Saturday, October 01, 2011

Killing Bono film review

Killing Bono is a film about fame. Specifically, U2 band fame. It is a movie adaptation of Neil McCormick’s Killing Bono: I Was Bono’s Doppelganger, a book which seeks to paint parallels between his life and that of U2’s Bono.

Both boys attend the same school. Both boys form a band. Everything one band touches turns to gold, as they become the world’s biggest band. Everything the other band touches, turns to failure, lost in the Irish hills as U2 play Croke Park in Ireland.

The film bears little resemblance to the real book ie real life. Or so the author, McCormack would have us believe

each rewrite it became more detached from my life as I remembered it. Characters were compressed. New characters invented. Incidents exaggerated. The story started to take on a logic of its own. By the 14th draft, they had me running around Dublin with a gun, hunting down my old friend.

Cinematically, the movie struggles. It is hard to find much empathy for the main character (Ben Barnes as Neil McCormack), so driven is he by his preoccupation with fame. Which makes the entire project somewhat ironic. Who would buy the book or care about the film without the famous word “Bono” in the title?

Which does, in turn, provide some theological interest. The film is essentially an anti-film, a celebration of failure, of the inability of a person with obvious musical talent to pursue their dreams. In a world awash with celebrity, McCormick finds fame (in the book and through the film), through telling the story of his inability to find fame.

There are some moments of humour. Most rely on band jokes – references to Bono’s height, or recognition of band posters. In sum, while the film Killing Bono might be of interest to U2 fans (of whom there are many), it struggles to rise beyond being a band film, a poor attempt to cash in on the fame of another.

(NB the film includes nudity, violence and drug use).

Posted by steve at 03:34 PM

Sunday, June 26, 2011

more on Exploring U2: the book

Here’s some more information about Exploring U2. Is this rock and roll? book (in which I have a chapter – (“Bullet The Blue Sky” As An Evolving Performance).

Edited by Scott Calhoun and with a foreword by music journalist Anthony DeCurtis, Exploring U2 is a collection of essays examining U2 from perspectives ranging from the personal to the academic and is accessible to curious music fans, students, teachers and scholars alike.

Four sections organize sixteen essays from leading academics, music critics, clergy and fans. From the disciplines of literature, music, philosophy, psychology and theology, essays study U2’s role in developing their listeners’ concepts of personhood and identity; U2′s evolving use of source material in live performances; the layering of vocal effects in some of U2′s signature songs; the crafting of a spiritual community at concerts; U2’s success as a business brand; Bono’s rhetorical presentation of Africa to the Western consumer; and readings of U2’s work for intertexts, spiritual statements, irony, conservatism and hope in space and time.

Official band biographer Neil McCormick presents U2 as a “Dublin-shaped” band, and for the first time in print, Danielle Rhéaume writes on how discovering and returning Bono’s lost briefcase of lyrics for the October album propelled her along her own artistic journey.

This thoughtful and timely collection recognizes U2’s music both as its own art and as commenting on personal journeys and cultural dialogues surrounding contemporary issues. It offers insights and critical assessments that will appeal to scholars and students of popular music and culture studies, those in the fields of theology, philosophy, the performing arts and literature, and all intellectually curious fans of U2.

The book is due for publication with Scarecrow Press (academic reference and professional books publisher owned by University Press of America) in a variety of formats in October/November of this year.

Posted by steve at 04:00 PM

Friday, February 04, 2011

whinging with U2 and Paul Kelly in Auckland

I’m in Auckland later next week, at a research conference exploring the cultural and theological implications of lament. The two day conference (Thursday 10th and Friday 11th) involves discussion of a range of papers on themes including:

  • Spiritual Complaint and Lament
  • Lament in the Global Village
  • Job the Lamenter
  • Lament in Music
  • Lamentation and Liturgy
  • Lament and Penitential Prayer
  • Contemporary Conceptions of Lament

I’m co-presenting a paper with my Old Testament colleague here at Uniting College, Liz Boase. We are bringing contemporary lament into conversation with Biblical lament. Specifically looking at how U2 (responding to the Pike River tragedy) and Paul Kelly (responding to 2009 bushfires in Victoria) “whinge” publicly before God.

I’ll also be catching up with one of the D.Min candidates I supervise, taking another research step in the emerging church 10 years on project and sharing a K1 Shiraz 2008 with good friends.

