Nicholas Greco’s latest book, The Rosary and the Microphone: Religious Impulse in U2’s Mediated Brand, explores the crossing over or intersection of religion and popular music, using U2, a popular four-member Irish rock band, as his subject matter.
“There’s a Christian impulse behind U2’s music that’s particularly evident in Bono as the most vocal, the most outspoken, member of the band. Because of his religious formation, it seeps over into the band’s lyrics, songs and performances,” explains Greco.
The Rosary and the Microphone is the third book Greco has published, whose other volumes also studied best-selling musical artists David Bowie and Morrissey. His latest work took around three years to complete.
The book title comes from a U2 concert video clip at the 2005 Vertigo World Tour Live from Chicago. Towards the end of the concert, lead singer Bono, who was wearing a rosary around his neck, takes it off, drapes it on his microphone and dedicates the show to a priest from the University of Notre Dame.
“This was a poignant image for the intersection of popular culture, rock music and religion. The rosary is supposed to be a prayer aid. It’s a devotion that many Roman Catholics participate in,” explains Greco. “So, it’s an explicit conflation. It’s the coming together of these worlds in one gesture.”
Greco did his doctorate at McGill University in Communications Studies. Born in Montreal, raised in Ottawa, he now lives with his family in St. Pierre. He’s taught at Providence for the past 12 years as Associate Professor of Communications & Media. “As for teaching, I remember one of my professors saying to me that being a professor was one of the best jobs in the world. The reason was that you got to ask questions all the time.”
Greco’s background is in the area of popular culture and music. He’s had many discussions with students and even delved into the topic of U2 in a Popular Culture class a few years ago. They talked about how U2 was formed during the Troubles in Ireland (1968-1998) when there was conflict and escalating violence between unionists (British government) and nationalists (Northern Ireland).
“We had a lot of interesting discussions about how this band (U2) developed and where they came from,” says Greco. “I think when we look at popular music, often we look at a band or a singer, and we think about the album they released now or the song that is on the radio now, and we don’t think about the trajectory of that group or that singer.”
This discussion made it into an opening chapter of Greco’s book. It maps out U2’s early formation, career and events that help define the band’s image (or brand). Other chapters explore topics such as: the critical reception of the band, the use of stage design and lighting to communicate the band’s message, and the content of U2’s global message – argued by Greco to be a ‘Christian cosmopolitanism’ – of empathy and concern towards others.
U2 is either loved or hated, and that’s what made them a compelling topic for Greco to study. They are often perceived as hypocritical. Greco explored this tension that lies at the heart of U2 in his book: “U2 talks about immigration, about caring for the refugees and about eradicating poverty, but they themselves are making a lot of money.”
Yet, Greco steadfastly argues that U2 is actually trying to change the world whether it’s communicated on tour through their songs and stage presentations, in their videos or in the music albums themselves. “That seems to be a very grand concept, right? And in the book, I present it as a theoretical idea that they are changing the world. Even though it’s in a small way that they’re doing it. Literally they’re changing the world by changing people’s minds.”
Greco is a self-declared fan of U2 and has always enjoyed their music. When asked if he listened to their albums while writing his book, he responded by saying, “My daughter who’s 10 now, through this process, knows most of U2’s songs because it was always on.”
Greco’s 230-page book is available online in hardcover or paperback through Equinox (Publisher) and Amazon. You can also go to a local bookseller and order it. Greco’s other published books include: David Bowie in Darkness (McFarland, 2015) and Only If You’re Interested: Celebrity, Gender, Desire and the World of Morrissey (McFarland, 2011).