• -
  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 6, 2009 @ 8:15 am

    Bono poetry

    Fiona McCann

    Tim Dowling’s line-by-line analysis of a poem about Elvis, written and performed by Bono. Elvis: American David is to be broadcast on BBC’s Radio 4 next week, apparently. To read it in full, click here. Just in case you haven’t bothered, here’s an extract:

    “elvis with God on his knees.

    elvis on three tvs.

    elvis here come the killer bees head full of honey, potato chips and cheese.”

    It’s probably one you have to hear performed.  Literary analyses welcome.

    • I really don’t know what the big deal. It’s not like this is new. A good chunk of this ‘poem’ first appeared on the track “Elvis Ate America” from the 1995 album released by “Passengers” (= U2 + Brian Eno). Absolutely no need to wait for next week’s BBC broadcast to hear Bono perform that extract, it’s already on the album released 14 years ago…

    • Markham says:

      Far from being literary, it reads like something from the pen of homeless schizophrenic musician Wesley Willis.

      Bono. Shoulder-deep in his own ass.

    • Harry Leech says:

      Ah, let the Bono hating begin!

      I’ve never got the whole Bono hating vibe in reland. Sure, we’re a nation of begrudgers, sure Bono’s a bit full of himself, but what else do we expect of a rock star? Sure they’ve based their company in the netherlands, but we weren’t whining when Dell etc set up in ireland.

      Everyone has their opinion I suppose: While I thought the Passengers album was interesting, if a bit weird, I’d have to accept one opinion as having particular merit:

      “there is a thin line between interesting music and self-indulgence. We crossed it on the Passengers record.” Larry Mullen.

      I won’t be tuning in to listen to the poem, but I won’t dismiss it out of hand because Bono wrote it (whenever he wrote it.)

    • Kynos says:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XF_hxuMMcISee above for an early performance of said poem on the Passengers album. I think it’s excellent. Loads of multi-layered meaning. Can Elvis be said to summarise the Metaphysical Club? The uniquely American mindset that took pragmatism as its core and became, in the words of Kenan Malik in the New Statesman, to philosophy what the western was to the cinema and what jazz became to music? I think he can. I think Bono does an excellent job in his pome of demonstrating just how he can. We’ve a sympathy for God guns guts and things with engines strapped on them above here in Cyaavan. Ever see Niall Toibin’s character in the movie “Eat The Peach”? Well there’s a lot of that sort of thing here. Some of us have even been to Americay.

    • Kynos says:

      The philosopher and logician Charles Pierce, who so heavily influenced turn-of-the-(20th)Century American thought rejected the theory that the mind is a mirror of external reality. He said that there was no way to connect ideas with things, because ideas being mental representations can only refer to other mental representations, not to things. When we hear the word “tree” we do not perceive an actual tree, we perceive the conception of a tree as it already exists in our minds. Louis Menand notes that Pierce called this meditating representation an “interpretant”. Pierce said “The meaning of a representation can be nothing but a representation. In fact is is nothing but the representation itself conceived as stripped of irrelevant clothing. But this clothing can never be completely stripped off; it is only changed for something more diaphanous. So there is an infinite regression here. Finally the interpretant is nothing but another representation to which the torch of truth is handed along, and as representation, it has its interpretant again. Lo, another infinite series.”That’s the context in which I’m reading Bono’s poem. Very good book “The Metaphysical Club”. Read it for the second time only last year on holidays in Turkey. Heavy enough going but if you have any feeling or knowledge for America it makes sense enough. So does Bono’s poem.

    • Kynos says:

