No, this isn’t in reference to the political tell-all that’s been in the news lately, and thank God for that.
Let me begin here: I was sitting at the computer the other day, casting around for an idea for a blog post. Nothing was forthcoming. I literally stared at a blank screen for I don’t know how long.
Inevitably, I started goofing off out of sheer boredom. Facebook, Pinterest, Youtube. I suddenly had an idea. No, not for a blog post. But I could listen to the new U2 album on Youtube. Does anyone even listen to “albums” anymore? U2 fans of a certain age do. And used to be, I had to save up my pennies to buy that new CD. Now I can listen to an entire album for free on my computer. Ah, progress!
Anyway, as I listened to “Songs of Experience”, I started to get a sinking feeling. I didn’t like it. Usually, it takes a few listenings for me to get the feel of an album, but I have to at least recognize some kind of affinity for me to listen a second time, and a third, etc. It was like that for their previous album, “Songs of Innocence”, and I ended up loving that album. But “Songs of Experience”, the “companion” album to Innocence, left me definitely unimpressed.
This isn’t a review of that album. I didn’t like it; let’s leave it at that. It’s been hit or miss for me with this band for several years now, maybe decades, and I was left wondering: what happened to the band of my youth?
Well, Tina, they got older, just like you.
Okay, but what does that mean? Does it mean they should hang it up? That Bono should just concentrate on his activism, which is a worthy and noble undertaking? Because it pains me to see this group put out mediocre work (Yes, I have very high standards. Don’t blame me, they set the bar).
Is Rock’n’Roll dead? Yes, in a world now dominated by pop, rap, and whatever the hell else they’re calling music these days, I fear it’s true. (Do I sound ornery? I sound ornery.) And that breaks this Gen Xer’s heart to the very core. All we can do is look back, because no one can seem to capture the magic anymore. Even those acts that did work the magic back in the day. They’ve lost something. What is it?
Well, youth, obviously. But also the main ingredient that comes with it (besides freshness and intensity and raw urgency): anger. Fire and fury. And the energy to scream (sing) about it at the top of their lungs. I’m thinking about Boy and October. I’m thinking about War and Unforgettable Fire, and Joshua Tree.
Remember Alannis Morissette? That was one pissed off bitch. Where is she now? If I had to guess, she’s baking cookies for the PTO.
Not that we (people over 40, just so we’re clear) don’t still get angry. I can honestly say that I’ve felt more rage in the last decade of my life than I ever felt in the first three put together. But it’s a different sort of rage. It’s more of an internal thing than at the wider world (though there’s that, too, especially now).
Or maybe the anger is the same, but we’re different. We simply don’t have the time to indulge in unadulterated rage. Because there’s runny noses to wipe, and bills to pay, and doctor appointments to get to, and aging parents to take care of, and marriages to tend. Anger has to be set aside, because there’s shit to get done. It’s not about you and your disaffected anger anymore.
Yeah, growing up sucks. It can be boring.
And honestly, you get tired. You can’t sustain anger over a long period of time; you’ll burn out. In youth, the flame energizes and inspires you, because that’s all you have. In the later years, it simply burns you. It might even kill you.
Bono understood that he couldn’t just sing about injustice. He had to take action. Walk the walk. And you can’t meet with world leaders and start yelling about how unfair everything is. You have to cultivate patience, and understanding, and perseverance. You have to be willing to compromise, to choose between the lesser of two evils, sometimes. In youth, there was no gray areas, only black and white, and compromise meant you gave up. Evil was evil, period. But after life runs you over a couple of times (or a couple dozen), the fire gets stamped out. Hopefully humbleness replaces the anger. If you’re lucky, gratefulness replaces the fury. At least enough to balance out the cynicism.
One of the things I loved about U2 was that underneath all that youthful discontent, they held onto hope. Their faith had a lot to do with that, and I admired it. I think it’s sustained them for 30-plus years. Is it better to burn out than to fade away? I’m not so sure. Let’s ask the 27-Club: Jimi, Jim, Janis, Curt, Amy. Oh yeah, we can’t. They died before they got old.
Maybe maturity makes for boring music. But not always. I find it interesting that I loved “Songs of Innocence”, when U2 wrote about growing up in Ireland, but “Songs of Experience”, presumably about their older selves, left me cold.
Tell me about when you burned, when life was a flame that set you on fire. That’s where the energy is. That’s where the magic is.