The Unforgettable Ire

“We have a saying in the Netherlands…”

In the wake of Bono’s latest comprehensive and hugely well-deserved hammering for his pontifications on Europe at the European People’s Party election congress in Dublin, Feargal Keane has been on Marian Finucane’s radio show expressing his incredulity as to where this “vitriol” comes from.

Fergal is a great journalist and a very intelligent man, but like most people who don’t understand criticism of Bono, he has led a life of considerable privilege, attending fee-paying schools and having access to the corridors of power through his journalism.

But such nuances don’t often make it in the real world, where people have suffered greatly at the hands of those held up as political icons by Bono. So let me explain, then, why I once held Bono as a hero but now find him utterly despicable.

Standing before Europe’s elite yesterday, Bono was a mere shadow of the rock ‘n roll rebel he once claimed to be, pandering to the well-to-do of Europe’s right wing as they sought to choose whose turn it is at the trough of European politics.

Unlike Christy Moore or Christy Dignam, Bono and his expensive shades are the acceptable face of Irish culture, with just the right amount of righteous anger – that is to say, not much at all.

He is the man without the tie that it is safe to allow on the mic for a few minutes to mouth his platitudes to other rich people.

In short, if the Irish are, as Roddy Doyle wrote so memorably in the Commitments, “the blacks of Europe”, then Bono is our Uncle Tom.

“I love Europe,” he intoned to the polite yet enthusiastic applause of our betters, and sure why wouldn’t he?

Don’t European tax rules mean that he can move his millions around without fear of ever being asked to pay his share in Ireland – a share that he can well afford?

U2 may have done a lot for Ireland, but the reverse is also true – had U2 come from some midwestern American town the odds are that Mr Hewson would be caterwauling about lost dogs and lovers in front of half a dozen people in some bar in Memphis for a few meagre tips, forever imagining what might have been.

And for those who go for the begrudgery defence, it should be remembered that, like me, many of his biggest critics on social media were once his biggest fans.

Back in the eighties, I and thousands others loved Bono as for all his faults, he was a man of the people. Misguided, self-obsessed, but still, he could encapsulate the frustration of the Irish existence like few others.

Songs like Bad and Running to Stand Still perfectly summed up the grip that heroin once had on our city. That he claimed to be from Ballymun, and not Glasnevin, was something he was forgiven for.

Bono and U2 also showed the people of Dublin’s northside, and Ireland in general, that it was OK to dream, and that are dreams could even come true – we could sing and write and paint and be relevant, and on the way we could do good in the world.

But at some point Bono stopped being an ambitious Irish cultural actor, and became Bono.

And where once he saw Africa and AIDS as human tragedies, he began describing them as academic geopolitical problems to be solved, rather than the simple injustices that were his previous stock in trade.

Blissfully ignorant of his own cultural irrelevance for the last 20 years, he, along with Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, bought into the politics of destiny and the culture of entitlement, believing themselves to be the ones chosen to end the world’s problems by the simple fact of their existence, their caring, their humanity.

And at about the same time as he stopped making good records and started spouting bad platitudes, Bono started wearing shades everywhere he went.

The cynic in some of us would suggest it was because he could no longer look us in the eye.

And then to yesterday.

“I want to give an enormous shout-out, the biggest shout-out I have in my heart, to the Irish people who ‘A’ were screwed, and ‘ B’ fought back with dignity. Irish people do not bruise easily, but we do not like the feeling of being bullied,” he opined, as Angela Merkel and Enda Kenny nodded their approval giddily.

“But in the end, we’re coming through. I’d love to say it was the troika, but frankly it was despite the troika. The way I see it, the Irish people bailed the Irish people out.”

This was Bono’s revolution. This was Bono’s answer to injustice and unfairness.

“We’re pissed off, and it was unfair, but it’s OK – we’re going to pay up.”

Bono had spoken. The markets and Merkel were mollified. Official Ireland, in the form of its patron saint of glib soundbytes, had spoken.

The problem is not the staggering hubris that led Bono to say these words on an Irish stage.

The problem is that there are still people around the world who think that what he says is relevant, and that he still somehow speaks for the Irish people. He doesn’t.