      I infer the “killer bees” phrase refers to the “Tupelo” line at the start. “Tupelo Honey” is a song by Van Morrison. One might claim that these two references, killer bees and Tupelo honey, might have resonances together to the Biblical riddle set by Samson in Judges 14 “Out of the eater came out meat, out of the strong came forth sweetness.” There are clear parallels with this story and how the young Setanta qua Cú Chulainn got his name. When Samson and his parents came down to the vineyards of Timnath, and were attacked by a young lion, Samson went into a warp spasm, a berserker battlerage, and tore the lion asunder. Later, he went back to see the beast’s corpse, and a swarm of bees had built an hive in the torn body, and he took the honey out of the carcass and brought it back to his parents to eat though he told them not from whence he had taken the honey. Tate & Lyle use the image on their tins of golden syrup.Consider the analogy. The US posseses a terrible rage within Her, which must periodically be expunged in a great faecal evacuation. WW2. Korea. Vietnam. Iraq. Afghanistan. She must upon occasion lash out, in a vast orgasmic ejaculation of violence, so that the Military Industrial Congressional complex (as I call it, the “Rough Beast” or at least the physical part of the manmade architecture that abstract Evil uses to emerge into the PaRtiCular) can replenish inventories at its profit. So that the arsenals of death and destruction that have powered the US techno-industrial revolution since 1943 can be used up and restocked. That’s Samson killing the lion, Setanta killing the hound of Culainn. The spoils of these foreign wars are employment, wealth creation, the most advanced society on earth in some ways (the most bestial in others). That’s the honey Samson brings home to his parents, without telling them where he got it. The American people, those vast majorities who don’t own a passport and live in fly-over country and vote Republican and are about as decent and God-fearing and kindly a people you could ever meet, and I’ve met quite a few, have no real idea of what is done in their name in order that they may have honey. Of the killer bees that swarm abroad that they may have honey. Well that’s my interpretation anyway. I think Bono’s a bit of a genius meself.

    • Kynos says:

      Henry James summed up the pragmatism of Charles Pierce when he said that “the soul and meaning of thought…can never be made to direct itself towards anything but the production of belief…when our thought about an object has found its rest in belief, then our action on the subject can firmly and safely begin. Beliefs, in short, are really rules for action, and the whole function of thinking is but one step in the production of habits of action.”

      Belief is defined as that upon which a person is prepared to act. Elvis ate America, he summarised and encapsulated what is uniquely America, and thus naturally America thereafter ate him.

    • Kynos says:

      He was a force of nature. Remember I was an eleven year old kid the summer Elvis died. He played his last concert in Binghampton New York I believe, just thirty miles up the highway from where I was spending my first summer holidays at my Uncle’s house in Pennsylvania. Remember the morning I heard the news. Was up and out early, running across the fields from my Uncle’s house which is on top of a mountain near a town called Athens, busted old steel-town, close to the Pa./NY state line. High country. Ran through a squash and sunflower patch, there was indian corn growing there too. We’d spent a few nights camping there with my new friend Bill W___, who was an american kid same age as me only bigger built even, him having grown up in the US, and he had a BB rifle, which I coveted. So this morning I didn’t spend time checking out the window pits that let light into my uncle’s basement for small creatures like frogs and voles and garter snakes and chipmunks that tended to fall into the pits during the night. I just headed across the fields to Bill’s to see him and his rifle. Got to their house, big ranch style home like my uncles, with an upper deck running all round, split level with two HUGE garages and a games room and everything that dazzled the eyes of Irish kids out of Cavan where things were tight and small back then. His mother (‘mom’) came out onto the deck and her in floods of tears. “Elvis is daid!” she cried, and wept and bent her head in her hands. I stood there, wondering who was Elvis, having vaguely only heard of him by age 11. But I figured Bill would know. He came out and he was crying too. I told him not to worry the day was ahead of us and we could go fishing which we did, for crappies and bluegills in the Susquehanna. Years later when Lynott sang his songs into my heart, he sang about a rainy night, the night the King went down, everybody was crying, seemed like darkness had entered the town. Elsewhere he sang “Elvis is daid. The King o’ rock n’ roll is daid”. Whenever I hear that line I always think of that hot summer morning and the dew and spiderwebs burning off the grass in the fields between my uncle’s house and my friend Bill’s. Might have been raining in Dub or London or wherever Phil was getting drunk on a bottle of wine and a bottle of gin and playing his records all nite and getting drunk all over again. But it was hot where I was, only 20/30 miles down the road from where the King, fat, engorged, desperately unhappy, eating everything in sight and then some, making his beliefs fit his actions, used misused and abusing abused, played his last concert and made a church out of America, and not for the last time.

