Top 5 Awful Moments From U2's "Rattle and Hum"
June 11th, 2011
Nobody is at the piano. Todd peeks in.
Todd: Hey, come watch a movie with me. [Todd jumps onto the couch, still hidden in shadows] You know, I never really understood why Bono gets on some people's nerves so much.
- Video for "Walk On"
- Bono: Walk on...
Todd (VO): 'Cause they're out there. There's a significant chunk of U2 haters in the world who think Bono is the most intolerable, self-righteous, overblown, pumped-up dilettante who ever lived. You know, it's not like I don't think Bono can be all those things—I have eyes—it's just never bothered me. So he wants to get up on his soapbox and act like he can change the world. Let him. It's a better brand of egotism than the kind we usually get from famous people, at least he's trying to do something positive. Besides, I tend to like my rock stars on the bombastic side. So what's the big deal?
Todd: Then I watched Rattle and Hum...and I got it. Boy, did I get it.
- Footage from Rattle and Hum
Todd (VO): For at least one year after their mega-platinum masterwork The Joshua Tree, 1988's Rattle and Hum was to be an ambitious followup—both a filmed documentary of their live Joshua Tree tour, and a soundtrack album consisting of new material, cover songs and live cuts following U2 as they cross the country exploring their fascination with American music. And to be fair, as a U2 fan, I think most of the music in this is actually pretty good. But even still, Rattle and Hum is a painful chore to watch. Every one of U2's most negative traits is magnified to a thousand, and every scene seems to be designed to make them look as ridiculous as possible. Most people who've watched it can think of a good thing to say about it, but I've never seen anyone call it a complete success, least of all the director or the band, neither of whom like how pretentious the final product turned out.
Todd: So what could be so bad about Rattle and Hum that even the famously un-self-conscious Bono was forced to admit that he was embarrassed by it? Well, put on your South African t-shirts and start knocking back the Guinness while we take a look at...
- Clip from movie's performance of "Sunday Bloody Sunday," which serves as the interlude through the countdown
- Bono: No more! Sing...
- Audience: No more!
Todd (VO): ...the Top Five Awful Moments in U2's Rattle and Hum.
- Audience: No more!
- Bono: No more!
- Audience: No more!
Todd (VO): #5.
- Against Paramount's opening logo
Todd (VO): The first two seconds of the movie.
- Bono: This song, Charles Manson stole from the Beatles. We're stealing it back.
Todd: Oh, my God, shut up, Bono. Shut up, Bono. Shut up, Bono!
- U2 performs "Helter Skelter"
Todd (VO): Those two sentences set the tone of overreaching, self-serious pretension for the entire film. The song they're singing is "Helter Skelter" by the Beatles, and what he's talking about is Charles Manson's famous claim that there was a hidden message in it telling him to kill people.
Todd: I don't know what about those two lines is more offensive to me—the idea that Charles Manson owned "Helter Skelter," or the idea that U2 now owns "Helter Skelter."
- Footage of the Manson Family in custody
Todd (VO): I know it's unfortunate that "Helter Skelter" is still associated with the Manson killings, but it's still an awesome song, and it is damn insulting to the Beatles' legacy to say that Charles Manson ever owned it. [Back to U2] Now, if I'm being charitable, I can say that U2 was hoping to use their positive energy to erase the negative vibes that came with the song's association with Manson. And that would be fine except for one thing.
Todd: It's just not a particularly amazing cover of "Helter Skelter."
Todd (VO): I mean, it's not bad by any means, but what is there to say about it? It sounds exactly the way you'd imagine U2 covering "Helter Skelter" to sound like. It's not a daring interpretation, it's not noteworthy, it's just there. Don't make the claim that you're stealing it back if you can't back it up, Bono.
Todd: Way to go, you guys, Manson still owns the copyright on "Helter Skelter."
Todd (VO): Seriously, I'm not even sure this would rank in my top 5 covers of "Helter Skelter." "Stealing it back." Get over yourself, U2.
Todd: Spoiler: U2 are not going to get over themselves.
Todd (VO): #4. [Interview with U2 from the movie] For a band that has a reputation as notorious windbags, most of U2 keep their mouths tight shut when they're offstage in this movie.
- Interviewer: What has happened between the Joshua Tree album...recording the Joshua Tree album and the new songs?
- [The band doesn't say anything]
Todd (VO): It's pretty clear throughout Rattle and Hum that U2 don't want to talk to you, and so their exploration of America mostly consists of The Edge looking at various American things with a completely vacant look on his face. He's clearly not thinking of anything other than, "yep, that's a thing all right. We still filming?"
In fact, I think there's only one interview where a member says more than a sentence or two.
Todd: But considering how that interview turns out, I understand why they decided it might be best to stay quiet.
#4. I'm goin' to Graceland
Todd (VO): In a thoroughly bizarre instance of life imitating This is Spinal Tap, U2 took a visit down to Graceland, the estate of the late Elvis Presley, and it's here that drummer Larry Mullen demonstrates why the rest of the band does all the talking.
