Friday, March 18, 2016
“says Taylor, establishing a fascinating “fixity” to how we recollect what U2 has done”
A very thorough review of U2: Above, Across, and Beyond—Interdisciplinary Assessments, edited by Scott Calhoun, has recently appeared in the Cleveland Examiner. “This is heady stuff written by individuals who’ve given serious thought to U2’s “missteps, disappointments, failures…and ordinary problems.” …. As is the norm with a Lexington publication, Above, Across is … a college-worthy appreciation of its subject.” High praise indeed.
In terms of my chapter, “Transmitting Memories” there is an extended, positive, engagement.
Flinders University senior lecturer Steve Taylor sifts through Bono’s in-concert “lyrical departures” from the recorded versions of key tracks to arrive at an understanding of how the band memorializes people, places, and events during performances—thereby manufacturing unique new moments for the ticketholders in attendance. Spring-boarding from his discovery of a shout-out to the thirteen-years-dead Frank Sinatra in a live version of “Until the End of the World,” Taylor comments upon Bono’s many mentions of past concerts, prior locations…and dead people (Eunice Shriver, Greg Carroll, buried miners in New Zealand) from the stage, and how these seemingly unscripted one-liners establish both an oral history of the band and a “collective memory” for concert audiences.
“What would motivate such changes?” Taylor ponders.
Calendrical repetition, verbal repetition, and gestural repetition conspire upon U2’s gargantuan stages, weaving a ritualistic tapestry the band tosses over audiences like a playful papa blinding a laughing toddler with her “woobie.” There’s more than meets the eye when Bono waves at Larry behind the drums, thrusts a finger in the air, or points his microphone at fans in the front row. These are “concert-rical” connections that make each show special and enhance the universal appeal of each tour after the fact.
Remember Bono’s white flag at Red Rocks (Under a Blood Red Sky), or how he danced with a girl from the audience at Live Aid? These small, spontaneous gestures mean a lot in the long run, says Taylor, establishing a fascinating “fixity” to how we recollect what the band has done.”
For the full review, by Pete Roche, in the Cleveland Examiner, go here. For a summary of my next U2 chapter – She moves in mysterious ways: a theology of “sexy music” – check out here. For the book, in paperback, check out is here.
Saturday, March 05, 2016
Acceptance Notice Mysterious Ways: U2 And Religion
I was delighted to hear today that my proposed chapter for a book on U2 and Religion has been accepted. The book, titled Mysterious Ways, is to be published by Bloomsbury Press, sometime in 2017. My chapter will pick up on some work I did in 2010, around Sarah Coakley, pneumatology and U2. It is good to have a chance to revisit the work and to be able to position it slightly differently by focusing directly on Mysterious Ways. Here is what the chapter will explore:
She moves in mysterious ways: a theology of “sexy music”
Dr Steve Taylor
This chapter argues that U2’s live performances of “Mysterious ways” offer an ecstatic, sonic and participative theology. The song, described by Bono as “sexy music,” has gained critical and popular acclaim.
Performed live 584 times, “Mysterious ways” has gone through three distinct live phases. The first involved an on-stage belly dancer, moving always out of reach of Bono’s stretching fingertips. The second involved a female member of the audience joining Bono live on stage to dance. The third involved a re-worked conclusion. The lyrics “She moves, We move, s/Spirit teach me” were sung as Bono extended his arms upward and outward. Simultaneously the lighting, until then tightly focused on the band, rolled outward over the audience. Together these three phases – performer on stage, the audience member as performer on stage, the audience as performer – become an incorporative, participative and sonic theology.
This conclusion is reached by bringing the performances of “Mysterious ways” into conversation with British theologian, Sarah Coakley, who calls for an understanding of God’s Holy Spirit as gendered, sexualised and ecstatic. She argues from Romans 8:22-27 that God is experienced only through a profound entanglement with the ecstasies of human sexual desire. For Coakley, feminine metaphors (birth pains) and the mysterious ways of the non-rational realm (wordless groans) describe divine participation. Coakley’s theology gives words to the performative phrases of “Mysterious ways,” making sense of a theology of “sexy music,” in which the audience is invited to “move with” the dancing s/Spirit.
