“Mock the devil,” Bono adds with a conspiratorial smile, “and he will flee from thee.”
Backstage at the globe, a couple hours before show time, B.P. Fallon is talking about the difference between U2’s brand of rock spectacle and the way it really was in the good old Seventies — when excess was king and the stars talked about social and moral responsibility with a small r. It is a subject Fallon knows well. An elfin, animated Irishman billed in the Zoo TV Tour program as “guru, viber and disc jockey” (he spins records before U2’s set and warms up the crowd with hippie chatter), Fallon has been a writer, radio personality and publicist since the Sixties and has worked for and with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.
“With Zeppelin, it was just more of everything — more drugs, more sex,” he says with just a faint hint of nostalgia. “Now there’s less drugs, less casualness about sex. And the recession is being felt the world over, not just in America. So there’s more to worry about.
“But this is also a different U2 in a way, not knights in armor,” Fallon continues. “It’s warmer, funnier, more human. They go out there trying to give the audience something to take home with them — the idea that for all of the things that are wrong, you don’t have to feel mortally wounded all the time. Here’s a bandage, some hope and some fun. It’s like if you walk around with an umbrella over your head all the time. Sure, you won’t get rained on. But you won’t get any sun, either. U2’s out there saying: “Fuck the umbrella. So what if you get a little wet?’ “
Zoo TV and the triple-platinum Achtung Baby are the sight and sound of U2 leaving the hair shirts at home and singing in the rain. At a time when rock’s established order has been upended, with skate-teen gods like Pearl Jam and the Red Hot Chili Peppers holding the Top Ten hostage while Bruce Springsteen is left knocking at the back door, U2 has regained critical and commercial favor by negotiating an inspired balance between rock’s cheap thrills and its own sense of moral burden. The po-faced asceticism of its Joshua Tree-Rattle and Hum days is, for the most part, history. Gone is the spiritual-gladiator image immortalized by that shot of Bono in the video of “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” waving the white flag against the hells-caldron glow of the fires at Red Rocks Amphitheater.
The members of U2 have retooled themselves as wiseacres with heart and elephant bucks to burn on the hallucinatory video sport of Zoo TV (a wordplay on MTV and the loony Morning Zoo shows dominating American Top Forty radio). Created in part by Brian Eno and the production team responsible for the English avant-video show Buzz, Zoo TV’s agitated splash of appropriated video images and glib buzz phrases triggers eye-popping juxtapositions of cliche and truth: Everything You Know Is Wrong; Guilt Is Next to God; I Want a Job, Pussy, School; Everybody Is a Racist. (One befuddled interviewer recently asked the band members why they thought everybody was a “rapist.”)
The Outside Broadcast version of Zoo TV now on the U.S. stadium circuit jacks up the mind-fuck quotient. George Bush calls the congregation to order in hilariously doctored footage, chanting Queen’s “We will, we will rock you!” in that irritating read-my-lips whine. Two East German Trabant cars attached to huge mechanical arms and outfitted with spotlights scan the crowd like alien prison sentries while a patchwork video quilt of Gargantuan screens, multi-image Vidiwalls and TV monitors spews words and pictures with exhausting velocity — Rock & Roll Mission Control running on amphetamine fast forward. During “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” Bono appears on the screens in his lizardy leathers in grossly magnified, jump-cut distortions of his real-time posing, looking like Godzilla gone MTV.