Sunday, December 18, 2005


Cash-U2 "Time"

Republican (though "disenchanted with the party direction and W") reader JBW writes:

Having a discussion last night about U2 made me recall your blog post a while back about their concert at MSG. I did not respond back at the time, but it struck me how the mention of Johnny Cash was so appropriate in an entry about the perceived contradictions in U2. This really does point out where we are when people assume black and white, one-to-one relationships between things like Christian and Conservative, or liberal and anti-war.

Johnny Cash was the same way. He was once described (I am paraphrasing) as a conservative, liberal, christian, anti-war, patriotic, dope smoker. Not surprising that he was able to be the most popular entertainer in the world with a hit TV show that appealed to mainstream America, but still book all the acts like Bob Dylan etc. Your description of U2 (and Bono in particular) struck the same chord.

Coincidentally, after thinking about this, Time magazine made its selections for
"Persons of the Year" (Bono & Bill & Melinda Gates). Someone needs to wake up and recognize that this type of supposedly contradictory message can actually find a winning coalition politically, while at the same time actually doing the right thing. (Caution: May require a third party.)
A couple of final points that make everything come full circle: U2 and Cash collaborated on "The Wanderer," (not a remake of either the Dion or Donna Summer songs of the same name) on U2's experimental 1993 album Zooropa. Written by the band, it is one of only two songs in which Bono does not at least share singing lead ("Numb" sung by The Edge on the same album is the other). [The song is available on the new career-spanning retrospective (which includes his late-90's "comeback" collaborations with producer Rick Rubin), The Legend of Johnny Cash as well as the older, The Essential Johnny Cash.]

Though written by the band, the song captures all the themes Cash touched upon -- Man's struggles between temptation, sin and redemption:
I went drifting
Through the capitals of tin
Where men can't walk
Or freely talk
And sons turn their fathers in
I stopped outside a church house
Where the citizens like to sit
They say they want the kingdom
But they don't want God in it

I went out riding
Down that old eight lane
I passed by a thousand signs
Looking for my own name

I went with nothing
But the thought you'd be there too
Looking for you
I went out there
In search of experience
To taste and to touch
And to feel as much
As a man can
Before he repents

Nearly a decade later, Bono contributed an essay to the Cash compilation God (available separately or in three-volume set with the Love and Murder collections). And, finally, within a brief couple of months, the biopic I Walk The Line featuring Cash (warts, inspired genius and all) becomes one of the best-received movies of the year -- and Bono is recognized (appropriately) as one of the "Persons of the Year."

(One notable difference between Bono and Cash, though, is the choices they make in demonstrating anti-establishment "rebellion." Cash had very public emotional breakdowns -- including a collapse on stage and subsequent arrest in connection with his addiction to prescription pain killers.

Arguably, Bono recognizes that, in the modern context, the "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" popular culture is the establishment -- though he rarely demonstrates a pro-drug sensibility. So, his anti-establishment activity comes forth in public flirtations with administration and congressional Republicans!)

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