Thursday, December 31, 2009

U2 - "New Year's Day" From the Album War

Another snow song, right?


I wonder how many people get the reference.

Probably lots, I'm guessing. Certainly anybody who was around and watching cable TV in the early- to mid- eighties is gonna know I'm referencing the promotional video to U2's song, which was very famously filmed at and around a clearing in a snowy and frigid boreal forest, during the very dead of winter.

The clip was ubiquitous in the early days of MTV, not only in its heavy rotation on the music channel itself, but on other channels as well, as the media giants sought to copy the new and outrageous template that MTV had so suddenly provided.

At any given moment during the weekends and on late night in 1984, you had a very good chance of not only finding that MTV was playing "New Year's Day," but of also discovering that whatever channel you turned to afterwards was playing it as well.

Surely, the growing monster that was Bono/Clayton/Edge/Mullin could be difficult to escape. And that WAS annoying. But really, all the overexposure Viacom could muster couldn't detract from the video, couldn't detract from the fact that this is pretty visceral stuff--at least once they've ridden in on horseback.

Bono--as he so often has in the intervening 27 years--works hard to look cool, even in the extreme surroundings, but there's no escaping the fact that he's clearly freezing his balls off. They all are. Definitely a snow song: the band is basically knee deep in it. As you watch, you can pretty much feel the Scandinavian wind whipping around the lead singer. And still somehow the image of Adam Clayton's fingerless gloves transmits that sense of bone-numbing chill best of all.

The Edge's guitar when it comes (and it comes with Russian tanks) is like linked explosions, though not the explosions of bombs. It's like those of firecrackers, three or four packets of them with the grey fuses tied together, all at once, urgent as all fuck, pay attention now, but stand back.

Admittedly, Larry Mullin Jr. looks a little silly, banging on his one drum, and the semitransparent image of the piano as it plays its melody without the aid of a player only serves to highlight the silly conceit once you've thought about it that these silly rock stars have brought their electric instruments to the subarctic taiga, and there's nowhere to put a keyboard--or plug one in.

But still, although its exposition cannot match its imagery, I might suggest that watching the video is the best way to experience "New Year's Day." Half-naked exploding porpoises and all that, sure, but you can't gainsay the conviction of any band willing to do their promo at a time and place best suited for hibernating bears. You can't deny the whole thing is gorgeously photographed, and you can't deny that Norse wind, either. Or at least you can't until you pick up your guitars and disappear back into the softwood forest.

And then, you know, War faded and shit happened. The New Wave broke and the New Romantics fell out of favor. Hair metal happened, and Michael Jackson (along with some lesser talents) crossed the color line and did what he did to incite the Black Rock Coalition.

But once made by MTV, U2, through the Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree, only got more and more ginormous. Yet "New Year's Day" in its annoying ubiquitous way remained a seminal video, of importance not just to the band as its launching pad, but to MTV and its marketers, too, as a reminder and as evidence of their own frequently (and truthfully) proclaimed revolutionary catalysis.

I have to imagine the video remained in MTV's playlists at some frequency or the other for the rest of the decade, if not for longer than that.

Considered in the most literal sense, the video seems more than a little incongruous. Bono has often said that "New Year's Day" is either about the Polish Solidarity movement, or is a love letter to his wife, or maybe it's both at once. Yet for some reason, a song inspired by a movement that congealed around grey and dreary Polish shipyards is mated to a video shot in a gorgeously pristine part of Sweden and interspersed with archival film of Russian tanks at their famously impenetrable front.

I wouldn't be so crude as to question the group's grasp of history or geopoolitics; after all, it's Bono, and not I, who has spoken at the UN. But I WILL suggest that the "New Year's Day" video, at a time when young bands like U2 were being presented with stark evidence of their need to find an image, and find one quick, served as a fine template for the videomusic that was to come for much of what was left of the 1980's. While U2 might argue to this day that the message is more important than the image, their first video from War argued in a most vivid way the exact reverse.

U2 - War - 3 - New Year's Day.mp3

This file was removed May 8, 2010 after I received a DMCA takedown letter. If you're still way interested in coming up with a copy of this--and really can't figure out where you might get one--drop me an email and I'm sure I'll be able to figure something out for you.

File under: Happy New Year

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