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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Sunday, August 16, 2009
    Stand up to Rock Stars
     
    STAND UP TO ROCK STARS. I've been standing up to Bono for some time now. Post-Pop, since when the music lost the innovative energy of the Achtung era, when the ageing band reverted to rolling out a series of mild stadium teasers, and with the U2 front man, post-Iraq, publicly cozying up to war criminals Bush and Blair, I stood up to the rock star whose music had previously helped me stumble through that journey from boy to man, whose words had fired and inspired an awkward clinging to faith in the face of many setbacks, doubts and fears, whose following had held me in a loose community of sorts. I stood up to Bono and turned my back on him, his tired anthems and his bloated benevolence.

    Except that even when your back is turned on Bono you still hear U2. They're in the ears of your heart, the songs still simmer and click in your soul, words you'll never forget re-emerge at unexpected times to energize, enervate, elevate your spirit.

    And though you stopped going to U2 shows in 2001, when your brother-in-law treats you to a Wembley ticket for the 360 Tour you accept it with grateful thanks, for you know that the good things you share with these rock stars and their gathered, mobile-phone-waving community, far outweigh the niggles you have about their slowing down, losing edge, believing their own hype.

    And there, in the shining new national stadium, beneath the thrilling 360 spider/space rocket stage structure, Bono, bouncing along his circular walkway inches above the crowd, tells us all to 'be careful of small men with big ideas', and we know he's being self-referential; he's exhorting us to stop being reverential towards him. 'Stand up to rock stars', he sings. 'Come all you people, stand up for your love'. So I stand up, in my seat on Block 104, and I'm with him, Edge, Larry, Adam, for the duration, impressed by the bounce and creativity of the new songs, awed by Willie Williams' wonderful stage show.

    Actually I stood up right at the start of the set, as soon as the band launched into one of their new classics: Breathe, in which a Bono who has clearly been soaking in the White Stripes (or channelling the restless spirit of Phil Lynott) blurts out the story of a supposed assassin standing at his door and immediately sets the theme of standing up against:
    Coming from a long line of travelling sales people on my mother’s side
    I wasn’t gonna buy just anyone’s cockatoo
    So why would I invite a complete stranger into my home
    Would you
    Breathe becomes a celebration of grace under pressure: it sets your neck hairs on edge and restores your faith in whatever it is you've lost or are still looking for. From there, throughout the show, at Bono's behest, we stand up - for our love, for our faith (modestly affirmed by a tiny crucifix fixed to the top of the 360 stage structure, above a mirrorball which periodically illuminates the thousands dancing below) - and for Aung San Suu Kyi, incarcerated leader of Burma's democratic movement. U2 still campaigning, still encouraging their audience to politically engage.

    Before the encore we get onscreen a sermon from the inspirational Desmond Tutu, exhorting us to do just that, and the 90,000 gathered people stand up and listen, hearts burning, to his words of encouragement for the journey. It's a joyous, affirming, energising show. So thanks, Bono. I will stand up to rock stars. But while they keep holding the flame and burning new visions into my wires, I'll keep on standing with them too.

    thanks Pete