song.

We continue the early stuff with I Will Follow.

A buzz comes to the crowd when they play The Electric Co.

We slow things down and Bono gets a slight rest as we get The Unforgettable Fire.

Then things start up again with Bullet The Blue Sky.

Bullet naturally pairs with Running To Stand Still, a great combo from Rattle And Hum.

And we keep it slow as the half finishes with Exit.

Intermission: The Fly (I liked the idea of an intermission, and the way they did it with a video). 

Second Half:

Invisible coming back from the intermission worked really well this year, I think, so it stays in.

That jumps us naturally into Until The End Of The World.

Keep jumping, we’re going to see Cedarwood Road next.

Again we slow down as they play All I Want Is You.

AIWIY pairs well with Love Rescue Me, as in the U22 versions.

And of course they both make the mood better when followed by Mysterious Ways.

Speed up again with I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight.

Next they play I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For to end the second half, which is a reference to the start of the encore…

First Encore:

Cheating a little here, they surprise us all by coming back and playing Acrobat for the first time.

Then we get political by playing Raised By Wolves.

It naturally rolls into Sunday Bloody Sunday, although there are several versions that could be played here, and I don’t think I want the I+E version to be it.

We have to play Pride (In The Name Of Love) in there next, it keeps the political point going.

And out again with another nice finishing song, Moment Of Surrender.

Second Encore:

Starts with Breathe, another great opener.

We calm things down from here, by going to With Or Without You (with the Shine Like Stars coda).

Then into Bad (any version is great, I don’t know if I can decide between them all).

We keep it slow with some emotion in Walk On.

And One is the finisher (yes I leave out 40, sorry), the crowd singing us out.

Now what did I leave out? Boy oh boy, so much. Many songs could be fit into the plan, some substitutions, some moves. Much of it depends on when the show takes place, of course. The general format is that of the Innocence + Experience tour, at least in the staging. I have ideas for a new stage setup for the band, too (basically an X so they have a main center stage and small stages at each corner they can all go to, together or separately), but that’s not important. What is important is that somehow I get this show to be actually staged at all…

Top Of The Pops

A much happier story than yesterday, today we will look at the best of the best. A list of the top ten songs that U2 have produced, again in my opinion, and again we will do it as a countdown. You might see some songs in this list that surprise you, you might not see some songs and that might surprise you too. As I said, this is my list, your mileage may vary. Although if you don’t have the same number one as me, you’re wrong. Just kidding, you can list whatever songs you want when you write your blog.

10. Acrobat is a very underrated song, it has fantastic lyrics, it comes from a great album, the music is rolling along just right. I always get the feeling that it would be near the top if they ever played it live, and got the whole world rolling along with the song, but they don’t so they can’t.

9. With Or Without You is a love song, or is it? It’s great musically, a song that I actually spent money to buy the equipment so I could play it myself. It is a calming song, is what it is, and I always feel a little happier when I listen to it.

8. Out Of Control wouldn’t have been on this list a few years ago, but once they started playing it regularly again during 360 it was jumping, and again during I+E. Now I find myself bouncing along to it, listening for that moment when Edge gets out of control, and it keeps jumping the list by itself.

7. All I Want Is You is a song I loved it from the moment I heard it. There are a couple of variations, each works well although I can slowly play only one of them. Another where I don’t know whether it is a love song or not, although it is special since my wife and I chose it for our wedding. We heard it live together in Chicago for the first time this year, and it was a great moment.

6. One can’t be left out of anything, it gives me chills when I listen to it. A wonderful song, full of feeling and again I find myself asking whether it is a love song or not. I guess that’s kind of a theme here, those ambiguous songs hitting the top ten list. Might be something for Bono to think about next time he’s looking for inspiration.

5. I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For is a song that has more variations than probably any other U2 show, as shown in Rattle And Hum, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a version that I haven’t liked. It has been sung by so many different groups in so many different formats, telling you that it is a universal song of love, again maybe love, or perhaps hope.

4. Walk On is powerful and emotional, and I conflate it with One all the time when I think of 9/11 and the names scrolling behind the band. Because of that I end up crying during both of them, that deep feeling of love and loss and everything. I have said a few times that I have felt more religious during a U2 show than any time I’ve been in church, and this is the song that I think of. This is the closest I think to a prayer that U2 have done, and I feel it every time.

3. Bad is about drugs, but more than that, it is about a life, as we have discovered during the current tour. But it is once again the emotion that they put into the song, the depth of feeling that is imparted throughout, that grabs and doesn’t let go. In addition, the way they twist and turn the song, adding in pieces here and there, at the points at which Edge can vamp while Bono just talks about whatever is on his mind. A great storytelling song, you might say.

2. Sunday Bloody Sunday is the most political song from a very political band. This song is personal though, and it shows through in every performance. The power from the Rattle And Hum movie version, when they are at their rawest and most openly emotional moment, is just chilling again. A fantastic song, I guess I say that a lot but this one deserves it.

1. Where The Streets Have No Name is far and away my favorite U2 song. When I began creating my original list of songs to review, the very first song I wrote in was Streets at the top spot, and never had to move it. I doubt I ever will in future either. I love Streets in all versions that I have heard, this is a song that I almost never skip listening to. Love it.