It should be a busy, yet rich time. (Apart from the humidity – Auckland in early February can be pretty awful)

Posted by steve at 10:54 PM

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Rejoice! U2 are back in town. U2 360 Melbourne concert review

They came with new songs – Return of the Stingray Guitar and Mercy – suggesting a band still enjoying the simple pleasure of being creative.

They came with old, playing songs from 10 of their albums. (There is nothing from Zooropa or Pop, but a fantastic Bono performance of Miss Sarejevo, a reminder of just how wide remains the span of his vocal range). Streets and With or Without You were standouts.

They also came with old songs new. In countless concerts over the last decade, Bono has invited prayer for the release of Aung San Suu Ky. With her recent freedom, U2 have turned to Scarlet, a song from their 1981 album, October. Never before has it been played live in concert. Suddenly the lyrics, “rejoice” become remarkably poignant, with the gathered crowd invited to give thanks for answered prayer.

Despite the songs, the take home memory remains the “claw.” Brilliantly lit, it manages through state of the art video and sound to bring a sense of intimacy to stadium rock. As if Bono needed any help to loom larger than life!

The theme is time, with constant ticking visual reminders, supported by video footage from back in time: U2 archival material from the Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby. It ensures the entire show has an overall theme, that of the invitation to walk on in time.

Not all was perfect. U2 are skilled at employing call and response to generate connection between band and audience. This ensures some remarkable moments – 60,000 Australians singing of Amazing Grace and confessing “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” It also ensures some glitches, with some of Bono’s calls simply too complicated for a corporate sung response.

The opening bracket lacked cohesion. Despite a promising start – “Gidday” in perfect Australian before winding the crowd into Beautiful Day – the opening grouping of songs seemed to stutter. This has been a constant struggle in this 360 tour. (For my review of their Raleigh concert, see here). In Melbourne, Magnificent felt too early, a beat starting to slow before the audience had been effectively gathered.

This lack was overcome by the meditative middle three of Bad, In A Little While and Miss Sarajevo, accentuating the spectacular burst into City of Blinding Lights and Vertigo. Offering the chance to simply rejoice, U2 are back in town.

Posted by steve at 12:09 PM

Friday, November 26, 2010

U2 and public lament for Pike River Miners

U2 played in Auckland last night, Thursday 25 November. (For my review of the US leg of the 360 degree tour, go here). It was also a day of national mourning for the loss of life at the Pike River mine, with flags flying at half mast, with multiple church services and bells tolling in memory. (For more of an overveiw of coverage go here)

What would you do if you were a visitor, being paid (loads of) money to entertain the masses on what turns out to be a day of national mourning?

Well, here is the NZ Herald summary of what they did:

U2’s Bono said the band felt privileged to be here especially at a time when hearts were aching and so raw.

Struggling for the right words to convey his condolences for the people of Greymouth, he said: “People deal with grief in all sorts of ways. In Ireland, we sing”.

Bono then launched into “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”.

The names of the 29 mining victims scrolled across the screen as the band played “One Tree Hill”, a song penned for New Zealander Greg Carroll who was the band’s roadie.

I wasn’t there (my turn Wednesday in Melbourne), and I’d love to hear from those who were at the concert as to how this came across, and what else – visuals, lighting, performance – were added in (You can’t reduce a U2 show to just lyrics and words on a screen).

But some quick comments from the perspective of lament
– Bono’s introduction, with a spare, almost poetic, use of words
– the acknowledgement of multiple ways to grieve
– the link to one’s own tradition “In Ireland, we sign”
– the use of a song to allow people time to breathe
– the naming of names, helping people face reality

U2 and public lament is nothing new. Here is what I wrote in regard to their playing in New York so soon after 9/11. (It is part of a chapter in a book on U2 due for publication next year).

a live concert, and most particularly, a U2 concert, is one of few “public space experience” left in our culture. (Installation Art in the New Millennium: The Empire of the Senses, 29.) This is especially so in relation to the 3rd leg of the Elevation Tour, which was played immediately following 9/11 and the Slane Castle concert. Parra noted: “Before the start of leg three, fans had speculated whether U2 would be playing Bullet the Blue Sky again in post- 9/11 America.” (Parra, U2 Live, 259) Can the world-changing events of 9/11 change a song?

While “Bullet the Blue Sky” did not appear in the first concert at South Bend, Indiana, from then on, “things [were to] return to a more familiar order. Bullet is back in the set, but the images of guns and war are no longer projected on the screens. Instead there are more abstract pictures, distortion and ‘snow’.”(Parra, U2 Live, 259) With specific reference to this notion of “communal memory”, Parra summarized this leg of the tour: “What their audience seem to want right now is a sense of community, of togetherness, which is something the band have always been good at delivering – and has been at the core of the Elevation Tour since its conception.” (Parra, U2 Live, 258) With careful attention to sampling, in this case video sampling, a song can change and a public space can be humanized.

