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Joy management

by | Apr 6, 2021 | Joy, manage, U2

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Mistakes are the Joy of management,  You read that right, and by the end of this, I hope to help you see that is true. We like to think that we are there to ensure things are done “right” and “perfectly” but if you read these enough, you know that mistakes are what has made both my life more interesting, and also the music I love the most.  Today’s track is a perfect example of this, going through multiple mistakes to come one of the most important and iconic U2 songs.

If you remember, the band started as a post-punk “fake it till you make” group, and by this point, they had faked it well enough.  There were still tensions particularly in the studio with their previous producer, where he kept trying to keep them focused on doing songs “well”.  While it has produced some good music, Brian Eno’s touch was completely the opposite. Remember that “ambient” music was looking at other things to make songs – other than the obvious pitch, key, beat, etc…. So actually not being great musicians was easier for him, and the band played right into that.

One thing they had learned early was there was no telling when an idea would come to the band, so they taped everything, including sound checks before concerts. Towards the end of the War tour in Hawaii, they were running through a song, and one of the guys made a “mistake”…. And the rest of the band followed with Joy, and away they went.  It was on tape, but soon forgotten.

As they were back at Slane Castle, Bono was trying to write a song about the Reagan approach to foreign policy – and how his “pride” in military might was playing out around the world.  He just couldn’t get the lyrics to work, and didn’t really like the negative tone. They had also been to the Chicago Peace Museum, and he pivoted to the kind of “pride” that Dr. King inspired in people around the world. It completely changed his focus, but the lyrics came no easier…

Meanwhile, the piece of tape of the “mistake” was now in full development with The Edge, and had become a track that everyone recognized was going to be great.  And while Bono was still struggling, Brian, Daniel, and The Edge thought that all he needed was some sketches and trust it would come together “on the mic”.  They recorded it, and headed back to Windham Lane to finish off the tracks…

The loudest voice in our heads is… The Judge – normally a very negative view of ourselves and our contribution. And over time, managers are incented to emphasize that in an ironic twist.  Our performance is mostly a sine wave – up and down – and our management happens at both “peaks”.  At the top, our praise is rewarded with .. less performance… and at the bottom, our insights “improve” as the next actions are “better”.  And being human, we tend to only do what rewards us… and over time, that is more and more focus on stepping in on mistakes…

Back at Windham Lane, time was again running out, and the tape from Slane on this song was just not right.  Turning to management, Eno recommended to simply start over – even in the small studio, without the large room together, they would try it again. You can hear a bit of the rawness, which actually contributes to the energy of the song.  If you listen carefully, in the background is Ms. Christine Kerr who happened to be in town and credited… you would know her more by here stage name … Hynde.

Mistakes are why I started this blog years ago, and still power it today. So much of the great music around us comes from the odd twist that went in an intended direction, and now provide us Joy.  And behind each are real people, real enough to let us in on their mistakes and not be embarrassed by them.  Bono still finds these lyrics very “sketchy” – and not just for their lack of details.  As you head into this week, what type of producer do you want to be?  Remember this track which is listed as one of the 500 most important songs, and was sung at a US Presidential inauguration… by and Irish band 😉 Listen to the Joy, the magic that Brian created… with Pride (in the name of Love).


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