Three points of departure are important. Regarding performance, if Bono is inviting the audience to “move with” it, how does an incorporative, participative pneumatology honour the individual in the concert experience? Coakley helps by calling attention to the Spirit’s ceaseless “moves” irrespective of human participation. This complicates and enriches all three of Bono’s performative modes.
Regarding theology, Coakley commends prayer as silent contemplation. U2 provide a stark contrast, offering rock, specifically the Edges’ chiming bar chords, played through an effects unit. U2’s approach provides another way to understand “wordless groans,” as a sound scape. This reading would complicate and enrich Coakley’s understanding of the ecstatic.
This line of enquiry can be developed using the work of Endrinal (2012) who has analysed the introduction by U2 in Achtung Baby of multiregister vocal layering to provide a rich sonic signature. This can be helpfully set alongside evidence of the growing influence on U2 of North African and African-American musical traditions. “Sexy music” is thus communicated sonically, as well as through performance and theology.
Hence bringing “Mysterious Ways” into conversation with Coakley provides a theology of “sexy music” in U2. The Spirit moves in a soundscape that is ecstatic, sonic and participative. This provides a different place to locate the mystery of religious experience, in the beat and bass of a rock concert.
Dr Steve Taylor,
Senior Lecturer, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia.
This will be my sixth publication in the area of U2 in the last five years:
- Taylor, S. (2015). Transmitting Memories: U2′s Rituals for Creating Communal History. In Scott Calhoun, ed. U2 Above, Across, and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Assessments. Lanham, Maryland, USA: Lexington Books, pp. 105-121.
- Taylor, S. (2013). Baptist Worship and Contemporary Culture: A New Zealand Case Study. In David Bebbington and Martin Sutherland, ed. Interface: Baptists and Others. Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, pp. 292-307.
- Boase, E.C. and Taylor, S. (2013). Public Lament. In MJ Bier and T Bulkeley, ed. Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament. Eugene, USA: Pickwick Publishers, pp. 205-227.
- Taylor, S. (2012). U2. In RK Johnston, C Detweiler and B Taylor, ed. Don’t Stop Believin’: Pop Culture and Religion from Ben-Hur to Zombies. Louisville, USA: Westminster John Knox Press, pp. 125-126.
- Taylor, S. (2012). “Bullet the Blue Sky” as an Evolving Performance. In Scott Calhoun, ed. Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2 Plymouth, UK: Scarecrow Press, pp. 84-97
Which is a somewhat unexpected (“mysterious” even) move in my writing. However I do enjoy the opportunity to think theologically, particularly through the lens of lament and liturgy, so I’m delighted to participate in this project.
Friday, May 22, 2015
the ever evolving bullet blue sky: U2′s innocence and experience
The U2 innocence and experience tour began last weekend in Vancouver. It included Bullet the Blue Sky, a song which had disappeared from the U2 360 tour.
This is fascinating given I have previously written about how Bullet the Blue Sky as a song has evolved over time. In “Bullet the Blue Sky” as an Evolving performance (in Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2) I focus on a number of evolutions.
- “See the Sky ripped open” describes the origin of the song, back in 1986. Bono asks the Edge to put the conflict in Nicaragua and El Salvador through his amplifier. They stuck pictures around the studio and the song emerged, as a contemporary psalm of lament.
- “And I can see those fighter planes appears” on the Elevation tour, in Dublin, in 2001. It evolves from a psalm of lament to a moment of confession. A spotlight shines upward, searching for fighter planes, then focuses on both the crowd and Bono. Graphics note the worlds five biggest arms traders – USA, UK, France, China, Russia – which are then linked to the IRA and the British army. What was a song focused on American influence in Central America is now focused on all countries that traffic in bullets that rip on the skies of Ireland.
- “Outside it’s America,” occurs in Chicago in 2005. A number of song samples (Jonny Comes Marching Home, Gangs of New York) are used. Bono adopts a number of theatrical postures, that reference prisoners blindfolded in the Iraqi war, while a fighter jet is projected behind him. This is followed by a prayer “for all the brave men and women of the United States.” It feels like a prayer of intercession, in which the impact of the war in Iraq is considered.
