Friday, March 04, 2005

U2: How To

[I encourage the reader to examine the site from whence this article came...see the link below. - jtf]

by Zachry O. Kincaid, director of The Matthew's House Project

A world exists in the warehouses of Amazon for How To guides: how to win friends and influence people, how to talk so kids will listen, how to make love like a porn star, how to cook everything, how to read the Bible, how to succeed with women.

You name the subject and 100,000 bets are on that you'll find what you're looking for. The How To genre is rank with practical advice, which often leaves the quandarying passerby with questions of "Why?" and "How do you fill a book answering that." But, systematically, rhythmically, predictably you turn the pages and arrive at a sustainable, believable conclusion.

If you ever thought of putting a How To book to musical form,U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb probably wouldn't make the list. It's not clear-cut enough.

July 16, 1945, blew up. It marks the first atomic test, the dawnthat could destroy worlds. Set in New Mexico's wilderness, the day boasted a new babel where the sun rose in angry haste, not due to buildings that stretched high, but because the excesses that evaporated everything and made nothing. As history counts, the United States used the Bomb twice only a few weeks after the desert tests. The Bomb became a tool to weed out a Japanese confession. The Japanese, a few hundred thousand less in number, surrendered; the screaming match began - "Just tuck away that little device," someone said. "Tuck it deep inside your coat pocket. Loose it among the change."

Sixty years has past and four of Ireland's finest slap the label How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb across 11 songs. Since metaphor, city blocks long, defines a large measure of U2's voice, a direct correlation to the the Bomb and some 007-type trying to beat the clock may not have entered their heads.

So why this title in a post-911, pre-tsunami, throws-of-Aids time in their career?

From an innocent Boy to a more aware War, "If you walk away, I will follow," is challenged by "trenches dug within our hearts." The melodic Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree move from a country defined as "God's" to the jolting acrobatics of Actung Baby's "nothing makes sense, nothing seems to fit." The consuming tiredness of Pop's Playboy mansion moves on to the provisions of All that We Can't Leave Behind:

You're packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been
A place that has to be believed to be seen...And I know it aches
And your heart it breaks
And you can only take so much
Walk on, walk on...Leave it behindYou've got to leave it behind...
All this you can leave behind.

We arrive at November 22, 2004, with four musicians who have sifted through their assessment of society and culture some 25 years. Now, it's ruptured. Now, it's cause for concern; it's urgent; it's ticking; it's as luminous as atomic bombs.

1997's Pop groans more than their other albums, and since then the groaning has become a nag, like Chekov's happy man plagued with a hammer always ready to beat his head. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is an attempt to pull the band back to citing things like unforgettable fires and a knowledge that's wide awake. Instead of being angry about feeling too much or to little, they seem to share the sentiment of Susan Waltz who began working with Amnesty International 30 years ago. I phoned her recently. "I've seen amazing things," she says, but, "The promise of human rights and the assurance of 'never again' are repeatedly betrayed." The purpose of her actions, she says, resides in the words of Jesus and his call to the least among us. "My motivation is no longer to change the world, but to live out a testimony."

Likewise, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is not about dismantling physical weapons or actual wars or even the social changes that make Bono a megaphone for Africa's pandemic. It's about humility; it's about understanding; it's about internal change.

The album starts with "Vertigo." It sets the context as it beckons "hello, hello," and the dimming lights only give room to kneel. If "Vertigo" leaves the stage off-kilter, "Miracle Drug" flips it completely on its side. It infuses the idea of miracle even though the ground is unstable. "I've had enough of romantic love, I'd give it up... for a miracle drug" because, "beneath the noise, below the din," there's a voice. Humility sets in with the mid-section (as would happen with most 40 somethings) of the album -

- the beyond the grave plea to Bono's dad in "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own,"

- the "lay down" groove of "Love and Peace or Else,"

- the doubtful footing of "One Step Closer" (to knowing),

- the honesty of "A Man and a Woman" and its subtle demand that "you can't be numb for love. The only pain is to feel nothing at all,"

- the un-rock and roll confession that actions matter, that every heart doesn't mend and our testimony matters, and

- the analysis, "Some things you shouldn't get too good at, like smiling, crying and celebrity. Some people got way to much confidence baby."

No doubt boxing Bono and run-around-your-heart Bono will be traded in this tour for a setting even more minimal - not for pure music's sake, but to burn out some of the light bulbs. For, when the lights go down the only thing known is "that you give me something." And as "Vertigo" sets the context, "Yahweh" releases it.

U2 has figured out that it's about a story and grafting yourself into that story. It's no longer about How To. Just as All that You Can't Leave Behind inverted what they really said - you can leave it behind - so also How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb leaves no clear blueprint. Rather, it offers perspective: pain always comes before the gift of life, even as we wait for the dawn with much work to do, there is a story. Life is not as random as the atomic bombs thrown at us suggest. And as all things should end, let's pray:

Yahweh...Take this city
A city should be shining on a hill
Take this cityIf it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take
Take this heart
Take this heart
Take this heart
And make it break

© March 2005
More by Zachry Kincaid >>

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