Column: off the record . . . vol. 11-481

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off the record, from @U2

It was 35 years ago today that these six school boys from Mount Temple Comprehensive crammed into the Mullen family kitchen to audition for Larry Mullen: Peter Martin, Ivan McCormick, Paul Hewson, David Evans, Dick Evans and Adam Clayton. Neil McCormick described the scene well in his book Killing Bono: I Was Bono’s Doppelganger:

With four guitarists squeezing in between the fridge and the bread-bin, the designated rhythm section comprised of Adam (who owned a cheap Ibanez-copy bass, which he couldn’t actually play but could certainly talk about) and Larry, who had opened the kitchen doors to create space in which to set up his drum kit, half in the kitchen and half in a small conservatory precariously attached to the back of the house. In these odd circumstances the meeting concluded with a chaotic jam session involving wobbly rendition of the Rolling Stones classics ‘Brown Sugar’ and ‘Satisfaction.’ There were too many guitarists, not enough amplification and no consensus as to the correct chord sequences of the songs being played, but none of that seemed to matter. A new star had appeared in the rock ’n’ roll firmament. For these plucky individuals – well, some of them anyway – nothing would be the same again.

Decades later, it’s nothing short of a miracle that U2 is still together. Just this past Wednesday, R.E.M. announced it was breaking up. Bono spent some time with Michael Stipe last month in Italy, and I’m curious to know if the R.E.M. breakup conversation ever came up.  Bono’s sudden public concern about U2’s future and relevancy took fans like myself by complete surprise, which has me wondering if this is just a midlife (or midcareer) crisis, if it’s Bono being Bono, or if it is truly something deeper than that.

About eight years ago, Bono declared that U2 was “really relevant right now” during a MuchMusic interview. How times have changed. If Bono’s sentiment about needing to go back to the “small spaces” if the band is to “survive” is indeed true, then those small spaces need to include social media.

Nielsen’s 2011 third-quarter Social Media Report shows that 80 percent of U.S. internet users are connected to some form of social media and that 40 percent access social media sites from their phones.  Their findings also show that the most active social networkers are between 18 and 34. Given that U2’s goal has been to cultivate younger fans, it will be critical for them to re-examine their approach to social media. Small spaces allow you to feel a personal connection and accessibility that large spaces don’t offer. If you look at personal devices like cell phones, tablets, laptops, etc. as small spaces, then successful social media usage should help on that quest to regain the relevance Bono thinks U2 has lost.

Granted, there are official Twitter feeds (@u2com and @360FromTheEdge), Facebook and MySpace. However, the passive use of these social network sites does not allow fans to feel a personal connection. The band has posted the occasional video to fans on, but that may not be enough to court and retain newer fans. It’s my hope that these “smaller spaces” go beyond just radio and the clubs.



It was a U2 360 tour throwback as Archbishop Desmond Tutu joined Aung San Suu Kyi to speak on the topic of “Conversations on Courage: Humanitarian Leadership in Action” at the Clinton Global Initiative conference on Thursday. Suu Kyi appeared via satellite from Myanmar while Archbishop Tutu joined moderator Charlie Rose in New York City. The session covered the similarities of the struggles in South Africa and Burma, specifically the need for reconciliation and not retaliation. Archbishop Tutu challenged people to imagine what the world would be like had Nelson Mandela not chosen a path of reconciliation. He also gave Suu Kyi high praise for her courage. Suu Kyi joked that the session was turning into a meeting of the mutual admiration society. The session was fascinating and is available to watch through the CGI site.



William Shatner’s latest release Seeking Major Tom features his spin on “In A Little While.” has a 30-second clip of it. U2’s song is in good company as he also interprets classics like Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”



I am very jealous of the fans of Steely Dan. Their Shuffle Diplomacy 2011 tour has the band performing three nights in select cities with a different theme each night. For example, in Boston, the first night has Steely Dan performing songs from three of their earliest albums. The second night has them performing fan favorites, as voted on by the fans themselves. The third night’s performance is the band playing the album The Royal Scam in its entirety plus select hits. Could you imagine if U2 was to do something like this on their next tour? Night one would be early stuff from Boy, October and War. Night two would be fan favorites and night three you’d see them perform an album like The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby in its entirety? A gal can dream!



I’ve been spending more time on YouTube to find more U2 videos that I hadn’t seen before (or had forgotten about). I thought I’d share how Bono’s view of U2 has changed over decades:

Bono talking about arrogance and the fact that the Beatles were created only for U2 to outdo them (circa 1983)

Bono talking about U2 to Rolling Stone (circa 1993)

Bono talking to MuchMusic about U2 (circa 2003)

And some bonus videos:

The making of the Louis Vuitton ad with Bono and Ali

Bono and Ali talking about the Louis Vuitton ad

Behind the scenes on the Rolling Stone and the Spin cover shoots (circa 2009)



And finally … it’s a few weeks before the 30th anniversary of October’s release, so here’s an October-era U2 wishing everyone a Happy St. Patrick’s Day from the docklands in Dublin.

Have a great week! Happy 35th anniversary to U2!

© @U2 / Lawrence, 2011

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