I then use theory of installation art to understand this evolving performance. I note the use of samples (song snippets, visuals, performance posture) and how these create connections and awaken communal memory. The work of De Oliveria, Oxley and Petry (Installation Art in the New Millennium: The Empire of the Senses) is a rich resource. They talk about the creation of an experiential space which allows “a viewing of the self contemplating the external world.”
I apply this to the evolving performance of Bullet
The self can lament at the external world at Paris; the self can confess at Slane Castle and the self can both confess and petition in Chicago. U2′s use of sampling crafts an experience that allows introspection with regard to how one should act in the relation to the wider world.” (Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2, 94).
The reappearance of Bullet in the new U2 Innocence and experience tour is thus yet another, quite distinctive, evolution. The lyrics undergo a dramatic change, with new verses written to reference not the conflict in Central America but talks in Davos and the use of cell phones. There is a song sample, which needs further discussion. What is most intriguing is what seems to be an interplay during the performance of Bullet between young Bono (19) and Bono (now). He seems to be “patting himself” down. The adolescent is engaging with the rock star, including the rock star so mocked for his social justice activism (including going to Davos).
This adds another whole dimension of “a viewing of the self.” It is a contemplating of the self in the external world, when young, and now middle-aged. This is perhaps what is at the heart of the innocence and experience tour, a self looking back. This introspection can allow a contemplation of what has become. Whether this is lament, confession or intercession depends on the actions of the self.
Importantly, having reflected, having “patted oneself down”, one is now freed to consider not only what one has become, but what one is becoming.
Friday, December 19, 2014
U2 above across beyond: great cover and out
Fabulous cover for just released U2 Above, Across, and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Assessments
It emerges from the 2013 U2 Conference, held in collaboration with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. One of the chapters is mine, “Transmitting Memories: U2’s Rituals for Creating Communal History.” It is one of eight, that explore from the disciplines of organizational communication, music theory, literary studies, religion, and cultural studies ways U2’s dynamic of change has been a constant theme throughout its career.
Here’s the book blurb:
U2’s success and significance are due, in large part, to finding inventive, creative solutions for overcoming obstacles and moving past conventional boundaries. As it has embraced change and transformation over and over again, its fans and critics have come to value and expect this element of U2.
Thanks to the editing and publishing skills of Scott Calhoun, who directs the U2 Conference, is curator for the U2: Made in Dublin exhibit, and is professor of writing and literature at Cedarville University.
If you order directly from the publisher with this discount code — LEX30AUTH15 — you’ll save 30% off the list price. This code is free for the sharing.
Here’s the table of contents:
Introduction: U2 TRANS- Scott Calhoun
1. Collaborative Transactions: Making Sense (Again) for U2’s Achtung Baby, Christopher Wales
2. Transvaluing Adam Clayton: Why the Bass Matters in U2’s Music, Brian F. Wright
3. Translating Genres: U2’s Embrace of Electronic Dance Music in the 1990s, Ed Montano
4. A Transcendent Desire: In Defense of U2’s Irishness, Arlan Elizabeth Hess
5. A Transmedia Storyworld: The Edge Is One, But Not The Same, Fred Johnson
6. Transgressive Theology: The Sacred and the Profane at U2’s PopMart, Theodore Louis Trost
7. Transmitting Memories: U2’s Rituals for Creating Communal History, Steve Taylor
8. The Transformative Fan: The Bricolage of U2 Live, Matthew J. Hamilton
Sunday, September 21, 2014
It’s been an intense few days. We landed at Tel Aviv on Thursday and have spent the last few days exploring Bethlehem, dipping our toes in the River Jordan, visiting Orthodox monasteries and walking Qumran.
In between has been the inevitable exposure to the deeply riven conflicts that shape this land. Passing police checkpoints and refugee camps, walking the Separation Wall, reading the experiences of Palestines, recorded on the wall as part of an oral museum project.
In trying to process the experiences, I’ve found “Cedars Of Lebanon” by U2 to be helpful.
