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Doctor Bono's Call to Arms
June 2, 2004 3:54 AM   Subscribe

Bono's commencement address to U.Penn. "The world is more malleable than you think and it's waiting for you to hammer it into shape.... That's what this degree of yours is, a blunt instrument. So go forth and build something with it." [via Ed]
posted by rory (46 comments total)

 
Just like to register my hunch that most of the poeple of metafilter will have a negative opinion of Bono.

I dont. I like him!
posted by kenaman at 4:20 AM on June 2, 2004


I don't much like Bono, but I come not to bury him, but praise him. Excellent speech. Thanks for posting, rory.
posted by psmealey at 4:23 AM on June 2, 2004


Yeah, I was wary of Bono-backlash, but what the hell. I read a great book about U2 several years ago, U2 At the End of the World by Bill Flanagan, which completely removed any cynical suspicions I had about them (even though I don't know why I would have had them; I love their music). A great rock music book and a great travel book, well worth reading if you like either of those.

So I read this without cynical preconceptions; and it's a fine speech.
posted by rory at 4:36 AM on June 2, 2004


I like Bono -- alot. He recently snuck into my town (Lincoln, NE) with very little fanfare or advance notice to speak at a small church audience a few blocks from here. That boosted his cred with me. The man walks the walk and doesn't wear it on his sleeve.
posted by RavinDave at 4:44 AM on June 2, 2004


Not to diminish the very worthy and compelling content of the speech, but Doctor of Law? I realize an honorary degree, but what does it mean, exactly?
posted by yoga at 4:48 AM on June 2, 2004


Why the Bono backlash? Yeah, he's a rich rock star who talks a lot but he does put his money where his mouth is. The opinions didn't come with his wealth either, from what I recall when he was still part of that "new smash band" he was already political. His success just gave him money to back it up.
posted by substrate at 4:51 AM on June 2, 2004


Despite good intentions and good deeds, Bono's look-at-me-I'm-a-worldly-rock-star schtick is annoying. Looks like he got UPenn to fall for it, though.

"I read the Declaration of Independence and I've read the Constitution of the United States, and they are some liner notes, dude." Please. Does anyone talk to 22-year-olds as if they were adults anymore?

Memo to universities: It's okay to have commencement speakers that your students have never heard of. It's not like the graduates won't show up otherwise.
posted by PrinceValium at 5:34 AM on June 2, 2004


At my baccalaureate (speech before the actual graduation ceremony, so people weren't all hungover), Timothy Burke said sort of the opposite thing.

I think many Swarthmore students often try, immediately after graduating, to accomplish a critical task at exactly the wrong time in exactly the wrong way. I am not referring to your next jobs. Many of you will be doing jobs next year that you will be underpaid in and overqualified for. Tough luck on that, but it'll get better eventually.

What I am thinking of is that many of you will try to do good and change the world for the better. And I do not think that you should. I think that this is exactly the wrong time for you to try and you will try to do it in exactly the wrong way. In trying, you misunderstand what it is that you are best qualified to do in the coming years, and you misunderstand exactly how it is that you go about doing good in the world.


Read the whole thing. He talks about his somewhat ambivalent feelings going to Zimbabwe in the 80s after graduating from a fancy liberal arts college and meeting some of the misguided people out there. Much more insightful than, "Dude, one person can change the world."
posted by alidarbac at 5:55 AM on June 2, 2004


I'd respect his "save the world" thing a lot more if only he'd written a decent song in the past ten years. Is it not possible to save the world and keep your band from sucking?
posted by bondcliff at 8:26 AM on June 2, 2004


Where's this Bono backlash everyone's been expecting? (Nice speech, by the way. It's been a good year for 'em, it seems.)
posted by chicobangs at 8:29 AM on June 2, 2004


It's refreshing to see a rock star practice what he preaches.
posted by btwillig at 8:31 AM on June 2, 2004


I dunno about this Bono backlash thing. It seems like we just basically expect a right-wing attack on any celebrity with lefty politics.

