Everyone wants to know two things after you meet Bono: What did you say to him and what did he smell like?
With all my efforts focused on remembering how to breathe and stand and form words, I completely forgot about sniffing Bono. I imagine he and I are both OK with that. But I do remember with perfect clarity what I said to him as I pulled out of our scentless hug: “This is a dream come true.”
I think I may have lied to Bono, though.
I was curious what non-fans and U2 laymen think of the album art for U2’s “Songs Of Innocence.” My fanatic knowledge of the band frustrates any attempt to read the cover objectively. I was interested to hear interpretations that didn’t rely on a context created by years of fanhood or by the band themselves (revealing that the two figures are Larry Mullen Jr. and his son). I showed my college graphic design students (the ultimate detached-from-U2 focus group) the cover and asked what they thought the album was about and what might be the relationship of the two people in the image. U2 did not include their name or title on the cover, so I did not reveal either to the class.
“Songs Of Innocence” is U2’s most reflexive album to date. It reveals their influences, their innocences, and their loss of both. The band is offering an astounding amount of personal insight with the songs themselves, but Bono’s historically revealing liner notes and stories shared in interviews are especially illuminating. How much does that knowledge, insight and contextualization influence our appreciation for the album? Do I love “Iris” because I know it’s about Bono’s mother, who died suddenly when he was a teen—an event that birthed Bono? Or is it objectively a great song with powerful sound and poignant lyrics? A similar challenge exists with the now confirmed cover art. Read More
(Update, 5/10/13: While at the U2 Conference last month, I learned that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has an entire new collection of U2 memorabilia on display. Larry’s shirt is no longer there and has been “returned to the original lender.” Perhaps it will show up in an exhibit in Dublin.)
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has some pretty remarkable U2 artifacts on display—ZooTV trabants, Bono’s Fly suit, his handwritten lyrics for “Bad” … But housed inside a glass case, next to a collection of rejection letters in response to the band’s early attempts to find a record deal, is a tattered t-shirt. It’s stained and stretched. It’s primitive—both in the sense that it’s the earliest of its kind, and in its rough, rudimentary craftsmanship. The logo is weirdly placed below the chest and off center, and the graphic’s two colors are poorly registered on a shirt that doesn’t quite match. The design is a larger ring encompassing a smaller ring, the former cut across by two diagonal lines. In the inner circle (a favorite phrase among U2 fans some 30 years later) are two abstracted figures built of rectangles: a “U” and a “2.” Read More
I’ve been meaning to write this post since I turned 33, which was 364 days and 8 hours ago. There is really no greater motivator than the last minute.
Theologians estimate that Jesus was 33 years old when he was crucified. Add that to an extensive list of things I know because of U2, which includes the meaning of apartheid (though, for a long time I would pronounce it “apartitesss”), the translation of several German phrases, who B.B. King, Aung San Suu Kyi, Desmond Tutu and The Ramones are, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was (and was not) shot, what a Trabant is, and where to find Morocco on a map.
So, Jesus lived to 33. Bono was about 33 when he wrote “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” (the home of my title lyric). And I’m now 33, for a few more hours anyway. When you find yourself as old as Jesus, you start to do some thinking. The Christian/religious/spiritual presence in U2 is undoubted and well documented—dozens of books have been written on the topic and hundreds of articles explore U2’s spiritual identity. You would be hard-pressed to find a song that doesn’t include a quote from or an allusion to scripture. So how does a non-Christian, non-Jew, non-Muslim, non-Buddhist, non-Pastafarian, non-anything find herself so at home with a band that loves to sing about God? Read More
Fifty-two years ago, Paul David Hewson was born to sing for us. By the time he reached his 18th birthday, he had a new name — Bono, dubbed so by his BFF Guggi (Derek Rowen) as part of the ritual of nicknaming within their Lypton Village street gang — and he had written U2’s first single: Out Of Control.
Out Of Control appeared first on U2-Three, a 3-song EP available only in Ireland upon its 1979 release. In 1980, it would wrap up the A-side of U2’s first studio album, Boy (which featured Guggi’s little brother, Peter, on non-U.S. covers). I didn’t get around to discovering Boy until many years after my Achtung Baby entry into U2, and didn’t pay much attention to Out Of Control until seeing U2 perform it on the U2 Go Home: Live from Slane Castle DVD in 2003. I don’t know what took so long, but the song eventually, rightfully grabbed hold.
It was a rudimentary attempt at songwriting for Bono, who was determined not to front a cover band, and yet he nailed it — at just 18, he wrote an anthemic, emotional, universal power song that still ignites an arm-pumping crowd 34 years later. He had things to say, and U2 was how he was going to say them. The song is about waking up on your 18th birthday and realizing that the bookends of your life, your birth and your death, are out of your control. He voices a crying child’s involuntary arrival to joyful parents (“I was so sad, they were so glad”) and awareness of his fated exit (“One day I’ll die, the choice will not be mine”). It’s in the same vein as another awesomely distressing lyric, by way of Freddie Mercury and Queen: “Mama, I don’t wanna die. I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.” These are the big, existential, angsty ideas of someone just crossing the threshold into adulthood, though that rite of passage was forced prematurely on Bono when his mother died suddenly when he was just 14 years old.
