Tuesday 19 March 2019

'You don't have to be a Jew to be anti-Nazi'

A new release from U2 to mark Record Store Day uses old movie imagery to point out the dangers of racism today, says Barry Egan

U2 frontman Bono as Macphisto
U2 frontman Bono as Macphisto
The cover of the Europa EP

Flashback. May 10, 1993, Feyenoord Stadium, Rotterdam, Netherlands. It is Bono's 33rd birthday. The Edge sings Party Girl for him from the stage. That night Bono also, in a sense, gave birth to his (and Gavin Friday's) Satanic alter-ego Mr MacPhisto during this concert's encore of Desire, UltraViolet (Light My Way)/ My Way (snippet), With or Without You/ Shine Like Stars (snippet), Love Is Blindness and Are You Lonesome Tonight? The devil in Bono made his debut in Holland on a night where U2 took aim squarely at fascism with as powerful show as any. With the wind howling in from the North Sea, MacPhisto menaced the stage in pan stick white face make-up, gold lame suit and devil horns in a weird dystopian orgy of sensory overload that was the Zoo TV tour. He was, as Bono told us, the "last rock star".

As the supreme spirit of evil, MacPhisto was as good a person as any to put the boot into the evils of fascism.

Ever the stirrer of men's souls, Bono knows how to move a crowd of 65,000 people. It was robust, emotive stuff to watch, too. During Bullet over Blue Sky earlier there flashed three Nazis swastikas in flames high across the 60ft video screens on either side of the stage. "See the flames higher and higher!" sang Bono as the burning crosses behind him on the giant screens were transformed into flaming swastikas.

Its drum and bass line cold and eerie, the result was daunting, frightening and at the very least, provocative, and not only to those of right wing persuasion.

The cover of the Europa EP
The cover of the Europa EP

Later, Beethoven's Ode To Joy seeped even more eerily out of the colossal amp stacks on either side of the stage.

Above it the words 'Tomorrow Belongs To Me' (taken from the Hitler Youth-parodying song of that name written in 1966 by two Jewish lyrical geniuses John Kander and Fred Ebb for the Broadway musical Cabaret, set in 1931 Berlin) flashed terrifyingly across the screens before it was superseded by some fascist-friendly shots from Leni Riefenstahl's 1935 Nazi propaganda Hitler-and-Leni rom-com, the creepy classic Triumph Of The Will.

"I think it's important to go to these places," said Bono. "We had the sense that if there had been any demons, music had driven them out. I think fear of the devil leads to devil worship. And I don't want to give fascists power to the extent that you might be afraid to go into a building where they once were." Released in June, 1993, as the first single from the Zooropa album, U2's song Numb had a sample of a Hitler Youth member playing drums during Triumph Of The Will.

The Edge who sang the vocals on Numb, with Bono and Larry on backing vocals, explained: "We [started] playing around with ideas from the Leni Riefenstahl film footage of Nazi Germany that we used on Zoo TV.

"[We were] really trying to ask the question of ourselves I suppose, as well as everyone else in Europe: 'What do you want?' That seemed to be the question that kept coming back to us during the making of the album.

Suddenly we were back on the road, touring in Germany, and the whole racist xenophobia issue exploded while we were there."

U2's message - that fascism stinks to hell and so do the evil men and women who spout it - was a powerful one in 1993 with the frighteningly fractured state of Europe coping badly with the aftermath of the fall of communism, ethnic-cleansing in Bosnia, and the general rise of racism and neo-Nazism throughout Europe and further afield - look at how fractured Europe is in 2019 with right-wing politics on the rise like, perhaps, never before, with the possible exception of 1930s Germany. All of which makes it all the more compelling to see Charlie Chaplin mocked up as Hitler on the cover of U2's The Europa EP; to support Record Store Day 2019 on April 13.

It will be U2's ninth release for Record Store Day since 2010. (The cover of The Europa EP has deliberate echoes of the band's Europe-styled artwork for the 1993 album Zooropa - it was part of, as Bono called it, U2's "art rock phase".)

And lest we forget, Chaplin's final speech from his 1940 movie The Great Dictator was used with haunting effect to open U2's 2018 eXPERIENCE & iNNOCENCE Tour.

Side A of The Europa EP features Chaplin's speech from the movie mashed-up (it works somehow) with Love Is All We Have Left from 2017's Songs Of Experience and 1993's Zooropa from the Zooropa album, before moving artfully into a live version of New Year's Day, recorded in Dublin's 3Arena on November 5 last year. (Side B of The Europa EP contains a remix of New Year's Day by St Francis Hotel and a remix of Love Is All We Have Left by DJ Jon Pleased Wimmin.)

It is all very stirring stuff, even more so because of the terrifying state Europe is in at the moment. And who better to tell us than Charlie Chaplin, who would have been 130 this year on April 16? So The Europa EP is in essence a happy birthday card sang down the phone from Bono, Edge, Larry and Adam to the genius in heaven - who in his 1964 autobiography said with eternal wisdom: "One doesn't have to be a Jew to be anti-Nazi. All one has to be is a normal decent human being."

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