Myth, Fan Culture, and the Popular Appeal of Liminality
in the Music of u2: A Love Story
Brian Johnston and Susan Mackey-Kallis
(Lexington Books, 2019)
Now available in Paperback!
Introducing, "U2: A Love Story (The Mix Tape)"
Those of us who grew up before the digital era's dominance over our music listening and purchasing habits remember the turntable. Its fusion in the 1980s with the cassette deck and CD player turned it into a hot-wired “hearth,” the heart of youth culture where we would gather, listen together, read lyrics and fetishize the cover and liner notes artwork. Throw in a mid to high-end sound equalizer system and our absorption into the mythic realm of music listening was complete (and your room, at your house became the “hot spot”).
Borne out of this space was something unique that previous music lovers did not have access to: The Mix Tape. Whether for a friend, a boy-girl you crushed on, or your own “improvements” upon the musician’s compilation, the Mix Tape recorded from your stereo system’s radio, or CD player, or deck-to-deck tape player onto a cassette tape of your own making. True to form, then, I made a Mix Tape to accompany our book.
Here is the set list to that Mix Tape, including most of the “liner notes” I penned for each song. The compilation includes songs featured in our book and it follows those songs’ chronological appearance. If you bought a copy of the book or you’re planning on it (or not) and you want a Mix Tape, then holler at me through my LinkedIn site or email (email@example.com). I hand-make the packaging out of paper, scissors, and staples. (It's actually a CD). You can also link to the book's "Mix Tape" Spotify playlist here.
Below, from top to bottom: Me (right) and my brother Dave (left) at U2's Joshua Tree 2017 tour in Cleveland, OH. The next pic is Susan at U2's Joshua Tree 2017 tour in Philadelphia, PA.
“THE FIRST TIME” (1993, Zooropa). Prologue, Chapter-6
This song made sense as a prologue to the Mix Tape after I read our book all the way through. I had no idea how much my brother David factors into my fandom, and if you include the “altar” [stereo] so does my brother Steve. There are also some profound mythic metaphors here: The “door” (which returns in the last track), the “key,” and the lover as “soul love.” I’m grateful to Susan for bringing her “sacred feminine” to this “prodigal son.”
“BEAUTIFUL DAY” (2000, ALL THAT YOU CAN’T LEAVE BEHIND). Book Cover
The book cover is by Kelly Eddington from one of her interpretations of a music video for "Beautiful Day." The Tristan and Isolde imagery is perfectly matched to our book’s themes: “Teach me love / I know I’m not a hopeless case.” How many times have we traversed a sidewalk and either stepped on or barely dodged a small flower breaking through the hard stone? “The heart is a bloom / Shoots up through the stony ground” – perseverance. This song is about love, loss, making major life mistakes but still wanting to mean; to be defined not by our mistakes or shortcomings, but by our desire to be genuine and jubilant in our embrace of life.
“RED HILL MINING TOWN” (1987, THE JOSHUA TREE, LIVE: 2016). Dedication Page
The photo on the Dedication Page is for JANICE HOCKER RUSHING. Erin Riegel took the photo (featured here on the Home page) at U2's Joshua Tree 2017 tour in Cleveland, OH. The song is about life in a mining community. The brass band in the live version is Welsh. My first critical application of U2 lyrics was at Tyler Junior College in Biology class. I cited this lyric for my final paper: “Scorch the earth, set fire to the sky / We stoop so low to reach so high.”
“PRIDE (IN THE NAME OF LOVE)” (1985, THE UNFORGETTABLE FIRE). Chapter-1
Brian’s story. “One more, in the name of love.”
“SUNDAY, BLOODY SUNDAY” (1983, WAR). Chapter-1
Susan’s story. “Tonight, we can be as one.”