Jeez, remember when it was cool that rock and roll stars were about social conscience and not about drugs and decadence?
posted by rks404 at 8:33 AM on June 2, 2004


Ah Christ dude take off the damned sunglasses already if you want to be taken seriously.
posted by xmutex at 8:37 AM on June 2, 2004


I dunno about this Bono backlash thing. It seems like we just basically expect a right-wing attack on any celebrity with lefty politics.

Nah, I'm pretty far left and I still can't stand neither the Bono nor the Sting.

Jeez, remember when it was cool that rock and roll stars were about social conscience and not about drugs and decadence?

Um, no?
posted by mr.marx at 8:40 AM on June 2, 2004


Another good one.
posted by rushmc at 8:54 AM on June 2, 2004


I'm as liberal as it gets, and fuck Bono. His mealy-mouthed sloganeering is merely the act of ball-fondling that accompanies his masturbatory political dalliances. He doesn't care about anyone else, except to the degree that we watch him and praise him as he wipes himself clean with an American flag, and holds it up for us to see that there is now an extra stripe. Proof of his large-scale meat puppetry is that, for all the talking he does about helping other people, he is the one benefiting from his charity work.

And U2 was never a rock and roll band, even before they started singing about moles digging up their souls in holes.


Just wanted to give Kenaman his money's worth.

posted by Hildago at 9:02 AM on June 2, 2004


"The world is more malleable than you think and it's waiting for you to hammer it into shape

I can't help thinking that a lot of our problems right now are the result of attitudes just like this. The current administration is all about trying to hammer the world into shape. Maybe a little less hammering a little more patient sanding is what we need.

And due credit to Bono's good efforts, but any middle-aged multi-millionaire who calls people "dude" in a commencement speech should be pantsed.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:14 AM on June 2, 2004


I haven't liked Bono since the incident at the Embarcadero in San Francisco where he spray painted on the fountain "Rock and Roll stops the traffic" (is that supposed to be some kind of worldly social comment?). I was at the concert that followed where they had brought in the sculptor of the fountain, Francois Vaillancourt, to spray paint "Stop the Madness" on their stage set. Bono went on and on about how it wasn't an act of vandalism since he was an artist. Like that somehow gives him free reign to spray paint on any other persons artwork. Maybe he ought to spray paint on Michelangelo's David "Bono was here". I kept wishing he'd shut up and let the band play, or that the Pretenders would come back onstage. What an arrogant, pompous ass.
posted by Eekacat at 9:22 AM on June 2, 2004


As someone who attended his speech, I'd have to say he made an *excellent* commencement speaker. When it was first announced that he'd be speaking, many people voiced concern that he wasn't an "academic" enough choice and it was just silly. But I recall sitting through Desmond Tutu's address at Penn last year (who was also a controversial choice -- not because of his credentials but his political views) and Bono was hands-down the better speaker.

Graduation speeches are generally very, very boring. Nobody wants to sit through them, but they have to. But Bono actually did a good job of mixing entertaining bits with actual substance (he also had a few off-the-cuff remarks that were very funny and on-target) and I'm sure I'll actually remember who spoke at my commencement.
posted by cedly at 9:30 AM on June 2, 2004


So I read this without cynical preconceptions; and it's a fine speech.

I think so too. I hate U2 as much as the next guy (they're a pathetic imitation of The Clash, for one thing, and Bono is a horrible singer). But he (especially for a 'rock star') seems to have his head still screwed on right. What are you going to tell a large group of people who have just spent $100,000, presumably farting around, and are wondering what comes next?

I think it's a fair question. What am I doing here? More to the point: what are you doing here?

And, since this is America, still have your speech be 'entertaining.' While the word 'dude' is unfortunate, this is a fairly good analogy: I'm a huge fan of America, I'm one of those annoying fans, you know the ones that read the CD notes and follow you into bathrooms and ask you all kinds of annoying questions about why you didn't live up to that?

As a member of the 'even-more-self-centered-than-Bono' boomer generation, which has almost totally frittered away its enormous potential, I hope Bono is right when he says "Well this is the time for bold measures. This is the country, and you are the generation."
posted by LeLiLo at 9:33 AM on June 2, 2004


I'd have to say he made an *excellent* commencement speaker.

