5 Questions with Matt McGee

It's not just because I'm looking forward to the book, but also because, yeah, I wouldn't mind winning a $50 iTunes gift certificate, that I bring you this interview with Matt McGee, author of U2: A Diary which is being officially released Oct 1. If you have a blog, you can also email Matt with 5 questions and get in on the contest. (And if you don't, there seems to be another contest coming later.) By the way, if you're coming to the U2 academic conference, U2: The Hype and The Feedback in NYC next May, Matt McGee will be one of the featured speakers.


U2 Sermons: I know from some conversations we've had that U2: A Diary is going to draw on recent sources to offer a presentation of U2's early involvement with charismatic Christianity in Ireland which is more nuanced than the mainstream media, "VH-1 Legends" type script many of us were used to. Do you have hopes about how your research will affect people's assessment of this era in their career?

McGee: I think my main hope is that readers will notice and appreciate the nuance in how this part of their development is described! I've always been fascinated by this aspect of their early years, but I don't know how many other fans are. For a long time, I bought into the stock description of their involvement and eventual separation from Shalom, the timing of those events, and the impact on the band. But, as I learned during the research, it's more complicated than what we thought we knew all along. There are so many different versions of what happened and when, so combining all those accounts was a painstaking process.

I spent a lot of time researching this, and was very careful in writing about it -- not only to make sure I have the timing correct (or, as correct as it can be), but also to make sure I chose words very carefully and didn't misrepresent the nature of what was going on. And, in the name of full disclosure, I owe you (and a couple other fans/friends) a big THANKS for your help in both aspects -- the research and the writing.

U2 Sermons: Lots of the material here on U2 Sermons ends up alluding in some way to U2's commitment to social justice and the transformation of culture. Could you tell us the first event documented in U2: A Diary where we'll see that commitment showing up?

McGee: I suppose the answer depends on what you consider a display of that commitment. Early on, I use the somewhat well-known quote from Bono where he talks about being four years old and seeing a kid in school bite the ear of another kid, and Bono reacts by banging the biter's head against a metal railing. Is that a commitment to social justice? :-) Beyond that, you might count an August, 1978, charity gig in Dublin for the Contraception Action Campaign as the band's first encounter with social justice ... or you could argue that was four teenage boys acting selfishly for the cause!

U2 Sermons: Your name is on the book as author, but through your blog you actually created a whole community of folks who contributed. What's the best story of a way that community benefited the finished product?

McGee: There were so many fans -- hundreds, to be sure -- that contributed in some way, and every contribution has made the book better. But I doubt anyone went to the lengths that Donal Murphy did in Ireland. He made several trips to his local library in Cork to look up old Irish newspaper articles on microfiche. Amazing! I wrote about him on U2diary.com.

U2 Sermons: What is the shortest entry in your book and why?

McGee: There are a lot of entries that just have the date, a venue name, and a city. I don't go into detail on all of the concerts, because U2 Live - A Concert Documentary already does a terrific job of that. So you'll see entries that just say "November 13 - Limit Club, Sheffield" in my book.

[Editor's note: Thank God it's not "Bono wept."]

U2 Sermons: Since this blog began with a book of homiletics that drew on U2's work, here's my effort to make the interview on topic: Any mention of preaching or sermons in U2: A Diary?

McGee: How about this... The first mention of a sermon is about the fact that Shalom leader Chris Rowe gave the sermon at Bono's and Ali's wedding in 1982, despite the fact that U2 had -- according to conventional wisdom -- already left Shalom by then. In truth, it shows that the situation was a bit more complex than that, and that the relationships and connections still existed, even after U2 had survived its spiritual crisis and committed to staying together as a band.


Our contributor and U2 expert in his own right Steve Stockman, who put on the earliest liturgy structured around U2 songs that I've been able to definitely document (back in 1990 - I expect there may have been others earlier, but that's just an educated guess) shares a prayer he wrote years ago, drawing on "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." He posts it on the occasion of his involvement in yet another U2 service, 18 years later, in Ballywillan Presbyterian Church, Portrush this past week.


FT.com | MDG Blog

Some may see this as less or more off topic, depending on your theological persuasion, but: Beginning with this Q&A on the MDG summit, you can follow a series of blog posts all week from Bono as he spends a week in New York at the Millennium Development Goals summit. Jeffrey Sachs also will be contributing. (The MDG blog itself is here.) Interesting in this Q&A to hear Bono refer to what he does with world leaders as "judo," the same noun that the band used repeatedly to describe the aim of their ZooTV personas.