- Larry: I love the Elvis films. I used to watch them. A film star who was a musician. Every single one of his movies. He wasn’t acting as a car salesman. He was acting as a car salesman who loved to play guitar.
Todd: Um....no, Elvis was just playing himself.
- Larry: And I really related to that. Because I worked in sales for a couple of years. I related to that. I always loved the Elvis movies.
Todd: Seriously? Elvis movies? You related to Elvis movies?
Todd (VO): Okay, I like Elvis too. No disrespect for Elvis Presley, I love Elvis. But out of his entire career, the thing that you bring up is Elvis's movies? Really? For those of you who never had the pleasure of finding out what an Elvis movie is like, here's a quick sample from the movie Blue Hawaii, [clip from said movie] in which Elvis, playing Elvis, sings "Ito Eats."
- Elvis: He eat everything he don't care what
- He even eat the shell from the coconut
- Eat Ito eat all the night and the day
Todd (VO): In case you were wondering, yes, you are in fact watching the King of Rock and Roll humiliate a fat Polynesian in song, and this is in no way inconsistent with the tone of Elvis movies. If young Larry found something inspirational in this, you know what, fine, that's his prerogative. But just keep those scenes in mind while he talks about how sad it was being in Elvis's home.
- Larry: When I got there I enjoyed it and all but seeing the grave and the eternal flame and all that, it seemed...it seemed very distant.
- Clip from This is Spinal Tap, where that band visits Graceland
- Nigel: It really puts perspective on things, though, doesn't it?
- David: Too much, there's too much fucking perspective now.
- Larry: I wish he hadn't been buried in the...in the back yard, I really wish that he'd been buried somewhere where I couldn't have gone, I would have felt better, you know. I don't know why, you know, it's just one of those things.
Todd: Okay, yes, it is kind of a shame that possibly the most important figure in rock and roll history does not have a resting place more dignified than [picture of...] the eternally gaudy monument to tackiness which he'd built for himself. The King probably deserved better. But let's keep some perspective here. You can't make the case he deserved a more tasteful memorial right after reminding people of this.
- Scene from Clambake
- Guy: You just said the magic word.
- Elvis: Clambake?
- Guy: Yeaaaahhhhh.
Todd: What the hell are you talking about, Larry?
- Scene of Larry standing at Elvis's burial site. Cut to Spinal Tap
- David: Well this is thoroughly depressing.
Todd (VO): #3.
Todd: Director Phil Joanou filmed the documentary for U2 because they wouldn't let him give them a blowjob.
Todd (VO): At least that's the impression I get from seeing how he filmed the band. Every shot in this film is so worshipful and reverent, you'd think he was trying to film the second coming of Jesus. Unfortunately he worked so hard to make this band look magnificent that they end up looking absolutely ridiculous most of the time, especially on the slower songs. Maybe it's hard to tell just through viewing editing clips, but trust me, after about eight straight hours of this, it gets very monotonous. It gets to a point you can't even look at Bono's face without either giggling or wanting to puke.
Todd: So the more energetic and angry songs are definitely a highlight, but believe me, they find a way to screw that up too.
#3. Gall Along the Watchtower
- The band covers Bob Dylan - "All Along the Watchtower
- Bono: There must be some way outta here
- Said the joker to the thief
Todd (VO): I think it's just required of all touring bands to cover "All Along the Watchtower" at some point. That's fine, it's a great song, and I've never heard a bad version of it, so whatever. Where Bono makes a grave error, though, is in thinking that Bob Dylan's lyrics need to be improved.
Todd: See, this is rock and roll, and rock and roll is important. And if you don't know that, Bono will be happy to interrupt a perfectly good song to tell you about it.
- Bono: All I've got is a red guitar
- Three chords and the truth
- All I've got is a red guitar
- The rest is up to you
Todd just sighs
Todd (VO): Thank you, Bono, I love how that had absolutely goddamn nothing to do with the song. Next time, could you just erect a giant neon sign that says: "I am important"?
- Bono: All along the watchtower
Todd (VO): It doesn't help that right before those lines, Bono vandalizes a street corner in some misguided attempt to be punk rock. "Yeah, look at me, I'm totally being rebellious with this crowd around me while I'm being filmed for my big-budget documentary project."
- Bono: [pointing to his art] Yeah. "Rock and roll stops the traffic."
Todd: Is that supposed to be a good thing? Yay, stopped traffic. God, now I'm actually starting to sympathize with those cops [video of...] who tried to shut down the "Where the Streets Have No Name" video.
- Bono: I think we're being shut down.
Todd: Good. People need to get to work. [In Rattle and Hum, the band finishes the song] Still an awesome song, though. Next!
Todd (VO): #2.
- Bono: I'm not even sure that that song should be in the film actually, "Sunday Bloody Sunday," because that day...will soon long since be forgotten and people will not understand the way we felt onstage.