“BAD/’40’/WHERE THE STREETS HAVE NO NAME” (FROM: 1985, THE UNFORGETTABLE FIRE; 1983, WAR, 1987, THE JOSHUA TREE—LIVE: BOSTON, JUNE 2000). Chapter-3, Chapter-4, Chapter-7
This track includes three songs from three separate albums, recorded at the Boston show featured in chapter 7. My brother David and I were in the “Heart” for this performance. My brother Dave recently found where we show up on the concert documentary, at the mark: 50.21 to 50.36 – during Bono’s Joey Ramone speech. (I have this on an EP, but could not find it for the Spotify playlist, so I had to wing it a bit and this included omitting "40" from the Spotify).
“THE FLY” (1991, ACTHUNG BABY) Chapter-5, Chapter-7, Chapter-8
Watch the video for “Without or Without You” and then for “The Fly.” I like very much how Kelly Eddington’s imagery for both, collages from scenes in the videos, depict in one “sacred feminine” (“With or Without You”) and in the other “masculine ego” (“The Fly”). Awesome. It’s no accident in my opinion that one of the last singles of the 1980s, “Angel of Harlem,” leads into the first Achtung Baby single in 1991—“The Fly”—, or that the former is part of the B-stage recovered feminine archetype in the Zoo TV shows from the B-Stage Jungian unconscious site of the staging. Read the lyrics to “Angel of Harlem” and then those to “The Fly,” and paired together. The latter and the former share the same T.S. Elliot styled streets -- one in “daylight” and the other at “night.” Same stars.
“MYSTERIOUS WAYS” (1991, ACHTUNG BABY) Chapter-5, Chapter-7, Chapter-8
Read the lyrics to this song after a listening. The layers here are what I consider “transmodern poetry.” Now that I have sons and a daughter, the imagery and interactions are all the more powerful. “She’s the wave, she turns the tide / She sees the man inside the child,” “Johnny take a dive with your sister in the rain / Let her talk about the things you can’t explain.” Paging Robert Johnson.
“ONE” (1991, ACHTUNG BABY; DUALS, WITH MARY J. BLIGE) ALL CHAPTERS
This is one of the best rock songs ever written. MJB brings "One" into a new, “sacred feminine” space. It is a beautiful treatise on the transformational power of love, but through the lens of a fractured romantic relationship: “You say love is a temple, love the higher law / You ask for me to enter but then you make me crawl / And I can't be holding on to what you got / When all you got is hurt." In the book's acknowledgements I declared my then partner as the "great love of my life." She and I split around the time this book came out, and we're both in better places for that split. People grow apart and it's important to recognize that moment and then have the courage to make the right call. But this song, which starts out as a conversation between two lovers recognizing the end of their relationship translates later in the lyrics into what really is the bedrock of our book, and what we see as the next significant evolution in human consciousness: love: "One life but we’re not the same / We get to carry each other, carry each other...”. This is the new myth for the whole world, what Joseph Campbell interprets from Sanskrit as, "Thou art that." Maya Angelou explains this evolution by deconstructing the phrase, "I am my brother's keeper" into, "I am my brother"--I am my brother, and I am my sister. We'll get there, and that's the new faith.
“ELEVATION” (2000, ALL THAT YOU CAN’T LEAVE BEHIND; LIVE: 2005, “FROG”) Chapter-7
This live performance is referenced in Chapter-7, when Bono says, “I got a frog in my throat." Ode to Zootopia.
"ALL BECAUSE OF YOU” (2004, HOW TO DISMANTLE AN ATOMIC BOMB)
The only song on this compilation that is not mentioned in the book. In Chapter-7, which stands out in the book as an autoethnographic study of fan culture, I dig deep to explain how for decades my fandom served as an emotional supplement. Most of us have something we draw upon to enhance our capacity for processing life and its more challenging moments--a relational breakup, the loss of a job, depression, conflict, regrets, all manner of personal and cultural traumas. Through Robert Johnson's work we explain that pop culture offers up some such sources that are no less potentially poignant than perennial philosophies, religious experience (scripture and community), or modern psychoanalytic therapies. All of these also share the same potential trap, however, which is turning the "therapy" into yet another pathway for avoiding the mythic inner "call" for real work translated then into flesh and blood action, or meaningful personal relationship. Lesson learned: “I’m at the door, I’m being born / from the place I started out from and I want back inside.” This song has powerful mythic journey and “sacred feminine” language: birth, sex, and re-entry/birth. The womb as nexus of the hero’s and heroine’s journey. We wear our wounds on our sleeves, in our emotions and through the baggage we carry but we also carry our "wombs," our potential for renewal, new perspective, and perseverance as well. Ode here to the mother-goddess archetypes in our lives.
