This week, Jason Hartley implores Bono to use the “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark” debacle to achieve full Advancement.
About six weeks too late, the New York Times ran an article assigning laughing-stock status to the Bono-The Edge-Julie Taymor musical, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.” Soon after, the Times and other publications gave the production scathing reviews, even though it hasn’t officially opened yet. So you might think that the show is doomed to failure. Instead, attendance is up, partially because people enjoy a good train wreck, especially if there are injuries involved. And of course, no one really cares what critics say about something that if they already know they want to see it.
Whatever happens at the box office, however, the musical is one of the few projects involving Bono that has not been celebrated by most critics. In fact, I would say there have been only two others: “Pop” (album and supporting tour, Pop-Mart), and “Rattle and Hum.” In both cases, Bono and U2 bounced back with a new sound that their critics and fans embraced. In other words, he allowed himself to go down the path toward Advancement, but chickened out when it got tough. This has been a long-standing source of confusion, grief, and frustration for me.
As I wrote in “The Advanced Genius Theory,” Bono, like Mick Jagger, is impervious to embarrassment. He will gladly make an ass of himself if he thinks it will serve his art. But unlike Jagger, Bono seems to be susceptible to criticism. For instance, “Achtung Baby” seemed extremely brave at the time—the Most Serious Rock Band in the World makes an album called “Achtung Baby”? — but in retrospect it was just a reaction to the negative feedback the band got for “Rattle and Hum.”
It was the opposite of what was expected of Bono rather than something authentically unexpected. (Advanced Theory says that doing the opposite of something is the laziest and most obvious way of being provocative.) He was supposed to be earnest, so he became frivolous. He was supposed to be God-fearing, so he dressed up like the devil. Not only was it the opposite, there was always a whiff of irony to go along with the sulfur. (Using irony is the second laziest and most obvious way to be provocative.)
Then, when critics started to tire of this new version of Bono, he reverted back to serious Bono (though not too serious), strapping the debt of third-world nations on his back while making music that everyone loves. To his credit, he kept the sunglasses from the Achtung Baby days, even when talking to George W. Bush, the Pope, and other world leaders/powerful nerds.
Great artists learn from their failures by acknowledging where they went wrong, fixing the problem, and then going forward. But Advanced Artists are a little different. They see what went wrong, and then do it more wrong, until everyone realizes that it was actually right all along. Bono needs to call his musical his greatest achievement and renounce U2 forever (but then reunite with them in 15 years but with Jason Bonham on drums).
But I fear that Bono will take the great-artist route, and go back to his comfort zone. He’ll not talk about the musical unless making some kind of ironic or self-effacing remark. Then U2 will go back to the studio and make another successful album, followed by a world tour that draws millions of fans. I’ll likely be one of them, but there will be a bit of sadness in my heart.
I’ve said that Bono has been like a doctoral student who has done all the course work but can’t finish his dissertation. And at times, I feel like the disappointed parent who paid for all those classes. But this whole Spider-Man semi-fiasco could be the catalyst for finally finishing his journey into Advancement he began when he wore an irony-free mullet. I, for one, hope that after he turns off the dark, he’ll turn on to Advancement.
For more on Advancement, check out Jason’s book The Advanced Genius Theory.