U2 took incredible live performance risks on this leg, Again we see the use of samples – including scrolling the names of those killed in 9/11 on video screens and inviting on stage New York firemen. Again we see the use of visual and theatrical samples in the creation of public space through the humanizing of communal memory.

As the audience remembers and weeps, the band is allowing, as Bono sought in the initial writing of “Bullet the Blue Sky,” a “shouting at God …. Abandonment and displacement … Honesty, even to the point of anger.” (Bono, Selections from the Book of Psalms)

In sum, the use of sampling is essential in allowing a world to change a song. In so doing, a complex range of factors are being negotiated. It is the creative genius of U2 that allows them not just to perform, but to re-perform, and in a way that allows communal memory to be created, a spiritual exchange to occur, as U2 “go for the heart, without preaching.”

Many similarities between the way U2 publicly process lament in the Elevation tour and now in 2010 after the Pike River Mines. The use of names, the taking of risks, the willingness to lament in public space and engage communal memory.

And for folk trying to get their head (and heart) around the linkages between U2, lament and the song One Tree Hill (which was central to last night) here is another excerpt which I wrote last year: (more…)

Posted by steve at 10:13 AM

Saturday, November 20, 2010

I’m a serious scholar :)

I’m a serious scholar. I realised this yesterday as the copyright and contract paperwork arrived for my work on U2 (the evolving live performance of Bullet the Blue Sky). 6,000 words, 66 footnotes due to be published with Scarecrow Press next year.

And I’m checking the mail everyday at the moment, waiting for my authors copy of The Bible in/of Popular culture, with my work on Kiwi cartoon, Brotown.

And this week I’ve had some really encouraging feedback on a 1500 word piece I submitted to Australian Leadership on young adult spirituality, with a focus on comedian John Sarfran and video art in the Blake Prize.

I’m a serious scholar. I study cartoons and comedians and rock stars and video art! My mum and my employer must be so proud 🙂 🙂

Posted by steve at 08:31 AM

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

When non-priests pray: A conversation between Sarah Coakley and Bono

Today I delivered my paper – When non-priests pray: A conversation between Sarah Coakley and Bono Vox regarding incorporative pneumatology and priestly prayer.

In sum I was holding a conversation between the evolving performance of a U2 song, Mysterious Ways, and exploring themes around what it means to talk of the Spirit present at a pop culture event like a rock concert. While Bono is often called prophet, I began to trace some lines by which he might be called priest, not in a captured by church way, but in the sense of a Melchizideck in Genesis or a Balaam in Numbers or the Magi in Matthew, all outside the church yet offering blessing.

The paper stimulated some energetic and thoughtful conversation, so that was encouraging. In fact, the whole 2 day conference has been a delight, with Sarah Coakley a delightfully engaged listener as we talked about her work. The only surprise, for me, was the absence of many Anglicans – Sarah is both an Anglican priest and Systematic Theologian at Cambridge University, UK, and I really thought her presence would have seen them out in droves.

In light of my current interest in Wordle, here is my paper “wordled”.

Update 1: A highlight for me of the conference was the excellent papers by two younger women theologian; both so poised, so respectfully engaged, so clear in their articulation. It was a delight to behold and a real sign, for me, of hope for the church.

Update 2: An excerpt from my paper is posted here – in which I explore how a theology of Spirit allows the Christian to celebrate pop-culture artifacts.

Posted by steve at 04:30 PM

Thursday, June 03, 2010

filing systems and why nothing beats boxes

Today was a triumph for the Taylor filing system! Those who know me well might smirk in disbelief, but please, read on …

You see, I’m working on some research. My (draft) title has been: When Non-Priests Pray: A Conversation between Sarah Coakley and Bono on Incorporative Pneumatology and Priestly Prayer. (It’s for the upcoming Sarah Coakley conference in July). The research involves the usual Taylor mind, the restless/eclectic/lateral flitting between popular culture and Christian faith.

And as I reading the most fascinating compilation of texts on the Holy Spirit, somewhere in the recesses of my mind is a memory of 1994 and doing a University paper on Jesus Christ and that I read something that might be useful.