Bono talks about the song in U2 By U2:
It was the morning after my 18th birthday I wrote ‘Out Of Control.’ Monday morning, eighteen years of dawning, I said how long? / It was one dull morning, I woke the world with bawling. They were so glad, I was so sad. There is a birthday song for you: objecting to being born. It is funny, it is teenage, I know, but it is an interesting idea for a song. And realizing that you have no say in the two most important things that happen to you: when you arrive and when you depart the planet. ‘I was of the feeling it was out of control …
Lyrically, “out of control” relates to the unconsciousness of birth and the inevitability of death, and hints at the spiritual question of whether we really have any control over what happens in between. But the music brings in another sense of being “out of control” — it’s wild and raucous and defiant, like Bono as a teenage boy. It’s early U2, before they’d completely shaken the punk identity that inspired their creation, and that high-voltage sound is even more pronounced on the U2-Three version. The song is incredibly fun on the surface, and incredibly burdensome beneath. Our lives are entirely out of our control, and that realization is, itself, outta control.
This song is the favorite for so many reasons. But mostly, it’s just fascinating that all the Bono-isms have been there from the beginning. The non-verbal vocalizations — Bono’s ohs and whoas and heys and howls that are sometimes frolicking (Fast Cars’ “waoh, wooh!”) but mostly entreating or yearning (Moment of Surrender’s “oh oh ohhh ohhh ohhh ohhh,” With or Without You’s “ohhhh ohhhh ohhhh ohhhh,” Electrical Storm’s “hey-eyyy eyyyyy eyyyyyy”) — show up as a playful mid-song “ohh wey ohh wey ohh wey ohh wey ohhh.” Even the scat-singing we know now as Bongalese is there in the form of breathy whispers that we can’t quite make into words.
I decided the day of my first 360 show, in Charlottesville, VA, that I needed to hear Out Of Control live. On a shower break from the GA line I sat at my brother and sister-in-law’s kitchen table and quickly Sharpied out the simple statement: “U2 IS OUT OF CONTROL.” I didn’t get to hear it that night but, as a Stage 1 hoarder, I kept the sign. When U2’s U.S. tour dates picked back up in 2011, the sign ended up accompanying me to all of my 360 shows. The sign even made an appearance in between the two legs, on U2.com’s front page the day they announced the rescheduled U.S. dates after Bono’s back injury. U2 pulled out Out Of Control for six shows on the entire 360 tour, plus their Glastonbury performance. I was fated to hear it at the July 5 show in Chicago. It was, indeed, outta control.
Happy Birthday, Bono. “You take my heart away.”
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I get asked a lot if I’ve met Bono. Surely someone who’s devoted 20 years of her life and a URL to the man has met him, right? Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. I haven’t met him, haven’t touched him, haven’t smelled him, haven’t been rendered stupidly speechless by his presence. And it’s probably for the best, as I still don’t know what I’d say to the man. “Thank you” is my best guess. It’s simple, sincere, all-encompassing. But it’s the same thing I say to the pizza delivery guy and the pedicurist. The man whose voice has been in my head for a couple of decades probably warrants a little more inspiration.
But, this week I did manage to get a little closer to him thanks to The Filament Project, an organization that collects donations of guitar, bass and other musical instrument strings along with various electrical and telephone cables to create bracelets and other jewelry. U2 fandom’s EdgeFest, knower of all things The Edge, spotted and won and shared an auction on eBay for one of these guitar string bracelets. It was for a string from Edge’s Fender Stratocaster guitar, played during With or Without You at the 360 tour’s finale in Moncton (totally thought I was done saying that word) last July. I quickly clicked on “seller’s other items” and saw a listing for another bracelet — one made of a string from Bono’s acoustic Gibson guitar, used during the 2011 Hansa sessions, when U2 went back to the famous Berlin studio where they recorded 1991’s Achtung Baby. The listing included a photo of the packet of strings donated to The Filament Project, on which Dallas Schoo, U2’s beloved (by fans as much as the band) guitar tech had written, “This is a packet of used guitar strings off of Bono’s Gibson acoustic guitar from the re-release of “Auchtung Baby” [sic] in “From the Sky Down.” Read More
U2’s The Joshua Tree was released 25 years ago today: March 9, 1987. It’s not my favorite U2 album; it’s not the album of my U2 discovery; and it didn’t radically change my life (well, beyond the general profundity U2 has had on my life). But it’s just so perfect—arguably their best album, inarguably a masterpiece. And it knows it. As the opening crescendo of “Where the Streets Have No Name” plays, ushering in Edge’s shimmery guitar, the gates of Heaven open, light shines down, and you know you are about to experience something spectacular. “Streets” is a glorious awakening—not just to the song, or the album, but to a band that would change America, and an America that would change the band. (The album’s working title, The Two Americas, references U2’s simultaneous infatuation and frustration with the United States at the time.) Read More
It’s Super Bowl Sunday — a day of little present interest but much past significance to me. Of course, in terms of U2 (as most things in my life are), it was 10 years ago today that the band performed at Super Bowl XXXVI. It was the first Super Bowl after 9/11, and U2’s halftime show uplifted a nation still very much in pain and uncertainty. It was a poignant tribute to the lives lost, as well as a sounding bell that it was time to move from mourning to healing.
But, six years ago, on Feb 5, 2006, I watched an even more unforgettable Super Bowl. I can’t tell you which teams played or who performed at halftime, but it was during the game that I learned my grandmother had passed away earlier that day. Nana was a remarkable woman who lived 93 years’ worth of stories that fascinated her grandchildren. She was a Turkish immigrant who came to America at the age of 19, eventually landing in Jacksonville via Ellis Island. I think she headed south as soon as she got here in search of warmer climes — she was born on the island of Kos and grew up on Rhodes, both off the coast of Greece. New York in December probably wasn’t selling her on the States. When Bono (yes, it always comes back to Bono) broke his back in 2010 and U2 postponed their summer U.S. dates for the 360 tour, I took the opportunity to instead travel to Greece and Turkey. My trip included a stop on Rhodes, and while I had no luck in tracking down relatives on the tiny little island, it was exciting simply to walk the same terrain I know she walked. Read More