MOMENTOUS MONDAYS: INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS OF ALL TIME – WEEK 11: U2

U2 need no explanation or even introduction as to why they are included on my own 100 influential artists list. Or rather, they need no explanation as to why they should be included on any influential artist list- because, to be frank; this Irish band is one that everyone can unanimously agree upon, and quite deservingly so! For Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr and Adam Clayton are U2,  formed in the late 1970s, and are still active today. In fact, dare I say that this band is by far one of history’s most influential rock bands…ever? Like Michael Jackson was to pop, and Backstreet Boys was to boy bands, like Whitney Houston was to powerful female singers, and The Beatles and Elvis was to generally music in general, one can’t deny the impact U2 has had, not only to rock music, but also to music as a whole. For Bono and co. have created music that is honest, and though many of their music can seem a little too honest for what mainstream pop radio wants at the moment; what this band has uncovered long ago that still holds true today is this- that many people, young and old, rich and poor, people of many walks of life, and many different roads of faith, are yearning and wanting the same thing- to connect to a song on a soul level.

And, through listening to a wide variety of U2 songs over this last week; I’ve come to this assertion- that U2 and their music gives an avenue for us to relate to music, and to realise that it is ok to be honest in songs, to pour our hearts out and know that it is ok to express our emotions, be it muddled and uncertain as they can be. U2 have broken down barriers that have been continually boarded for whatever reason, and now we are reminded of how much we need melodies that transcend the physical, in our lives at the moment. While we have known throughout the years of Bono’s public declaring of his own evolving Christian faith; what U2 has come to be is a bridge between mainstream current, popular music, and the music that resonates with the soul- call it faith-based music, CCM, music with an inspirational edge, music that asks the questions we don’t necessarily want to hear, whatever the style of music we akin U2 towards; I’m sure they are. With their career spanning years upon years; this quartet, since releasing their 2017 album Songs of Experience; is one such group that continues to inspire, and is still right here. U2 is a band that is certain to be enjoyed by anyone, and I literally mean this. Even if you aren’t necessarily the greatest fan of the band, there’s at least one song you connect to.

I didn’t think that I had a fear of a fast exit. I thought it would be inconvenient ’cause I have a few albums to make and kids to see grow up and this beautiful woman and my friends and all of that. But I was not that guy. And then suddenly you are that guy. And you think, “I don’t want to leave here. There’s so much more to do.” And I’m blessed. Grace and some really clever people got me through, and my faith is strong. I read the Psalms of David all the time. They are amazing. He is the first bluesman, shouting at God, “Why did this happen to me?” But there’s honesty in that too. . . . And, of course, he looked like Elvis. If you look at Michelangelo’s sculpture, don’t you think David looks like Elvis? It is also annoying that he is the most famous Jew in the world and they gave him an uncircumcised . . . that’s just crazy. But, anyway, he is a very attractive character. Dances naked in front of the troops. His wife is pissed off with him for doing so. You sense you might like him, but he does some terrible things as he wanders through four phases – servant, poet, warrior, king. Terrible things. He is quite a modern figure in terms of his contradictions. . . . Is this boring?
But if you go back to his early days, David is anointed by Samuel, the prophet Samuel, and, above all, his older brothers, a sheepherder presumably smelling of sheep shite, he is told, “Yeah, you are going to be the king of Israel.” And everyone is laughing, like, “You got to be kidding – this kid?” But only a few years later, Saul, the king, is reported as having a demon and the only thing that will quiet the demon is music. . . . Makes sense to me. David can play the harp. As he is walking up to the palace, he must be thinking, “This is it! This is how it is going to happen.” Even better, when he meets the king and gets to be friends with the king’s son Jonathan. It’s like, “Whoa, this is definitely going to happen! The old prophet Samuel was right.” And then what happens? In a moment of demonic rage, Saul turns against him, tries to kill him with a spear, and he is, in fact, exiled. He is chased, and he hides out in a cave. And in the darkness of that cave, in the silence and the fear and probably the stink, he writes the first psalm. And I wish that weren’t true. I wish I didn’t know enough about art to know that that is true. That sometimes you just have to be in that cave of despair. And if you’re still awake . . . there is this very funny bit that comes next. So David, our hero, is hiding out in the cave, and Saul’s army comes looking for him. Indeed, King Saul comes into the cave where David is hiding to . . . ah . . . use the facilities. I am not making this up – this is in the Holy Scriptures. David is sitting there, hiding. He could just kill the king, but he goes, “No, he is the anointed. I cannot touch him.” He just clips off a piece of Saul’s robe, and then Saul gets on his horse as they go off. They’re down in the valley, and then David comes out and he goes, “Your king-ness, your Saul-ness, I was that close.” It is a beautiful story. I have thought about that all my life, because I knew that’s where the blues were born.

