An Irishman's Diary


YOU HAVE to question the wisdom of U2 making a giant claw the centrepiece of the new world tour. I know it’s been three decades since the band started out in an era when the worst thing you could be was a rock “dinosaur” and the intervening years have brought great advances in the use of irony. But even so, I look at the lead singer and his claw now and I think two words: “Bonosaurus Rex”, writes FRANK MCNALLY.

Apparently U2’s preferred metaphor for the stage-set is a spaceship – hence the use of David Bowie singing “Ground Control to Major Tom” to open the show.

Here too, however, is a problem. What with its thousands of air-miles and an army of trucks transporting three different stages between venues, the tour has already earned the wrath of environmentalists.

According to one agency that calculates these things, the carbon claw-print involved is like flying a plane “to Mars and back”. Can you hear that, Major Tom?

I gather the U2 corporation is buying carbon offsets by way of compensation, and the tour designer has defended the project’s grandiosity as short-lived compared with “the life of a Chinese car factory”. Fair enough. Even so, Bono has been known to preach the importance of saving the planet, among other things, to fans. And coming on top of the tax efficiency issue, this looks like another area in which the band would have us to do as it says, not as it does.

But back to the dinosaur question. In many ways, the world seems to have turned full circle since U2 began life in the late Cretaceous period, when the world’s biggest band – the Rolling Stones – were already considered fossilised, and others were succumbing to that process of gradual petrifaction known as “progressive rock”.

Back then, the big threat was punk and its two-minute, three-third anthems, recorded in garages for nothing. Now, the general collapse of record sales promises to be the Cretaceous-tertiary extinction event; although in the short term it has sent all the dinosaurs out on the road again, playing world tours at the planet’s expense.

Maybe the acceptable compromise for U2 would to be perform football stadiums, unplugged. That would be a challenge for the tour designer.

There was a recession during U2’s early years as well, or at least there was once looming. Thus year marks the 30th anniversary of the band’s famous gigs at Dublin’s Dandelion Market, the last of which was in late December 1979, just before Charlie Haughey went on television to tell us we were living beyond our means. Now there was another charismatic figure whose personal example was not always in keeping with his message.

Incidentally, I saw on a list somewhere recently that the day after U2 departed the Dandelion, en route to greatness, the market hosted a band called “Dino and the Dolphins”. Interesting name.

I wonder what ever happened to them?

Speaking of football stadiums, I’m indebted to an unnamed reader who – responding to a recent column about misprints – has sent me a cutting from his (also unnamed) local newspaper. I don’t where the newspaper is, but I’m guessing Kilkenny, or another such place where Gaelic football is the poor relation. Thus it features a picture of a GAA dignitary over the captioned quote: “If the same effort was put into football as ‘huring’ , everything would be okay”.

“Huring” is the cause of a lot of problems, I think we all agree; although I would hesitate to identify it as a factor in the poor standard of this year’s football championship, so far.

In any case the cutting reminds me of a hotel I was in of late where all the catering suites were named after famous painters, including one called the “Toulouse-Lautrec”. No harm in that. Toulouse-Lautrec, or “Henri” as we art lovers call him, was one of the finest of the post-impressionists, exceeded perhaps only by Gauguin and Van Gogh, and of course the immortal Cézanne.

But what struck me as a bit inapt was that the suite in question specialised in hosting “civil wedding ceremonies”.

If you had to choose a famous painter to represent the nuptial ideal, poor Henri would hardly be the one. He wouldn’t make the top 200, in fact. Himself the product of a marriage between first cousins, his tragically short life (not to mention his short legs) and most of the medical problems he suffered are believed to have been the result of generations of such couplings among his aristocratic forebears.

And even leaving that aside, there is his art. Toulouse- Lautrec painted many subjects. But the often shockingly frank pictures for which he is most famous are from the Montmartre demi-monde wherein he moved: with its prostitutes and bohemians and other refugees from the world of bourgeois respectability.

He spent periods actually living in brothels and he didn’t confine himself just to painting the residents, either: which was another factor in his untimely demise, aged 36.

It’s a bit of a turn-up that Irish hotels are now naming marriage suites after him. Nobody would be more surprised, surely, than Toulouse-Lautrec himself.

I wouldn’t mind but the venue in question wasn’t located in what you would call a “huring” stronghold, in any sense of the term.