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Stories for Boys

Despite the temptation, I’m not going to write about the new Spider-Man musical without seeing it. I just really, really, really do not want to pay several days’ salary to watch three hours of staging stunts accompanied by rock show tunes by Bono and the Edge. As I recall, a critic once lost a lawsuit brought by David Soul, the beloved costar of Starsky and Hutch, for a critical review of a play starring Soul, which the writer said took place on a night the theater was dark. Besides, the Spider-Man musical might turn out to be wonderful, perhaps even a tiny bit as original and groundbreaking as Bono has been saying it is. Still, the whole enterprise, as an enterprise—an expertly put-together conglomeration of machinery for publicity and cross-merchandising—frightens me.

A coincidence of the calendar has provided an excuse to consider another era of music by Bono and the Edge—one which, in a way, foreshadowed Spider-Man. The first time I saw U2 in concert happens to be exactly 30 years ago, and I remember the time period (though not the precise date), because the show was held within a few days of John Lennon’s murder. It took place at the Mudd Club in Manhattan, where my girlfriend at the time was a club kid of high standing. What I remember would probably not match an archival recording of the show, if one exists. My memory is one of grand electronic effects overwhelming songs that struck me as vaguely mushy or mushily vague. (All of us in our twenties in New York in 1980 thought of ourselves as punks.) Rummaging around Youtube for evidence to support these flimsy recollections, I found, instead, a clip of an appearance by the band on Irish TV not long before that Mudd Club show, and the song reminded me that U2 has always had a weakness for comics, pop heroes, and stories for boys.

Of course, the song says virtually nothing; it’s not much more than a title, though a good one. The sonic textures of the Edge’s guitar and Bono’s sex appeal carry what passes for a tune, as they have for a great deal of the U2 repertoire over the years. “Stories for Boys” could be title of the band’s songbook, a fact which has led me to consider who, among pop musicians since 1980, has been making stories for girls as well as boys, and that question reminded me of Jill Sobule, whom I wrote about in the pages of TNR a while back.

Here, in a blurry fan video, Sobule provides a droll, buoyantly arch take on Spider-Man or, more accurately, a street character who costumes himself like Spider-Man to extract spare change from visitors to Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles—a man who established the conceptual basis of the new Broadway musical by dressing like Spidey to hustle tourists.

Since I’m not writing here about the Spider-Man show, I’m not going to risk uninformed speculation about whether or not there might be as much character and drama in the three minutes of Sobule’s song as there is in the three hours of the musical.