I Can Live With, or Without, U2

Yeah, I said it. I don’t worship at the giant, octopus-like alter of U2. My feeling? They’re OK, I guess. So, while you’re calling the police, allow me to say a few words.

For some reason white people love them some U2 (and casseroles). My wife is white and she loves U2 (and casseroles). But my wife doesn’t like it when people say, “I love me some U2.” She dislikes the, “I love me some [insert whatever]” formula. I can take it or leave it. I can live with, or without it. But Bono, who is everyone’s hero even though he has no last name and wears blue sunglasses at the White House, can’t live with, and –this is key– he cannot live without, you. I, on the other hand, probably can. That’s where Bono and I have one of our very few differences.

I could go decades and not ever think about U2, except everyone keeps bringing them up and acting like you’re a Philistine if you don’t collapse in a frenzy when their music comes on. I will not collapse in a frenzy over U2. Hail Philistia? I mean, for one thing, and I know I already mentioned this, but the dude is wearing blue sunglasses at the White House. I imagine the President or whoever asking Bono, “Hey, why are you wearing blue sunglasses?” and Bono [Jones?] saying, “Well, I love me some blue sunglasses.”

My reaction to U2 is best displayed in the form of a shrug. Not because I dislike them, but because they can’t live up to the hype that surrounds them. They cannot ascend to the zenith where their deification is validated. We’ve all had the experience of hearing about a must-see movie, of having that movie be so built up in our minds by the gushing praise of a friend, only to be disappointed because it couldn’t live up to the praise it had received. For me, U2 exists in that situation. The fanaticism with which the general, casserole-eating public (which was minding its own business, listening to Doc Watson) is pounced upon and emphatically evangelized to the U2 banner is disconcerting. Shruggers are ostracized, like so many shrugging ostriches in a separated pen which is kept away from the cool pen where the cool ostriches think they are a select few with amazing-cool taste where they sip on their Starbucks and don’t seem to realize that almost every single human is in that pen. I say, shrug on people. Don’t give up the Shruggle. Am I alone? Am I a lone shrugger? Shall I create an album called Leonard the Lonely Ostrich? Friendship happens, C.S. Lewis said, when a person says, “You too? I thought I was the only one.” Is there anyone, anyone I say, who will bravely say “you too” to me about U2?

(Note: I am begging you….simply down on my knees imploring you….please, please, please give a vigorous, comprehensive defense of why U2 is so special and, like, totally deserves its godlike el-a-va-tion. Do it!)

Image HT: 22 Words


  1. Any band that can survive for 36 years is pretty impressive. But you’re right: Witless worship of U2 is pretty pitiful. Bono does not change water in wine. My proof? Zooropa.

  2. Sorry, mate. “All You Can’t Leave Behind” got us through our miscarriage when all the Christian artists we knew of had only platitudes.

    But you’re right. U2 is hardly a well-kept secret. I do think something about them conveys better live – or in video. And some of it is the thousands and thousands of people singing in unison at a show. This (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVTKiDbHsPM) gives me chills from the very start, even before the music, every time. It feels like a foretaste of heaven, voices raised in unity, yet it’s of the NOW, because it’s really a *cry* for heaven.

    If it makes you shrug, I feel kind of bad for you, but nobody’s gonna’ argue you into feeling different. It’s too gut-level for that. I’m glad you still have Andrew Peterson & Eric Peters.

    Oh, and also: The Edge? Amazing, favorite guitar player. Adam? Best freakin’ bass player. Like, ever.

  3. Sam, you have to admit that a band which has been together 35 years with all the original members, has not lived in rehab, and has not been judges on American Idol deserves some respect.
    I like U2. I don’t like some of the pretentiousness. I watched Counting Crows on Unplugged decades ago and the introduction to each song went something like “this was a song I wrote which saved the world”. Bono can be like that. Bono also explains himself as sort of an Andy Kaufman and playing a character which only he knows when he is in character. I’ll call that even and let him slide with that. They have found a way to be relevant in each of the four decades they have been together. They wrtie interesting songs. They slip in some Biblical references. They put on great shows. They manage to have private lives and use their public lives for causes they believe in. I may get sick of seeing Bono with his causes but at least he is trying to get money and help for others and not selling car insurance or Chrystler’s. He is being photographed with world leaders and children with AIDS not with anorexic teenage models.
    This is my best defense of U2. I like them, I respect them, but I do not worship them. I buy their music, I paid $275 to see their last tour, and I actually went to see the 3D concert film a few years ago. Stray off the beaten path and listen to 40 from War or Until The End of the World from Achtung Baby and let me know what you think.

  4. Sorry Sam, but we can’t be “One” on this one. U2 “saved” (notice the quotation marks) me from my despair over the CCM scene when I discovered them, and helped me realize you could write mature, complex, spiritual music. And Bono is one of the most genuine rock stars out there in the charitable work he’s doing, so I really admire him for that. He is still crazy and eccentric though. So no, I don’t worship them, but I will always greatly respect and listen to their music.

  5. I think this entire post can be summed up for you with one word: meh. And I’ll second that meh. Just lay off casseroles, I love me some casseroles.

  6. I’ve been a U2 fan for close to three decades now, and frankly I couldn’t imagine life without their songs, but I got a big kick out of this post, Sam. Had coffee exiting my nose at “Bono [Jones?].”

    But there are two problems with the Venn diagram:

    (1) By the law of non-contradiction, there can be no overlap between the “With You” and “Without You” circles; and

    (2) Bono couldn’t live anywhere in the picture — not just the logically impossible overlapping area (the song is not — and as we’ve established above, could not be — “With and Without You”).

    So, to be more accurate, the picture should show two entirely distinct circles, and should have Places Bono Can’t Live as its title.

