Bono Must be Stopped
Good grief. I'm reading Tim Tyson’s Blood Done Signed My Name at Dave's suggestion. Bono needs to read it far worse than I do. He should pay special attention to the parts addressing paternalism. And to get a more realistic idea of what "having a row" is. As well as what "paying a price" is all about. As well as...Aw, fuck it. This guy's hopeless.
What Bono does is disempower poor people and empower the worst of the rich ones.
You know, when the Turtles merely played some debutante ball at the Nixon White House because Tricia was a fan, rock fans disowned them (they never had another hit single, and they were in the midst of a string of them).
This is on U2 fans, to my mind, to put a fucking stop to this nonsense, to let Bono know that his preening and grandstanding and letting some lying jackass motherfucker like Bush seem to be compassionate and give-a-shit about AIDS and malaria and Africa has reached the point where it’s simply intolerable. To sit with that man over a meal and NOT bring up Iraq—and you know he didn’t or he’d boast of it, because he’d boast if he’d cut a fart at the table—NOT bring up the people of New Orleans, not bring up anything except that which the Representative of the Poor and Powerless decides are The Issues...this is some ugly shit, man. It’s depraved, in the true sense of the term. I have truly never been so disgusted by the behavior of a rock star.
I probably shouldn't tell anyone but that there was a time when I would actually spend money for a U2 album. After falling asleep with the TV on and waking up to still photos of Bono and Bush my first words this morn were "What the fuck!?" Maybe Bono and Bush were on the roof of the White House tooting up. Or maybe he, Bush, Laura, and Condi had a late night swingers' party. In any event, I am trashing my U2 music. Just gonna throw it in the garbage.
Kevin--I hear ya. It really turns me off on their music, including songs I've dearly loved and been deeply moved by. Even clung to. And I was asked by some great old friends from Saginaw to go with them on Monday to see the band, whom I've never seen in concert. Because I love the friends I'll go, and I don't wanna stiff ‘em on a ticket. But this latest thing with Bush and Bono's Messianic "representative of the all the world's poor & oppressed" is really corrupt. I thought of Bono's "mission" while watching the film The Constant Gardener the other night—how ego-based benevolent intentions actually make things worse, more complicated, putting innocent people in the crosshairs of evil banality even more frequently. From a distance, it truly seems about little more than who he thinks he needs to be.
I am still trying to figure out who appointed Bono "spokesperson for the poor." I listened to the Millions More Movement day Saturday in prep for the radio interviews I have been doing on Katrina, the MMM, race, class and so on. And after listening to the black elite basically frontin', they reinforced my feeling that they were representing their own interests and positions and not the poor and working class. (And a number of folk on the stage and in the crowds are perhaps a paycheck or two away from being poor themselves.)
There are a great many talented artists who produce beautiful work but whose politics and personal behavior is fucked up. I might look at their work, listen to their work, but I won't pay for it. At this point, if Bono were on fire I wouldn't piss on him...well, maybe I would, but I certainly will never buy another CD, tape, or album.
I'm definitely on the “send Bono to sea in a leaky sieve" camp. T.S. Eliot presents an example of what’s wrong with so much of the "art not the artist" position, which often simply assumes that because something's become canonical, it's valuable. For most of Eliot, I agree that his politics make his art problematic (though I'd hold out for Prufrock and Gift of the Magi). But I've been thinking about a more difficult case, which would be John Milton. Politically, Milton makes Eliot look like fucking Che Guevara. He's reprehensible in almost every way. But when I read Paradise Lost, I dream in blank verse for a damn week. There's a power in that language that I can't deny, however much I'd like to. This may be a matter of Milton communicating things he didn't want to. (I think it was Shelley who said that Milton was of the devil's party without knowing it, and I think Phillip Pullman might well agree with that). Maybe he was just a great enough artist in some sense to transcend his own stupidity. Kinda like the best of Neil Young....
I grew up in the South being bombarded with Elvis movies but always hearing the rumor claiming Elvis said the only thing a black man could do for him was shine his shoes or wash his car. True or not, that stuck with me; it's probably what inspired the Public Enemy line "Motherfuck him (Elvis) and John Wayne.” Still, I bet I know the words to pretty near all his songs. My old man even had Elvis on the machine at his juke joint, and my mother still has original Elvis albums. But many of us considered Elvis as a black man in a white man’s body doing what he had to do to get over on the white man. James Brown is viewed in kind of the same way, doing what you have to do to get over. And with James, "Say it loud I'm black and I'm proud" buys a lot of forgiveness. That along with being shot at by the police for whatever reason.
