U2's Achtung Baby (33 1/3) Paperback – 29 Sep 2009
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Stephen Catanzarite takes his readers on a metaphysical trip with Achtung Baby...The book reads like a well-written thesis, and Catanzarite is knowledgeable both musically and theologically. The songs are the bones on which the author fleshes out his theories, with the help of quotes by philosophers, poets, musicians (Axl Rose, of all people), and whole passages taken from books by religious scholars of different faiths. There are references to Neil Young, Led Zeppelin (the Tower of Babel is the original stairway to heaven), Bob Dylan and Morrissey for the rock cognoscenti, as well as a few Chinese proverbs thrown in for good measure."" -@U2,""Stephen Catanzarite has reflected on a beloved Rock album and turned his reflections into a book. Not only that, but his book is theological, Christian, Catholic and concerned with humanity's place in the world. Ambitious, no? A lesser album would collapse under such ponderings, but U2's Achtung Baby is a ""heavy mother,"" to quote the band's ever-quotable lead vocalist. And The Edge lists ""betrayal"" among the album's chief preoccupations, so bringing it all back home to Adam and Eve's betrayal of God does work. The book is a good primer on moral theology -- an oddity in the 33 1/3 book series. Our guide cites Augustine, Newman and more luminaries without any quote seeming irrelevant. And still the book stays connected to the music, delving into both words and instrumental landscape. Two quarrels: First, three taboos fascinate U2: sex, God and politics. Catanzarite describes an Adam and Eve losing and finding each other and their Maker in a neon city. That covers sex and God. But politics? In an epilogue Catanzarite mentions upheavals occurring in Achtung Baby's era but not a whisper elsewhere. He quotes the exquisite apocalypse of Yeats' poem ""The Second Coming,"" but relates it not to chaos in wartime but to breakdowns in personal relationships. Second, Catanzarite praises ""Mysterious Ways"" as an ode to feminine inspiration. He challenges disrespect of women and yet never quotes a single woman author. It's a glaring omission in a Catholic-worldview book -- U2 themselves have spoken often of their indebtedness to, for instance, Flannery O'Connor. It would take 10 more books to maybe start to describe Achtung Baby. Catanzarite is brave to try."" --CityBeat,""If you don't already know about the Christianity present in U2, or have never heard Achtung Baby, find a copy and listen to it. And if you are interested in a thoughtful engagement by a Catholic with the best of modern rock, you might like Achtung Baby: Meditations on Love in the Shadow of the Fall."" -Nathaniel Peters, First Things,""[Catanzarite has written] a surprisingly profound meditation on Achtung Baby' as a metaphor for the Fall of Man. I told Bono, rather sceptically, that I had met a man who theorised that Achtung Baby was a metaphor for the fall of man ... and had just given a lecture on the conservative voice in U2'. I thought Bono might get a kick out it, but I was surprised by his response. ""Both theories sound bang on,"" he said.""-Neil McCormick, The Daily Telegraph,""...a surprisingly profound meditation on Achtung Baby' as a metaphor for the Fall of Man (part of the excellent 33? series of books about albums)..."" http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/neilmccormick/100003914/is-bono-a-conservative/ --No Review Available
About the Author
Stephen Catanzarite is the managing director of the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Centre, near Pittsburgh. He has created a course tracing the history and development of American popular music from Tin Pan Alley to the present - which will be delivered, online, to thousands of high school students across the U.S.
Top customer reviews
For the main thesis of the book is that U2's extraordinary album Achtung Baby is a profound exploration of what it means to live in a fallen and lost world, where relationships fracture. Even the most celebrated song on the album ("ONE") fits into this category.
So if you are the sort who doesn't let the words of great albums drift past you, and you want to be stimulated to hear things you might otherwise miss, then this is a fascinating little book. Sometimes Catanzarite's flights of fancy (imagining the conversations and relationships behind the individual characters in the songs) get a bit intrusive which is why i've docked a star. Still - this should enhance your listening - which is the whole point of this series.
If you're up for a didactic, close-minded text laced with messages about how bad humanity is post-fall, be my guest. If you're looking for a reasoned, wide-ranging discussion of Achtung Baby, do yourself a favour and look elsewhere.
Best to be avoided.
- Steve Wilson, Gods Of Chaos
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
This book is an extended riff on the nature of guilt, sin and redemption that happens to point out those themes in the music on Achtung Baby. It's an extended metaphor about a man and a woman who fall from God's graces but ultimately find redemption in their essential humanness. It's utterly Catholic in its religious outlook.
While the logic used suffers from the circularity of all religious logic, it definitely got me to listen to an album I've loved for years with fresh ears. And if that's not what you're looking for, why the hell are you reading the 33 1/3 series?
This essay challenges the reader to intellectually reconsider the Christian narrative in light of the human experience, using the story of U2's "Achtung Baby" as the scaffolding in which the ideas develop and grow. As the preface states, it is not a book about a rock album, or the personal beliefs of Bono and his bandmates, but a book about love, sin, and the interplay between these two forces. What Catanzarite has done is use Christianity as something of a literary criticism (or in this case, a musical criticism), much like one could do with Marxism or Feminism. He gives the reader (and the listener) an example of a Christian point of view and its effect on the way one experiences pop culture. The idea itself is a good one, and it only gets better from there.
In a time when Christian music is stuck between bubble gum pop tunes and tired old church hymns, in a time when the secular world and the church seem to only think of ways to one-up each other, Catanzarite's meditation on "Achtung Baby" is a breath of fresh air. Pair it with "Blue Like Jazz" by Donald Miller, and you will have a brand new understanding of Christian thought.
And yes, the book is obviously religious, but it doesn't overtly proselytize. Instead its payload is based on the core theme of Christianity, presented in an uncluttered fashion: it is a book on love and the sacrifices necessary to maintain it. The message is universal and it cuts straight to the heart.
Many of the songs on Achtung Baby are about people failing to make these sacrifices. Catanzarite writes about why these failures occur in human relationships. It is a difficult narrative to thread through the album, but, in almost all cases, he really pulls it off.
As the previous reviewer wrote, it is a book that transcends its subject. Even if I had never listened to the album, I still would have enjoyed Catanzarite's book and will likely pick it up again in the future.
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