Well, he has had some training in speaking in front of groups.

I'm jealous, cedly. Being there would have been very, very cool.
posted by chicobangs at 9:34 AM on June 2, 2004


That Timothy Burke speech is great. Thanks, alidarbac.
posted by gai at 9:39 AM on June 2, 2004


I've seen him in concert twice (Joshua Tree and Zooropa tours), but I can't shake the memory of watching Bono do a call-in radio show (also was on TV, Stern-style...shit, maybe it was the Howard Stern show, I don't remember). Clinton, who was president at the time, called in, and complemented U2 on their stylistic progression from one album to the next, even honestly commenting that he hadn't enjoyed the previous one so much, and was glad they were getting back to what they were good at. Sure, his comments might have been written by someone else, but at least they didn't in themselves reek of political bullshit. And Bono's response, which I admit to not remembering verbatim, was basically "I sure am going down the wrong track the day that I care about what you think." Which, I know, is true, but the fact that he said it at that moment and in that way just really pissed me off. It came off like Clinton was the one speaking his mind, and Bono was the one trying to deliver the line that would please the greatest common denominator and win him some album sales.

And yeah, I hate the fucking sunglasses. And the fact that his guitarist is named The Edge is a bit dodgy, too.

Irish girls are great, though.
posted by bingo at 9:54 AM on June 2, 2004


Proof of his large-scale meat puppetry is that, for all the talking he does about helping other people, he is the one benefiting from his charity work.

Yeah, he's really basking in the limelight now that Third World debt forgiveness is a serious topic of debate. What an asshole.

Why does the fact that Bono is a musician diminish his standing as a crusader? If it were Maya Angelou, would you feel differently? (please, no lame comments about who you think is a "better artist")
posted by mkultra at 10:01 AM on June 2, 2004


I dunno about this Bono backlash thing. It seems like we just basically expect a right-wing attack on any celebrity with lefty politics.

I was thinking more of the backlash against successful people who are seen as too earnest or egotistical, and insufficiently cynical or humble. What we Aussies call the 'tall poppy syndrome' - the tendency to cut tall poppies down to size. MeFi has it in spades. (And now, this thread has it in spades.)

Bono's look-at-me-I'm-a-worldly-rock-star schtick is annoying.

After twenty-five years in the public eye, travelling the length and breadth of the planet and meeting swags of global leaders along the way, he is worldly. If we ignore everyone like that, we'll end up listening only to wannabes and never-beens who don't have a tenth of their experience.

Does anyone talk to 22-year-olds as if they were adults anymore?

Is bathos out as a rhetorical device after age 40? Half that audience would have been older than Bono; he wasn't just talking to 22-year-olds. It's a 40-something Irishman using American slang as a self-deprecating joke about being a rock star.

At my baccalaureate (speech before the actual graduation ceremony, so people weren't all hungover), Timothy Burke said sort of the opposite thing.

And a good speech that is too, with plenty to think about. But although his own particular idealisms were cut down to size in Zimbabwe, it's just as possible for idealism to diminish or die in an ordinary job, in an ordinary place, while you wait for "your commitment to change [to] arise from within the conditions of your journey through the world". It's fair to say that you don't have to be an activist to make a difference in the world, that bearing witness to the truth is valuable, and that being blind to it in the name of ideology almost always is not. But not every activist ends up crushed by their struggle; some of them do make the world a better place. And they have to draw their inspiration from somewhere.

And there are worse places than Bono's speech. He isn't telling those graduates to rush off to Africa en masse. "Whether it's this or something else, I hope you'll pick a fight and get in it," he says; and that fighting spirit can be applied in all sorts of contexts, in all sorts of ways. Tim Burke is saying that picking the wrong fight can crush your spirit; Bono is saying don't let your fighting spirit get crushed. The sentiments aren't mutually exclusive.
posted by rory at 10:06 AM on June 2, 2004


Eric Clapton dies and goes to heaven.

