Many U2 fans were able to see From The Sky Down over the weekend on BBC or during a special screening by the Irish Film Institute in Dublin. I do not want to spoil it for everyone who will see it in the next few weeks, but I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary and was surprised by the number of things that I sort of knew, but not in the detail that the members of U2 shared in the film. There were a few laugh-out-loud moments mixed in too.
I’ve been following U2 closely since the late '80s, and From The Sky Down is the first time that I can recall where the band members reveal their own vulnerability, self-doubt, insecurity and personal crises with such honesty that it left me feeling like as much as I know U2, I really don’t know them at all. For the past 35 years, they have done a magnificent job of keeping this aspect of themselves as hidden from view as possible. Bono said in the film, “Public image is so different from your private reality.”
For die-hard fans, From The Sky Down contains a bit of footage that will be familiar: Scenes from The Unforgettable Fire documentary, Outside It’s America, and Rattle And Hum outtakes for example. The new footage and individual interviews detail the mood in such a fascinating way that you get lost in the storytelling, which is a credit to director Davis Guggenheim. I enjoyed Adam’s explanation of how U2 came to be and the challenges the band faced during The Joshua Tree tour as they grew into stadium shows. He described it as “doom and gloom that we just were not good enough.”
I was also taken by Edge’s description of where he was coming from entering the Achtung Baby recording sessions. He said, “We were running away from LoveTown and Rattle and Hum as fast as we could. I was listening to KMFDM, Einstürzende Neubauten, The Young Gods. Machine-age music is really what it is. It’s about the use of repetition and taking the humanity out of things to a degree so that the humanity you put in means more. ”
The Fly is one of my favorite U2 songs of all-time, and to have Bono get to the heart of that song in the film and the armor he needed to get into that depth of lyric was amazing. All-in-all, the film has something for everyone if you are into U2.
I am sure we’ll be talking about this documentary for a long time.
Here at @U2 HQ, we’ve been having a lot of fun exploring October in depth. I will admit that October isn’t in my Top 10 list of favorite U2 albums. However, I’ve been listening to it quite a bit over the past week and I’ve noticed something surprising. October and Achtung Baby have more similarities than I thought.
Mark Twain once said, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished by how much he'd learned in seven years.” Maturity has a way of sneaking up on you, doesn’t it?
October finds U2 at a maturity crossroads. The band members are now entering their 20s with wide eyes for what the world has to offer and the hope of what the future holds for them. Bono, Edge and Larry are exploring their spirituality with Shalom while Adam is experiencing the life of being in a rock band. It’s safe to say that October is quite forward with its biblical references as it reflects what Bono’s mind frame was at the time. It did not help that he had to write the album in such a short amount of time since his original lyrics were lost while on tour. The literalness of Bono’s writing can also be chalked up to his age as he was only 21.
Bruce Springsteen shared a similar sentiment about his lyric writing on his earlier albums. He said in his documentary The Promise: The Making Of Darkness On The Edge Of Town, “you’re still writing a lot of bad words, you’re writing a lot of bad verses, so you try to learn how to write well. But your artistic instinct is what you’re going on. Your artistic intelligence hasn’t developed yet. Hopefully that increases and develops over a long period of time which gives you an ace to play down the road as you get older. But at the time, I’m going on artistic instinct and that’s a wide open game. So I’m following all kinds of paths and all kinds of roads and I’m like ‘that doesn’t feel right.’”
October has a feeling of life study where you’re questioning the whys and hows of life to the creator, hoping that answers will come, but they don’t. That’s why ending with “Is That All?” is so challenging. Only in youth can you be so bold asking questioning and demanding answers.
Fast-forward a mere 10 years later and you have a band at another crossroads. Entering the Achtung Baby recording sessions, we see how the decade’s worth of life experiences has matured Bono, Edge, Adam and Larry: marriages, children, a divorce, and the trappings of a rock-and-roll lifestyle. That hope Bono sang so purely and innocently about on October is anything but in Achtung Baby. Ironically, the artwork and marketing campaign for Achtung Baby was the most colorful U2 had done in its career but the darkness and depth of the album’s content was every shade of gray in the pallet. The decade of maturing has allowed Bono that artistic development Springsteen talks about. Despite the complexity of Achtung Baby, it has similarities with the more simplistic October: Neither album offers solutions, but rather the hope of reconciliation. Both albums question the whys and hows of life, and both albums have arms outstretched to be lifted out of a situation with the hope of being saved.
I think Edge says it best in U2 By U2 about October, “I think it’s the absolute honesty that comes through, because it really is people in a desperate situation. It has a power by calling out for divine intervention, for help, for anything to try and deal with the situation we were in.”
Back by popular demand … more YouTube finds! This week’s theme: U2 in 1981
And finally … don’t forget Bono and Edge will be performing with Lady Gaga and others at the Clinton Foundation’s “Decade of Difference” benefit on Saturday. It will be broadcast online on Yahoo.com.
Have a great week! Happy 30th to October on Wednesday!