Bottoms

Not the title of a song from The Unforgettable Fire, I had the idea of doing a list of worst U2 songs, so I just ran through my reviews of all the songs I rated either a 1 or a 2. Problem is I came up with a list of 42 songs, which is ridiculously many. Even just the 1s I have 13 songs. The real problem is that many of them are intentionally 1s or 2s, meaning they are the extra songs, the stuff that ends up on a b side, some on one of the anniversary extras. Songs that weren’t really intended for release in some ways. So let me try and limit this to just the album songs, and I’ll also limit it to a worst ten, since twenty seems too many. And I guess we should count them down, since that’s what you do, right? Although this is not necessarily the order I would choose every single time, but I wouldn’t shift them too far from this I don’t think.

10. Red Light commits the sin of being so repetitive, and even boring at times when you’re listening. The music is no great shakes, it tries to be busier than it needs to be and it doesn’t really work. Definitely one I skip whenever I’m not in the right mood.

9. Fez (Being Born) seemed to have an idea of some sorts but I could never get into it. Way too much Eno influence in this case, and personally while I thought he did good stuff in some of the early days, especially The Unforgettable Fire, some of his other influences weren’t as good (Passengers). I actually wonder whether Lanois was the good influence and Eno the bad throughout the history of U2.

8. Discotheque is somehow amusing, but it is dance music which I am not usually a big fan of, and in the video they dress up as The Village People, and I spend the entire time cringing. This is perhaps the most symbolic song from Pop, which is one of the two worst U2 albums, so it by default gets a bad reputation.

7. Do You Feel Loved is really just a nothing song, it gives me little or no feeling about it at all. As I noted in the review they only played it live a few times, so apparently they didn’t get a reaction either from the audience or from themselves when they played it. Boring.

6. The Playboy Mansion brings up an image in my head just from the title, I bet it brings one up for you too. My image is one of creepiness, of not wanting to touch any surface in that building. I note that just recently the magazine said they were going to remove nudes, which kind of ends the entire purpose of where it came from in the first place. Dying empire, dead song.

5. Is That All? is a question mark of a song. Repetitive, but not much else. I even said during the review that it was lowest rated song on the lowest rated album, so likely to end up very near the bottom of everything. And here it is.

4. Babyface is way too electronic, coming out of the Zooropa stuff that was at least somewhat a b side to Achtung Baby. The whole album, I mean, not just this song. Zooropa was a lot of the leftovers from Achtung, not good enough to get on a really good album. Babyface I just don’t like that much, can’t really say anything other than that about it.

3. Mofo is terrible dance music with terrible lyrics, and I should leave it at that. I could go back to say another of those worst songs on worst albums things, but the fact that it is here tells you that.

2. The Ocean is short and boring. I think it was just filler, really, something to tack on to their first album, or maybe something that just snuck in by accident. Yet another that I skip over when I play it.

1. By far the worst song I have reviewed this year is Miracle Drug. I really dislike this song. The music is okay although boring, but really it’s the lyrics that kill me. As I have said many times, when Bono is being lyrical he can write great stuff, but when he gets down to the specifics in a song it is never going to be good. This song is all specific, and all bad. “Of science and the human heart there is no limit” is probably the worst U2 lyric of all time.

And if you don’t like reading this, come back tomorrow and we’ll try the other end of the scale.

Ch Ch Changes

I started this year by making a list of all album songs, and rating them all. I did not rate any non-album songs until I reviewed them, and the album ratings were based on the average of the individual songs. If you’ve followed the blog for any length of time (the last 356 days, hopefully) you’ll have seen me talk a number of times about my changing opinions. I tend to dislike songs the first time I hear them, simply due to the lack of familiarity, and over time as I get to know them I like them more and more. So my opinions this year have changed somewhat, as I have gone through the year, and as I have listened to some of these songs more, some of them recent songs, a few of them old songs that I had never listened to much.

If I were to talk about one old song that has really jumped in my opinion this year, it would probably be Desert Of Our Love, which for the longest time I thought of as a slightly gimmicky song, but this year, on listening to it a dozen or more times, have been thinking of it as certainly worth at least a b side. It might be in competition with Rise Up though, which I think could have been on the album. Both of those are not coincidentally from The Joshua Tree sessions, by far the most fertile period in the band’s history (well, pretty much from Joshua Tree through Achtung Baby).

The other thing that gets me is seeing a song live for the first time. As everyone knows U2 is very much a live band, almost always better live than recorded. This means that when I was rating Songs Of Innocence, I only had a couple of months of listening to the album, and nothing of a live song (apart from that one live performance in the Apple release party). I definitely rated SOI harshly at that time, and it took me a while to change. I was slowly changing by the time I started the project, liking a few songs much more than initially, but it really did take until the tour began for me to love some of the songs.

Without going greatly into specifics, over the year I have adjusted the ratings for much of Songs Of Innocence. In some cases I published the review before adjusting, in other cases after (I will leave it as an exercise for the reader on discovering which is which). I have tracked the overall totals, and to be brutally honest I originally had SOI as the second worst U2 album ever, but it has rapidly risen the charts to the top half, and will very possibly rise a little higher than that. Along with songs like Invisible, which I rated as a 4 when I wrote the review, but I would give it a 6 or perhaps even 7 now (it was perhaps my happiest surprise when I saw Invisible live), it all proves my thesis that I have to really know a song before loving it. So if you’re ever talking to me just after a U2 album has been released, know that my feelings about it are very likely to change.

