How dare the creatives keep creating

When I am the world’s most rich and famous newspaper columnist, maybe I’ll finally get that multi-million dollar deal with Apple to distribute my latest collection of writing worldwide. They might even drop it for free into 500 million iTunes accounts across 119 countries, just like what they’ve done with U2’s new album, Songs of Innocence.

Is U2’s new album any good? Sure. It has its moments. It’s not my favourite-ever collection of U2 songs but I’ve enjoyed listening to it this week.

It certainly doesn’t deserve the hilarious uproar that was unleashed across the internet in its wake, most notably on Twitter. Here’s one of the more polite protests I’ve seen:

Finding an unasked-for U2 album in their music collection turns out to have made many people feel violated and downright angry. There’s now an entire trend of “U2 is in my house” jokes on Twitter.

But from what I can see, U2’s main crime appears to be that they are still writing U2 songs. Yes, the bombastic ambition of these ageing rock stars is still intact and they’re still working on their craft.

Even more upsetting, U2 still sound like U2. How dare they. It’s as though people are angry that, after 38 years, a band of musicians hasn’t stopped wanting to be a band.

We are fickle consumers. The use-by date of artists is determined not by them, but by us and our impatience for novelty.

When I am the world’s most rich and famous columnist I will still want to create stuff. There will no doubt be recurring themes and riffs in my work so it will be hard not to repeat myself, but I’ll keep doing whatever I can do to nourish my creative soul.

I’m picking U2 have the same creative drive. There’s nothing about Songs of Innocence that suggests to me they just phoned it in. They’re as earnest as ever, making new music because that’s what they want to do.

Perhaps Bono doesn’t care what anyone thinks because he’s too busy smirking gleefully into his billions? I think that’s unlikely. When I am the world’s most rich and famous columnist I will still feel the terror of starting from scratch on each new project.

I like U2 and I’ve always been a big fan of Bono. I like the way he embraces the absurdity of his rock star success. He’s never pretended to be anything other than a flawed Irish musician who is obnoxiously rich.

I once saw an interview where he defended his political activism by saying something like: “What else are you going to do with this thing called celebrity? I mean, it’s ridiculous. Why would a rock star or sports star be more important than a nurse or a mother? But hey, it’s currency, and I decided I’m going to spend mine.”

If Bono’s politics annoys you, that’s up to you. If you’re concerned about the mechanics of Apple’s disruptive marketing ploy, then that’s an important and interesting discussion to have.

But if you’re an iTunes account holder who is mostly upset because a free album you received is by a band that you’re not all that interested in … Well, really? Is that such a big deal?

Marketing stunts aside, at the centre of the U2 furore is a bunch of guys who like writing songs.

When I’m the world’s most rich and famous columnist, you’ll have to forgive me if I, too, don’t stop creating new material just because you’d rather read something else.


First published in Bay of Plenty Times 19 September 2014. Reproduced with permission.