Todd (VO): Shows what you know, Bono, that's the best scene in the movie. Basically, right before this concert, some IRA pieces of shit blew up some people like they do, and Bono launches into this blisteringly pissed-off rant in the middle of "Sunday Bloody Sunday."
- Bono: I've had enough of Irish Americans who haven't been back to their country in twenty or thirty years come up to me and talk about the resistance, the revolution back home. Fuck the revolution!
Todd (VO): Yeah, you feel that? Righteous, furious, passionate, immediate, gripping. See, this is something you feel right in your gut and this is what I wish Bono was more like when he got political.
Todd: 'Cause on the other end of it, you've got this.
#2. Bono has a little something to say about apartheid
Todd (VO): Hold on tight, folks. Were you enjoying the concert? 'Cause Bono's got a big irrelevant speech he has to share.
- Bono: This song was written in a hotel room in New York City...
Todd (VO): Don't care.
- Bono: ...right about the time a friend of ours, little Steven...
Todd (VO): Don't care!
- Bono: ...was putting together a record of Artists Against Apartheid!
- Bono: Apartheid!
Todd (VO): Were you hackin' up a hairball? What the hell was that?
- Bono: This is a song written about a man in a shanty town outside of Johannesburg. A man who's sick of looking down the barrel of white South Africa.
Todd (VO): Boring!
- Bono: A man who is at the point where he is ready to take up arms against his oppressor.
Todd: Bono, if you couldn't communicate this during the actual song, you need to rewrite the song.
- Bono: ...while they fail to support a man like Bishop Tutu and his request for economic sanctions against South Africa.
Todd: Whooooo!!! Economic sanctions!!!
Todd (VO): But of course, the most infamously obnoxious line is right at the end.
- Bono: Am I buggin' you? I don't mean to bug ya.
Palm to face for Todd
Todd (VO): "Sorry if I'm bothering you. I'm only talking about the most important civil rights leader of our era, you guys!" Goddamn it, man, try and be a little less insufferable. I bet even [image of...] Nelson Mandela in his jail cell was rolling his eyes at this. Go back to the song, at least you can't make that sound dumb.
- Bono: Okay, Edge....play the blues.
- (Now playing: Not the blues.)
Todd: Bono, I swear to God.
Todd (VO): #1.
- Bono: This is B.B. King and B.B. King's band here.
Todd (VO): One of the biggest criticisms of Rattle and Hum is the way U2 constantly tried to associate themselves with legendary artists. They visited Elvis's grave, they covered the Beatles and the Stones and Dylan, they hung out with B.B. King, and so on. And a lot of the critics at the time thought it was premature of them to try and put themselves on the level of the all-time greats like that. But that didn't bother me so much. I watched this in 2011, so I know that U2 actually did elevate themselves to the pantheon of rock gods. Regardless of whether you like them or not, U2 are probably the biggest rock stars I can think of who are still releasing albums. If they wanna hang out with B.B. King, they more than have the right. They're one of the most significant and famous bands of the past twenty-five years. They're big. Bigger than big. They can hang out with who they want to.
Todd: Who could possibly be too important for U2 to try and associate themselves with?
Todd (VO): On their 1984 album, The Unforgettable Fire, U2 released not one, but two fawning tributes to Martin Luther King, and yes, they play them [clip of "Pride (In the Name of Love)," performed in Rattle and Hum] both in the movie. Now maybe you'd have to sit through an hour of the director kissing Bono's ass for this to make sense, but here's the part for me where I couldn't take the self-importance any longer. It wasn't the fact that they performed both of those songs. [Back to "MLK"] They're good songs and they're a kick-ass band. But here's the point where even my fanboy limits were crossed.
- Bono: Sleep, sleep tonight
- [As he sings, Martin Luther King fades in]
Todd (VO): Are you shitting me, movie? There is no band in history that could justify superimposing the lead singer's face on the image of Martin Luther King. No, U2, no!
Todd: No, no, no, no, no!
Todd (VO): And that's the part where I checked out. I just couldn't do it anymore. Rattle and Hum has its fans, [clip of the movie's performance of "With or Without You"] but I think it's very clear that U2 were pretty embarrassed by how they looked and acted in this movie, considering that they spent the next decade doing the exact opposite of this, [video for "Even Better Than the Real Thing"] going self-consciously artificial and arming themselves in hipster irony. And while I like 80s U2, their next album, Achtung Baby, is one of my favorite albums of all time. It reestablished their momentum, launched them into the 90s on all cylinders, and cemented their status as one of the biggest rock bands of their era.
Todd: And U2 never embarrassed themselves again.
- Video for "Discotheque"
Todd: And Bono never got pompous again either. I love a happy ending. I'm Todd In The Shadows, and I still haven't found what I'm looking for. Good night.
Gets up and starts leaving
Closing tag song: U2 with The New Voices of Freedom - "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
"Rattle and Hum" is owned by Paramount Pictures
This video is owned by me