Wednesday 21 August 2019

U2's homecoming buzz trumps Black Friday

The oddest things can contribute to the feel-good factor, says Brendan O'Connor. Like four lads playing a few gigs

Bono of U2
Bono of U2

Irish people hate being told to enjoy ourselves. We hate being told that something in particular is the craic. Rather than organised fun, we tend to prefer an improvised, accidental night out, where you somehow end up waking up in a neighbouring country having gone out for one pint after work.

Remember what a disaster the millennium was? Too much pressure to enjoy ourselves. Most people probably had a better night two Wednesdays later when they accidentally bumped into an old friend walking down the street and came home three days later.

So Black Friday was a funny one for us. The pressure was pretty relentless. There were deluges of emails, acres of newsprint and webpages and constant pressure, even from the sober news programmes. We were even told in advance how much we were going to spend - €130m apparently. We ran the full gamut of emotions. First there was anxiety, the anxiety that we were just sitting there in work or at home when we were supposed to be out shopping. Then there was the fear that there was something wrong with us because we weren't out shopping like crazy, like everyone else apparently was. And then there was a sense of stubbornness as we decided that we wouldn't buy into this thing, that no one was going to tell us what to do and when to do it.

Even before Black Friday had started, retail outlets were saying that they wouldn't be partaking next year. And the rest of us were fed up with it. But the reason that Black Friday may have worked, was because it provided a focus for a more general buzz that is out there anyway.

No matter what marketing people tell you, buzz is not really something that can be manufactured. You can't name a day for it or put a label on it. It is something that is truly viral, an electrical charge that makes its way through the populace, slowly building. It is usually fed by a combination of things, and they don't have to be anything definite. Buzz can be just a vague feeling, sentiment as the marketing people call it. It can come from the most unexpected things, or just something in our waters, and then like an electrical pulse it moves through the crowd.

And there is no doubt that there is a buzz this Christmas. It's like that theory they used to have about the slacker generation, many of whom, after years of sitting around smoking dope giggling at Beavis and Butthead, went on to start businesses and work like crazy. The metaphor used was, that as slackers went down further and further into inactivity and disengagement, it was like an elastic band being pulled back. And then, snap, when it was released, it bounced back as all that potential energy was turned into kinetic energy.

This Christmas if feels like the elastic band is snapping back after seven or eight years of being stretched further and further. No one is quite sure how it happened, and certainly the marketing people possibly had something to do with it, but people appear to have decided this year that they would like their Christmas back, that they deserve it. The figures won't come until after Christmas, but certainly, in terms of general mood and activity levels, there is buzz. The city streets are thronged, pubs and restaurants are flying, and there is a general air of energy and celebration in the air.

You can argue that people haven't necessarily felt much recovery in their pockets yet, but it would seem that the middle classes, and the owners of local businesses, who have traditionally been the engine of the domestic economy, have decided to kick up their heels a little. People are less ashamed of being seen to spend a bit of money, an office party is allowed, there may even be the odd bottle of champers instead of Prosecco. And while our friends in the left will tell us there is no recovery until we have eradicated poverty, until everyone feels it, the middle classes aren't willing to wait any longer. They'd like to live a little now, before it's too late. And many of them will pay for it after Christmas, but they'll deal with that then.

Rather than Black Friday, the real lightening rod for the buzz in Dublin last week was probably U2. U2 enjoy a funny and ever-evolving relationship with the people of Ireland. As with anyone successful, we like to give them a good kicking when they are not around. But when they are actually there in front of us, we happily suspend our begrudgery. Normally this happens at Christmas. Rather like that famous Christmas day football match in World War 1, hostilities with U2 are annually suspended for Christmas to allow Bono to go busking on the streets of Dublin and to go to the races in Leopardstown. Bono will also generally be spotted out and about having a few jars without any very large black or Eastern European gentleman protecting him from the proles. Indeed, he doesn't even demand a velvet rope. This display of hominess always gives us a glow. And it makes us feel better for being where we are. Because here, after all, is a man who could be anywhere he wanted to be, but he chooses to be in Dublin for Christmas, so it must be, as we always suspected, the best place in the world to be.

Christmas came early this year, Bono and the boys brought it home with them. They did their public duty, being spotted wining and dining all over town. Two of them called into the Taoiseach, as is now customary, and in between all that they put on, what we are told, by all accounts, were great shows. Landing at the Point, as some people will always call the 3 Arena, seems to have been some class of a redemption for U2. All those people who bitched and moaned about their album being forced on people in an iTunes violation, and all the people who like to moan about the tax situation were silenced for the past week. Indeed the live shows even seem to have led to a reassessment of the recent album. Possibly because in the live shows people were reminded that this album is a love letter to Dublin.

And there is something lovely, too, about U2 being back to the Point, a venue with which they are inextricably linked. It was, of course, the brainchild of their old friend Harry Crosbie, and they even recorded the odd track there. It was where they performed Desire for the Rattle and Hum movie and it was where they finished the Lovetown Tour, their last gig before they went away to dream it all up again, when they would turn their back on cowboy Americana and embrace a European retro-modernity. Irony has given way to sincerity again at this point in their career and the chance to see their new intimate music performed in this relatively intimate space was a huge buzz for people.

And there we are, back to that word buzz. That indefinable thing. Somehow, last week, as we watched people come from all over the world to see U2 come home, and as we watched the band themselves come out to play at night in the village that is Dublin, there was a kind of spillover effect. We put aside the negativity for a while, and remembered that they are a great export, they are something we can be proud of, they are something that any other country would be proud to call its own. And somehow it just crystallised. U2's connection with their home country was repaired because people just decided it was.

And similarly, there is a buzz this Christmas because people have decided there is. And it came not from Black Friday or any other enforced plan, it came from lots of little things, among them four aul fellahs from the Northside playing a few gigs down by the docks, and going for a few pints. Buzz. It moves in mysterious ways.

Sunday Independent

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