Wide Awake in America

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U2 vs. Echo and The Bunnymen

Nicole Vanasse

Who am I to say who are the Contenders and Pretenders?  What gives me the right?  Fandom?  Good enough reason for me. 

When it comes to Echo and the Bunnymen, I really WANT to tell them they’re contenders, but the way they slag U2 (particularly frontman Ian McCulloch) might influence my decision to look upon them as pretenders. It’s no secret of the riff between the two, if not evident now, it certainly was back in the 80’s. 

Perhaps they were doomed to obscurity simply because they were ahead of their time or couldn’t manage themselves.  Plagued by adversity and bad decisions, Echo and The Bunnymen just couldn’t get off the ground. 

They’ve been through various incarnations throughout time and finally dialed back in with 2005’s Siberia, which reflected a return to roots with the last two remaining original members of the band, McCulloch and Will Sergeant.  Many would tell you it’s their best stuff since 1983’s Ocean Rain.

Many would also tell you that it was U2 who pirated the sound of Echo and The Bunnymen. It’s been a long standing debate as to who influenced whom between The Bunnymen and our beloved U2.  It’s close.  Their timelines are virtually identical: having been formed in 1978, release of their first album in 1980, set upon their first tour of America in 1980-81,

Like The Blades in Ireland, Echo and The Bunnymen laid claim to being the most unique band in England.  McCulloch was often blasting contemporary Irish U2 and Scottish Simple Minds, both who had also been forging a promising career as a rock band at the same time.

Julian Cope and Ian McCulloch started the ball rolling together that paved the way for Echo and the Bunnymen.  They played together in the quartet, A Shallow Madness, which exploded when McCulloch was relieved of his duties by Cope.  Cope went on to form Teardrop Explodes and McCulloch went on to form Echo and the Bunnymen in post-punk England.

Can it be possible that U2 were destined for their success?  Time and time again it’s been proven to me that U2 was the strongest to come out of the post-punk scene.  The fact that they’re from Ireland worked more against them than for them at that time.  Their tenacity is nothing surprising to us but to understand just how tenacious is to realize that it was their drive that separated them from the rest.  While some of the other post-punk bands of the late-seventies were dealing with internal differences and dynamics, U2 decided to put all that aside and forge ahead, although there was that one time religion almost put an end to the idea.

I read an interesting interview with McCulloch given by Canadian celebrity Nardwuar.  Nardwuar told McCulloch that upon meeting Courtney Love at one time, she told him that not only was McCulloch the most important rock star ever, but that she had been hanging around U2 in NYC and claimed that Bono himself told her that “Ian was always better than me.  We just had better management.” McCulloch was humbled by this, and from that moment on had the highest of regards for Bono, calling him a real “gentleman” after all the rotten things he said about him at the time both bands were battling it out for our devotion.  It seems that Ian has matured and softened over the years (which some say is reflected in his later work) so perhaps he’s got that monkey off his back. 

U2 may have had better management, but it still doesn’t speak to the passion and drive they had to make it work and become successful.  If you’ve read some of the accounts of many of these bands from the mid-to-early 70’s, you’ll realize that there has been no love lost between them and the greatest band in the world.  Sometimes it is better management, sometimes it’s in the timing and sometimes it’s jealousy on the part of the pretenders.  I’ve always been a strong believer in the notion that you can do whatever you want to do in life if you want it bad enough.  There are no limitations or ceilings, only that which you perceive to be limitations and ceilings.  Why I love this band is because they never gave up, they pressed on and tested their limits time after time.  Because of this, they became the biggest rock band in the world.  Without the pretenders, they may not have turned out to be who they are today.

Next week: Another close battle with Simple Minds…who have also been slagged by McCulloch!