So apparently, I lived in a cave during the 80s and 90s, because, until recently, I was the only person who knew next to nothing about the band U2. Oh, I knew there is a band named U2 and it was really big back then and I’d heard about Bono’s humanitarian work. But, if I had been threatened with a firing squad, I wouldn’t have been able to hum a single one of their songs. I don’t think I even knew the names of any of their songs. And I certainly couldn’t have picked Bono out of a line-up. U2 was just something that had completely eluded my consciousness through the years and decades. What was I doing? I don’t know. I had season tickets to the San Francisco Opera through most of the 90s. I was starting a business. But the real reason is probably that I’m terminally uncool. The hot bands have never been a concern of mine. I prefer classic Country. Jeez, if you look at the right hand column on this blog, you’ll see that I’m also a proud Donny Osmond fan and I have the world’s largest Christmas music collection. ‘Nuff said.
Last week, all this changed. Our good friends, Keith and Christine, called to invite us to the U2 concert in Santa Clara. It’s the 30th anniversary of the release of the Joshua Tree album, which I had heard about here and there. When I mentioned this to people and that, in my hermetically sealed state, I knew next to nothing about U2’s music, the reaction was predictable. Most people shook their heads at the complete waste of a much sought-after ticket. Convinced that I should do my due diligence, I downloaded the Joshua Tree songs to my iPhone and set myself to listening to it several times a day. Sadly, it didn’t make much of an impression on me. Three days into my experiment, I still couldn’t tell the difference between songs. But I had figured out that these guys don’t write happy upbeat tunes.
By two days before the concert, Andy was quizzing me:
Andy: So how do you like U2? What’s your favorite song?
Me: Well, I like that one where Bono screams.
Andy: Uh, that’s pretty much every song…
I upped my listening, but, on the day of the concert, I hadn’t progressed much. In the VIP lounge, they were piping in music as Christine and I enjoyed pre-concert drinks.
Me: Christine, this music. Is that Bono?
Christine: Lisa, that’s Journey…
Time was up and we filed to our seats. Then the concert began and it all clicked into place. The stage had a long runway into the standing room only crowd. The four musicians marched in single-file formation down the ramp singing what I later learned was the first song on the Joshua Tree album. Spotlights hit each of the quartet as if they would be beamed up to the Mothership at any moment. The almost completely White crowd went wild. It was a little pretentious, a bit too self-reverential. But, you know, it worked. I guess if any musicians have the right to take themselves seriously it’s U2, with their many musical and humanitarian accomplishments. (See, I also did my homework on the Google Machine.)
By the second song, I was sold. Did I mention that the first image on the screen was a quote from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass? What rockers do that? I still only vaguely recognized the songs, but the energy and passion was palpable. I love The Who and still find many of their songs resonate in my life (Won’t Get Fooled Again, anyone?), but years ago when they did their big stadium tour, I had to admit there were parts where they were phoning it in. Bono and crew did that concert 200% as if they were trying to reach their audience for the first time.
And in a way, they were. I was the perfect test case. Everyone around us was talking about the first time they heard U2 or the first time they saw them in concert. Compound that with Christine being born in Belfast, so her love of U2 is all tangled up with Irish issues. I was fresh eyes, untainted by nostalgia or national pride. I heard their music for what it was, unhampered by the emotions of youthful experiences. Whatever you felt when you first heard U2 back in the 80s before you knew they would be legends, well folks, I’m here to tell you: they’ve still got it.
I would have been happy just to experience the music, but the videos and photographs projected on the screen were just as artful and arresting. I don’t think I’ll be humming U2 songs as I work in the vineyard. But I will keep Joshua Tree on my iPhone. I might even download Rattle and Hum.
Bono, Edge, Adam and Larry, we who are the Uncool salute you. Great show. Great music. Great humanitarian work. Keep it up, guys. See you again in 30 years.