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U2

In 1983 I sat on a cruise ship deck with a Sony Walkman on.  I found a place—for authorized people only—and broke the rules.  I sat on the port side of the ship and listened to a cassette tape of an album called War.  Sure, I had Boy and October but War was new and in relative age, so was I.

Sailing calmly on Caribbean waters, I recall listening to Drowning Man relentlessly.  I was capturing every aural nuance and as a musician, that’s what I do.  Those memories are so seared in my brain that I can smell the ocean when I hear that song today.

What the heck brought these two things together?

I was walking today while listening to Unforgettable Fire and it reminded me of the journey the band U2 have experienced.  The humble beginnings and raging success to the aging icons they have become.  Like life, it most surely has had its victories—transient as they are—and failures that define this single-act play.  It also occurred to me that F1 has had a similar path but it missed the plot somewhere with the aging icon stage.

I have assembled three things F1 can learn from U2 because, quite honestly, it’s my prerogative and I happen to enjoy the music of U2—having grown up with them and tried in vain to get the same sound as The Edge with a Strat and a old Silver Anniversary Marshal 25/50 switchable single 12”… yeah, that didn’t happen.

Lesson 1: As you evolve with time and technology, don’t betray the core DNA of what made you successful even if the product you produce sounds different than before.

Your passion for creating something from nothing is admirable but if you compromise your integrity for a fad or pop-culture notion, you compromise everything you stood for in the beginning with your humility-fueled quest for excellence and admiration.

U2 strayed from their original sound during the 90’s and while they sounded completely different, their molecular-level fabrication was still weaving nuance that complimented their desire to create and their humble beginnings.  F1 would do well to avoid faddish notions and cling to what its original concept was… the art of racing, not the art of entertaining at the cost of integrity.  F1, like U2, can certainly make a statement with their change but not at the risk of erasing who they are.

Lesson 2: If your product allows you to reach more diverse cultural and political issues, be sure to always favor the universal humanitarian causes and leave despotism for those who would oppress their common man.

U2, unlike F1, have championed the human condition and cause—what’s the last humanitarian charity you saw F1 endorse and give too?  U2 have favored health, life and liberty over cash, cache and oppressive regimes.  Some may say shut up and play your guitar and that’s okay but to risk all they built for hunger, AIDS, peace, Africa and other noble causes proves their desperate and humble beginnings resonate more than the success they so desperately desired.  Sure, they lost fans from their political views but they gained more as individuals than they ever lost in CD sales.

F1 would do well to work with the teams and the FIA to stop blathering about “greenwashing” F1 and start using their presence in emerging and oppressive nations to bring the beauty and freedom of pure motor sport to the indigenous people.  They should work with those nations—who host a race for legitimacy—in continuing the humanitarian cause of liberty and free market that has so richly blessed them.  The FIA’s Safe Road program was spot on; their new desire to use more batteries does little for emerging nation’s current condition.

Lesson 3: U2 was once voted the best band in the world.  They detoured from their traditional sound (which is often referred to as October through War) and applied their trade to new technologies.  They created music in the same passion-driven vain they used on War but the new sound was perhaps premature for an audience that had not yet tired for the original U2 sound.  When they returned to the studio to visit their past, Bono said that they were effectively “reapplying for the job of best band in the world”.

F1 has strayed from its original sound as well.  They have embraced new technology and applied their passion-driven efforts for the past two decades.  They too have detoured from their original element and perhaps fans were not tired of their product in the first place.

F1 should stop considering themselves beyond reproach and start reapplying for the job of the pinnacle of motor sport.  They lost that crown in many people’s estimation.  They can have all the swagger they want but truth is, processional racing is not the pinnacle of anything nor is manipulated overtaking for “the show”.  F1 needs to re-visit their history, find their original passion and craft the real F1.  The one that enchanted people the world over regardless of nation or location.

Okay…this is BS!

Sure, it’s a stretch but I think F1 could learn a thing or two from U2.  This is what happens when I walk and listen to U2 while thinking about F1… it’s a Frankenstein post of two completely disparate worlds mashed together in nonsense but then it does give me a good reason to rebuff F1 for the things I feel put upon by as a lifelong fan… oh, and it’s my blog.

Meanwhile I’ll be over here trying to get The Edge’s sound with a ’57 Strat reissue and that same Marshall.  I do have an Explorer but it’s an ’82 and not in working order.  Maybe if I could get The Edge to give me his black strat and I bought an AC30 with a couple TC-2290’s that would help?  Come to think of it, that might help F1 too.

 

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry focusing on technology integration, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • I agree with the gist of the article, but embracing causes such as “hunger, AIDS, peace, Africa” was not a risky move for U2. Hunger and peace…risky? They gained far more fans than they lost. What was risky was producing a lot of schlock for a while after “War”.

    As with artists in any genre, their political views are far less important to me (that is to say not at all) than the other ways in which they enrich my life. They are artists, not my moral compass.

    • Yeah, that was kind of my point. They favored causes that are universally important to all but the most dreary malcontent. It was a risk as some people felt they shouldn’t engage political or cultural issues at all. That’s a fair position for some people who like musicians to just be musicians and not humans. Your point is well taken though, they made the right call on which things to champion.

