Sunday, March 20, 2005

Reminded Once Again of the Magic of Rock n Roll

I'm generally not a big fan of music awards shows. Bands and musicians always get left out who're more deserving in many people's eyes. The thing is, everybody IS usually right. I guess the word is patience, sometimes it takes time to acknowledge everyone due to an oversight, incompetence or the difference in what is perceived as "a legend" worthy of this honor. (as in Iggy Pop & The Stooges, MC5 and Van Halen etc. aren't in yet??!!) The Rock n Roll Hall of Fame is a bit different in that it doesn't indulge purely on "who's #1?", who's sold the most units, been the most downloaded, and grossed the most touring. Music is far too precious and influential on too many levels in this world (and beyond) to be judged in such a manner.

To be honest, I haven't seen much of these R&R awards shows in recent years-and didn't see much of the show tonight. Yes, it can be a bloated on self-importance type of affair. I was in my usual post-work cynical, hating life mood and happened to tune in a minute before Bruce Springsteen stepped up to the podium to induct U2. I was expecting to hear a few sentences, only to see that he had a notebook in hand for his speech. Hmmmm, could be serious...And in 5 minutes, he delivered a very potent tribute about the band and what it has meant to the rock music world and us fans. I found myself captivated because Springsteen himself is familiar with this aural alchemy and all of it's trappings. He was able to transport me out of my almost hopeless, bitter mood and remind me once again of the "magic" of R&R. Wow...Sometimes I forget...for a long while... Regardless of who you are, where you're from or what "station" in life you are, it can reach you and make a profound difference. Here's the text of Bruce's speech;

Springsteen's induction speech of U2 (3/14/05):
Uno, dos, tres, catorce. That translates as one, two, three, fourteen. That is the correct math for a rock and roll band. For in art and love and rock and roll, the whole had better equal much more than the sum of its parts, or else you're just rubbing two sticks together searching for fire. A great rock band searches for the same kind of combustible force that fueled the expansion of the universe after the big bang. You want the earth to shake and spit fire, you want the sky to split apart and for God to pour out. It’s embarrassing to want so much and to expect so much from music, except sometimes it happens: the Sun Sessions, Highway 61, Sgt. Peppers, the Band, Robert Johnson, Exile on Main Street, Born to Run... whoops, I meant to leave that one out... uh... the Sex Pistols, Aretha Franklin, the Clash, James Brown; the proud and public enemies it takes a nation of millions to hold back. This is music meant to take on not only the powers that be but on a good day, the universe and God himself, if he was listening. It's man's accountability, and U2 belongs on this list.

It was the early '80s. I went with Pete Townshend, who always wanted to catch the first whiff of those about to unseat us, to a club in London. There they were: a young Bono (single-handedly pioneering the Irish mullet), the Edge (what kind of name was that?), Adam and Larry -- I was listening to the last band of whom I would be able to name all of its members. They had an exciting show and a big, beautiful sound. They lifted the roof. We met afterwards and they were nice young men. They were Irish. Irish. Now, this would play an enormous part in their success in the States. For what the English occasionally have the refined sensibilities to overcome, we Irish and Italians have no such problem. We come through the door fists and hearts first. U2, with the dark, chiming sound of heaven at their command which, of course, is the sound of unrequited love and longing -- their greatest theme. Their search for God intact, this was a band that wanted to lay claim to not only this world but had their eyes on the next one, too. Now, they’re a real band; each member plays a vital part. I believe they actually practice some form of democracy -- toxic poison in a bands head. In Iraq, maybe. In rock, no. Yet, they survive. They have harnessed the time bomb that exists in the heart of every great rock and roll band that usually explodes, as we see regularly from this stage. But they seemed to have innately understood the primary rule of rock band job security: “Hey, asshole, the other guy is more important than you think he is!” They are both a step forward and direct descendants of the great bands who believed rock music could shake things up in the world, dared to have faith in their audience, who believed if they played their best it would bring out the best in you. They believed in pop stardom and the big time. Now this requires foolishness and a calculating mind. It also requires a deeply held faith in the work you're doing and in its powers to transform. U2 hungered for it all and built a sound, and they wrote the songs that demanded it. They’re keepers of some of the most beautiful sonic architecture in rock and roll.

