Apr 15, 2011

Spidey vs. "The Fly"

At the intermission of Spider-man: Turn Off the Dark a few weeks ago, I was marvelling (not in a good way) at the lyrics, which are arguably not the worst ingredient in this historic bomb but which, are from the point of an unreconstructed U2 fan like myself, exceedingly dispiriting. I wasn't writing them down, alas, and I can't locate them online, so I can't cite them here. But they struck me as an effortful hash of warmed-over Tim Rice (which is already pretty stale when served fresh, in my book), and it was the effort--the obvious attempt by Bono and The Edge to construct clever rhymes and catchphrases and hooks over their mostly generic music--that depressed me more than anything. My companion at the show said something like, "Well, their lyrics have always been bad," a piece of received wisdom with which I must disagree. Yes, they can can seem quite silly and bloated on the page, and even occasionally from the concert stage, but I think that at their best ("Gone," "Running To Stand Still," much of Achtung Baby), Bono's lyrics are quite strong and evocative as pop/rock lyrics. I think of a song like "The Fly," which also happens to have one of the band's strongest guitar vamps:
A man will beg
A man will crawl
On the sheer face of love
Like a fly on a wall
It's no secret at all

It's no secret that a conscience can sometimes be a pest
It's no secret ambition bites the nails of success
Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief
All kill their inspiration and sing about their grief
It ain't Dylan; it ain't even Jagger. But that's good stuff (there's a lot of other dross in that lyric, admittedly--what's a "burning star"?). Note, though, that the titular insect is a metaphor for human insignificance and abjectness; it's not a song about an actual arachnid or radioactivity or literal superpowers, or, as in one notorious Spider-man number, choosing just the right shoes for you're a femme fatale with, ahem, eight feet. To me, the gulf between prickly metaphor and sci-fi zoology is as good an index as any of why U2 never seemed like a good fit for this show, despite their best efforts.

As for the Taymor portion of the evening, there are about five to ten minutes of Spider-man as it currently stands--or rather hangs--that visually and spatially thrilled me (or, perhaps more precisely, scared the shit out of me), and I found one early song, with the hook "anywhere but here" (I guess the Playbill calls it "No More"), musically intriguing. The rest is best laid to rest along with the execrable lyrics.

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