But there are now those who believe that the suffering of Ireland’s working class – the “most vulnerable” so beloved at election time and so despised in between – are OK with being bankrupted by Europe.

The vitriol directed at Bono on social media is not for a moment based on jealousy for what he has.

It is because he has abandoned the have-nots, the very people who got behind him all those years ago when he had nothing, and put him on the pedestal he now occupies.

If you want to abandon your people, fine.

If you want to go somewhere else and pay less tax, fine.

But if you stand up on a stage and justify the stealing of €65 billion from the Irish people, then don’t be surprised if you find yourself on the receiving end of their unforgettable ire.


One, but we’re not the same

"If we stop playing new songs, will you stop throwing bottles of piss?"- Bono at Glasto.

It was supposed to be a triumph, and indeed for many it was. But for those of us with a longer memory, the U2 fireworks at Glastonbury were a damp squib.

I never got all the fuss about Glastonbury, nor about U2 playing it. I’ve never been, so to me it’s just another festival.

This year it was a little more, but not much.

Having agonised over whether to make the five-hour drive to Gothenburg the last time U2 played there (in the end I didn’t), it represented a rare chance to see them live on TV and see what I missed.

It wasn’t much.

For one thing, the set list seemed have been chosen by an iPod with all their albums on shuffle. There was no rhythm or pace to the performance as there has been at the great shows on the great tours of the past.

Of course, it’s hard to make a complete mess of it when you have a back catalogue as strong as U2, but it seemed flat most of the way through, with the audience unusually subdued too.

Then there is the new material, most of which is frankly awful – OK for some journeyman band touring the highways and byways, but far short of what one has come to expect from the biggest rock band in the world.

There isn’t a single song from the last two records that would have made it anywhere near “Achtung Baby” or “The Joshua Tree”, yet rubbish like “Get On Your Boots” is given parity of esteem.

It’s as if the more often it is inflicted on their fans, the more likely it is to become accepted as a great song, rather than the less-than-hilairious out-take it should have been.

No-one there had paid their money to hear that rubbish either, and if they wanted to hear Coldplay sung badly they could have waited till tonight, when Chris Martin and the boys will no doubt be happy to oblige.

I may not have made it to Gothenburg to see U2 on this tour, but my good friend Pelle Blohm did.

He got into U2 in the early 80s and even though he’s not prone to nostalgia, I was surprised by his report.

“The most soulless gig I’ve seen in a long time,” he said of the current vintage, and on last night’s evidence it’s hard not to agree.

But the Irish Twitterati were of course out in force last night, accusing anyone who didn’t think it was the best gig ever played of “begrudgery”, as if somehow that was the problem – that the critics didn’t like U2 being rich or succesful.

Which got me thinking- maybe they could be right, but for all the wrong reasons.

Maybe U2’s soullessness is down to the fact that they’ve sold out completely, releasing “Greatest Hits” albums (something they once recoiled in horror from) and moving out of Ireland overnight when they were finally asked to pay a little tax on their publishing royalties.

(This despite Bono’s now-hollow assertion in 2001 that, when a young U2 got signed, they wouldn’t “go to London … or New York City. We’re going to stay and base our crew in Dublin! Because these people – this is OUR TRIBE!”. If you’re going to make a hypocrite of yourself, what better way to do it than in front of 80,000 at Slane Castle).

Maybe the pressure to come up with a dud album and a staid arena show once every three years is telling on them.

Maybe, in hindsight, they now want to tear up the pact with the devil that delivered great riches- at an even greater cost.

U2’s best work has always been done when the band were in the throes of a crisis, whether it be the crisis of growing up in Dublin, dealing with their exploding fame post-Live Aid, or struggling to redefine themselves after “Rattle and Hum”.

And maybe, with the cash-driven announcement of the re-release of their last truly great album “Achtung Baby”, they might finally get around to making another.

For the battle against irrelevance that Bono and the boys now face could well be their last great artistic challenge.

Rise to it, and some great new U2 music surely awaits.

Fail, and they will become the Irish Rolling Stones.

Come to think of it, on last night’s evidence, they already have.