He’s like Where’s Wally? Except you know exactly where he is; you see him straight away: those glasses, that black leather jacket, the dulcet tones, always telling you that this band changed his life or those words became the ones he studied…
He’s the There’s Wally! of music documentaries. And I’m sure you know who I mean. His name is Paul David Hewson – though you know him as Bono. He is the lead singer of the most overrated band of the last two decades, U2. And he is some sort of part-time politician, frequent-flyer, spokesperson for almost anything with a message, tax-dodger, photo-op campaigner and though it might all genuinely come from a nice place – or be trying to – he is annoying. He is the “There’s Wally” of music documentaries; of music-related photo opportunities; of causes and campaigns.
Now, if he’s putting his money where his mouth is then that’s all good and well. But Bono must – surely – be aware that his brand is in crisis. If you come out raving about everything nobody takes you seriously. (If Bono really does decide to carry on With Or Without U2 he might end up working for New Zealand Musician if he keeps rating everything!) If it’s all roses then all of a sudden the fragrance is either gone completely or totally annoying.
Bono pops up in music documentaries to shower praise – clearly hoping that by pointing the finger people will also take notice at the three fingers he has pointing back at himself. Bono pops up in music documentaries like Harvey Keitel in art-house films in the mid-to-late 1990s. Bono pops up in music documentaries like Rhys Darby when there’s a TV ad-campaign opportunity. Only problem is, unlike Darby and Keitel, Bono won’t disappear off into obscurity. He has the hovering capabilities of a helium blimp; he hangs around tarnishing whatever (one-time) redeeming features he had to offer in the general music/musical sphere.
U2’s music has been increasingly awful across the last 20 years. So much so that you can even get a U2 fan to agree with you on this point. Most days. It usually takes their carer to point it out to them once or twice but they cotton on and nod along with the general notion.
But by appearing in every single music documentary Bono is showing himself to be one of the great sufferers of relevance-deprivation. I mean, really, name one good band that’s been influenced by U2?
You know who has been influenced by U2? U2 has. And it’s a great shame. It’s awful to think that the band – and producer – that made The Unforgettable Fire could also make No Line On The Horizon. That’s what happens when you only listen to your own albums. It’s diminishing returns. Unforgettable Fire is the last great U2 album.
But hang on…
Bono is listening to all this great music – I’ve seen him in documentaries raving about Pixies, Joy Division, David Bowie, Scott Walker, Roxy Music (to name a few) – why is none of it rubbing off?
He also rubs himself up against any Leonard Cohen tribute or documentary like a horny drunk slow-dancing and dry-humping the jukebox in some dive bar.
And it’s not just Cohen that excites Bono’s literary hotspots. I’ve seen him waxing lyrical in print over Bob Dylan (he wrote him a poem called 50 Reasons Why I Love Bob Dylan – for Dylan’s 50th; that was over 20 years ago). I’ve heard him singing the praises of Lou Reed and Joni Mitchell. He gushes over Yeats and he was even – annoyingly – popping up with an all too sober regularity in a doco about Charles Bukowski. Bukowski actually reviewed the Zoo TV Tour. He thought it ridiculous. You couldn’t have expected any other result from Buk. But, then, wouldn’t Bono know that? He is a huge fan after all. Bukowski’s writing changed his life. Did he expect this great writing influence – who he apparently took so much from (as far as I can make out it’s just the line “the days run away like horses over the hills” which, by the way, he flat out stole) to hate his band and his show? Surely he must have known. But then I can’t see Bono fathoming that there is anyone who doesn’t like U2. Except for maybe Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen. And like Bono cares what they think!
It’s not like if Bono tells me he likes a band that it puts me off the band. But you know what…once or twice it’s come close.
I actually felt my teeth grinding as I sat in the cinema watching the Bukowski documentary. Every time Bono fawned and pontificated I heard this whirring, grinding noise. I figured at first that it was part of what happens when film reels travel the world in demand. Then I realised it was happening in my mouth; I was splintering the enamel off my teeth.
But where will it end? There’ll be one more U2 album I reckon. We all ready know it’s on the way. But that will be it. And it will be awful. The appearances will go on long after that – and not just the concert appearances. I could care less about that. It’s the music documentary cameos I worry about the most. Bono will be on hand to deliver eulogies too to Cohen and Reed and Dylan and Neil Young and B.B. King and whoever else he will claim influence from and association with.
It won’t be long before he pops up as part of a U2 documentary – claiming to be the band’s biggest fan; suggesting if it weren’t for U2 he wouldn’t have known what to do, music-wise, with his own band, er, U2!
Bono, to me, is the “There’s Wally” of rock documentaries; the “There’s Wally” of music.
What do you think of Bono off-stage? Bono the music-loving rock-doco commentator; Bono the activist and speech-maker; Bono the annoying know-it-all figure – always achingly sincere, always spouting off aphorisms that cut about as deep as your average (always stunningly average) U2 lyric.
And if not Bono, who is your equivalent; your “There’s Wally” of music?