      • Just need to adjust my sarcasm meter and then I see what you mean…and I agree completely!

        I loved U2’s early energy. I’ll never forget Bono running around the Frank Erwin Center like a madman in Austin in 1983. That guy doesn’t exist any more.

    • …but I still like the article ;)

      • Well that’s kind of you to say. As I told SJ Skid, it seemed to make sense when I was walking, out of breath and sweaty. Sure…it’s mind vomit but then making sense to myself is one of my more endearing qualities. :)

        • It makes sense when you read it the right way. ;)

          As I’m sure you well know, sometimes these nuances are difficult to convey in print.

    • Andrew

      I disagree, Bono alienated a lot of people, my parents and a lot of my friends included, with his charity work. Also Tim, The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree are not schlock in my humble opinion!

  • Williams4Ever

    F1 is embodied the ethos of classic rock and roll, where they start as rebels against establishment, do lots of provocative things to remain in news and build the image and then rest on the laurels, cashing on the past glory(credibility), selling pond scum to gullible fans, all the while the band members bicker amongst themselves, fight, split and fall back in line to sell some of pond scum……

    • Williams4Ever

      And the vicious cycle continues while the rebels of yester years continue to age disgracefully, while the media they have bought continue to wax poetic (another of F1B’s pet word) of the glory days and how the band is simply the best….

      Thanks for coming up with analogy of Popular music, I could reply in kind :)

  • gsprings

    yep,lets send bono to slap bernie up side the head

  • shellback

    As a boy with Jersey roots I hafta toss Bruce Springsteen into the mix. Always moving forward but always true to his roots. He and I and F1 are all the same age……lol.
    I do like change. It keeps the sport on it’s toes. Change for many is a hard pill to swallow. So much great innovation has come from rule changes.

    • It has. Like bands that change, F1 has as well with technology and much of it has been a massive improvement…i.e. safety etc. But unlike some bands it seems, for me anyway, that F1 is missing that core DNA for racing in favor of the show. That’s just a personal opinion, I still love the sport over all others but it’s just a feeling I have.

  • Good Lord. What is up with that U2 photo, and who let Annie Lennox sneak into the shoot?

    Were it possible for the two to meet, 1983 Bono would kick the crap out of this Bono for even entertaining the thought of buying those sunglasses.

    • In fact, if 1983 U2 ran into this pathetic group, I can picture a real bloodbath the likes of which we have not witnessed since “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”.

      • mark h

        Yeah… There were horses and a man on fire, and I killed a guy with a trident.

  • A 4th lesson to be learnt from U2.

    Pick one design of shades and stick with it [Yep, I’m looking at you Jenson!]

    • Come to think of it, he should have made Grace’s special sunglasses fashion award in podcast #208. :)

  • GT000

    “the art of racing, not the art of entertaining at the cost of integrity” – sums up my view perfectly. The problem of course is that F1 is a business, and business is about making money, not art.

    Not sure what to make of your 2nd point though. I was never a big U2 fan but it seems to me singing about and publicising political and social causes was a large part of what they were – part of their raison d’etre. F1, on the other hand, is a huge business providing employment to many thousands of people and tied up in complex, long-term contracts. It simply is not possible to grant or withdraw races to a country based on some moral stance (if that’s what you’re saying).

    Bahrain is the classic example. The postponement/cancellation of the race had absolutely nothing to do with the rights or wrongs of the uprising and the government response. It was based purely on the fact that the race itself was seen as a potential target of the protesters so driver and spectator safety could not be guaranteed.

    By all means use the business of F1 to provide practical benefits to host countries through employment, etc but promoting the cause of liberty in, for example, China would very quickly wear out your welcome.

  • One letter.
    One number.
    It’s all you need.

  • Being Irish and an F1 fan I hope you don’t mind that I take all of the credit for U2, your article, F1, World Peace, Universal wellbeing, and the emergence of nations.

    If history has taught us anything it’s that you can link any issue to the Irish and make a strong connection.

    Being serious for a moment (there it went…)

  • I have to say though that, regardless of the U2 analogy, the core issues you raise are extremely timely – where do we go from here? Do we continue to introduce gimmickry like KERS and DRS in order to try to improve the show or do we revert to the purest form of racing? To quote Steve Martin “I want a bleeping car, four bleeping wheels and a bleeping engine!”.

    You’re definitely right about reapplying for the position of “Pinnacle of Motorsport” I would say that WRC may well have stolen the crown over the last few years.

  • Gordon

    What’s the F1 equivalent of the farce that is Spiderman: The Musical?

    • The noise of a Ferrari 1.6l engine going around a corner?

  • To add to Todd’s thoughts — I can’t explain why this is an inside joke between us, but I want everyone to know he’s being extremely mean to me! — and at the risk of offending Noddy, if he appears, you can follow the trajectory of the two biggest bands (at least in the US) from the ’80s that are still around:

    U2.

    REM.

