But wait. Bruce Springsteen's speech here inducting U2 into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame was some of the best words about rock music I have ever heard. I expected compliments and sappiness, what I got instead was profound and introspective, challenging and reverent.
A great rock band searches for the same kind of combustible force that fueled the expansion of the universe after the big bang. You want the earth to shake and spit fire. You want the sky to split apart and for God to pour out.
For what the English occasionally have the refined sensibilities to overcome, we Irish and Italians have no such problem. We come through the door fists and hearts first. U2, with the dark, chiming sound of heaven at their command -- which, of course, is the sound of unrequited love and longing, their greatest theme -- their search for God intact. This was a band that wanted to lay claim to not only this world but had their eyes on the next one, too.
They believed in pop stardom and the big time. Now this requires foolishness and a calculating mind. It also requires a deeply held faith in the work you're doing and in its powers to transform. U2 hungered for it all, and built a sound, and they wrote the songs that demanded it. They're keepers of some of the most beautiful sonic architecture in rock and roll.
There are only a handful of guitar stylists who can create a world with their instruments, and he's one of them. The Edge's guitar playing creates enormous space and vast landscapes. It is a thrilling and a heartbreaking sound that hangs over you like the unsettled sky. In the turf it stakes out, it is inherently spiritual. It is grace and it is a gift.
Together Larry and Adam create the element that suggests the ecstatic possibilities of that other kingdom -- the one below the earth and below the belt -- that no great rock band can lay claim to the title without.
You see, every good Irish and Italian-Irish front man knows that before James Brown there was Jesus. So hold the McDonald arches on the stage set, boys, we are not ironists. We are creations of the heart and of the earth and of the stations of the cross -- there's no getting out of it. He is gifted with an operatic voice and a beautiful falsetto rare among strong rock singers. But most important, his is a voice shot through with self-doubt. That's what makes that big sound work. It is this element of Bono's talent -- along with his beautiful lyric writing -- that gives the often-celestial music of U2 its fragility and its realness. It is the questioning, the constant questioning in Bono's voice, where the band stakes its claim to its humanity and declares its commonality with us.
Now Bono's voice often sounds like it's shouting not over top of the band but from deep within it. "Here we are, Lord, this mess, in your image." He delivers all of this with great drama and an occasional smirk that says, "Kiss me, I'm Irish." He's one of the great front men of the past twenty years. He is also one of the only musicians to devote his personal faith and the ideals of his band into the real world in a way that remains true to rock's earliest implications of freedom and connection and the possibility of something better.
I could go on, but the point is, not only is U2 a great band, but Springsteen is a great writer, not only in lyrics bound by meter and notes, but in prose, bound by only his passion. He clearly is capable of looking outward as well as inward, and feeling a connection with kindred spirits. I was moved by what Bruce said.
When I teach college classes about recording studio technology, I tell them that it's not about how strongly you want to do it. Instead, it's rather that you feel there's just nothing else you can do.
Springsteen clearly can't do anything else other than what he does; create powerful and passionate music. And he recognizes a kinship in the U2 men, that there's nothing else for them to do but write, sing and play their music. Imperfection is allowed, and sometimes cherished, but voices are raised in earnest, and songs are sung for everyone to hear, and react to. And they still haven't found what they're looking for.