Lead singer of the band, Bono is an enigma. Publicly thrusted in front of the spotlight of a band that has been in said spotlight for decades upon decades, Bono himself has become a platform for honesty- if there is a champion and a medal given to someone who is perhaps the most honest out of every musician currently active today in their craft, I’d give it to Bono hands down. Much of his honesty, I reckon, can be attributed to this above quote, where he reminds us all that one simple way to look at honesty is to search the Bible, the Psalms in particular. While much of David’s musings in the Psalms was one of thanks and praise, many of the writings of Psalms wasn’t necessarily what we’d pick from a king, and a great Biblical one at that. Psalms is as honest as I reckon people should be, but aren’t, for whatever reason they come up with. Nevertheless, Bono points to Psalms, and especially to the life and rule of King David, as impetus for his own way of being honest, not just in his own music, but in voicing his own opinions about current issues and world politics. And while most bands within the current industry are heavily distanced from politics and the goings-on of events right now; U2 is a band that has never shied away from topics that have often been discussed as being taboo. Honesty, sadly, in any form of music (especially CCM); seems to be discouraged- be it for marketing, sales, to hide true selves in fear of unacceptance, whatever the case, honesty isn’t seen much, in anywhere. U2, on the other hand, are a band that wear their heart on their sleeve, and from what I’ve heard over this little while, are such a band that deserves recognition and praise for such honesty, something that other fellow artists ought to long and strive for in their own music and craft. Bono is indeed leading a movement of honest artists, and though well into his late 50s, Bono and co. appear to be not slowing down the slightest- their music is as edifying and at times confronting as ever. Their live shows are as energetic now as they’ve always been. Their songs are equally as poignant now as they were from whence, they started. U2’s honesty is unmatched and unparalleled; and that and that alone ought to be enough for people to at least listen to songs from the band, albeit only once, just to see why Bono, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr and The Edge are arguably part of one of the most influential bands in modern music history!

By now, if you’ve read my musings and my thoughts on U2 up to this point, you’re probably an avid fan of the group, and have been for a while. Or you just love to read. Or both. Regardless, I don’t think I need to go in depth about their songs, if at all. Because realistically, what else can I say about U2’s songs that the songs haven’t said already? You have the classic U2 tunes that really tug at the heart and speak volumes to people globally- songs like ‘One’, ‘Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’, ‘Beautiful Day’, ‘All I Want is You’, ‘With or Without You’, ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’, ‘Pride (In the Name of Love)’, ‘City of Blinding Lights’, ‘BAD’ and ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ have all struck a chord with many listeners and people appreciative of their music (myself included) over the years; while their more recent songs, from ‘Magnificent’ and ‘Song For Someone’, to ‘Every Breaking Wave’, ‘The Miracle (of Joey Malone)’, ‘American Soul’, ‘Love is Bigger Than Anything in It’s Way’ and ‘The Blackout; show us just what we believe to be true- that a band like U2 continues to write to us songs that speak to our very human condition.

These songs aren’t polished, nor are they refined to radio marketability and radio station airplay. Leave it to genre groups from pop to CCM to undertake such a feat. U2 on the other hand, though less refined, are nevertheless as impacting and needed in society as every other genre of music- their songs are gritty, hopeful, at times questioning, and at all times life-giving and challenging the status quo. Bono and co. have given to us 4 decades of melodies that can be uttered in a variety of settings- out an about, in church, in the home. That’s the beauty of this band, the ability for their music to be enjoyed not just in one particular moment or setting, but in a variety, where whoever hears these inspiring songs are transported beyond their own tangible and physical worries- to a place where hope, encouragement, the will for survival and the action that comes from the conviction that these songs evoke; are all delved into and discussed at length within the confines of music.

U2 and their full impact on society and music as a whole can never be fully unpacked and dissected in such a blog like this, and so, I probably won’t even try- but what I will say is this: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. have invited us into their world of 14 studio albums, as we witness arguably one of the greatest rock acts (aside from bands like Queen, The Rolling Stones and AC/DC) to ever grace this Earth, and still be creating music and art today, after all these years! What I’ve long since admired about Bono is his ability to have honesty woven through his music, but not have it overly flaunted and fleshed out in his songs, so as to impact and influence a variety of people through his subtleness. While I’ve realised that staying together as a band since the inception in 1977, can seem like a mighty and big feat in and of itself (considering that any other band would have had tens upon tens of lineup changes already!); U2, with zero lineup changes; have proven to us what we know is central to any success as a group- that the people you work with is paramount in any band’s success. Band members can either make or break the band, and thus for U2, it’s in part a miracle that these four men have lasted so long together, let alone the band itself surviving up until this point.