First, the complexity, perhaps impossibility of understanding, “Squeezing complicated lives into a simple headline.”
Second, the whiff of hope “This shitty world sometimes produces a rose. The scent of it lingers and then it just goes”
Oddly poignant, given my becoming aware of the Rose of Sharon a few months ago, only to see them for sale today near Jericho. They are a plant that remains dry and dessicated for years. It looks dead. But just add water, and wow. What is dead springs to life, flowers, seeds, then prepares for drought once again. An extraordinary symbol of hope.
Third, the one to one human reactions; “Soldier brings oranges he got out from a tank.” That every encounter between “nations” in conflict is in fact a one to one moment between humans.
Fourth, the final verse. It is pure Bono genius, so let me quote the entire verse
Choose your enemies carefully ’cause they will define you
Make them interesting ’cause in some ways they will mind you
They’re not there in the beginning but when your story ends
Gonna last with you longer than your friends
It’s brilliantly lyrically, the repetition of “c” in line one; the contrast between “beginning” and “end” in line three; the juxtaposing of “enemies” in the first line with “friends” in the last. It’s great poetry. (It’s also superb musically, the significance of this verse highlighted by the delicate edge “hammer on.”)
It’s also deeply Christian. Love your enemies is a concept unique to Christianity. It is a radical approach to conflict, a refusal to let the victor-victim narratives define those who participate. Instead, the inversion of power, the gift given to all participants, to chose how they respond, not in the best of times, but in the worst of times.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
colours of creation
I believe in the Kingdom Come,
Then all the colours will bleed into one
It’s a line from U2, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking. It’s in stark contrast to some of what I observed today, and have been experiencing over recent months.
Today, the Spice Market in Istanbul. Such richness of colour in the world of spice, so linked to taste, in the food we eat.
In June, in Sydney, an art installation in the main foyer. It included a fan, gently blowing, that allowed the colours to move, touched by the wind. So soon after Pentecost, it seemed a wonderful expression of Pentecost, the wind of God’s Spirit that does not bring uniformity. Instead, as each heard in their own language, it brings individuality, affirms culture, encourages diversity, insists on contextualisation.
Over Christmas, a bead shop in Christchurch. Again, such richness of colour. This time, so linked to play, the creative act that is bead making. So close to Christmas, an expression of the act of creation, in which God lavishes not mono-cultures, but the enormous diversity of creation.
Me things, U2 that you’ve got you’re theology wrong. The colours of the Kingdom are not bleeding into one, but into the rainbow of God’s purposes.
We live in such a rich world. Bring on the colours of creation in all the tables of humanity
Monday, October 28, 2013
Spiritual Complaint: the theology and practice of lament
A new book just out – Spiritual Complaint, edited by Miriam J. Bier and Tim Bulkeley, in which I’ve got a chapter.
The book begins in human experience, the recognition that personal and communal tragedies provoke intense emotion. It recognises that in Scripture such emotions were given expression in complaints or laments. Bringing together biblical scholars, liturgists and practical theologians, this book begins to provide a bridge between these worlds in order to enrich our ability to respond appropriately to personal and communal tragedy and to understand these responses.
The writing of the book was a move toward genuine collaboration. Papers were presented in a context designed to encourage fertilisation and thus final drafts were encouraged to engage with the other contributors. It was an attempt at bridge building. Further, many of the writers had connections to the Christchurch earthquakes and thus the book becomes grounded in that reality, including liturgies of lament written for Christchurch (167-169).
There are 15 chapters – 8 explore Biblical texts, 2 explore worship practices and 5 explore lament in contemporary cultures – Maori lament, lament poetry of Burmese Karen refugees, lament in digital cultures, lament in pilgrimage through Israel, lament in rock concerts. The last chapter is mine, co-authored with my Old Testament colleague, Liz Boase, in which we explore the live performances of U2 after the Pike River Mining disaster and Paul Kelly after the Black Saturday Bushfire tragedy. We use the Old Testament genre of lament to analyse these performances and argue that culturally lament still happens, just outside the church. Here’s our conclusion (227):
A consideration of both the history of the performers – U2’s past use of songs as memorial or lament works, and Kelly’s frequent use of biblical allusions within his music – alongside the production commentary of the U2 concert, suggests that there was some intentionality in the creation of these lament contexts. In both cases, the lyrical wording and allusions introduced a markedly “Christian” expression of eschatological hope which potentially provided the language through which new beginnings might be made. These public laments may not resemble the typical biblical lament forms, but they do form a vehicle for the communal expression of suffering and grief.