The Bono guitar

A couple of years ago I bought a guitar. I have never been musically inclined, from the performing perspective. That’s not to say I haven’t had the desire, I have played air guitar for many years while listening to U2. When I was in college I entered a lip sync competition with some friends, we played Talking Heads one year (finished third), then I made them do U2 the following year (didn’t even place). I was of course Bono, we did Streets, and I jumped around the stage with a black wig on. It was crazy and terrible, but that was also the closest I ever came to being a rock star.

So after all these years since, I finally bought a guitar, and slowly began playing it. After two years of trying, I am still terrible. I got Rocksmith, which helped in some ways, because I got somewhat decent at some of those songs. The problem is I didn’t play it enough to actually learn to play a guitar, I can barely play at all away from the video game. That’s not true, I have messed around on U2guitartutorials.com and have learned some parts of some U2 songs. One of these days I’ll sit down and get serious about it, pick one song and learn it in detail, then another and another. Maybe I’ll have time once this blog finishes at the end of the year (although I doubt it).

But this is not about my guitar playing history, it’s about an actual guitar. You see, about a year ago I was surfing around and saw a link to an auction of rock and roll memorabilia. I looked through it, and there were half a dozen items featuring U2. There were a couple of gold albums, an amp, but the one that really grabbed me was a guitar signed by Bono. It wasn’t used by Bono, which made it a much more reasonable price that one that had been used on stage. I watched the auction, thinking that I might try and snap up one of the items for several hundred dollars. As it so happened, I got my annual bonus from work that very week, and being a little flush with cash boosted my desires. Yes, I won the auction for the Bono guitar, spent a couple of thousand dollars on it, but when it arrived I was very happy.

The guitar sits in my room right now, the centerpiece of my U2 collection of items, which numbers very few things but each have some good meaning to me (example is my wristband from the North Side in Chicago 1 this year). I have plans to get a display case for the guitar, and build out my little U2 shrine (another item is the Time magazine cover, Rock’s Hottest Ticket), and maybe one day I’ll put a picture of the completed shrine on the site. Who knows when that day will be though? Maybe I should try and get it done before I see my next U2 show (or maybe I should wait for some other collectible from that tour).

Covers

It always interests me when U2 play a cover song or a snippet. After all, they have a few hundred songs of their own, and they have to practice all those to get going again on a tour. Even a song as simple as October, which they have been playing this tour, but they’re playing it for the first time in a couple of decades. How do they remember how to play the song, does it just come back to them when they start? Or is Bono sitting there listening to a tape, reading the lyrics and slowly getting back into it? Let alone all the little differences in the instrumentation, how to remember which part of the song has what, which instrument, the timing, and so on. And yet they do all that, and then they add in some snippets, and then they do some cover songs. A lot of work.

Snippets may be easy or difficult, depending on how it is done. I go back to Bad in Boston 3 this year, one of my favorites, which had extended sections to honor Lou Reed. Bad is a fairly easy song to snippet in, to speechify in, because it’s possibly for the band to vamp for a long time while Bono talks, and then switch back into song mode. Some of the other songs they add in a little bit at the end, sometimes one of their own songs like Moment Of Surrender, sometimes something completely different. And that’s interesting to me, because I don’t know if Bono practices those, finds them or thinks of them and they rehearse them, or if he is making them up on the spot. The fact that he uses them so regularly in the same spot suggests a lot of pre-thought, or that he is being triggered by the moment.

Then I think about songs that they play seemingly on the spur of the moment, like for example People Have The Power. It was the intro song for the entire tour, but they only played it when Patti Smith was in town. How much practice did they have before that, how much did they already know the song? Remember during Rattle And Hum they were trying to play All Along The Watchtower, and learning it in the van just before the show. I presume they did better than that for Patti Smith, that was much more planned.

But it’s interesting to go down the list and see how many different songs they have played. I think Send In The Clowns has been played the most, but all snippets. Satellite Of Love would win the race for most played song, followed closely by Stand By Me (it gets a little complicated when you’re counting full songs and snippets). But maybe the most interesting thing is that they have played 846 different songs, meaning that three quarters of what they play is not their own. Yes, like I said, a lot of snippets of songs, but still. I don’t know if I could sing a single line from 846 different songs, let alone a whole song. And to be fair, from the listings there are maybe 300 songs that they’ve only played once as a snippet, which maybe I could do that. My mind comes up with a lot of weird stuff.

Rumors

I’m sure you have heard all the rumors about the new album by now. Seems like one comes out regularly, and AtU2 has collected a lot of them over the years. One of the things that is interesting about their collection is how they are holding on to all the old songs that have been rumored over the years, because as we have regularly seen, some of those are going to come around eventually, whether as themselves in a partially completed state on a twentieth anniversary edition of something, or mixed into a different song, adding just a little bit of themselves to make something completely new.

