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THE '80s A Special Report : THE TASTE MAKERS : Presenting the big players and major ideas that--for better or worse--shaped the 1980s. This is Calendar's fifth annual Taste Makers report, expanded this time to cover the last 10 years in the following categories: Show Business Execs, Film Producers, Film Directors and Writers, Stage, TV, Music, Dance, Pop Music, Jazz, Comedy, Radio, Art and Restaurants. : POP MUSIC : U 2

December 24, 1989|CHRIS WILLMAN

He's socially conscious. He's spiritual. He's got a speedball in his head (cf. "God Part II"). He's Bono, both bad boy and savior of rock, enjoying the irreconcilable dichotomy he represents as lead singer of U2, the Irish quartet proclaimed by Rolling Stone magazine and just about everyone else as "the band of the '80s."

U2 is the act that, more than any other in pop history, introduced genuine Christian values into popular rock 'n' roll. Humanist ones as well, producing a rare sense of uplift in early, overtly religious songs like "Gloria." Moments in their concerts, like their musical appropriation of Psalm 40, were like church.

But, like the band's hero Martin Luther King Jr., Bono also has an earthier side. And the group's music got darker in the second half of the decade, and personal demons were confronted as frequently as societal ones, until suddenly U2 no longer seemed like the group you could take home to mother. Whether you prefer U2 as saints or sinners, what has remained consistent is an overriding sense of purpose (pompousness, to detractors) and challenge.

The commercial inroads this out-of-the-mainstream band made in such a short time were startling, but not as startling as the willingness to investigate--especially in the mega-breakthrough "Joshua Tree" album--the possibilities of the divine and the full range of human emotion.

The Taste Makers project was edited by David Fox, assistant Sunday Calendar editor.

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