I'm pissed with James because when the police chased him thru Aiken/Augusta, shot up his truck and took his crazy ass to jail, it was the black community and black press in the state that came to his rescue. And after his release, he went back to kissing Republican ass and did and said very little in the way of thanks to those who had his back. But "Say it Loud" goes a long way. Still, James is punished by the black community for his pronouncement of being a Republican. Down here, that's who you are likely to see at his concerts: white, shag-dancing, penny loafer wearing Republicans.
That being said, I don't believe I've ever heard James or Elvis claim to represent the poor.
Bono's failing is that he doesn't understand that there is no progress through begging. This from, Dylan’s “Union Sundown”:
Democracy don't rule the world,
You'd better get that in your head.T
his world is ruled by violence
But I guess that's better left unsaid.
I don't want to overly romanticize the notion, but many of the people on this list and many of the people we admire live (or died) by the credo of "speaking truth to power." Most of us accept the consequences of such. It's not easy. We have lost family, friends, jobs, position, money, identity, etc., because we harddheadedly hold on to that.
I have learned a lot from Dave over the years. I have a book of "Dave-ism." And one quote I use two, three, four times a week: "Fuck manners. Manners are a bourgeois affectation. You don't have to show manners to rude motherfuckers with their foot on your neck. Fuck ‘em!"
Well, if there is someone standing next to one of those rude motherfuckers with his arm around him, I can only conclude that he is giving the bastard leverage to apply more pressure to my neck.
I have been a U2 fan. As I write this and all through the day "Pride (In the Name of Love)" has played in my head. Whenever I hear "early morning April 4, shots rang out in the Memphis sky" it makes me think of Dr. King and where I was the day he was murdered. I was sitting with my mother in her bedroom watching TV and crying. I think the song is beautiful because it makes me think of mother holding me and saying it will be all right. So, for Bono to validate the same group that, were King alive today saying what he was saying April 3rd, the same criminals that when they get the chance will try to kill Hugo Chavez, that left poor people to die on roofs, in attics and in the Middle East... well, a line has been crossed.
Okay, I haven't thrown my U2 away, yet. But sometimes the only vote we have is the dime or dollar in our pockets, and for sure (when I get a dime or a dollar) I won't be voting for Bono's accendancy to misrepresentation of the poor and validation of rude motherfuckers.
Funny thing because where I first parted company with Bono and company (and where he and I first butted heads) was over "Pride." I hated it, and I hate it still.
What does this mean?:
Free at last, they took your life
But they could not take your pride
What kind of overweaning, sanctimonious little amateur-ass parson wrote that simpering idiocy? If you ask ME, when you bleed to death from the bullet, you ain't got anything left to be proud with. And according to Bono's Bible, presuming it's roughly the same as my own, pride goeth before a fall—pride is a SIN.
Right then and there, I knew he was full of crap.
You know that the Elvis thing was totally debunked in 1957 by an article in Jet, right? It's a fantastic article. I don't know if I could lay hands on my copy of it. Some of it may be quoted in Peter Guralnick's first Elvis book.
In that movie about the first PUSH Expo, whatever it's called, there is a truly pathetic scene--as pathetic as anything in The Fog of War--where Rev. Jackson brings Sammy Davis, Jr. onstage, fresh from Sammy's endorsement of
Nixon. And he just gets the hell booed out of him.
I forgive a lot of Elvis and James, I forgive everybody as much as I can in the typical hope of the damned that somebody will forgive them. BUT when the wrong-doing is ongoing, it needs to be stopped. Elvis at least had the good sense to keep his negotiations with the Feds private. James, I think, had been so crushed by the failure of the civil rights movement to provide a real black power base (not to mention his own, er, personal peccadilloes) that he saw black entrepreneurship, a Republican project at that time, as the only solution. I can rationalize that.
I cannot rationalize what Bono is doing, because it involves lying not only about who he represents but about his own success in "getting things done." He hasn't gotten anything done. And part of what that's about, in my view,
is telling his audience that he's taking care of things for them--they don't need to empower themselves, let alone help anybody else empower themselves. And also, as I say, it gives Bush good cover for "caring" about the "issues."
