U2 1980-1983: Portrait of the Artists as Young Men

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“Since the publication of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in 1916, Irish writers have rewoven Joyce’s entangled nets of family, religion and politics to accommodate changing circumstances and eras. While Irish writers such as John McGahern, William Trevor and Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill remain writers known mostly to scholars and students of Irish studies, U2 has introduced millions of worldwide listeners to cultural issues facing the Republic in the late twentieth century. Thematic parallels in the band’s trilogy, Boy (1980), October (1981) and War (1983), suggest  Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. struggled with the same repression endured by Joyce’s semi-autobiographical hero, Stephen Dedalus, a century earlier. Like Joyce’s artistic manifesto, U2’s early albums, considered as a whole, are the youthful rejection of societal orthodoxy and a musical declaration of intent that act as an emotional, intellectual and moral framework for the albums that followed. Although these three studio albums are linked by subject matter to the band’s fourth release, The Unforgettable Fire (1984), they are separated by the November 1983 release of U2’s first live album, Under a Blood Red Sky, and a shift from the band’s first producer, Steve Lillywhite, to the more technologically savvy pairing of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, an adjustment which resulted in a substantial modification of U2’s style and tone and the unambiguous maturation into the second phase of their career.”

This paper was presented at the PCA/ACA Conference in Boston, MA in April 2007. Please contact Arlan Hess for a hard copy of the text.

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