U2 – and Bono in particular – have spawned an entire sub-genre of urban legends.
October, U2’s second album, was released in 1981. The same year saw the publication of The Vanishing Hitchhiker, a book by the American folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand.
Its subtitle is “American Urban Legends and Their Meanings”. We here on Hog Heights love this coincidence because, of course, an Irish version might be titled Bono Bought Me A Pint. Or didn’t, as the case might be.
Brunvand’s book is brilliant, revelatory. Of course, as with most real scholarship, it was the culmination of 20 years research and analysis. It became an instant classic and, by the way, much loved by journalists and columnists who found its framework most convenient and saw the processes of urban mythology everywhere. For a while.
What Brunvand did was gather stories heard in urban environments that were comparable in structure and dissemination to traditional folktales and myths. There were also, of course, unique characteristics and processes.
Urban myths are usually untrue but not always. They can also be exaggerated or sensationalised versions of a true story or event and accrue their status of folklore through continual reappropriation. They can be old chestnuts updated in a contemporary setting. Old or new, they are often made more plausible by the teller’s claims of personal involvement or that it happened to a friend of a friend. And yes, FOAF is now a recognised word in its own right.
At which point we return to U2, and to Bono in particular. It’s not just about sightings, frequent though these might be. It’s about quite specific incidents, which the tellers assure the listeners they actually witnessed.
Some are set in broad daylight, like the one about the elderly lady struggling with a supermarket trolley and seemingly quite confused and who should pull up in a Bentley/Rolls, vintage Merc, but Bono, who jumps out and pushes the lady’s trolley all the way to her car and loads it up for her himself.
There’s another one about a journalist arranging to meet Bono in a pub in Dalkey and getting arrangements confused, leaving Bono on his tod and a bit forlorn, whereupon he joins a group of locals and they all have great craic for the rest of the evening.
Others are nocturnal. There’s the story of a group of people having a meal in, where was it now, the Caprice? There they were and what do you know, Bono’s over there with another guy wading into the cannelloni and a bottle of Amarone! The group ask for a photo and the other guy obliges everyone by taking it. Brilliant!! Then Bono and the other guy leave. When the group go to pay their bill, jasus, it’s already been paid!! By who??? By Mr Springsteen!
On one occasion there was a guy on the Graham Norton show, who claimed that HE WAS ONE OF THE LUCKY DINERS!!!
One could go on. It’s comparable to Daniel O’Connell having a pee in Glencullen or Brendan Behan hanging Patrick Kavanagh out of an upstairs window in the Palace Bar in Dublin. Everyone has a Bono story, even people who claim not to like him, of whom it seems there are quite a few. But it is also true that all of those who profess to dislike him would sing his praises were he to appear beside their bar stool and buy them a pint. They’d never stop talking about it. Indeed, it would fuel yet another urban myth.
Bono detractors cite diverse reasons: he’s always ready with a comment, he was too ready to hang out with people like Clinton, Bush or Blair, they don’t like the political activity and campaigning anyway, they think U2 shouldn’t have moved their tax base to the Netherlands, they just don’t rate the music they made after Boy, and so on and on.
Regarding the campaigning, popular music and politics have always intersected but the nature of that interaction has changed and mutated over the course of U2’s career – from protest and activism to mainstream politics and now back to the streets again.
Over those years we’ve seen the rise of monetarism and neo-liberal economics and now, it would seem, their decline. The classic division between left and right kind of disappeared for a generation. It may be back now, but only time will tell. Nationalism rose and fell and rose.
The earth is under tremendous pressure but over 40 years, focus has shifted from pollution to global warming. And then there are all the horrors of the world, the four horsemen of the fucking apocalypse. Why shouldn’t singers comment? Everyone else does. Those with an axe to grind want big names to endorse their cause. Musicians have a choice: say something or say nothing.
It isn’t part of the job description that musicians or singers have a view on everything – but some are more willing to open up than others. Geldof is one, Bono another.
Maybe it’s an Irish thing: we have opinions on everything and don’t mind sharing. We talk shite quite a lot and are capable of appalling associations, such as seeing ourselves as the biggest victims on earth and associating ourselves with every underdog in town. Jimmy Rabbitte is a fictional character but he’s also very real.
So, Bono answers when he’s asked. He shoots from the hip. He may contradict himself from time to time. Some people don’t like it? Tough. He’s also very funny but some people don’t get the jokes. Or don’t want to. And that’s very Irish too.
At this stage, while U2 are just four blokes like any one of us, except far richer and more successful, they are also the central creative force of a multinational enterprise comprising multiple companies in a range of locations. In that latter guise they generated an incredibly positive profile for Ireland just when we needed it most, back in the 1980s and early 90s and that influence has been maintained among key influencers and investors.
They may not have generated Ireland’s tech sector – but it wouldn’t have developed as it has without their having made Ireland seem so cool. And that’s not to mention the huge contribution to both Dublin’s and Ireland’s tourist industry where, of course, all tourists now hope for their own Bono encounter, their very own selfie urban myth. Going viral right now from the Land of Urban Myths and Legends! Well, long may that continue!
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