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Music and the Irish Imagination

 | 
Thierry Dubost
, 
Alexandra Slaby

Instrumentalising Irish music

“Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief”: Literary and Theatrical Influences in the Works of U2

Visnja Cogan

Résumé

U2 is a rock band. This statement may seem obvious when one looks at a career spanning almost thirty years. And rock itself has no ties with high art, or so it seems. Its place is indeed firmly rooted in popular culture, and its sometimes nefarious image is often light and excessive. However, when examined closely, the U2 phenomenon reveals that Irish and anglo-saxon literature have inspired Bono’s writing. W. B. Yeats, Brendan Behan, Oscar Wilde, as well as Flannery O’Connor, C. S. Lewis, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer, or Salman Rushdie run through U2’s works or indeed appear in person. These great authors are either passive actors or a strong presence, and they offer U2 a more universal artistic dimension than is believed at first. Moreover, visual arts are present on record sleeves or on stage, which makes U2 one of the rare rock bands to have used theatrical elements in its shows. Several questions can therefore be raised. Firstly, what is the origin of those influences and what is their real place in U2’s career? Secondly, are U2 fans aware of those influences and do those influences give U2 a wider dimension than that of a rock band? The central question is: is U2’s music more than popular?

Le groupe U2 fait du rock. Cela paraît une évidence à l’aune d’une carrière de près de trente ans. Et le rock, du moins en apparence, n’a pas de lien avec les arts classiques (high art) ; il est classé dans la culture populaire et son image parfois sulfureuse ne projette souvent que la légèreté et les excès. Toutefois, lorsque l’on observe le phénomène U2 de près, on s’aperçoit que la littérature irlandaise en particulier, et anglo-saxonne en général, a inspiré l’écriture de Bono. W. B. Yeats, Brendan Behan, Oscar Wilde, mais aussi Flannery O’Connor, C. S. Lewis, Allen Ginsberg, Norman Mailer ou Salman Rushdie apparaissent en filigrane et parfois même en personne dans l’œuvre du groupe. Acteurs passifs ou présences fortes, ces grands noms de la littérature offrent à U2 une dimension artistiquement bien plus universelle qu’on peut le penser de prime abord. De plus, les arts de la représentation se retrouvent également à travers les pochettes de disque ou les concerts. U2 est alors vu comme un des rares groupes de rock à avoir intégré des éléments de théâtre dans ses prestations scéniques. On peut donc s’interroger sur les origines de ces influences, sur la véritable place qu’elles occupent dans la carrière du groupe, si les fans du groupe perçoivent ces influences et si celles-ci placent le groupe dans une dimension plus large que celle du rock. En définitive, le rock de U2 peut-il être plus qu’une musique populaire ?

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Extrait du texte

U2 are famous for their often spectacular and memorable live performances and also for their political songs. They are well known thanks to Bono’s charisma and his humanitarian involvement. However, literary influences are not something one would readily think of in connection with U2, or indeed their strong interest in theatre and the use they have made of it throughout their career.

The quote in the title, “Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief”, is a perfect illustration of the topic because it mirrors the fact that U2 have not only been strongly influenced by art, but have also used literary quotes. The quote itself comes from the song “The Fly”, which was the first single from the 1991 album, Achtung Baby. That album had a very strong impact at the time, for it was a rebirth for the band, after the end of the 1980s and the now famous quote by Bono on New Year’s Eve 1989: “We have to go away and dream it all up again”.1 The Fly was also a character created by Bono for...

Auteur

Visnja Cogan teaches English at the Institut de gestion sociale (IGS-CIEFA), Paris, and at the université Paris Diderot – Paris VII. She is the author of U2, An Irish Phenomenon, published in 2008 by Pegasus Books. She is currently working on the music industry in Ireland as part of a research project for a new book.

© Presses universitaires de Caen, 2013

Conditions d’utilisation : http://www.openedition.org/6540

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