The Edge interview: Memory Man
GW The group has been diving deeper into its catalog than it did on previous tours. Is there any coincidence that in the same year you were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame you’re playing “The Electric Co.” and “I Will Follow,” songs that are 25 years old?
THE EDGE [smiles, considers] There’s two things: First, it’s in recognition that we’ve got a lot of people coming who have seen us recently. We don’t want to do a greatest-hits set; we want to mix it up a bit so that we cover all the phases in the band’s development. In addition, some of those songs, including “The Electric Co.” and “Gloria,” are starting to sound current again.
GW Dude, the Eighties are back.
THE EDGE So I hear. But I don’t think I’ll be wearing the mullet again.
GW Why not? You and Bono had some serious mullet action around ’83, ’84.
THE EDGE [groans] You’re not wrong. We can’t take credit for inventing the mullet, but we can certainly lay claim to extending the envelope for what the mullet can mean.
GW What does the mullet mean?
THE EDGE [laughs] I don’t know! Nobody knows. Although Bono committed the more egregious crimes against fashion with his Live Aid hair. [closes his eyes, shakes his head] Out shining moment in mullet lore. No, I don’t think we need to relive everything about the Eighties.
GW What’s involved in dusting off some of the older songs? Do you have to listen to the old records and try to get back into the mindset of the Edge at 20?
THE EDGE The music draws you in. When I approach an older song, when I go back and listen to something I recorded a long time ago, it’s like I’m trying to unlock a secret code. Oftentimes I find that I have no memory whatsoever of what I did back then, but once I go through the process, something happens and I’m able to play completely on instinct. The song directs me; it takes me back in time. That’s what’s amazing about a good song: it can be prescient. There are times when we play the old songs onstage and they feel completely current; they’re right on the pulse. I’m amazed at the enduring quality some of these babies have. It’s not a “retro” thing.
GW Have any of the old songs proved difficult or impossible to revive?
THE EDGE Certain songs get worn down by repetition and start to lose their potency, and if that happens for us we know it’s going to happen for people in the audience. We didn’t play “Sunday Bloody Sunday” for the longest time because we were just at a dead end with it, so we tabled it for a time. You have to wait, though; songs come back when they’re meant to come back.
GW By the same token, are there some songs that just can’t be denied, that are unbreakable? “Pride (In the Name of Love),” for example: U2 have played it on every tour I’ve seen.
THE EDGE “Pride” is a good example. We weren’t playing it at the start of this tour, but we put it back in because we found a place in the running order and it seemed to call out to us. I wouldn’t say anything’s really unbreakable, but you can wear songs out. We’re not doing “With or Without You,” for example, as well as a few other hits, because they don’t feel right in the set.
GW You guys have too many good songs, that’s the problem.
THE EDGE [laughs] It’s a good problem. I’ll take that problem any day. But you know what I’m saying—we have to keep ourselves awake. There has to be a reason for us to do a song. True, the audience wants to hear them, but we have to be able to give them the song 100 percent. Like I was telling Bono: “We can’t overrehearse. Otherwise, we won’t make any mistakes.” And mistakes are a big part of what people love about U2. There’s still this element of jeopardy. You’re not going to see a band that’s so polished, where every night is a repetition of the previous night. We’re up there and we’re giving it everything we have. Sometimes we overreach and we make a mess of things, but I think that’s fine. The last thing we want to be is professional. [laughs] We don’t want to be one of those bands that turns up and becomes like wallpaper. If we screw up, fine, but it won’t be for lack of effort.
GW U2 have a reputation for amazing live shows. Does the pressure to perform ever get to you? It must feel at times as if you’re battling your own legacy.
THE EDGE Not just our legacy—everything. When we’re onstage, so much is at stake. I remember the first three live shows I ever saw: Stiff Little Fingers, Rory Gallagher, the Clash.Talk about having your mind blown. I felt the same way when I saw Springsteen for the first time. It was like having my eyes opened for the first time. It was a catharsis, and that’s what we try to bring to every show we play. We never want to forget what a live show should mean. We don’t always pull it off; some shows are better than others, and that’s inevitable. But we always try.