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Zoo TV

The latest U2 product, Zoo TV, has been in and out of BCP! like a revolving door.

Legal counsel for U2 decides to demolish a teeny San Francisco art band, Negativland, for having the temerity to sample the U2 product, and using those samples in their work. The thinking was, well, these folks can't fight back, why not skewer them as an example? The monkey on the stick, as it were. U2 takes a lot of heat from the alternative community for this loutish legal act. U2 is out.

U2 goes on the Zoo TV tour in 1992. The uber-theme of the tour is kitch techno, very videodrome. The stage act revolves around massive video displays, tapping into global video feeds as they are captured by satellites during the performance. Very random, very Burroughs - surfin' the edge, viddy-wise. U2 starts to redeem itself by creating something undeniable cool. U2 is in.

But wait... isn't that unauthorized sampling of other media products - just what Negativland got squashed for? Still, didn't U2 show mercy to the little band, not demanding damages, just asking for court costs. Yeah, right. $75,000 court costs may be chump change to the new Fab Four, but how many digital art bands do you know with pockets that deep? U2 is out!

Next, Fox Network is going to broadcast a one hour show from the Zoo TV tour. I dial it up, missing maybe the first 10 minutes since U2 is currently on my unsavory list. What I see, though, is very hot, very c-punk in the real-time sense of the word. The video is extremely blendo, nearly every layer of it has been technically altered with lots of digital overlay. Nice bandwidth - solid eye candy. The music's OK, not too exciting, but it holds the wild footage together. One of the real interesting aspects of the performance portions is that Bono's working with a CD-I player on stage, jamming on some video images he's feeding up to the monster monitors. Hand-held media control.

The commercials are what really blast the show into the future. They were for the new Phillips digital cassette, but they were so edged-out that it took several viewings to tease out that there was a product attached to them. The border between the performance and the adverts was so blurry, I couldn't tell what was product, what was ad, and frankly, what WAS the difference?

The stand-out moment of the show was a live duet, Lou Reed beamed in on a 40 foot extreme close-up straight from satellite. Lou looked and sounded like the ghost of the airwaves, echoing his cool rhythm, sharing his essential buzz on "Satellite of Love." It was a masterpiece media moment. U2's back in!

Unfortunately, I didn't record the telecast. So, now I have to go buy the video cause I don't have time to scam a reviewer's copy (hey, we gotta get something out of publishing this thing, right?).

The blendo, multilayer digital look is still there. But an awful lot of what made the TV show really swing has been dropped out of the mix. I never thought I'd live to see the day I'd be complaining that the commercials were left out, but the video was a lot paler without them. And the performance segments, with the crowd- interactive media machines, along with the digital hand held controller, those were gone. The final indignity was that the Lou Reed duet landed on the cutting room floor. U2 (at least U2, Inc.) is out again.

But, now that I've written all this up, I guess they're in again. In the stack, anyway. In terms of U2 as a band, as a cultural phenomena, as responsible citizens of cyberspace, they're still stuck in the revolving door of my mind.

If Zoo TV is rebroadcast, record it and you'll get a preview of what normal programming might look like in the near future (minus Bono, of course).

(P. Sugarman)

PolyGram Video
PO Box 8873
Red Bank, NJ 07701

Also available at your local video outlet.

Here is the TEXT POPUP for Zoo TV:

"Just Say Bo No!"

T-shirts worn by the members of Negativland. One shirt said "Just," the others: "Say," "Bo," and "No!"

For interesting perspectives on the Negativland/U2-Island Records flap, see the article by Negativland in Retrofuturism #16 ($3 from The Drawing Legion, PO Box 227, Iowa City, IA 52244) and the hysterical exchange between The Edge and members of Negativland in Mondo 2000 #8. The Edge thought he was going to be interviewed by Mondo editor R.U. Sirius. Members of the San Francisco underground band are friends of R.U. and were asked to be in on the exchange. They confronted The Edge on the case and ask some pointed questions about U2's own use of copyrighted material in their live shows, on the video, etc. The Edge's seemingly genuine ignorance about the impact that the Island suit had on the band and its member's lives says a lot about how insular big rock stars can become. U2 isn't a band anymore, it's a major corporation inspired by a band. At this monumental size, the band simply becomes a figurehead on the burrowing Leviathan of industry. Small is beautiful!

- Gareth Branwyn

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