“MOMENT OF SURRENDER” (2009, NO LINE ON THE HORIZON) Chapter-7
This is one of the best U2 songs most have never heard, because the album did not get much acclaim and the band did not make a shorter, single version. It was a great closer to the 360 shows in 2009 and it is a beautiful ‘on the brink’ tune. The main character is in liminal space, physically and spiritually. Brian Eno’s production is all over this one.
“THE MIRACLE OF JOEY RAMONE)” (2014, SONGS OF INNOCENCE) Chapter-8
The “sacred sound”, the journey: “I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred / heard a song that made some sense out of the world / everything I ever lost now has been returned / In the most beautiful sound I'd ever heard.” I like how this song is in great part about fandom: “I was young, not dumb.” Susan masterfully connects the “pilgrim” metaphor to the larger mythic journey, and back to chapter two on the rhetorical appeal of the rock music / religious performance space of liminality.
“I WILL FOLLOW” (1980, BOY) Chapter-3, Chapter-8
Not sure how young men of this age (when U2 wrote this song they were 14 and 16 years old) could conceive something so complex. And the triangle as instrument—really? The physical instrument, the triangle, bolsters the musical appeal while adding to the lyrics’ feminine archetype metaphors as the triangle shape is an ancient representation of the feminine, and power. Mother themes, and mythic journey definite this song – another ‘brink’ tune, harnessing liminal energy (and appeal, because most of us occupy that space in our own lives, and music listening itself is a kind of out of body transportation and liminal time experience). Rock music needs more triangle.
“THE BLACKOUT” (2017, SONGS OF EXPERIENCE) Chapter-9
This self-reflexive, club-pop performance calls to question that moment where one either either recedes “into oblivion” or reboots for a new journey,
“LOVE IS BIGGER THAN ANYTHING IN ITS WAY” (2017, SONGS OF EXPERIENCE) Chapter-9
I had the option to end this compilation with “The Ground Beneath Her Feet,” written by Salman Rushdie, performed by U2, and based upon the mythic tale of Orpheus who, as mentioned in chapter-9, was a musician who put away his lyre in remorse for his lost love only to be torn to pieces and cast into the river by those angered by not getting to hear his music and “golden voice” anymore—now THAT’S fandom. I wanted to end this mix with U2’s collaboration with Johnny Cash on “The Wanderer,” a trippy postmodern take on the prodigal son story where the son does not come home. I wanted to end with “Miss Sarajevo,” written for the longest siege in modern history that U2 beamed into their Zoo TV (Europe Tours) via rogue journalist, Bill Carter. Nope. This really is the best conclusion. At the E+I show in NY that David and I attended, U2 dedicates the song to Salman Rushdie. We were next to Rushdie for the entire show, and what a treat to meet and speak with this amazing author. He was in V.I.P. behind us and we were in the Floor GA section (photo below by David). I love that he was there, though, not as a "V.I.P." but as a fan--he never budged from the rail and leaned into the show as much as we did. I hear this song as a meditation of what I hope to be: a reliable, trustworthy presence to my children as they grow up. If my children remember one thing from what I've tried to teach them, I hope it is this: Love yourself, Love each other, and Ask for Help when you need it. “So young, to be the words of your own song / I know the rage in you is strong / Write a world where we can belong / To each other and sing it like no other.” “Love” is “Bigger” than “anything in its way” if we remember to embody it in every moment, especially those moments where we think it doesn’t matter, which is where it probably matters most.