    As Todd noted, U2 did refine and change, sometimes come back, alter, take risks. And it’s stayed relevant. REM, on the other hand, didn’t (although perhaps it started out more risky). And virtually no one still cares.

    You can see that how you like… maybe NASCAR is U2 and F1 is REM? WRC is in the mix? I don’t know.

    Also, Todd:

    Bob Dylan.

    • Williams4Ever

      REM & DYLAN are the untainted few, don’t bring them in discussion related to F1, else you are all on your own to defend against those Podcast-Jeers you are subjected to :D

  • The drivers seat

    I do know this
    Indycar is Milli Vanilli. Or perhaps Vanilla Ice

  • The drivers seat

    Or even better an Elvis impersonator

    • mg5904

      CART = Hendrix?

  • Tony Greene

    Back in 1983, at the tender age of twelve, I saw “Under a Blood Red Sky” for the first time and my life was changed forever. Somehow, I even foresaw my U2 mega fandom by being born on Bono’s 11th birthday. I lost my way with them a bit following “Rattle & Hum”, especially once the ’90s hit.
    But in the mid 2000s, I rediscovered my love for U2. That is, until they released a certain single titled “Drag Reduction System”…sorry, I mean “Get On Your Boots”. You know, your kinky boots? I went ahead and got “NLOTH” anyway and have been so mad upon one listening that I have not listened to the band who took up such a large portion of my life since.
    Lots of F1 fans have made comments recently along the lines of quitting F1 if they continue adding ‘show enhancers’ like KERS, DRS, etc. Well, just last weekend, I gave away one of my many U2 shirts. Will it be the last?

    • Williams4Ever

      Good summary. I looked at U2(along with REM) as band with promise, good talent and importantly awareness of happening in real world that reflected in their music.
      While REM have maintained their low key profile and gone about doing their work (including taking lengthy hiatus), U2s priorities changed and rest of the band seemed to have been dragged along with Bono. While I admire their social awareness, I think their music doesn’t really back all the noise Bono keeps making…..

      • Big difference between U2 and REM?

        REM now is always (say it with me, Charles Barkley) turrible. U2 still has its moments.

        And Tony, I only started liking them with R&H. Too earnest beforehand for me. I needed the irony of Larry sitting on Elvis’ motorcycle.

        • Tony Greene

          REM is turrible? Dem’s fightin’ words, Steven! But if you only liked U2 AFTER Rattle & Hum, then I can see why you’ve got it all wrong. PS Please do tell Dave “Mr. the Edge” Evans hello for me next time that you see him!

          • Turrible now. Their latest release is… strangely, this is the word that comes to mind:

            rank.

            I don’t think I’ve used it in that context in two decades. Thus, proving the point…

            And, no… god, that early U2 is sooo earnest. It’s difficult to listen to PITNOL — although I know the whole history of MLK and Ireland.

            Now, I love that stuff, but only with Achtung, Baby as a backdrop.

            And things are looking up for E!

          • Tony Greene

            Agreed with the REM of late (post “Green”?). I think Bill Berry took their mojo with him when he left.

          • Yeah, REM “back in the day”? Fab. Not rank.

        • mg5904

          Hard to get better than Murmur or Reckong, imo, although I have a soft spot for Star Me Kitten – with Burroughs. My REM story: Saw them at a (roller)skating rink in a strip mall in suburban Long Island, NY, back in a long time ago.

          . . . Ok, having a little bit of a hard time tying this back to F1. May have to think about that for a sec and come back later.

  • Oh, and my next Counterpoint?

    Three things F1 can learn from the Bee Gees.

  • Steven

    One difference, U2 are artist, sure they want the money, but they are artist first. Bernie is just a moneyman, somewhere along the way the notion of “racers” got lost and the drivers became entertainers, and Bernie pushed this notion along. For Formula One, or Grand Prix Racing as it was originally known, to go back to what it used to be, it needs a “racer” at its helm, and Bernie is not it. Sure Formula One is popular, but under Bernie, Formula One “sold out”, it lost its soul… The Nuvolaris, Fangios, Clarks, Hills, Sennas, Chapmans, Enzos, Tyrrels, etc are turning in their graves.

    • Williams4Ever

      The Nuvolaris, Fangios, Clarks, Hills, Sennas, Chapmans, Enzos, Tyrrels, etc
      >> All the pond scum peddled is sold in name of these amazing men and the life they lived on the edge…

  • Andrew

    As someone who has the AC30s and the TC2290 (and the SDD3000!) I completely agree. Great article Todd!

  • MattC

    Todd, great thoughts, but I’m wondering if you need to define “F1” when you say things like: “F1 needs to re-visit their history, find their original passion and craft the real F1.” F1’s problems are usually attributed to bad governance. But consider how a Ferrari or McLaren might actually be wedded to the status quo due to ROI targets on costly investments in wind tunnels and R&D, as well as shielding their thousands of employees from pink slips. Increasing complexity provides an advantage and opportunity for those teams with the resources to adequately deal with that complexity. In other words, tier 1 teams like Ferrari & McLaren are like Chess players surrounded by lesser teams and fans who just might prefer Checkers. I think those teams would lose interest in the sport if everything were dumbed down.