U2 with special guest Florence and the Machine at Sun Life Stadium June 29
According to the Emerald Isle's Central Statistics Office, the average Irish male can expect to prowl Planet Earth for about 76 years, nine months, and 18 days.
Do you know what that means? It means U2, as a band, is totally middle-aged. (Formed in 1976, the bombastic arena rock quartet turned 35 this year.) And as individuals, the situation is even bleaker. Bono is already 51! Ditto Adam "Bass Boy" Clayton! Drummer Larry Mullen Jr. hits the big five-oh this Halloween! And the Edge isn't so edgy at 49!
Obviously, though, U2 ain't dead yet. And if we do a few rough calculations, it wouldn't be wacko to expect Bono and crew to crap out another couple of semiconscious decades, six more mediocre albums, and an equal number of never-ending, galaxy-spanning, multimillion-dollar megatours.
So yes, it's too early for a postmortem. But why not get started just for fun? Here are ten glorious, strange, and shameful moments in the very long career of U2.
Becoming Bono. On May 10, 1960, a chubby baby boy named Paul David Hewson was born in Dublin. His mother was an Anglican. His father was a Catholic. And later, as a teenager, little Paulie joined a surrealist street gang. Who joins a fucking surrealist street gang? Well, apparently, the same kind of arty dorks who give themselves cutesy Latin nicknames. Hence, Bono Vox (translation: Nice Voice), which he eventually shortened to Bono.
A Band Is Born. These days, a band begins with a Facebook message. But three and a half decades ago, you had to handwrite a note, tack it to a corkboard, and wait a few days for somebody to respond via telephone or face-to-face conversation. That's how 14-year-old Larry Mullen Jr. put together the best-selling rock outfit in human history. They called themselves the Larry Mullen Band and then Feedback, the Hype, and finally U2.
"Sunday Bloody Sunday." Following the lukewarm success of the band's debut, 1980's Boy, and a weird sophomore detour into pseudo-Christian rock 'n' roll on the next year's October, U2 finally got its shtick together with War. It was a big, ambitious, politicized pop-rock album. It was a direct response to violent conflict in places such as Northern Ireland and Poland. And it was a stiff middle finger to sucky New Wave fluff.
Bad-Hair Decade. Undoubtedly, the '80s were pretty good for U2's musical output. But, man, those were some shitty, shameful years for Bono's hair. He generally rocked a do known as the grandma mullet — fuzzy on top, longish in back, ugly all over. Thankfully, though, as a new decade dawned, Bono began sporting the sleek, slicked-back look. Unfortunately, that was also the moment he became fond of wearing cowboy hats, trading the bad-hair '80s for the bad-headwear '90s.
Rich and Bored. After totally killing it with 1987's The Joshua Tree, making a gazillion bucks, circumnavigating the globe, scoring the cover of Time, and basically cementing a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, U2 grew bored of itself. So the band had an identity crisis, got deep into so-called alternative rock, and came up with 1991's Achtung Baby. Meanwhile, Bono became obsessed with a pair of oversize, wraparound sunglasses and adopted a ridiculous alter ego named "the Fly." The result: totally killing it, making a gazillion bucks, circumnavigating the globe, etc.
"Beautiful Day." When 1997's Pop album bombed, U2 almost quit the rock-star grind. But then the band dreamed up a little ditty called "Beautiful Day." It rocketed to the top of the Billboard charts. It won three Grammys. And it helped 2000's All That You Can't Leave Behind move major weight. But c'mon, this song sucks. It's an epically boring example of U2 on autopilot. And regrettably, "It's a beautiful day/Don't let it get away" will soundtrack crappy wedding video montages for the rest of our natural lives.
Rock Stars Who Give a Shit. Between compulsively polishing gold-plated gramophone statuettes, playing the Super Bowl XXXVI Halftime Show, and getting inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame within minutes of becoming eligible, U2 spent a good chunk of the mid-'00s doing good deeds. One example: Extending the band's decades-long legacy of activism and political engagement, Bono powwowed with Kennedy cousin Bobby Shriver, Bill and Melinda Gates, billionaire George Soros, and tech mogul Edward W. Scott to launch DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa), a multinational activist organization that's now part of the ONE campaign. The point: Not all rock stars have to be apathetic, drug-addicted assholes like the Rolling Stones. It's cool to care, people.
Don't Do Downloading. OK, so we're perfectly willing to sit through Bono's self-righteous speeches about legitimate global issues such as poverty, hunger, human rights, political oppression, and the AIDS epidemic. But when he and the rest of the gang sic their manager, Paul McGuinness, on us with an urgent editorial (see GQ's August 2010 UK edition) about the evils of illegal downloading, all we've gotta say is, "Can we borrow a couple bucks? We still haven't paid off our Zoo TV tickets."
The Spider-Man Incident. When it was announced that Bono and the Edge were composing the music and lyrics for a Broadway adaptation of the Spider-Man story, our first reaction was, "Wow, we never really thought about it. But yeah, isn't campy, light opera exactly what U2 has been heading toward for the past decade?" And our second reaction was, "Um, still a bad idea." Sure enough, the musical has been a total mess. There have been bad reviews, budget problems, and actors falling out of the sky at an alarming rate. But here's the part that makes us queasy: In one scene, the Green Goblin struggles to get Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson to answer his freaking phone, only to be left on hold, listening to "Beautiful Day" on repeat. Ugh, that song sucks.
Old Dudes Rule. Over the past few years, U2 has had plenty of bad luck: (1) The aforementioned Spider-Man mess, (2) months' worth of tour delays caused by Bono's busted back, and now (3) the announcement that the band's completed "clubbing record" (produced in part by David Guetta and Will.i.am) is so cringe-inducingly crappy that even the band can't bear to see it released. Yet this 35-year-old Irish juggernaut cannot be stopped! The 360° Tour has just hit the $717 million mark, utterly destroying the Rolling Stones' $554 million record for the highest-grossing music tour in the history of arena entertainment. So it's official: Bono and crew might be a bunch of old guys with stupid sunglasses and a burning hatred for intellectual-property theft. But according to the stats, they still rule!
Get the Music Newsletter