Transcendence through trash. That alliterative phrase really sums up what I believe the band were attempting with 1997’s Pop album and the ensuing Pop*Mart Tour, and nowhere was it better showcased than on one of that album’s unsung heroes, “The Playboy Mansion”. It seems at first glance that the two concepts of spirituality and disposable, modern pop culture lie at two completely opposite ends of the spectrum of human experience, and I would freely admit that the transience of movies, music, and other types of art that seem to be embraced today would appear likely to lead one away from a fulfilling spiritual life. Note that I’m not necessarily talking about a relationship with God when I talk about “spiritual life”, but a more nebulous acceptance that there’s more to life than just what most people see and feel on an every day basis. At the same time, I don’t think that anyone reading this would fail to argue that U2 has taken them to another level of consciousness at some time, and U2 is supposed to be nothing more than a simple rock band. I’m thinking about the Point Depot concert from New Year’s Eve of 1989, where Bono stated that people would “like to see rock ‘n’ roll get back in its box”, then added sarcastically “it’s only entertainment, man”. I believe that we U2 fans know better than that – music can be so much more than a simple “good time”.
On the other hand, however, lots of pop art is simply entertainment and nothing more. It might taste great, but I doubt that Coca-Cola has ever actually changed anyone’s life. The same goes for Michael Jackson’s music, as much as the late singer might have liked to believe the contrary, and all the rest of the things that Bono references in the lyrics to “The Playboy Mansion”. It’s easy to place value on the wrong things, like luck, sex, and other temptations that feel good but lack substance, and to ignore the things that really matter, like love, charity, and justice. It seems like maybe my country, the United States, has gotten too wrapped up in the wrongs things when we elect a reality TV star to our nation’s highest office, instead of giving the position to someone with all of our best interests at heart.
Although “The Playboy Mansion” has never been given a full-on live performance, the song’s closing lines were frequently snippeted by Bono during “Where the Streets Have No Name” on the Pop*Mart Tour. The lyrics “Then will there be no time for sorrow, then will there be no time for shame” fit neatly in with “Where the Streets Have No Name’s” message, and the portion of “Streets” that contained that snippet was a highlight of those shows for me. “The Playboy Mansion” has always been a lovely song to me, and I hate that the band has abandoned it simply due to its place on their least favorite album of the nineties. Several of the more popular songs from Pop have been remixed over the years, and I’d love for “The Playboy Mansion” to get that same treatment. Rumor has it that there was a remixed version of this song that was supposed to be a B-side on the “Hands that Built America” commercial single back in 2002, but that single was cancelled, so “The Playboy Mansion” once again gets the short end of the stick. Who knows, maybe one day the band will embrace parody and sarcasm once again and “The Playboy Mansion” will finally get its day in the sun.