The Edge, the Edge, the Edge, the Edge. He is a rare and true guitar original and one of the subtlest guitar heroes of all time. He's dedicated to ensemble playing and he subsumes his guitar ego in the group. But do not be fooled. Take Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry, Neil Young, Pete Townshend -- guitarists who defined the sound of their band and their times. If you play like them, you sound like them. If you are playing those rhythmic two-note sustained fourths, drenched in echo, you are going to sound like the Edge, my son. Go back to the drawing board and chances are you won’t have much luck. There are only a handful of guitar stylists who can create a world with their instruments, and he's one of them. The Edge's guitar playing creates enormous space and vast landscapes. It is a thrilling and a heartbreaking sound that hangs over you like the unsettled sky. In the turf it stakes out, it is inherently spiritual, it is grace and it is a gift.

Now, all of this has to be held down by something. The deep sureness of Adam Clayton's bass and the rhythms of Larry Mullen's elegant drumming hold the band down while propelling it forward. It's in U2's great rhythm section that the band finds its sexuality and its dangerousness. Listen to "Desire," she moves in "Mysterious Ways," the pulse of "With or Without You." Together Larry and Adam create the element that suggests the ecstatic possibilities of that other kingdom -- the one below the earth and below the belt -- that no great rock band can lay claim to the title without. Now, Adam always strikes me as the professorial one, the sophisticated member. He creates not only the musical but physical stability on his side of the stage. The tone and depth of his bass playing has allowed the band to move from rock to dance music and beyond. One of the first things I noticed about U2 was that underneath the guitar and the bass, they have these very modern rhythms going on. Rather than a straight 2 and 4, Larry often plays with a lot of syncopation, and that connects the band to modern dance textures. The drums often sounded high and tight and he was swinging down there, and this gave the band a unique profile and allowed their rock textures to soar above on a bed of his rhythm. Now Larry, of course, besides being an incredible drummer, bears the burden of being the band's requisite "good-looking member," something we somehow overlooked in the E Street Band. We have to settle for "charismatic." Girls love on Larry Mullen. I have a female assistant that would like to sit on Larry’s drum stool. A male one, too. We all have our crosses to bear.

Bono, where do I begin? Jeans designer, soon-to-be World Bank operator, just plain operator, seller of the Brooklyn Bridge -- oh hold up, he played under the Brooklyn Bridge, that's right. Soon-to-be mastermind operator of the Bono Burger franchise, where more than one million stories will be told by a crazy Irishman. Now I realize that it’s a dirty job and somebody has to do it. But don't quit your day job yet, my friend, you're pretty good at it. And a sound this big needs somebody to ride herd over it, and ride herd over it he does. His voice, big-hearted and open, thoroughly decent no matter how hard he tries. Now he's a great frontman. Against the odds, he is not your mom's standard skinny, ex-junkie archetype. He has the physique of a rugby player... well, an ex-rugby player. Shamen, shyster, one of the greatest and most endearingly naked messianic complexes in rock and roll. God bless you, man! It takes one to know one, of course. You see, every good Irish and Italian-Irish front-man knows that before James Brown there was Jesus. So hold the McDonald arches on the stage set, boys, we are not ironists. We are creations of the heart and of the earth and of the stations of the cross. There's no getting out of it. He is gifted with an operatic voice and a beautiful falsetto rare among strong rock singers. But most important, his is a voice shot through with self-doubt. That's what makes that big sound work. It is this element of Bono's talent, along with his beautiful lyric writing, that gives the often-celestial music of U2 its fragility and its realness. It is the questioning, the constant questioning in Bono's voice, where the band stakes its claim to its humanity and declares its commonality with us. Now Bono’s voice often sounds like it's shouting not over top of the band but from deep within it: "Here we are, Lord, this mess, in your image." He delivers all of this with great drama and an occasional smirk that says, “Kiss me, I’m Irish.” He’s one of the great front-men of the past 20 years. He is also one of the only musicians to devote his personal faith and the ideals of his band into the real world in a way that remains true to rock's earliest implications of freedom and connection and the possibility of something better.

Now the band's beautiful songwriting -- "Pride (In The Name of Love)," "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For," "One," "Where the Streets Have No Name," "Beautiful Day" -- reminds us of the stakes that the band always plays for. It's an incredible songbook. In their music, you hear the spirituality as home and as quest. How do you find God unless he's in your heart, in your desire, in your feet? I believe this is a big part of what's kept their band together all of these years. See, bands get formed by accident, but they don’t survive by accident. It takes will, intent, a sense of shared purpose and a tolerance for your friends' fallibilities and they of yours. And that only evens the odds. U2 has not only evened the odds but they've beaten them by continuing to do their finest work and remaining at the top of their game and the charts for 25 years. I feel a great affinity for these guys as people as well as musicians.