A lot can happen in 40 years- you can grow up from a kid to now, you can experience all these life events. Wars can happen. You can be married, have kids, change jobs and careers multiple times. Or you can witness and marvel at the fact that U2 have been a band for more than 40 years, and be reminded that this is a quartet that has revolutionised modern music, period. Just like how Elvis and The Beatles impacted music in the 1950s, U2 continues to make their presence known today, as Bono and co. unveil songs that tug at the human spirit. Many other artists have been inspired by U2 and their music- it isn’t hard, when we listen to other modern artists, to see that at least one of their influences have been the Irish band. Artists like Third Day, Delirious?, Switchfoot, Lifehouse, OneRepublic, Snow Patrol and Coldplay are just some of many, many artists that have been impacted by Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr and Adam Clayton. These artists’ craft, though unique, have threads of U2 all over. And that is not a bad thing. For U2 is a classic band, and quite possibly, The Joshua Tree, created in 1987, and now re-released as a 4-disc album alongside a companion vinyl and DVD; is their most iconic and classic album they’ve ever done. For me, I haven’t fully listened to The Joshua Tree, yet hearing a wide array of their music in preparation for this blog post has made me interested in hearing their 1987 album from start to finish…soon!

It’s hard to figure out whether U2 has intentionally created songs with a spiritual/Christian message, or whether it was by accident. But for the band themselves, I don’t think they would even want to be called a ‘Christian band’, nor do they want to even be associated with the world of Christian music. I guess maybe because in CCM (and I see this as well), there’s a lot of music that can be perceived as being ‘fake’. Not intentionally, of course, but sometimes, I feel like songs within the CCM market seem to be a little too ‘polished’, too ‘nice’, too uplifting, for even the general mainstream media and the general public to understand. I’m not knocking CCM in the slightest, I am a firm believer of Christian music, full stop. I believe that this ‘genre’ of music can in fact impact and inspire. But by the same token, I feel, and I’m sure U2 would feel this as well, that the CCM world isn’t being as authentic as they need to, or that they could be. It’s like everyone is looking for CCM to be this bright and sunny, this bubbly and uplifting style of music that often, the hard, gritty, life-songs, the poignant melodies like ‘Worn’ (Tenth Avenue North), ‘Cinderella’ (Steven Curtis Chapman), ‘God Only Knows’ (for KING AND COUNTRY) and ‘Even If’ (MercyMe), to name a few; are seemingly few and far between, that once in a while a great song is captured, and the rest seem to fall into the pool of mediocrity…and that is unintentionally sad.

But as I reflect upon U2 and their own music, it reminds me what it should look like to be real, to be raw and honest, to express things to our fellow man and even our fellow creator, about things that need to be addressed, no matter how ugly or discomforting. As Bono quoted himself, …I would really like this conversation to unlock some artists because I think there are trapped artists and I’d like them to be untrapped…[for] creation screams God’s name. So you don’t have to stick a sign on every tree. This has really, really got to stop. I want to hear a song about the breakdown in your marriage, I want to hear songs of justice, I want to hear rage at injustice and I want to hear a song so good that it makes people want to do something about the subject. I want to argue the case for artists or potential artists who might be listening in on our conversation and are not giving expression to what’s really going on in their lives because they feel it will give the wrong impression of them. We don’t have to please God in any other way than to be brutally honest. That is the root. Not just to a relationship with God, but it’s the root to a great song. That’s the only place you can find a great song. The only place you can find any work of art, of merit…’ While this above quote can seem like it’s having a dig at Christian music and how it can be too ‘preachy’ and ‘praise-like’; this great and emotive, and at times confronting, piece of eloquent advice is something we all should take to heart- be honest in whatever we’re doing, especially songs and singing them. Much of CCM, as uplifting as it has been (and still is) to me, doesn’t lend its hand to honesty, and I mean, brutal honesty. U2, and I’m sure a fair few other bands, like Switchfoot, Skillet, Tenth Avenue North, For KING AND COUNTRY, Jars of Clay, even other folk-sy artists like Jason Gray, Nichole Nordeman and Andrew Peterson; are all trying to bridge a gap, and to make CCM as honest as it can be, before a Father in Heaven that I know can take the honesty we give Him, no matter how ugly it could look like for the song itself!

I don’t think I can say as much more about U2 as I already have. So as I am to finish my post, I’ll say this- U2 as a band has shaped the world and has inspired many other artists to pursue honesty and realness in their music. For myself, it has encouraged me and reminded me that there is indeed music out there that challenges and evokes emotion, that God still breathes over music, and uses it in ways we can never see coming. U2 are championing for a world that uses their platform to evoke emotions of change and justice; and many of their songs can hopefully spur people on with their lives, moving from the mundane to the extraordinary, from the hopeless to the confident. Regardless of the faith background of the listener, anyone can take something and apply it to their lives from U2 and their music- I know I have.

Does U2 make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song (other than songs like ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’, ‘Beautiful Day’, ‘Magnificent’ and ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

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