The angels are giving him a tour of the rock star section, and he's delighted to see his old pals Keith Moon, Duane Allman and Jimi Hendrix. But one face surprises him.

"What's Bono doing here?" he asks "I thought he was alive."

"Oh, that," the angel replies, "That's God. He just likes to pretend he's Bono."


I like some of U2's music, and I believe he's sincere, but that says it all, methinks.
posted by jonmc at 10:17 AM on June 2, 2004


Hmm -- I like the "Bono's charity work sucks, and, coincidentally, I don't like his music" argument. What a coincidence. Bono's given a lot of time and money to a real cause he cares about. Just because you don't like his sunglasses doesn't mean you should shit on his genuine desire to do good in the world.

... And I'll add: lots of people *do* like Bono (like me). I love U2, and I love their music, and U2 are about as derivative of The Clash as Brian Eno is derivative of The Clash. Just because it says it in the All Music Guide doesn't mean it's true. Inasmuch as people really do respond to Bono and his celebrity / musicianship, there's nothing wrong in my mind with his taking advantage of his very public persona to work for the public good. Saying that he ought to take off his sunglasses to be taken seriously is no different from telling all those hippies to cut their hair. It's superficial and reactionary.

Has no one else benefited? Would you maintain that the world would be better off if Bono'd sat around at home and made no efforts to help anyone at all?
posted by josh at 11:16 AM on June 2, 2004


the "dude" part was intentional to the guy who follows you into the bathroom to discuss liner notes.

excellent speech, thanks for the link.
posted by petebest at 11:20 AM on June 2, 2004


Congratulations cedly.

As far as Bono goes, I like U2 as a unit. I appreciate their attempt to do things "differently" as they progress and grow as musicians, even if the ultimate result is not as entertaining as some of their previous work. At least they are trying, you know? Same for Madonna, even though she usually gets shit-canned for trying something different. I've not been a "fan" of hers in some time, but I still appreciate her effort. She's gone in a different direction, one I don't like, but that doesn't mean it should not be explored.

Bono seems like a snide, pompous jackass in the interviews I've seen with him. And that's fine. I even like the sunglasses when he's doing his rock star schtick. I even think the Clinton comments were perfectly fine in this context. I'd probably be snide and pompous if I was a wealthy multi-multi-platinum selling artist adored by millions. It must be fairly intoxicating.

I know he has been, and probably still is, PASSIONATE about some issues, but I don't know that he truly brings anything to the table. His fame and wealth open doors for him and put him in contact with influential people, but I don't know that he himself is actually contributing anything to any of these causes. Just because he's rich and famous doesn't necessarily mean he's a genius too.

Of course, that may not matter. Perhaps just being a privileged messenger is enough.

My personal opinion though is that he makes a better rock star than activist.
posted by Ynoxas at 11:26 AM on June 2, 2004


Eekacat: I haven't liked Bono since the incident at the Embarcadero in San Francisco where he spray painted on the fountain "Rock and Roll stops the traffic" ... What an arrogant, pompous ass.

I'd be willing to bet that the 44-year-old Bono of 2004 would agree with your assessment of the 27-year-old Bono of 1987. Have you changed in those 17 years?
posted by pardonyou? at 11:44 AM on June 2, 2004


Three years ago today
posted by Capn at 12:25 PM on June 2, 2004


Has he found what's he's looking for yet?

(Maybe it's under the sofa!)
posted by ColdChef at 12:42 PM on June 2, 2004


It's always the last place you look, Chef.
posted by chicobangs at 12:53 PM on June 2, 2004


Of course it's always in the last place you look, because you stop looking after you find it!
posted by kindall at 12:59 PM on June 2, 2004


You know, kindall, that is so true.

I think we've all learned something today. Thanks, Bono.
posted by chicobangs at 1:05 PM on June 2, 2004


I've got nothing major against Paul Hewson, but I tend to discount anybody who took on a short one-word rockstar name before he even became a rockstar (Don't even talk to me about The Edge, The Rock, Prince, Pink, Dido, Iman, Kid or Play, but I will forgive Pele and Hergé).

