Monday, January 01, 2007



I'm going to be writing about some movies with Memphis music in them for a freelance piece I'm preparing so these entries may read as a little notebook-y. Feel free to skip if you're so inclined.

Rattle And Hum is the name of both a 1988 album by U2 and the accompanying tour film directed by the band's frequent video director Phil Joanou. Both document U2's attempt to connect to American roots music and both, however accidentally, document the failure of that attempt. By 1988, U2 had transformed themselves from critics' darlings and college rock staples into arena-filling, world-conquerors, filling a biggest-band-in-the-world void left when Springsteen decided that the E. Street machine had had its day. The band would soon radically, and successfully, rework its sound, joining its sweeping anthems to early '90s dancefloor sounds to create a self-consciously clamorous pop sound. This, however, is a reinvention that, while producing some great music, doesn't quite take.

Why? It's pretty evident in the scenes of the band recording in the then recently reopened Sun Studios with songwriter/producer "Cowboy" Jack Clement, best known for discovering Jerry Lee Lewis. Sure, Clement's there and so are the Memphis Horns. But there's no willingness to bend to tradition in the performance. Whether by accident or design, the way Joanou shoots the scene couldn't be more appropriate: There's Bono in the foreground singing into a classic microphone (maybe microphone, the one that stands so casually on the floor of Sun but which captured all those classic performances). There's a picture of Elvis in the background, singing into another mic. It's all just stage-dressing. Bono's the show.

Later, after some shots of The Edge staring soulfully at the Mississippi, we join the boys on a trip to Graceland. It's a rare opportunity for drummer Larry Mullen Jr. to speak and what he says suggests that he might not be the quiet one by choice:

I was a little bit disturbed by going to Graceland to be honest because, unlike some of the other guys I love the Elvis movies… It was great to see a film star who was a musician. In every single one of his movies. He wasn’t acting as a car salesman. He was acting a car salesman who loved to play guitar. And I really related to that. Because I worked in sales for a couple of years.

Mullen gets to sit on one of The King's guitars after some smooth talk from Bono ("“What Harley-Davidson means to this man you wouldn’t undersand.”) Then the U2 show lumbers off to find another town and another tradition.

The trip echoes an earlier pilgrimage from Spinal Tap. A "thorougly depressing" outing to Elvis' grave that Christopher Guest's Nigel Tufnel at least believes "puts perspective on things." "Too much," Michael McKean's David St. Hubbins decides. "Too much fucking perspective."

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