Thursday, July 17, 2008

Obama and U2

When Powderfinger came along I knew they were a great band. They sounded great, had excellent lyrics and they were honest – no gimmickry, no studio flashiness. But they could never be my band; they were too late.

When I just started high school I happened to be watching a music video show (pretty sure it was Music Express for those old enough) when on came a clip of U2 at Red Rocks singing "Sunday Bloody Sunday". Well put down your glasses, we have a winner. From then on they were the only band that really mattered to me.

Because it was before “Pride”, before The Joshua Tree and (God help us) before Rattle and Hum, this was no band wagon riding. I could say their name at school and a good percentage of my mates would think I had just made up a name.

Now if a band is worth defending, it will at times be hard to defend, and geez if Bono doesn’t at times make it hard to defend. But no matter, I’m with them till the end. I figure I owe it to them, because their albums seemed to coincide so perfectly with my life (a point The Sports Guy has also made).

The Joshua Tree when I was in Year 10 and thinking I might be as good as anyone; Rattle and Hum when I was in Year 12 and believed it was a fact of the universe that I was better than anyone; Achtung Baby when I was at uni and wasn’t so full of myself, but also knew I was living the best years of my life; Zooropa and Pop came out when I was somewhat lost in life; and All That You Can’t Leave Behind when my life regained focus and drive. By the time How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb came out, I was a father, and feeling like maybe the best years weren’t behind me.

And so while I will buy Powderfinger CDs, they’ll only ever be a band that plays good music; I’ll never be the one to die in a ditch for them – they came along too late for me, let someone younger take that role.

And likewise, this year’s US election has me feeling older than I should, and it’s all Obama’s fault.

This time last year, I was all for Hillary. I must admit I hadn’t analysed her voting record, read many of her speeches, or pondered what her stance on the NAFTA was. But I felt excited by the prospect of her victory. Symbolism is a mighty thing in politics and a female US President was something to anticipate – an ‘I remember when’ moment, and perhaps even better, a 'can you believe it’s taken this long' moment.

And then in waltzes Obama and with an elbow to the solar plexus, out goes Hillary, and out goes my feelings of being excited by a moment in history.

Now I know that if he wins he will be the first black President, and there are many who will contend that that is more significant in US history, but it just doesn’t grip me in the same way that the prospect of a female President would.

Probably it’s because I’m not American and don’t know the racial divide. But mostly I think it’s because Obama seems to be someone teenagers and first time voters get excited about.

If I were 20 years old and at uni, I know that I would be all for Obama. I would be crazily inspired by his “yes we can” speeches. Hell, I would probably be thinking about going to America and volunteering to work for his campaign. I don’t doubt this at all; I know I would have been driving my friends crazy with how defining a moment this was, how inspirational it was, how much better the world would be.

Yet although I know my 20 year old self would support Obama, I just can’t get electrified by the man from Chicago and his apparently inspirational speeches. To me he seems rather ... can’t believe I’m saying it... all style, no substance.

And perhaps that is what I dislike most about Obama: he makes me feel like an old fart. Instead of being inspired by his speeches, I shake my head and think, you’re no MLK, you’re no RFK. (And I’m not even a bloody baby boomer, so what the hell am I thinking?)

“Yes we can”? What the hell? Now I am all for getting a chant going, but please try not to make it so ubiquitous that it can be used for everything from running for president to getting stains out of a shirt.

You want inspirational? Try Martin Luther King Jr’s I've been to the Mountain top.

Try RFK announcing the assassination of MLK. (Can you imagine hearing a politician of today adlib Aeschylus?)

By comparison Obama’s “Just words” speech is not only not original; it’s not even as inspirational as the original

(which leads me to think Obama’s ‘inspiration’ is due mostly to a supportive audience).

Now this is not to say I think Obama would make a poor president, it’s just that unless something happens between now and November I can’t see myself getting carried away by his victory.

But hey, maybe U2 will provide the answer once again, – in October, they are releasing their next album – I know I’ll feel young then.

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