The rumors that are most current should have the most cachet, but of course we’ve seen that story many times before. Obviously those old rumors were current at one point. But it’s when you get a series of rumors going that they become interesting. No smoke without fire, as they say. If you hear a story of Bono playing a song for a reporter in a car somewhere (and that seems to happen a lot), you may never hear of that song again. But if you hear multiple stories about that song, it might mean a little bit more. And if you see multiple members of the band talking about something, then it might mean a lot.

The biggest trick is deciphering whether they really mean it. Maybe really mean it isn’t the right phrase, because I’m sure they’re not lying, so maybe it should be more whether the story really has meaning. After all, as Bono has said a number of times, he is not very good with dates. When he says the album will be out on such and such a date, you might get excited, but you probably should take it with a pinch of salt. After all, who ever heard of Songs Of Innocence coming out? It was just a few days beforehand that the rumors were starting to fly that they would be playing at the Apple event, and even less time that they would be releasing something. So if Bono says yeah, we’re going to have a new album out by X date, unless that date is next Tuesday, I might not believe it.

Right now I have been anticipating the announcement of the new album, Songs Of Experience, for a while. It seems like the rumors have gone back and forth, there have been several possibilities this year. The latest was that they were going to use the HBO show to announce either the new album or next year’s tour dates, and obviously neither of those things happen. There was a rumor it was going to be released when they were in Dublin. Another that it would be at Christmas. Then there was an early 2016, to coincide with the next leg of the tour in Europe, but the latest on that is no tour and no album. Last thing I think I heard was sometime in the middle of 2016. I’ll believe it when I see it. Or hear it.

End of the road

Over? Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? (Might have been a better reference on Monday than today) No, of course not, it’s not the end of the road, it’s not even the End Of The World. We’re just taking a little break, letting them dream it all up again, re-energize, maybe release the new album and then get out there. Yep. That’s exactly what’s going to happen next year. I guarantee it. Bono guarantees it. Pretty sure he’s told us the exact release date already, right? Although I hear he can’t be trusted with dates.

Okay, so the HBO show on Monday night was great, except for the bittersweet part where it was the finish of the 2015 legs of the Innocence + Experience Tour. I will admit that I loved that they brought Eagles Of Death Metal out to end the show, singing People Have The Power and then leaving the stage so that Eagles could sing one of their own songs. I loved it, but I also disliked it. Great tribute, a great moment, but I would have rather had U2 finish their own tour, and I would rather have had Patti Smith on stage for People Have The Power. She did the night before, and once before on the tour, and it was great. Wish it could have finished that way. If the rumor that the HBO show will become the video for the tour, then the EODM ending isn’t quite as good as you would want. It is extremely topical, related to this moment in time. I prefer the timeless shows, the ones that don’t date themselves. Heck, even the stuff just after 9/11 doesn’t seem that dated, because it was One, a forever song, and because it was about 9/11, an event that continues to reverberate to this day. Not sure we will say the same about Paris in a few years (remember the London bombings? Or Mumbai? Or Moscow? Not so much for a US audience).

But the tour is over, and things will get back to normal here and there. The band will do what I suggested in the first paragraph, and we’ll have a tour next year sometime. Will it be the same show? I hope not, I loved this tour but I’d like to see something new. Will it be in arenas, or in stadiums (I refuse to say stadia)? I really love the intimacy of the arena tour. I just hope they come down Texas way next year. Actually, I sat watching last night (and following a bunch of people on Twitter during the show), and I began daydreaming about quitting my job and going on tour with the band. I don’t know how feasible that really is (not at all), but I will go see the shows that I can. I got lucky this year, I happened to be in Chicago the week U2 was there. Hint to the band: next year I will be at a convention in Miami at the end of July. Just, you know, if you’re scheduling things right now. And don’t forget Texas, I’ve gone to Houston and Austin shows before, I will definitely do that again, just get here.

A great tour, perhaps my favorite U2 tour ever (along with all the others). Let’s keep it going if we can.

Conspiracy Of Hope

Back in the day U2 did a tour called the Conspiracy of Hope tour. I suppose you might say they’ve actually been doing that tour ever since they formed the band, that idea has been a theme throughout their lives, the idea of people being full of hope, or that hope will bring us through together. But in this case, the Conspiracy of Hope tour was a short tour that was used to raise awareness for Amnesty International. Only a half dozen shows, and only for a month in 1986, but it still resonates to today.

It is interesting that U2 were involved in this, I mean of course they were due to the subject matter, but at the time in 1986 they were in between the Unforgettable Fire tour and the Joshua Tree tour, and I can’t say they were the most famous band around just yet. The Police were the headliners during the Conspiracy of Hope tour, with the rest being really a bunch of b level bands, people who had been moderately famous at one time but perhaps weren’t quite so much any more. Looking through the list of performers U2 kind of stand out a little, most of them had already had their time of fame but U2 had so much of theirs ahead of them. Of course you look back now and recognize many of the names, they’re still famous, but none of them are U2 famous.