  7. Bono is almost never seen in public without sunglasses. During a Rolling Stone interview he stated:

    To answer the sunglasses question, “[I have] very sensitive eyes to light. If somebody takes my photograph, I will see the flash for the rest of the day. My right eye swells up. I’ve a blockage there, so that my eyes go red a lot. So it’s part vanity, it’s part privacy and part sensitivity.”

    I had always wondered about it too.

  8. Oh, Sam. U2 was my second favorite concert experience of my whole life (might be first if not for the entirely sloshed people next to me…) so agree to disagree. Thousands of people singing along, as James pointed out, was such a beautiful, chilling thing to witness. And it’s amazing how long they’ve been together and how many other artists they’ve inspired and influenced. I think they deserve mad respect. Bein Irish doesn’t hurt.

    That said… You’re still awesome and this was pretty funny. But I love me some U2. (sorry Gina.)

  9. Sam, I’m not old (or Irish), but I’d have to say I’m also with you on this one. I might say it’s just a matter of taste, but honestly I haven’t listened to enough of their music to confirm that. I do kind of feel like there’s something all too negative about being penned in with a bunch of others who share your indifference about something (and I know C.S. Lewis would have something to say about being different for the sake of being separate). So, if you feel like a free-roaming ostrich that wants a pen to call his home I bet you could find some other band that you would actually love (you some…of?), and that would probably also have all the good things going for them as U2 does, but maybe with a little less universal fandumb.
    “Do you dig where I am coming from?”

  10. I could be wrong, but doesn’t that diagram indicate “I can’t live with AND without you?” Either way, though U2 is lukewarm to me, I do not spit them out. U2 is a store-bought cookie: Not great (like this cookie: http://tinyurl.com/3r53jqz ), but hey, if you offer me one, I’ll probably take it and eat it.

  11. My favorite band, since the day my big brother played his cassette of Under a Blood Red Sky while my family traveled cross-country in a tiny RV and I heard that remarkable telling of “40” from Red Rocks. But I’m not crazy like some, and I do not equate a shrug with Philistinism. (Assuming you won’t mind if I make up an –ism.)

    Here’s my personal defense:

    1. They’re the right level of rock. I have a wide capacity for rock enjoyment, from the Bread ballad to the occasional hair metal. The zenith of my taste is U2.

    2. There are spiritual themes in their music that surprise me and make me think. I believe this is because we’re all so accustomed to the voice of modern CCM, and U2 certainly speak in a different accent, if not a different language altogether.

    3. They’re dependable. It’s stunning that the band has had the same lineup since 1978. I have a Yes box set with a massive “family tree” listing all the band members who have come and gone and come back. Journey has that Steve Perry sound-alike singer that messes with my mind. U2 are the same 4 guys. No one has died, or quit, or sued, or even taken off for a solo career. Few bands could rival their longevity. I suppose Rush is still rocking the same lineup, but then they had that other drummer on the first album. Nonetheless…

    4. They’re not boring. They aren’t afraid to tinker with their sound. By the time the needle got to the end of the second side of The Unforgettable Fire I was baffled, and a little sad. By the 12th listen I was hooked. Listen to Achtung Baby in the context of Joshua Tree. Just as stunning. Sometimes the risks fail, but I think that’s probably good.

    5. They are thoughtful and passionate. Here’s where most bands miss. I don’t want to confuse passion with showmanship. U2 (well, Bono (whose pseudo-last-name is Vox, incidentally (and I did take a picture in front of the Bonavox hearing aid store in Dublin where it’s said he was inspired to adopt his ridiculously pretentious stage name))) has showmanship in spades, to be sure. And that’s great. But the band’s passion, attention to detail, desire to make good music, seems so very genuine for such a high profile group. I like reading novels in which I think the author has given thought and care to crafting every single sentence, and I think the lads in U2 treat their music in the same way. I could name a dozen songs that exemplify this. The father-songs on “Atomic Bomb” are overflowing with craft and passion and emotion. And they’re rock songs!

    6. Man, they have a killer live show. I’ve felt this weird connection with the band and with the whole arena every time I’ve seen them. That’s incredibly hard to pull off, but they seem to do it every night.

    I could list more reasons, but this it too long already! Suffice it to say, each of the above points makes for a good band. Put them all together – all of them – and you’ve got something special.

    P.S.: They’re Irish!

  12. Philistine. In light of your Beatles fandom, I will see your critique of Bono’s sunglasses and raise you one John Lennon “We’re more popular than Jesus.” Plus, I’ll throw in the lyrics to “Imagine.”

  13. No way – Sam smith is a Beatle fan? That’s really funny, ’cause if you read this essay, but replace “U2” with “The Beatles,” you’ll have an almost perfect idea of how I feel about the Beatles.

    Except for “Hey, Jude.” I love me some hey jude. =)

  14. You guys are funny and awesome. This is very tongue-in-cheek and a little cheeky, but my honest reaction to them is I’m impressed from a distance and have never been baptized into the devotees, but I have nothing against them. Like coffee drinkers, I wish them well, can understand their enjoyment, do not feel compelled to join in.

    So, follow your heart, U2 fans. I’m all for you.

    (Maybe I need to employ “lol/jk” in future?)

  15. Two things:

    One, I have never really given their music much attention. I admit they have written some brilliant stuff but a lot of it is just not me.

    What I do like, however, is their heart. Bono and his band have done some great things for humanity in general and he pushes or pulls people in the right direction spiritually.

    But, I’m just not that in to U2. This is the most I have ever said about them. I wasn’t even familiar with your key phrase “love me some.”

    Obviously, I live under a rock.

    Secondly, I loved the post. Humorous, clever, entertaining “and all.”

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