1994. That’s quite a few years ago. So I go to my old University notes. These have all been lovingly filed in boxes, along with all the courses I’ve taught since then. There are like 50 boxes around my office. But they are labelled and sure enough, under Christology, are my 1994 notes. A quick flick and yep, there is the exact 1994 article I’m looking for. A large shout of triumph echoes down the hallway.

And in another recess of my mind is another memory, a memory of a book I borrowed in 2004 about U2. And it might have relevance and the book is not the Adelaide library. But perhaps I might have photocopied some of that book?

So I go to my filing cabinet. And sure enough, in one of the 8 drawers, under the letter U (for U2)- is that photocopying from 2004! An even larger shout of triumph echoes down the hallway.

The filing system works. Good old cardboard boxes! Good old filing cabinets.

Now some you are still smirking. You have seen my desk. You think this is a one-off fluke. For such among you, may I remind you of another post, another reflection on why my filing system makes me a truly valuable employer.

Hurrah! For

  • cardboard boxes
  • filing cabinets
  • vertical stacks of paper on my desk
Posted by steve at 08:53 PM

Thursday, May 27, 2010

u2 360 downunder early in 2011

I think when he could no longer walk, that he needed to go to the doctor. The Edge here.

In a move akin to Lazarus, within days of Bono having emergency back surgery, rumours are circulating of a downunder U2 360 tour early in 2011.  This is according to U2Chile. To quote

Live Nation has contacted concert promoters on several continents and has blocked out the following as a possible itinerary:

Early February: Japan and South Korea (Asia)
Late February: Australia and New Zealand (Oceania)
March: Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Peru (South America)
April-May: Mexico, USA, Canada (North America)

Having already been financially stung by a U2 postponement, I’m happy to simply being praying Walk on.

Posted by steve at 04:17 PM

Friday, March 19, 2010

u2 chapter accepted for publication

News overnight that my U2 conference paper – Sampling and reframing: the evolving live concert performances of “Bullet the Blue Sky” – has been accepted for publication. Date and publisher still to be clarified, but with over 40 papers being submitted for a book of about 15 chapters, I’m stoked.

It’s also my first foray into the arts and music world outside the church, so the whole process – having the chance to present a paper and now have that accepted for publication, is a pretty big tick in terms of what I do and teach (the paper began life as a casestudy in a lecture in my Living the text in a postmodern context.”

Here is the “abstract”:

“Bullet the Blue Sky” is the fourth track on U2’s 1987 album, The Joshua Tree. The song was originally written as a commentary on a highly particularized context, the involvement of the United States military in Central America during the 1980’s. Over time, this highly particularized political context has changed, yet the song has continued to be performed by U2.

Using commercially available concert footage, this chapter will explore the changes and development in the song’s performance, over a twenty year period, with a particular focus on concerts in Paris (1987), Slane Castle (2001) and Chicago (2005).

Following one song over an extended period allows an exploration of how a band can reframe and re-perform their music as the context and culture shifts. (Hint, hint, what churches are seeking to do every Sunday in relation to Bible and church tradition! Ed)

The theoretical frameworks of narrative mapping and analyzing popular culture using the metaphor of sampling will be employed. Narrative mapping allows complex data to be analyzed in real time, as it unfolds, while sampling involves the collage-like re-appropriating of already existing elements in the pursuit of creativity.

Naming these samples, including song snippets, video and theatrical performances, and how they work in relationship to the audience, demonstrates a complex renegotiation of the meaning of “Bullet the Blue Sky” and shows how “sampling” a song might address new contextual and political issues. The application of installation art theory offers insights into the public negotiation of communal memory and provides another window by which to appreciate U2’s live concert performances. (Hint, hint, creativity in the context of gathered worship! Ed)

Posted by steve at 08:40 AM

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

an advent blessing: some great u2 theology

Following posts on Advent creative prayers stations and Advent creative spirituality2go home prayer activities, here’s an Advent blessing I’m pondering.

It’s not mine. It’s from Bono. At the end of City of Blinding lights, live streamed on the internet from Los Angeles, he ad libbed a new ending:

Blessings, not just for the ones who kneel
Luckily, luckily
We don’t believe in luck.
Grace abounds.
Grace abounds.

Seems to me to be great theology and particularly suitable for Advent. It was so easy for Israel to think they were the centre of God’s world. And so easy for the church and Christians to think today they are the centre of God’s world. But as we are reminded in Psalm 67: 1-2
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us,
that your ways may be known on earth, 
your salvation among all nations.

God’s face shines most fully both on Jesus, and in Jesus. A message not just for the lucky ones, but for all upon whom God’s grace abounds.

Posted by steve at 05:03 PM