I think it’s an excellent resource, an example of inter-disciplinary research that connects with everyday reality. What it needs is a number of companion volumes, in which the liturgies are tested, pastorally, and in which further voices are added to this particular human experience project.
Tuesday, July 02, 2013
born to sing: finding joy in U2′s pilgrimage
The Jesus Deck card for me today, drawn randomly from the deck, is 9, Luke. The text is “My soul magnifies the Lord.” The main character is Mary.
She is barefoot. She stands on a road, that loops, turns and seems ready to carry her forward. Her hands clutch her purple clothes close. She seems paused, ready to walk, ready to adventure.
It is a call to pilgrimage. It is pilgrimage, suffused with joy, for she us clothed so beautifully. From her head bursts stars, from her mouth bursts words that magnify. It is a wholebodied venture – feet to walk, mouth to sing, soul to respond.
It reminds me of the words from U2′s Magnificent – “I was born to sing for you” – The Falke Radio mix, from Artificial Horizon is the best, a dance mix that captures so much of the joy in the song. It’s aided by the rhythm of the beat, the regularity and pace of breathing.
I struggle with much religious music. But U2′s “I was born to sing for you” invites me to walk with Mary, to go on the journey of pilgrimage.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
I’m in the Flinders Research Spotlight
Flinders Institute for Research in the Humanities have a monthly publication, in which they focus on research achievements. My recent U2 academic conference involvement is currently “top of the fold.”
The words ‘U2′ and ‘academic’ seldom occur in the same sentence. Rock music is often considered adolescent and entertainment. So how can it be academic?
Dr Jason Hanley (Ph.D. in Musicology) has helpfully observed that rock and roll is a cultural artifact. When researched, it becomes a way of learning about ourselves and our world.
It is this potential of music to help us to begin looking at ourselves in the mirror (to appropriate Michael Jackson), that led Dr Steve Taylor from the Flinders University Department of Theology to present a research paper at the second U2 Conference (April 25-28, 2013) in Cleveland, Ohio.
Dr Taylor’s paper utilised the work of sociologist, Paul Connerton, to analyse the live concert performances of the recent U2 360 tour.
For Dr Taylor, participation in the U2 Conference breaks down the perception of the university as “ivory tower.” It also brings a necessary inter-disciplinary perspective to the work of theology, helping it to reconceive its relationship with popular culture. … full article plus picture here
Sunday, May 05, 2013
original of the species
for my kids
One of the optional events at the U2 conference in Cleveland included a discussion of U2′s music by Rev Kurt Wiesner, an Episcopal priest and U2 fan. He took a reader response approach, that a song can mean more than it’s original, authorial intent. On that basis he showed the video, noted that it was written by Bono for the daughter of a friend. He then asked a number of questions that generated a rich discussion. These included a key phrase, what might the song be saying about growing up, what if the voice of the singer was God talking to us?
Wednesday, May 01, 2013
Pop culture, Steve Averill, U2 and the Incarnation
Steve Averill, Senior Art Director at AMP Visual, was one of the keynote speakers at the recent U2 conference. He was introduced as speaking on what it means to turn sound into a vision. It was an important statement, a reminder that music is so much more than sound.
Steve Averill has designed nearly all of U2′s album covers. Many have won industry awards. He structured his talk around album covers, working his way through the U2 album sleeves he has designed. As he discussed colours, font styles, images and influences, you became aware of how much thought, care and imagination go into what we hold, the CD cover, what we wear, the concert T-shirt, what we see, the branding on the U2 publicity.