One of the songs that came about at the time was Sun City, a protest song against apartheid and South Africa. U2 were fairly big in that song, as they tended to be in protest songs around that time. These days they now and again do random fund-raising songs (Haiti comes to mind), but mostly not. They do still support Amnesty though, and promote them to their audience in various ways. It is interesting looking back at the tour, reading the Wikipedia page where there are people asking whether it would have any impact at all. Clearly it did, clearly Amnesty is much bigger and much better known now than they were then. This is one of those examples of people asking if you can do anything, if you can have any kind of impact on the world. The response these days is pretty clear, Bono quoting Nelson Mandela when he says “it’s always impossible until it is done.” In a lot of ways that has been a theme through U2’s life, not only their own career but also all the different places they have had an impact.

One of the other places where there will be a conspiracy of hope will be this weekend in Paris. U2 return to perform after the terrorist attacks, and I am guessing that it is going to be an extremely tight level of security around the shows. Rumor today is that the Eagles of Death Metal will come on stage with the band at some point during the weekend, I don’t know how much chance there is of that happening, and it would be great if it did happen, but if I was them I’m not sure if it would ever be possible to get on a stage again. I guess you need that conspiracy of hope that Bono and U2 have brought to them (fantastic stories of how U2 supported them in the days after the attacks, so proud to be a U2 fan when I hear things like that).

November Review

So the second to last month is over, and we enter the final stages of the year. It has been a most interesting month, I have had to switch focus from song after song to doing a lot of non-songs and a lot of b sides that haven’t attracted much attention. This is a consequence of not following through on the plan earlier in the year, and having to do a lot of catchup. I took the easy route too many times, just writing a song, instead of working on all the extras that I had in the list. Now it’s payback time for me.

Like I said a few days ago, I have now made out a plan for the rest of the year, and so far it is working well. This is what I should have done earlier in the year, not necessarily planned out the whole year, but it would have been a good idea to plan each month in advance, then work from that list, rather than just randomly picking from the list of everything. This is a lesson for the future, if I ever get into a project like this again. And maybe a lesson for you, the reader, if you decide to do any kind of project, that it’s a good idea to plan ahead as much as you can.

By my count this month I got 17 songs in, which is a little below the average I was supposed to do for the year, and the result of having to catch up. If I had gone for that balance earlier I would have been around 21 or 22 songs each month, so you can see I had half a dozen to catch up on. Doesn’t seem like many, but it is. Next month is going to be even worse (but keep reading!), I think I will end up with about ten songs for the month, although much of that was pre-planned because I had long ago made a list of things I wanted to cover for the end of the year.

This month also had the first failure of the blog for the year. My aims were to a) post every day and b) write 500 words for each post. I didn’t post every day of the year, but only on a technicality, because of computer problems there was one day where my post didn’t get posted until five minutes after midnight the next day, but that wasn’t really a miss. This month I did have a miss though, I had a post that was only 200 words, that was the day of the Paris attacks, when I sat down to wrote but was overwhelmed by the news and unable to write or think much of anything. I count that as a failure, although again there is at least an excuse for it.

Here’s everything I reviewed this month, with the ratings I gave them:

If You Wear That Velvet Dress 6

Touch 2

Stateless 4

Linear 2

No Line On The Horizon 5.8

U2 Experience (book) 2

In God's Country 7

Sunday Bloody Sunday 10

Winter 3

Street Missions 3

Robbie Robertson

Vertigo 8

How Long? (Paris)

U2 By U2 (book) 9

One 9

Everybody Loves A Winner 2

Xanax And Wine 4

J. Swallow 1

Amazing Grace 5

Making of The Unforgettable Fire 7

From The Ground Up (book) 9

Bono's Big Year

Native Son 2

U2 Go Home 10

Angels Too Tied To The Ground 3

Are You Gonna Wait Forever 6

Million Dollar Hotel 1

Mercy 4

Songs Of Innocence 5.6

Bono's Big Year

Yesterday while looking through the From The Ground Up book as I wrote the review, I was reminded of the section where Bono had a serious back injury that required surgery, and that postponed the 360 tour for a while. In that section he said he was laid up for a few weeks, unable to move, and spent the time writing songs and generally being productive. That reminded me of last year when he had the bicycle accident, and ended up writing a missive called Bono’s Big Year. Okay, technically the title is “Little Book of a Big Year: Bono’s A to Z of 2014” but I prefer my version. Anyway, some thoughts on what he wrote.

B is for Blogosphere, where I am writing this and I guess I am one of the ones who has the audacity to think others might be interested in what I have to say. I am not invisible, I am here, you might say. Although give it another month and a half and even this blog will not be here (at least not being updated), as the plan for it will be complete. But I will move on, I have other writing projects in mind, although in general they will not be of interest to the U2 fan.

I find it interesting that he has some mild words about Davos, because by the time of the tour he had converted similar words into a rant about being one of those fat cats flying in and out. Yelling at his former self, or rather his younger self yelling at him, and he trying to justify why he is there. I’m still not sure that he is successful in doing that, although it is a powerful message in either direction.

He writes some missives to Adam, Edge and Larry on the appropriate letters, and a little self-deprecation on the B. I guess it is appropriate to write to and about them, and of course he is going to be nice about them (not that I think he wouldn’t need to be). But it does make me think about what I have written here, as I have definitely tempered some of my words here, about anything from the band to my own family to the songs I am writing about. It is interesting to realize that knowing that there is an audience out there has caused me to self-censor in some cases. I might have to work on that.

