[Ed. note: This is the 53rd in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
Part of the fun of going to the movies is leaving the theater armed with a bunch of quotes that can be rattled off ad nauseam in our everyday lives.
U2's first film was the TV documentary, Under A Blood Red Sky. It was a band-funded straight performance piece of the now-legendary concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater, and there was little money for anything other than concert footage. As a result, there's very little to quote from.
When U2 decided to head for the big screen with Rattle And Hum, their world had changed dramatically. With the popularity of The Joshua Tree, the band didn't have to worry about the money and could make a proper concert film with bits of conversation and other non-concert footage thrown in. In a Propaganda interview that was published after the release of the film, Bono said that the band felt they were better at the music than at the talking. Even so, there are plenty of gems to glean from the film to pepper your conversations. These are some of my favorite quotes, in chronological order.
1. "This song, Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We're stealing it back." -- Bono
The film begins with a cover of the Beatles' "Helter Skelter." Bono's opening remarks allude to psychopath and frustrated musician Charles Manson, who believed that the Beatles album, The Beatles (aka The White Album) spoke to him directly and partially motivated the murders of several people at the hands of his "Family" in 1969. This is Bono's attempt to release the song from its association with this disturbing and tragic chapter of American history.
2. "It's a musical journey." -- Larry Mullen, Jr.
This is probably the most oft-quoted line from the film, especially among fans who travel from show to show during a U2 tour. Director Phil Joanou asks the band a simple question: "What's this film about?" Those four little words render the band speechless (hard to believe with Bono in the room). They are visibly uncomfortable, fidgeting and looking to each other hoping someone else will answer. Larry's pat response prompts Adam to give it a try, only to be mocked by Larry and the band dissolving into a fit of giggles. Larry repeats himself for comedic effect until Edge responds, "Well, it's about music. I hope. At least that's what you said it was going to be about." Who said U2 were too serious?
3. "Am I buggin' you? I don't mean to bug ya. Okay Edge, play the blues." -- Bono
Bono said that "Silver and Gold" was his "first blues song," written for an album meant to draw attention to the repressive policies of the South African government. Although this was early on in Bono's other career as an advocate for the continent of Africa, he was already well aware of his reputation for proselytizing. He's not apologizing; he's issuing a dare to his audience to care about something that doesn't directly affect them. Edge's musical response to Bono's prompting is a much angrier and aggressive rendering of the blues than Keith Richards' more traditional blues guitar on the original recording of the song.
4. "Rock and roll stops the traffic." -- Bono, and a can of spray paint
During a performance of "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" and spliced into footage of the band's cover of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," an inspired Bono gets carried away and climbs up on the Vaillancourt Fountain in the Embarcadero Center to spray paint a little "art" on it. Diane Feinstein, the mayor of San Francisco at the time, was none too pleased with his shenanigans and made public her dismay at Bono's actions. The crowd however, loved every minute of it. The band later issued an apology and paid to have the paint removed from the fountain.
5. "You're mighty young to write such heavy lyrics." -- BB King
U2 fans had been listening to Bono's "heavy lyrics" for years, but American blues icon BB King was new to U2 and didn't know what they were capable of. Bono hopes he likes the song, his face serious as he looks into the eyes of one of the blues' most beloved heroes. When BB answers, "I love the song," Bono is thrilled, his grin revealing the validation he was looking for.
6. "There are people who would say that you shouldn't mix music and politics, or sport and politics, or whatever, but I think that's kinda bulls**t." -- Adam Clayton
From the beginning of their career, U2 made it very clear that they had something to say about what was going on in the world. "Message" music was not terribly popular in the 1980s, but U2 took their cue from the punk movement to push their ideas out into the world, critics be damned. Leave it to Adam to sum up the band's philosophy so succinctly.
7. "Well the God I believe in isn't short of cash, mister." -- Bono
One of the working titles of The Joshua Tree was "The Two Americas." The idea was that although America represents the freedom and democracy that is missing in so much of the world, there is also a dark underbelly of the war machine and dealings with sketchy regimes. "Bullet the Blue Sky" was written about the U.S.-backed puppet government in El Salvador, but in this version, Bono is disgusted by televangelists who take advantage of people in compromised circumstances. In his mind, this is the worst crime of all, promising the grace of God for a fee, stealing from the very people who can least afford it and who are only looking for a small measure of relief from their troubles. It's another ugly blemish on the face of America, and he isn't afraid to point it out.
8. "F**k the revolution!" -- Bono
On Sunday, Nov. 8, 1987, a bomb set by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) detonated in the town of Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, killing 12 people and wounding 63 more. On the same day, U2 was playing a concert in Denver, Colorado that was to be filmed for Rattle And Hum. In the introduction leading into "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," Bono questions their decision to leave the performance in the film, worried that future generations wouldn't remember why the band was so angry. Halfway through this blistering execution of the song, Bono admonishes Irish-Americans who have long since expatriated for fueling the fire of a senseless war that no one in Ireland wants. It's a powerful, heartfelt expression of his rage at the injustice perpetrated against the innocent, and one of the most memorable moments in the entire film.
© @U2/Maione, 2013.