But the best way to deal with somebody who takes himself wa-a-a-a-ay too seriously is to NOT take him seriously. Besides, who'd recognize him without the sunglasses? U2 has made some music I enjoy, and some other I don't enjoy but can appreciate, which I guess makes them "serious musicians", right? And, hey, he used the "F-word" on TV without getting banned from anything... let's see Clay Aiken try that.

The best thing about B-B-B-B- I can't say it Hewson's address is that he backed away from pretentiousness, made a few jokes at his own expense, and spoke of his own experience, not as being superior to everybody else's, but as relevant. It's been a good year for commencement addresses (and Timothy Burke's speech from two years ago wasn't bad either). At least we didn't have Kermit the Frog speaking six years after his real voice, Jim Henson, passed away, and we didn't have Kurt Vonnegut telling you to "wear sunscreen". Or not.
posted by wendell at 1:09 PM on June 2, 2004


You can apparently view the speech here, starting around 1:55. (I don't have Real Player here at work, so I can't confirm).
posted by pardonyou? at 1:54 PM on June 2, 2004


I hate Bono. He killed Negativland.
posted by eddydamascene at 2:39 PM on June 2, 2004


Why does the fact that Bono is a musician diminish his standing as a crusader? If it were Maya Angelou, would you feel differently? (please, no lame comments about who you think is a "better artist")

Maya Angelou? Don't get me started. A tool for the corporate interests of Oprah Winfrey and Hallmark, with no more poetic resonance than a windy fart. Somebody really ought to do something about that bitch, I tell you.
posted by Hildago at 2:40 PM on June 2, 2004


Oh, now. Mr. Bono didn't kill Negativland. Casey Kasem & the nice lawyers at Island Records did that. (Also, Negativland isn't actually dead. Snuggles, or whatever that damn dog's name was, that fuckin' dog is dead. Cue the upbeat long distance dedication.)

You know, I think actually that Mr. Bono might be gunning for Secretary General of the UN in about 20 years. That's the kind of groundwork he's laying.
posted by chicobangs at 3:09 PM on June 2, 2004


Nah, I'm pretty far left and I still can't stand neither the Bono nor the Sting.

Jeez, remember when it was cool that rock and roll stars were about social conscience and not about drugs and decadence?

posted by mr.marx at 8:40 AM PST on June 2


Richard? Is that you?
posted by namespan at 8:01 PM on June 2, 2004


Yes, that was a good speech from Bono, and I also enjoyed the speech by Steve Kerr to U. of Arizona (linked by rushmc above). What do they have in common? They both mentioned Kermit the Frog's commencement speech a few years back, and the reaction of a gradute, "I've been laboring here for five years and now we have a SOCK talking at our commencement."

I had Kurt Vonnegut sounding drunk in the Carrier Dome at Syracuse in May 1994. No mention of sunblock, and I was very underwhelmed.
posted by msacheson at 8:58 PM on June 2, 2004


Ah Christ dude take off the damned sunglasses already if you want to be taken seriously.

If only that were if you want to stay alive...

With the divine exception of Elvis, I think any one name celebrity who can be visually translated into a Halloween costume is a candidate for mandatory retirement. What this country needs is a good Celebrity Sunset Law.
posted by y2karl at 10:38 PM on June 2, 2004


We covered Bono's speech extensively at U2log.com.
posted by prolific at 1:55 AM on June 3, 2004


Richard? Is that you?

LOL
posted by mr.marx at 2:17 AM on June 3, 2004


Pardonyou? : I suppose you have some inside insight to Bono's opinion of himself back then? I certainly don't. That was the time when they really became superstars, and coincidentally when their music became less interesting. I actually used to like U2 (the letter U and the numeral 2) back in the days before Joshua Tree (War and Boy etc). Considering what I have seen of Bono in passing in the news, I seriously doubt he has any negative feelings about his actions in the past. That kind of goes with being an arrogant pompous ass. Good on him for his forays into charity, and if he can change the world, more power to him. Doesn't mean I have to like him or the caricature he has become.
posted by Eekacat at 5:56 AM on June 3, 2004


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