He throws in a little joke, a little throwback to the old days, when he says “I had a vision… television” while watching Bruce Springsteen perform with the band.

And a final interesting comment: “U2 is a live band. Live is where we live or die. The songs continue to grow night after night.” This is something I have learned, or re-learned, this year, because of my changing thoughts about Songs Of Innocence. I reviewed some songs early on, before seeing them live, and would change those reviews now having seen them. They have grown night after night, they have become embedded in my mind, and now I love them. But that’s a story for another day.

How long?

Yet another Friday. I have been sick the last few days, and didn’t write last night. I intended to write this morning, but got distracted by other things (mostly work). And this evening comes terrible news. Paris, under attack.

My thoughts are immediately selfish. My thoughts go to U2, and I see tweets that the band are safe. Then they go to the U2 fans who are in the city, and I am guessing some of them were inside the building where the main attack has taken place. And I thank God that the U2 show wasn’t attacked instead, it could have been much worse there.

I haven’t heard anything but I am guessing that U2 will be cancelled both tomorrow and Sunday. I don’t know what this does for the HBO show tomorrow night, I believe they were filming the earlier shows but who knows what will happen?

I don’t have words for this. This is the first day the blog will have failed.

I can’t believe the news today. I can’t close my eyes and make it go away.

Robbie Robertson

I confess to knowing nothing about Robbie Robertson before writing this, other than that he had recorded a couple of songs with U2. I actually thought he was a young British singer, something on the order of his early 20s when he recorded with them. I don’t know who I was thinking of, but obviously I was well wrong, given that he is a 70-something Canadian with a long history. I read about him on Wikipedia, and it turns out he was in The Band, a group that is far more famous for being famous than for actually producing anything worthwhile (yes, heads spin as you read this, I know).

Robertson was in Dublin recording at the same time U2 was recording The Joshua Tree and they got together because Danny Lanois was involved with both. The first song they did was called Sweet Fire of Love. This one sounds a lot like a U2 song. It’s hard at times to tell which part is Robertson and which part is Bono, and which part is Robertson and which part is Edge. But that’s okay, you ignore the fact that the voice sounds a little different and really it’s a good song. The sound is a little rockier than The Joshua Tree, it may be a little better compared to some of the b sides from The Joshua Tree, or maybe even the b sides from Rattle And Hum. Still, pretty good, if I were rating it (which I’m not since it’s not a real U2 song) I’d probably get it somewhere around a 5 or so. And that’s without even a detailed look at the lyrics, which do lose something because of repetitiveness, but gain because they sound interesting otherwise.

The second song they did together was called Testimony, and that is much less a U2 song. I hardly hear anything U2 at all in it, it is much more, I don’t know, jazzy than U2 would do. There are a lot more musicians on that song, lots of different instruments playing, and U2 is just part of the backing band here. No rating at all, don’t like the song much and don’t see the U2 involvement.

And with this review written, there are 50 days left in the 365 I aim to produce this year. Not so much a struggle, as I have about 60 ideas on the list right now, but more of an ordeal. I didn’t plan ahead too much, I certainly didn’t work ahead enough, and it’s all catching up now. I would confess to being somewhat weary of the project right now, although a) I’m not going to stop, and b) there is still new and interesting stuff coming to me as I work on it. I just wish I had done things a little differently here and there to make it easier later on, instead I took the easy way earlier and am stuck with the hard way now. Oh well, it is what it is and onward we go.

Larry Mullen Jr.

Happy Birthday to Larry Mullen Jr. who turns 54 today.

So if you were wondering why I did the October summary yesterday, this is the reason. I can move the summary, but I can’t move Larry’s birthday. And I saw pictures of him riding the tube to the show today, which is just awesome.

Larry is in many ways the heart and soul of the band. Let’s start with him being the one who posted the note on the board at the school, which attracted the rest of the guys to come to his kitchen and play together. As is famously told, it was called the Larry Mullen Band for about ten minutes, until Bono took over and made it his own. At that time I believe Larry was the only one with any kind of musical training, having performed as a drummer in a local marching band for a while. It was some kind of military band, I think, at least that is what I have always thought, and the first few years of U2’s music seem to bear that out, with the sound of drums being very militaristic on the early stuff. Especially War, of course, the natural theme of that album led right into the drumming style of Larry.

I have been known to be a little critical of Larry, and Adam, saying more than once that they are the two in the band that could be replaced and not missed. I commented on that a few days ago, Bono’s point being that the one time that Adam missed a show, Bono clearly felt the difference. That’s something that doesn’t step into the mind when you think about it, you assume that what you’re hearing is fairly simple and anyone could do it, even a drum machine could do the job. But you get to the people performing, you get to their mindsets, and you realize that no, these guys work together as a team and each of them puts in their own input and produces the result they need. The fact that every night Bono makes the joke that “it’s a blessing for you to know me, Larry” should tell you something. I’m not 100% sure but I think that Larry and Bono are closest to each other in the band, and for him to continue to say that line each night suggests they can take a joke at each other’s expense.