    • Kynos says:

      (Hey Fiona if Bono can get away with having his self-indulgent interpretants on yer site so can I :)

    • Kynos says:

      (Seriously great editing. Why I write on this BB. One reason anyway. Thanks for that. rgds John)

    • Kynos says:

      (I feel a bit of a phoney betimes though because the editing takes out much of the stupidities. Which are much more me than any words of wisdom I quote from others. Stoics counselled against the touching up of paintings because it interfered with the integrity of the artist’s original spontaenous vision. Wouldn’t be so arrogant as to call the outpourings of an ‘umble blogger on here art. But it is self-expression and I feel a bit phoney when the stupidities and obviousness and so forth are taken out) Still, feel good when I read the edited version too.

    • Kynos says:

      Just goes to show though. Ideas are just representations of other representations, never things. Interpretants. We hear the word “tree”. We don’t perceive an actual tree per se but rather the representation we have in our heads of “treeness”. When you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail. That’s why my interpretation of two bits of Bono’s pome in reference to the rest of it is filtered through my mental representation of America, not his, and thus doubtless bears no relation whatsoever to whatever he was trying to say.

    • Kynos says:

      See what I mean Fiona? When yer a hammer everything looks like a nail.

    • Kynos says:

      There was a machismo in Elvis recognisable to a billion fatherless boys. Who smashed their own femininity in. Who loved their mothers too much in their hearts and wanted in frustration to destroy them too. There was a femininity in Elvis that he didn’t destroy. Recognisable to a billion fatherless girls. WW2 had made them all fatherless. Sacrificed on the altar of the Rough Beast. elvis changed the centre of gravity. elvis made it slippy. Elvis remodelled America in his own image. Saviour of the world with a voice by God and the face of an angel. Elvis restrained america’s violent ID, became the superego of a Nation. Became everything She wanted him to be. and Herself also. What else was there to do then but consume him?

    • Kynos says:

      “american David”. Tch. Just cottoned. David to Israel is Elvis to America. Saul would have his evil come upon him, David would play the secret chord that pleased the lord. Saul’s sickness would lift. America, in agony from the War, had Elvis, with his aeolian harp. Same same.

    • Kynos says:

      Champion of the oppressed,every mother’s son, legendary lover, gorgeous boy, giant slayer, hope of a nation. Can see it now. Not bad Bono.

    • Kynos says:

      Just goes to show you can go completely arseways starting off from one inference about bees and Tupelo honey. Never mind I enjoyed that :)

    • clom says:

      like poetry, bono “makes nothing happen.”

    • I think the poem speaks about the space elvis makes for us, and the legacy of elvis’s mind, which trained itself in Memphis, and later, in Vegas and later still, all over the planet in the sense of elvis’s avataristic tendencies to occupy the space between the space his mind and music make, not only for us, but for others not entirely unlike us, but more, more in the mould of those who compose themselves cerebrally, as elvis did in his early Germany phase, during an immensley creative time when he and priscilla collided on the base.

      if we look at the things Mr Bono states about elvis, we see a tendency to use the word elvis in the way of a repetitive, one two, dee dum dah doo, dee dum dah doo, dee (can you hear it yet?) dum dah doo.

      Now if the e in elvis where the dee and l dum and v dah and i doo, and s a neutral signifying absene?

      What pattern would that suggest, is successfully operating (in a metrical sense) at the nuts and bolts state whereby we can ask ourselves, what exactly it is, what property of poetic symblism is it that the gods of poetry osscilate when the reverse is effected and the s is doo, i dah, v dum, dee l and e the neutrally level cipher of absence?

      Exactly !

    • Dowdy says:

      @ Markham: Haha, brilliant! I couldn’t have said it better myself.

      That’s one of the most pretentious, silly, gut-churningly atrocious poems I’ve ever had the misfortune of reading. I can just picture him reading it too, reeking of self-importance.

      It’s almost as bad as that Beckett pastiche he performed a few years ago, which was also so bad it was unintentional comedy gold.

      Pull your head out Bono.

    • Godiva says:

      “I’ve never got the whole Bono hating vibe in reland.”

      I think you’ll find it’s not confined to Ireland — it’s universal!

    • kynos says:

      Haven’t ye little to spend your hate on Godiva?

Search Pursued by a Bear