On the same topic, readers in the US who support the goals of the ONE Campaign, have you signed their petition for Jim Lehrer to ask one question about global poverty at the presidential debate?


Theology, Culture and U2 2

I neglected to mention earlier that Tim Neufeld at Fresno Pacific is offering his “Theology, Culture and U2” course again this semester. Hello to all you students who have to read this blog for credit. I'm always open to conversation and questions!

Other readers, if you would like to see material from discussion of the previous time the course was offered, click on the label "FPU course" below. As the semester goes on, keep an eye on Tim's blog, where he'll be posting comments on how things are progressing.

In addition, readers here might want to take note that in one such summary post, Tim mentions that he is thinking of developing the course for an online format through Fresno Pacific. If you’re interested, he'd like you to leave a comment on his blog.


Caritas: Confessions of a Pop Culture Academic

Greg Stevenson blogs about how he became convinced that the serious study of popular culture has academic merit. Excerpt:
One of my favorite classes to teach at Rochester College is a class titled "Religion, Media, and Youth Culture." I created this as a team-taught class. I teach it along with one of our Psychology professors and one of our Communication professors. It is a valuable learning experience for the students to see how popular culture looks through the eyes of different disciplines. We'll watch an episode of Battlestar Galactica or Buffy the Vampire Slayer together and then the students get to witness and join three scholars from different disciplines in discussion of that episode. I, for instance, may explore that episode's use of christological imagery, the Psychology professor may examine its use of Jungian archetypes, and the Communication professor may examine how it relates to contemporary communication theories.


If you're considering attending "The Hype and the Feedback" U2 academic conference in NYC in 2009, and are on Facebook, here's its Facebook page.


Pop as Paradiso?

From earlier this summer, here is a pretty unusual and interesting reading of U2's Pop as the first step on what the author sees as the band's return to conservative dogmatism and artistic safety. Excerpt: "If Achtung and Zooropa are the Inferno and the Purgatorio (and I don’t think they intentionally are), then Pop is the Paradiso — the boring one full of high-minded metaphysics and moralizing. 'Discotheque' is the only fun track on the album, and this song is interrupted by a reminder that it’s time to get right with the great disco ball in the sky."


Current events

I almost never cover general U2 news here, but I do have one comment on the delay of the new album until 2009. Today my husband and I took a morning hike in some nearby town woods we'd never visited; the trail map turned out to be highly inaccurate, and after a number of turns we weren't really sure about, we were thoroughly lost and found ourselves at a choice between three paths that didn't seem to be on the map at all. After vainly trying and failing to locate any identifiable landmarks, we had no choice but just to choose randomly and keep walking. As we headed deeper into the woods, off to God-knows-where, with no map, I remarked to my husband, "We've hit a rich songwriting vein."


Another sermon series....

Edgemont United Methodist Church is in the middle of a sermon series on U2 songs. The site lists songs and what scripture they are paired with. In an introductory post called "in it but not of it...", Pastor Eric Bagwell gave his rationale for undertaking a "Gospel according to U2" series.


Tom Sheridan interview on ONE

Citizen Sugar has a great interiew with Tom Sheridan, who is a lobbyist with Bono for the ONE Campaign. (That's part 1; part 2 is here; more to come.) A bit off topic for this blog, but some interesting comments on different kinds of celebrity activism and what makes Bono's work so effective. ("I've been working with him for almost eight years. He's been at this for a long time and there's no one out there that doesn't believe that he's not only committed to it but that he's incredibly credible on the topic.")


"prophetic rhetoric begins with discerning an alternative vision of Yahweh based in justice and compassion"

Laurie Britt-Smith, who teaches at the University of Detroit Mercy, will be excerpting some of her recent dissertation on Interference. Drawing on the work of Walter Brueggemann (who is often cited for his writing on the Psalms by U2 analysts), she examines contemporary Christians whom she sees as contemporary heirs of the prophetic tradition (in the Biblical sense of that term), including Dorothy Day, Jim Wallis, Martin Luther King Jr. and Bono. (I imagine you can guess which example we'll get to read about on Interference!) If you don't know what the Biblical sense of the term "prophet" is, read the first excerpt. Thanks to the folks at Interference for letting me know about this.