It is odd to be of the age that bands that ruled the airwaves in the ’80s are now being played on classic rock stations. For a lot of artists, making the classic rock playlist is a badge of honor, proof that a song, or album has withstood the test of time. It also brings a nostalgia, especially for those artists whose star has faded over the years. It is hard to refuse tapping along to Jack and Diane, remembering your youth, and recalling when the Cougar was akin to midwestern roots. These rustic, old rockers whose legacies are cemented in a former time seem forever adored, as much for the memory of them as for the music they created. However, such kind fate is not always the case, especially for artists who had the audacity to continue putting out great music and refusing to have their music be solely a classic rock memory.
When I was a teenager, and coming of age in the era of grunge , I remember having a slight disdain for the Rolling Stones. I didn’t get what made them so special. I was hearing “Love is Strong” and being a bit underwhelmed. Not that it was a bad song, but it wasn’t anything that warranted the Stones a place in rock history. I was a kid, and naive to music, as tends to be the case when you’re young. Your music is the best, most transformative, relevant shit to ever hit the earth. To my generation’s credit, some of it was, but most of it ultimately was not.
In the early ’90s, U2 was a band walking the fine line of fading out. Yes, Achtung Baby had come out and reinvigorated their cache, but you could sense that the spark may be dwindling. After all, how many political issues could one band really have such passion to write hit after hit from? And sure enough, post-Achtung, U2 hit a rough patch. They seemed lost amid a changing scene of grunge, techno and pop. They were Irish rockers with a cause and their platform seemed a genre of the past. They did Zooropa to some critical praise, but it felt a bit lost and then they did Pop and confirmed they were somewhere in a generational maze.
But then U2 did something most bands of their time couldn’t do – they rebounded. It wasn’t overnight, but they found their voice again, and with All That You Can’t Leave Behind, they proved they were, again, relevant. Soon thereafter, something familiar happened, people starting turning on them. Bono had become an activist (the nerve!), their songs had again become radio station staples and worst of all, they were old. It seemed that a lot people had, all the sudden, decided that U2 was now passe. Their time had come and gone, and they should recognize that, move on, and quit. Leave their music to be shuffled between Zeppellin, the Stones and the Beatles on K100 Whatever, where “artists who were once great live on.”
All this was despite the fact, almost because of the fact, that they were actually still good!
U2 backlash reached an all-time high this past year when they were so selfish to dare give away an album for free through iTunes. Despite them retaining the title of biggest active rock band worldwide, and the album being one of their finest in years, the public decided they had had enough. Free, great music?! Who did they think they were? I understand it may not be for everyone, but suddenly Bono was on levels of douche-baggery that was usually left for the Kardashians, and people who would before begrudgingly pony up $.99 for a song, denounced U2 as corporate sell outs and trivialized their status among rock greats. It was as if “Pride (in the name of love)”, “With or Without You”, “One”, were all done, in retrospect, as some grand marketing ploy and not out of true passion for political change, love and humankind. The mere mention of U2 in the same conversation of aforementioned classic rock bands was a smear on greatness. And Bono? Nevermind all he has done politically, through charity, and musically, he was a shmuck. He was no longer a rock savior who had inspired decades of artists, he was just a guy trying to force his music on an unsuspecting, innocent public.
It is rather ironic to me that the backlash against U2 was so great for their free album through iTunes and their partnership with Apple. Apple. Let me say that again, Apple. This is the same company that us, the innocent public, generously has “donated” hundreds of dollars (in many cases, annually) to. The same company that we have put on a pedestal of perfection, no matter the product. They give us product after product and we hand over our wallets as if money really does grow on trees. God forbid you have an iPhone that is a model or two old, and make sure you go get that $300+ watch that does, pretty much, exactly what your $500 phone does. I know the pocket is a long way from your wrist, but do you really need it?
If U2 had partnered with Apple to bring you their new album exclusively and charge $19.99, would they have received the same backlash, or would the Apple-tized public have seen it as a special album that only they could get, and shell out the twenty bucks, no problem? As a fan of music and of U2, it would have still been worth it and was the fact they wanted to give ut away make it seem like a piece of tonal trash?
For the record, U2 is one of the greatest rock bands in history and Bono is one of the most influential musical icons of this or any generation. When all is said and done, there will be no question of either of these two things, despite people’s ill conceived views of either of them now. Put their greatest hits against anyones, using commercial or personal standards and it cannot be denied. And Bono? Bono’s voice and the money and awareness he has brought to a multitude of issues may make him a troll, but unlike most elected politicians, he would have actually gotten something done.
So for all of you that love to hate U2 because it is in fashion right now, it’s time you put your swords done and appreciate the fact that they are still creating great music and trying to make a difference in the world. They may not always be perfect, but who is?