It started with a song. Or maybe a video. I seem to remember airplanes. Oriental rugs on a Charles de Gaulle runway. Four guys fresh from the 90’s jamming to the coolest hit of the new millennium. For some reason, it’s a sound that I remember as much more visual than music would seem, but it was indeed a song and that song was “Beautiful Day.”
Go to the concerts and you’ll hear stories like this. It was my birthday. It was my first road trip. It was my first kiss. It was my first break up. ZooTV 1992. The Unforgettable Fire 1984. Elevation 2001. For the past week, I’ve heard the same story repeated by people of all ages and all countries, and it’s always the tale of falling in love with a song and the journey that brought us to U2.
For me, it was 2001. I was 12 and this new thing called “burning CDs” was the newest hottest form of the mixed tape. Kids lucky enough to have TWO CD drives on their computers were insanely popular. My friend asked me if I liked U2. I had no complaints. She burned me a copy of “All That You Can’t Leave Behind.”
That copy of ATYCLB brought my CD collection up to about 10 discs, including some left over Will Smith albums and a couple of cowboy movie soundtracks. I had borrowed a CD player from one of my mom’s friends so I had something to listen to it on.
This was a time in my life when I was commuting across town to go to a prestigious magnet school, waking up for a 6:30am metro bus pick up, shuffling through class all day, then staying after for orchestra or comic book club or some other dorky thing, then bouncing home on a yellow school bus in the heat of late afternoon, all in all usually putting in about 12-hour days. My friends were spread across the city in otherwise inconvenient locations so we never rode the busses together, only saw each other in class or on weekends. To pass the time, I listened to music.
I’m not sure why U2 took off for me as a band while there were others that didn’t. There were certainly others that I liked and tried to get into (Fastball, The Verve, Oasis) but for some reason I was drawn to U2. I started researching––it was probably the fact that U2 is a band massive enough to inspire the need for “research” in the first place that made them so appealing to me and my nerdy tendencies. I learned their names, the instruments, the names of the albums, and other fun facts. I memorized lyrics, learning the stories behind the verses and through the words, the history of Ireland, the pain of conflict, the joy of peace and the anguish of despair.
It was also my first brush with the intersection of music and social activism. Having lived for a while in Austin, it was a weekend hobby to attend political demonstrations and protest meetings. I liked the idea of a rock star so open to using fame toward positive ends, and Bono was the first celebrity that I not only admired as an entertainer, but as a fellow human being.
I went through the eras, amazed at how much a band could change so much over a lifetime. From the folk lost traveler’s look of the 80’s to the pop consumerism of the 90’s, to the mellow, chill bro dudes of the new millennium. I got my hands on old CDs. I’d listen to “Joshua Tree” during the hour it would take to get to school, then “War” during the hour it would take to get home.The same tracks every day. Before MP3 players, it was more trouble than it was worth to change CDs on a bouncing bus so instead I made a soundtrack to my life with these songs.
On weekends at my dad’s house (he had the faster, cable modem) I would listen to snippets from “Boy” “October” and “The Unforgettable Fire.” There was even the time that I found the rare jewel of U2’s music video for one of their early singles called “I Will Follow” (this was before YouTube, which made such videos ubiquitous). I fell into obsession and fell hard.
There are other moments of awkward adolescent devotion that are somewhat painful to remember––the time I made my own “War” T-Shirt with paint and stencils (It looked terrible). The time my English teacher challenged me to a U2 trivia contest (I lost). There was also the time that I planned out the perfect walking tour of U2’s Dublin, complete with MapQuest directions and pictures (It was part of a school project, but the level of detail I went into astounds me today). I guarantee you that I was the only 8th grader at Kealing Jr. High (and likely all of Texas) with “U2” stitched into the fabric of their backpack.
By the time I was in high school, I mellowed out. ATYCLB was nearly 5 years old, a third of my life, and I had moved onto bigger and better things. There was Coldplay, and there were The Killers. Interpol and Franz Ferdinand. Rage Against the Machine. The Who. Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Somewhere shimmering in the fog of my junior high school memories were the dorky, wholesome stylings of U2.
At this point, music had taken on deeper significance. I took out a subscription to Rolling Stone at $12 a year just for the cheap poster material. I was toying with the idea of rock journalism, despite having never read many rock journalism pieces in my life. Almost Famous was on constant repeat every summer and I imagined that I would find some little indie band passing through Texas and ride along with them for the summer.
I was still a loyal U2 fan in the sense that I could always be counted on to buy a new album and a concert ticket when the opportunities presented, but the love never reached the fervor that I had for them when I was twelve. And I’m not sure anything is ever as cool again later as it is when we are twelve, but this week, my love for U2 came pretty close.
Throughout high school, I kept my eye on the occasional interview or news item. I signed up for the One campaign the day it was announced. I shelled out for the collector’s edition of “How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.” Through tears and prayers, I managed to get my dad to scrape up a pair of nosebleed seats for their single show in Houston during the Vertigo tour in 2005 and my friend and I waved a “Happy Birthday Larry!” poster from the high rafters. That was it for a long time.
Then college came. The Beatles. MGMT. Kanye. More Coldplay. Radiohead. REM. Billy Joel. When “No Line on the Horizon” was released, of course I got it, and when the tickets went on sale for the following 360 tour, of course I got those. Unfortunately, the 360 show was disappointing for me. A busy course load and lack of enthusiasm for the new album dampened my excitement. I didn’t even know the words to the new songs. At the Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ, our seats in back made us feel removed from the action and I don’t remember much of the experience at all.
Eventually, a friend bought me a fan club subscription for my birthday and I figured that in a few years time, my standing in the club would mature enough to warrant a decent pre-sale code. I promised myself that for the next tour, I would live the U2 dream that I’d been dreaming ever since first falling into fervor in middle school.
I had no idea where that dream would take me.
Next: Night 1 – 5/26/15