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David Byrne Thanks U2 For Destroying the Planet

August 1, 2009

If anyone out there is an art-rock fan, there is no better inside view of an artist at work than David Byrne’s online journal.  The former Talking Heads frontman is eclectic, acerbic and sometimes even downright funny as he chronicles his experiences as a mid-range music star with progressive interests in a not-so-progressive world.  Sometimes, Byrne’s musings on art get a little long-winded for me, but his insights into the state of the world and his efforts to live an eco-friendly lifestyle can be fascinating.

Byrne doesn’t shy away from speaking his mind, and recently he posted his thoughts on popular music juggernaut U2.  For those of you that might have missed it, U2 has been in the news recently–apparently somebody turned Bono and his cohorts onto this odd little social networking site called Twitter.  Once the boys from Dublin began to answer the question “What are you doing?” from their 360 World Tour, it appears that world peace has been achieved and clean renewable energy is no longer a dream.

Byrne thanks U2 for their bloated tour of excess, correctly pointing out that the money venues make on U2 shows probably goes to fund shows like Byrne’s that likely cause the venue to lose money.  However, the cost of this redistribution of income is having small towns taken over by U2 crews and the environmental impact of some 200 semi-trucks criss-crossing Europe and (later this year) the States which seems a bit much for a rock and roll show.

I can understand Byrne being a little jaded.  Like many music lovers out there, I once held the band in very high esteem.  At one time, U2 was a proud, defiant band that infused their songs with youthful idealism.  They’ve always been self-righteous, but there was a time when this seemed cool, not annoying.  Now they exude the pomposity of spoiled rich kids, and it’s clear that U2 circa 2009 is about celebrity, not music.

This year, U2 released the instantly-forgettable No Line On The Horizon, tying their own 2005 record for “Quickest Post-Release Fade Out”.  Not to be deterred, the band took up residency on the David Letterman show for 5 nights, bumping a scheduled appearance by Byrne.  After this, the band embarked on the 360 Tour, which some say is the largest and most elaborate tour ever assembled.  While there’s no doubting U2’s popularity or their ability to draw a crowd, it’s sad to see them blindly groping around for the right combination of music to recreate their past triumphs.  Check out The Edge regurgitating the guitar riff from Achtung Baby‘s “The Fly” on the album’s title track or Bono ripping off Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up” in “Get on Your Boots” for two examples.  There was a time when U2 would pay homage to the past, but now they’ve reduced themselves to simply trying to repeat it.

Byrne, in contrast, began the year with a collaboration with one of the “It” groups of the year, Dirty Projectors, on the Dark Was the Night compilation.  DWTN is one of the premier compilations in rock music, and Byrne has been treated like the elder statesman of the bunch, garnering appreciation from the Projectors and something akin to awe from Jusin Vernon of Bon Iver, who he dueted with during the DWTN concert at Radio City Music Hall.  Byrne continues to tour in support of his 2008 collaboration with Brian Eno, Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, and through his web journal, he chronicles his efforts to “tour green” and his continued support of environmentally-friendly causes.  He is consistently cited as an influence and an inspiration by this generation of indie rockers.

Byrne has never been caught up in chasing fame, which has allowed him to run free as an artist.  His post-Talking Heads output has been inconsistent at best, but this has been the result of Byrne pushing the limits of his music, not chasing the lights of the paparazzi.  And this allows him to continue to make music that always has the potential for brilliance and even transcendence.

U2 on the other hand stays on the lookout for the next big corporate sponsorship and further ways to expand the reach of their brand.  The music is secondary at this point; what matters is keeping them at the top of the corporate rock music heap.  It’s hard to tell what’s next for the band, but I’m sure whatever it is will be cheap, soulless and devoid of anything interesting at all.  Meanwhile, Byrne will continue to create performance art that is always interesting and noteworthy, even when he misses the mark.  For that, I offer him a heartfelt thanks.

  1. August 1, 2009 2:45 pm

    Interesting Thoughts. Say what you will about U2’s excesses, they have done more for charity than any other band. And let’s face it Joshua Tree, All that You Can’t Leave Behind, and Achtung Baby are stellar albums. So basically, I think that the twitched out and petty Mr. Byrne might just be a little jealous. Same as it ever Was!


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