I know what people mean about the reek of these things inside the art. "I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open the Door, I'll Get It Myself)" is James's summation of that reek. I don't know if Elvis has one; for me, the
reek comes on a track like "Hurt," where you realize he's more fucked than any of the people he wanted to rat out. The stench has been rolling out of U2 for some time. But I don't fault people who continue to find U2 appealing--I might fault them aesthetically but not politically. But it is time to draw the line. Otherwise, there is no line and there will be a meaningful diminishment of what this stuff can mean--every time the audience is further divorced from having an impact on content, that much is true.
I’ve been suspicious of U2 since Rattle & Hum, precisely on the point of their Irishness. It’s at this point in their career where Bono begins talking about being Irish, and sometimes talking about Irish politics from the stage (as he does in Rattle & Hum about the IRA bombing in Enniskillen). But he does it through his definition of/appropriation of blackness, and that’s where it went wrong for me. In the film, Bono explores black music like it’s a sampler platter at a buffet or something: a little New Voices of Freedom choir, a little BB King (who is only quoted when he praises Bono: “you mighty young to be writing such heavy lyrics”), a Harlem street musician, a Billie Holiday poster. He refers to himself as a white nigger in interviews. Black music and musicians are finally just tools for self aggrandizement—they don’t require anything of Bono, they allow him to discover his inner blackness. I don’t see any exchange: blackness exists to be consumed.Their Irishness does not get them off the hook on this point: yes, the Irish can claim a kind of blackness both in Ireland and (at least early on) in the US. But the Irish have another, uglier, history with African Americans, too.Now there are moments when the Irish have (re)claimed blackness in more productive (sincere?) ways: the most famous was the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association’s use of symbols and tactics from the U.S. Civil Rights movement. Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, a leader of that movement, claimed blackness and black alliances, but she knew they had to be reciprocal; you can’t just claim blackness to define yourself and in the process ignore the long history of Irish white privilege (or, in Bono’s case, a history of white appropriation of black music). When Devlin visited Irish American groups supportive of her cause in Northern Ireland in ‘69-’70 she unnerved them by talking about race in America. When she was given the key to NYC she gave it to the Black Panthers. She made it clear that if Irish Americans were interested in supporting Catholic emancipation in Northern Ireland, they also must support racial emancipation in the U.S. She tried to make Irish Americans aware of their own race privilege, and to face their own racist past. The Irish can’t get a free pass on claiming blackness—you have to give something back in return.Bono’s meetings with Jesse Helms & Bush, etc. just seem more of the same to me, but worse. Bono has a bigger stage, more respect, more attention, now, and so there are severe consequences.
I suppose I understand the point Craig is making about Milton, and I have to admit that I have been wildly inconsistent about whether or not I condemn the art for the artist or cut it some slack despite the artist.
I think it makes all the difference when you’re living in the same period as the artist. When Pound was doing whatever fascist-backing stuff he did, the question wasn’t whether his poetry was good, the question was if you supported his project and whether talking favorably about his work supported his “right” to support the fascists. Not whether he was an anti-Semite or this or that particular of his fascist sympathies, not whether the Cantos are beautiful. There was a war on.
I don’t care that Bono goes to the White House and sullies the name of rock’n’roll or some bullshit like that. Those days are over. But I do care that a guy whose only platform, whose only credibility comes out of the music and then he goes and not only lies about who he is and who he represents, but specifically attacks those who believe that the criminal he is meeting with should be challenged on his crimes. Who does he think is dying in Iraq? Oil magnates?
The challenge is not to Bono. The challenge is to US, and to U2 fans in particular. Would you deny yourself your favorite music if your favorite music was caught up in something that perpetuated evil-in-action, not just evil in theory?
Here’s a passage from CLR James in State Capitalism and World Revolution (1950, thus roughly contemporary with the notes that became American Civilization). See if this does not capture the Bono ideology completely:
“The Christian Humanists have a systematic political economy. They propose decentralized self-governing corporations of private property with every worker in his place. They have a philosophy of history. They believe in the eternal ambiguities of the human situation and the impossibility of ever attaining human freedom on earth. They have a theory of politics. The natural and ideological elite must rule, the masses must not have absolute sovereignty. Since evil and imperfection are eternal, they say, the alternatives are either limited sovereignty or unmitigated authoritarianism.”