Larry has always been the cool one in the band. From the leather jackets to the Harleys to the Elvis love. This along with being behind the drums has always made him seem a little separate from the fans, not aloof but certainly outside of everyone else. Up until this year I would have said that he was the least likely to be a fan favorite. But during this tour he has seemed to change his demeanor, he has smiled much more than he ever smiled before, and it seems like he has been more involved with the fans too. Getting him out from behind the drums is a good thing, getting him marching down the ramp to the e stage, and being out there among the fans, maybe that has been the difference. But he has smiled, he has given away his drumsticks, he has just generally been much happier it seems. It’s been great for him, for the fans, and for the whole band.

October Review

Wait, what? We’ve still got a day left in October, why am I doing the October review now? Well, there’s something happening tomorrow, and that’s a date that I can’t move, whereas I can move this a day early. The only other time I had a similar problem was at the end of June, and that was a review of Chicago 4, with the show on June 29 and the review would have been June 30. Instead I did the end of month for June, and ran the review on July 1. That kept me on schedule then but that’s impossible now. Tune in tomorrow to find out the date I couldn’t change - assuming you don’t know it already.

Listened to most of London 3 this afternoon. Was driving to a store with my wife and son when they were going to the encore, and I said I was going to wait outside while they went in. I am very glad that I did, because I got to listen to not only a really good version of Bad, but also to Patti Smith coming on stage and singing People Have The Power with U2, a fantastic finish to the show. I was very happy at my choice to stay and listen. Will have to go out and download that, it will go into my ongoing live show listening experience.

Speaking of experiences, I also downloaded the VRSE app today, along with Song For Someone, and really enjoyed looking at it on my phone. Will have to try it on the iPad too, should be better with the bigger screen. Definitely worth a watch, and my son loved it, he played the song about ten times spinning around in a circle.

October was a fun month listening to shows in Europe. November is going to be bittersweet, listening to shows but also heading toward the end of the current leg of the tour. Maybe they’ll give us tour dates for next year during November, that would soften the blow. So would a release of the next album. And of course there’s the HBO live from Paris show coming up in the middle of the month.

Here’s everything I reviewed this month, with the ratings I gave them:

October

Dublin 

The Three Sunrises

U2 and Magazines 

Tomorrow

Trees 

Fire

Womanfish

Negativland 

U2 The Early Days (book) 8 

Numb

We Love You

I Threw A Brick Through A Window

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 

Lemon

You Never Forget Your First 

How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb 5.6 

Ultraviolet (Light My Way)

Running 

Bono: In Conversation (book) 8 

Miracle Drug

Missing Sarajevo 

Everlasting Love

A Story Of One 

Race Against Time

Cartoon World

Killing Bono (book) 8 

The Crystal Ballroom

Maps 

Maps

There’s a book coming out next year, called Rock Atlas U2, which by the title you can probably guess it is about locations involved with U2. I believe it was originally released a year or two ago, but it’s coming out next year in paperback, and I haven’t seen it and can’t find a copy of the current release. Since I haven’t seen it I don’t know anything about it other than the short blurbs in Amazon, which say that it is a book of locations in Ireland that are related to the band. I suspect this is one of those books I should have before I travel there. I wrote earlier this month about Dublin and my impressions of the city based on the knowledge I have gleaned through U2, so this book should help clarify some of that.

But a book coming out in 2016 doesn’t help much for a blog that’s going to end at the end of 2015, does it. Before I knew about the book, I had put on my list of things to write about this year an idea for a map of U2 locations. I wasn’t being specific to Ireland though, I was thinking of all the places around the world related to the band. My thought wasn’t so much where they’ve gone and what they’ve done, but places specifically mentioned in songs, either titles or lyrics. For example, they sung at Red Rocks, which would put it on a U2 map but not on mine. But, they released it as an album called Live At Red Rocks, so thus it would get some attention (I know, I’m being a little loose with the facts there). Maybe a better example would be Cedarwood Road, we know all about it because of the band’s history, but I wouldn’t count it prior to the song being released.

If I were to take just one lyric, the easy one would be New York, London, Paris, Munich. Gets a lot out of the way to begin. You can even count New York again, since they had a song with that title too. And you’d go a long way just working on titles. A quick tour of the Middle East will get a look at the cedars of Lebanon, with a shout at Jerusalem and then you can go by Fez after you’re born. 

Does Zoo Station count? It’s a real place in Berlin, and for that matter Oh Berlin gets in there. While you’re in Europe don’t miss Sarajevo. But interestingly enough, most of the titles are across The Ocean, and as you sail there you might realize there’s no line on the Horizon. Once you get to the other side, you might see some hands that built America, and look out for the angels when you land in Harlem.

While you’re in New York you might stay in the Heartbreak Hotel, if they have a room, and you can look out and see where the streets have no name (they’re all letters and numbers). It’s a City of blinding lights up there, so maybe get out of town and go looking. You could head down to Miami, or go out west to a Red Hill Mining Town. Eventually you’ll get to California, where you could stay at the Million Dollar Hotel unless you want to try your luck at the Playboy Mansion (wear protection).

And take a long trip across the ocean again and you might get to Van Diemen’s Land, then make a turn toward New Zealand and watch the sun come up on One Tree Hill.

