Bono defends U2's "Streets"

There isn’t a strong religion-news hook to this next item from the Chicago Tribune, unless one assumes that any story involving U2 and Bono has a neo-messianic theme in there somewhere between the lines.

Or maybe religion really does have something to do with this unusual in-print encounter between the U2 frontman and music critic Greg Kot, which ran online with the headline “Bono: ‘We need to talk.’” The Tribune page for the Q&A has several interesting links to previous stories that let you know where this all came from.

Suffice it to say, Kot thinks U2 has gone stale and old-fashioned, during the current hot-ticket tour. The band is performing too many of its classics, he thinks. On top of that, he is upset about U2′s “Vertigo” ad — done for no pay — on behalf of the iPod universe.

Just to get specific about things, Kot wants to know why U2 is so fond of songs like that old-fashioned, non-ironic, hyper-sincere chestnut, “Where the Streets Have No Name.” What’s up with that?

Bono was rather ticked off and called Kot up, requesting a heart-to-heart on the record. That’s the source of the Tribune update. They cover all kinds of ground, but the many U2 fans-of-faith will be especially interested in what Mr. Sunglasses has to say in defense of that old “Streets” song.

It seems that it does play a crucial role in the band’s inner world. A certain place is going to freeze over before this particular justice-hungry glimpse of a New Jerusalem shows up in an ad.

We have turned down enormous sums of money to put our songs in a commercial, where we felt, to your point, where it might change the way people appreciated the song. We were offered $23 million for just the music to “Where the Streets Have No Name.” We thought we could do a lot of good with that money. Give it away. But if a show is a little off, and there’s a hole, that’s the one song we can guarantee that God will walk through the room as soon as we play it. So the idea that when we played it, people would go, “That’s the ‘such-and-such’ commercial,” we couldn’t live with it.

All in all, it is a very interesting exchange for music fans and especially for those who have followed U2 for a long time. I do get the impression that the music critic isn’t all that fond of the Catholic-Presbyterian fusion side of the band. Kot wants more Zoo TV-style experimentation. The U2 base still wants three chords and the truth.

But forget U2 for a minute. Three cheers to Bono and Kot for even having this conversation and then putting it into print. There are many, many religion-related stories that I wish could receive this kind of follow-up attention in a major MSM outlet — printed on dead tree pulp or online in bytes. More!

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Beth

    It’s also interesting to me that this anecdote about the $23 million car ad offer for “Streets,” which Bono has been telling in interviews for a couple years, finally caught people’s interest with this particular conversation and is all over the media now as an independent little celebrity feature on something that’s just been “revealed.” I suppose it’s because of that IPod-related “accusations of sell-out” angle?

    For those looking for additional religion content in the “Streets” story, it’s kind of a pity Bono didn’t go on with Kot, as he sometimes has, to explain why U2 ruled out the option of taking the money but publicly pledging to donate it all: if you “tell people you’re giving it away then, by our definition, it is no longer charity, in the sense that the right hand shouldn’t know what the left hand is doing.” Not very ZooTV that, either, though…

  • Q

    I appreciate Bono’s willingness to wear his Christianity on his sleeve, so to speak. And he’s not shoving a particular kind of Christianity down anyone’s throat.

    I’m particularly fond of the message of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. Instead of saying that he’s reached the pinnacle, he’s got it all figured out, life is one Happy Day after another — there he is, telling it like it is. Yeah, I’m a believer, but there’s still an unfulfilled longing in my heart.

    It takes balls to sing that, I think.

  • Wooderson

    OK, see, I’m not a hater: I like U2 just fine. Good songs. Edge is cool. Interesting stage act. The guitar that opens “Streets”. Bono hugs Jesse Helms. Great.

    But I mean, really, how much is the Christian adulation of Bono just projection? Why is the assumption that U2 are a bunch of Christians comfortable in a pagan world rather than a bunch of pagans who don’t mind slinging Christianeze around every once in a while?

    Of course, I’m a Canadian, and its tough to give Bono a pat on the back for his endorsement of a man whose government has gone out of its way to alienate and isolate conservative Christians.

  • Mark D.

    If that’s a serious question and not just a drive-by, a good place to start would be Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas, which should be front and center in any big bookstore. He speaks at length, and more candidly than anywhere else, about how his engagement with the Gospel shapes his life and work – this under close, even severe, questioning from an acute non-believer.

    There is good reason to believe the same is true of the rest of the band as well.

  • peggy

    Well, I am glad that I may never hear this song in a commercial. I say may not because there was a time when I couldn’t imagine U2 selling any of their songs for a commercial. But this isn’t the whole story as U2′s songs are used in many contexts which are commercial including to my everlasting heartbreak Pride in the Name of Love which turned me on to the band in the first place. I have heard Pride, With or Without You and other songs in the U2 canon used as incidental music for the egregious Entertainment tonight years ago and I will never ever get over hearing Beautiful Day, a song so full of meaning for me that I could never fully express it, used as John Kerry’s theme song in the last election. It should never have been so cheapened by such a cheap candidate nonetheless. I try not to think about it when I listen to the song but the damage has been done.

    I still like U2. I still love their songs but I have lost some cherished illusions about them in the past several years.

  • Chris Willman

    Too bad U2 DID just license “All Because of You”–a song that’s clearly about God–for a new commercial for… HBO’s “Entourage”?

    I suddenly find myself more on Greg Kot’s side.

  • Beth

    I agree with Peggy — I’ve long wished the ASCAP/BMI “blanket license” copyright provision were less liberal for those kinds of TV usages so that people would have to ask permission of the composers. I really dislike hearing songs that mean a lot to me used on ET or the NFL. (Or by John Kerry, who didn’t get permission either.)

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