He noted the quirky eccentricities of the covers – that Bono wanted Bible verses on the cover of All you can’t leave behind, and so they added them in via the airport gate signs, that the picture used on No line on the Horizon was by artist Hiroshi Sugimoto. He was not willing for their to be any branding on his art. The solution was to etch branding onto the plastic CD sleeve.
He showed us the album covers that were influential, the album sleeves the band own, they listen to, they like – The Ramones, The Beatles.
Dr Jason Hanley, who holds a Ph.D. in Musicology, introduced and interviewed Steve Averill. He began by noting that rock and roll is a material culture. When you look at it, when you research it, when discuss it, you are learning about yourself, about your world, about your culture.
This should make sense to Christian theologians. The Incarnation, God coming in human body, is an honouring of the human body, of the senses, of what we see, feel and touch. Pop culture should thus be an easy and obvious area of theological research, both as an exercise in Incarnation, and as a way of helping us see ourselves, our culture, our world.
Monday, April 29, 2013
Head and heart: a U2 conference review
I will remember this U2 conference for the way it brought together both head and heart.
It began for me with Natalie Baker’s fan film and the stories from fans of how U2′s music helped them avoid suicide and assist their healing from childhood sex abuse. Suddenly U2 was more than entertainment and the conference more than academic. It was inviting us into deep places.
It quickly went deeper, with Bill Carter sharing about his engagement with U2 in the Zooropa tour. His stories, of persuading Serbians to drive past sniper alley in order to share, via ZooTv, their story of living through the bombing of their city, took us even deeper, into the humanity that can emerge amongst inhumanity.
Finally, the presentation by Steve Averill was a further reminder that music is so much more than music. His sharing about the development of U2′s albums documented the visual and tactile side of music – the album and CD cover, the merchandising. It was a reminder that music is about communication, the colours and photos carefully selected to try and capture the essence of the music.
There were more many other highlights but for me, I will remember the head and heart being invited to be whole bodied.
Perhaps it was the jet lag. Flying overseas is always a disorientating experience, so perhaps the way my body responded was to seek another heartbeat.
Perhaps it was the venue, more compact, which encouraged more interaction and engagement.
But I suspect there was more going on, an important corrective for the work “academic”, which can easily hide behind footnote and theory, and in doing, so walk past the beating heart and whole body.
Thanks to all those who made the head and heart possible, especially the Calhoun’s.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
Let us in the sound. My U2 conference paper
Some really positive, engaged, thoughtful response to my U2 conference paper this morning.
My argument is that U2 concerts act as corporate memory makers. I used as a theoretical conversation partner Paul Connerton’s How Societies Remember, (whom I blogged about in another context here). He suggests three categories, calendar repetition, verbal repetition, gestural repetition. I applied these to the U360 under three headings
- Concert-rical repetition, an adaptation of Connerton
- Verbal repetition, in which I looked at the different between album lyrics and live performance, using the U22 album. This data generated a corporate memory making around remembering the local, remembering the concert history and remembering people past.
- Gestural repetition, in which I looked at Bono’s gestures, drawing on photos of live performance in From the Ground Up, the official photobook of the U2 360 tour.
All of which seemed to generate, as I said, some really rich conversation. So it looks like it has the legs to turn into a publication, either in Journal of Religion and Popular Culture or in the book that is intended from this conference, and which will accompany Exploring U2, the book that emerged from the first conference.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
Let me in the sound of U2 conference
The last few days of my sabbatical and I’m heading Stateside, to attend the U2 conference.
I’ll collect my T-shirt.
I’ll present my paper – on which there has been quite some to-ing and fro-ing. It has taken a bit of detour as I wrote it, and is now focused on how U2 act as corporate memory makers, through analysis of U2′s live performance, including Bono’s physical performance gestures.
I’ll check out the conference and enjoy the input including Steve Averill, U2′s designer and Bill Carter, the journalist who provided U2′s links with Sarajevo during the dark days of the Bosnian war, plus the other academic papers.
And I’ll return, flying back Sunday. A very short trip stateside.
The last U2 conference (which was the first and also had a T-shirt!), was a whole lot of fun, so expecting the same.