Well, there I was sitting down on the couch in my pajamas with my eldest son. He was watching TV. I was doing one of my favorite things: I was tallying up all the money I passed up in endorsements over the years and thinking of all the fun I could have had with it. Suddenly I hear "Uno, dos, tres, catorce!" I look up. But instead of the silhouettes of the hippie-wannabes bouncing around in the iPod commercial, I see my boys! Oh my God! They sold out! Now, what I know about the iPod is this: it is a device that plays music. Of course, their new song sounded great, my guys are doing great, but methinks I hear the footsteps of my old tape operator of Jimmy Iovine somewhere. Wily, smart. Now, personally, I live an insanely expensive lifestyle that my wife barely tolerates. I burn money, and that calls for huge amounts of cash flow. But, I also have a ludicrous image of myself that keeps me from truly cashing in. You can see my problem. Woe is me. So the next morning, I call up Jon Landau (or as I refer to him, "the American Paul McGuinness"), and I say, "Did you see that iPod thing?" and he says, "Yes." And he says, "And I hear they didn’t take any money." And I said, "They didn’t take any money?" and he says, "No." I said, "Smart, wily Irish guys. Anybody – anybody – can do an ad and take the money. But to do the ad and not take the money... that’s smart. That’s wily." I say, "Jon, I want you to call up Bill Gates or whoever is behind this thing and float this: a red, white and blue iPod signed by Bruce 'The Boss' Springsteen. Now remember, no matter how much money he offers, don’t take it!" At any rate, after that evening for the next month or so, I hear emanating from my lovely 14-year-old son's room, day after day, down the hall calling out in a voice that has recently dropped very low: uno, dos, tres, catorce. The correct math for rock and roll. Thank you, boys.

This band has carried their faith in the great inspirational and resurrective of power of rock and roll. It never faltered -- only a little bit. They believed in themselves but more importantly, they believed in you, too. Thank you Bono, Edge, Adam and Larry. Please welcome U2 to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

- Thanks to for the transcription

Here's the speech by guitarist "The Edge";

Edge: I am, in the end, the technology guy of U2. Which really, all it means is I can fix the printer. You turn it on. I don't tell them that.

Above all else what U2 have tried to avoid over the last twenty years is not being completely crap. But next on the list down from that was to avoid being typical and predictable and ordinary. Because it's so very hard to avoid the cliches. Everyone else's of course, but more than that your own. It's hard to keep things fresh and not become a parody of yourself. And if you've ever seen that movie Spinal Tap, you'll know how easy it is. It's a parody of what we all do. The first time I ever saw it, I didn't laugh. I wept. I wept because I recognized so much in so many of those scenes. I don't think I'm alone amongst all of us here in that.

You know, we're all guilty of taking ourselves and our work way too seriously. And we've all gone to hang out in a hotel lobby like we were doing something really important. (Everyone smiles knowingly...) But the reason we're all here tonight is that in spite of all the cliches which do exist, you know, rock and roll, when it is great, it's amazing. It changes your life. It changed our lives. Witness, for instance, tonight. The O'Jays, Percy Sledge, Bo Diddley, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, the Pretenders. I mean, Amazing. Really magic stuff.

People break it down. You can study it all you want but you can't just dial it up. It doesn't work like that. And as far as U2 goes, I've stopped trying to figure out how, or more importantly when our best moments are going to come along. But I think that's why we're still awake. And that's why we're still paying attention. We know in the end, see...we know that it is magic. And so we end up waiting around. Like we all do sometimes. Like actors in some Beckett play, just like they did in that movie, in the lobby, waiting around for some magic to happen. And we've done a lot of that over the years. I have to say...I've done a lot of waiting with Bono, with Adam and Larry and Paul for those moments to come along.

And we've had some great people with us during those times those times. (muffled) Brian Eno, Steve Lillywhite, Danny Lanois, Jimmy Iovine, Nellee Hooper, our great engineers, Principle Management. The team that was talked about. Flood. Our show collaborators -- Willie Williams and all his team. A crew of fantastic people. Joe O'Herlihy. Bucky, Jake, Dallas, Frasier who isn't here, Stuart. Incredible people that we couldn't have come through the last twenty-five years without. And tonight it feels like it's just about half the room has been along with us on that journey. So I just wanted to say thank you to my family for being so patient. My Mom and Dad for showing me how. The rest of the band particularly, and tonight, you know, all of you for this evening and most of all, I guess, for making space for me as we always wait together for something magic to happen. Thank you.

Beautifully put--waiting together for something magic to happen...


Blogger Logic said...

Hey you! I didn't know you were posting again--you need to keep me up on these things :). It's good to see you're back...

7:47 AM  
Blogger alaskanblue4 said...

Nice to see you here--yes, I pop in once in awhile when I'm inspired...obviously happening alot lately! (haw haw) --Derek

5:44 AM  

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