After all that, since you’ve been trying to throw your arms around The World you can count it all. But then again you might have spent too long staring at The Sun.

I’m sure I missed a lot of places here. And that might be a good thing, not sure this bit worked as well as it sounded like it would.

A Story Of One

There are songs, and then there are songs. One of those songs is One, which is one of the best U2 songs ever, one of the best of anyone songs ever. I was always confused about how the song came to have multiple videos, and for a while I thought the song was just so good that it needed more than one. Of course, that wasn’t the case, and I read about the videos and then saw a documentary called A Story Of One, which was on the Best of 1990-2000 DVD. It told the story - or maybe a story - about the videos.

I really thought that each of the One videos were fun and interesting. The most famous version was probably the one where the band dressed up as women, but the two others gave their own moments as well. I guess you would call them the buffalo version and the Bono version. 

The first version, which I usually think of as my favorite, is also a little odd. It has the band standing in the studio in Berlin performing the song, but then it twists as they turn to Bono sitting in the living room while the rest of the band sits next to him dressed as women, and then for some reason Bono’s dad shows up. I must admit that these parts confuse me, I don’t get the reason for the guys to be dressed that way, and even in the documentary they don’t adequately explain it. And Bono’s dad, again with no explanation, or rather that it was somehow related to AIDS and the idea of a person having a conversation with their father, and I didn’t quite get it and it didn’t quite work.

The other famous part of the video was the Trabants, which went on to make more famous appearances in various U2 shows. It was a symbol of the collapse of the Berlin Wall at the time the band were there, and of course led itself to many jokes. My favorite Trabi joke is this: why did Trabants have heaters on their rear windows? To keep your hands warm while you push.

Version two, the buffalo version, is by a guy called Mark Pennington. It was very slow, featuring a whole lot of video of buffaloes running in a very out of focus way, along with a few stills of the word One in different languages. Can’t recommend this version, it is quite dull, possibly the worst U2 video out there. The documentary points out that it was put out quickly because they were afraid the guys dressed up as girls was a slam against AIDS, and they got this done and out onto MTV to try and remove the old one. Of course that couldn’t happen these days, as it would already have been all over the internet.

The third version is the Bono version, or maybe you should call it the Phil Jounou version. Talking to the camera, rather singing to the camera in many closeups, twists, strobes, etc etc. It goes along with footage from one of the shows. It’s somewhat boring, I think, not really much happening other than a love affair with Bono. Which is okay for some people, but honestly it doesn’t do that much for me.

Missing Sarajevo

I know quite a lot about politics and world affairs, but I have to admit to knowing little about Yugoslavia, the breakup of the country and all the new countries that were formed back in the 1990s. I’m not sure even if I could tell you which country is which these days, not without looking it up. I know there’s a Bosnia, a Serbia, a Montenegro, and some others, right? I couldn’t even tell you who owns Sarajevo these days, if one country has it or if it is a divided city or what. Not even if there is still fighting going on. I’m actually a little embarrassed to say all this, now that I write it down. I don’t want to insult anyone, if anything I’m trying to show my own ignorance. I think the sad thing is that I consider myself well-read, and knowledgeable about world affairs. Guess I fail on this one.

Missing Sarajevo is a short documentary about U2 playing in Sarajevo in 1997 on the Pop tour, following a promise that Bono made to the people of Sarajevo that the band would come there. It highlights the reasons why, the way Bill Carter was able to convince the band to come, and how they did satellite linkups with Sarajevo during Zoo TV. It is interesting to follow the way they did things, although like I said the video is very short (less than 12 minutes long) so it can’t get into any kind of detail.

So during the siege of Sarajevo in 1993 Bill Carter (an aid worker) went to a U2 show in Italy, somehow got backstage to meet the band (can you imagine doing that? Pitching up to a show and saying hey, I’d like to talk to the band about something, I don’t know if I would get past the first security guard I ran into. Maybe if I stood in line outside and hoped to meet one of them, and maybe if I had a good enough cause). But he met them, and talked to them, and got them to promise to play in Sarajevo. They couldn’t at the time, but they did link to Sarajevo several times during shows.

Those links led to some awkward conversations as shown in the documentary. When one person on the screen, talking about the link and the publicity U2 is getting to them, says “What do you really do for us?” it kind of sucks the air out of the room. She is right in so many ways of course, the band wasn’t sheltering them, or ending things, although maybe they had some influence on it. But the idea of getting things back to normal was an ongoing thought during the video, so maybe it was something.

It was interesting to hear the narrator tell of people spending nights in bomb shelters listening to music to drown out the shells. It reminded me of when I went to Cardiff a couple of years ago, and toured the castle there, where people would go and sleep during the Blitz in World War 2. I don’t remember them talking about singing, but it was a very small glimpse into what they went through.

The funny part of the show was Bono in the car not remembering the words to Miss Sarajevo, and trying to sing somewhat mangled lyrics. That was certainly a smile during the sadness that the video projected.

I’m not going to give this a rating. It’s too short to really deserve one, but also because a rating would kind of cheapen the feeling of the documentary. It’s there to show one of the results of a tragedy, and I think to rate it would make it feel like something like this should be rated.