I wanted to switch it up a bit this time, because I had some time to kill. 🙂 Besides, I’ve been trying to think of ways to say what I’m about to say.
I’ve known about U2 for a long time. They’ve fascinated me since the week I turned fourteen, and I’ve been a fan since April 2000, when I first discovered The Joshua Tree (1987), their best and best-selling record, in my parents’ rack of old CDs. (Compact discs, for those of you born after the mid-1990s, are an ancient form of playing recorded sounds. 😉 They required something called a “CD player,” a device that used lasers to play back audio recordings–in this case, rock music.) When I first heard Joshua Tree, it was like nothing I had ever heard before! I was captured by the first four songs; in particular, “With or Without You” is my favourite piece of music ever. Hands down, bar none. The Edge’s guitar is so subtle; Larry Mullen propels the song with all his drumming skill; Adam Clayton, the bassist, is almost invisible, but is present everywhere nonetheless; and Bono’s lyrics say…everything.
In that first year I was a U2 fan, I listened to Joshua Tree–as well as Rattle and Hum (1988), its live-and-studio companion piece–hundreds of times. I was astonished by the sonic palette of the band, by the raw passion and desperate need for connection in the singer’s voice, and by the ardent and all-encompassing conviction embodied in their music. 🙂 I wanted to live out that conviction, and I longed for that connection with others, in so many ways and at every level.
Let’s back up. I said that I first encountered U2 in a big way the week I turned fourteen. That weekend–coincidentally, the week I (more fully) devoted myself to Christ–a friend who was leading a small group reflection on the power of rock music told us about /his/ experiences ten or fifteen years before when he first “met” this wonderful Irish band. So, I was intrigued as my friend John (the first of three Johns in this story) explored some of the lyrics of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Later, as I discovered for myself, those lyrics encapsulated my own struggles for meaning amidst the regular doubt and confusion of adolescence. I too have held the hand of the devil (get your minds out of the gutter, please). I have been warm in the night, and cold as a stone; as I’ve said at length already, I’ve encountered periods of time when I feel nothing at all. But then, I too believe in the Kingdom Come: I believe in that joyous place (orientation? space? whatever) where the colours will bleed into one. And yeah, I too am still running! I run on the Hart House track; I run across intersections with rapid-fire traffic; I run from place to place, striving to explain to others the joy and love of the God that both Bono and I serve. I have run; I have crawled; I have scaled the city walls…
And I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. 🙂 Not yet, anyway. But, because of U2, I have met the powers of faith, hope, and love. I know that what Bono spray-painted on a wall in the States somewhere in ’87 is true: Rock and roll stops the traffic. It cuts through the white noise and the bullshit that coats our lives; it ignites our dreams, feeds our deep hunger for truth and meaning, and gives us the energy to do as well as be in the world differently.
For the first few years that I was a U2 fan, it was just an obsession. (Can obsessions be “only” or “just” obsessions?) I used file-sharing and the little cash I had to amass a small clutch of memorabilia, and to gather as many of the band’s recorded materials as I could. Plus, I projected onto U2 all the dreams that I had to be a writer, a poet, and…in my heart of hearts…a kind of rock star. I listened to the dark and tortured textures of Achtung, Baby! (1991), and wondered at the turn towards self-reflexivity in Zooropa (1993). I pondered at great length the travelling motifs of All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000), and the joyful, tongue-in-cheek punk-rock-from-Venus that was How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004).
As I think I’ve already said, I was bottled up inside myself for a very long time. But gradually, I found that there were others who felt the same way as I did about this wonderful band. And in March of 2009, I decided to buy their most recent album, No Line on the Horizon.
When I did that, I also chose to buy two tickets to their Toronto shows that September. To the tune of $50, my friend John, a fellow student at Knox College, accompanied me to that first concert at the Skydome on September 16th, 2009. I was completely ecstatic, and I’m sure both of us were screaming our heads off alongside every song–including “Your Blue Room,” a song from 1995 that I didn’t know. For me, the highlights were the encores: “With or Without You,” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” and “Ultraviolet” were experiences of pure bliss. A pint of Stella helped out a little too; I can’t lie. While I ran afoul of a number of people smoking weed (we all did), it made for a good story in my liberation-theologies class the next morning.
Shortly thereafter, I bought a much more expensive pair of tickets to their next set of Torontonian shows, with another friend, also named John. We had a little to drink, we ate out, and we were treated to more affective and auditory ambrosia. After an intro from Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” the band showed up at 9:15 p.m. on July 11th of 2011, and we were given four straight songs from Achtung, Baby! (1991). Bono was in very fine form that night: I loved “Mysterious Ways” and “Until the End of the World,” in particular. The Edge’s guitar on the latter was wonderful. 🙂 Plus, in the middle of the show, Bono sang at the top of his lungs in Italian, mimicking his late great friend Luciano Pavarotti on “Miss Sarajevo,” a song they wrote together…and the encores were wonderful here too. “With or Without You” and–to my delight–“Where the Streets Have No Name” closed part of that night. 🙂
Since those two ecstatic experiences of seeing the band live, I have longed for more studio material. It is coming, sometime in April…I await it eagerly, and I’m sure others do too. In the meantime, just this past Sunday–March 16th, 2014–I sang “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” with two good friends in church. I sang the third verse, the verse I’ve expanded on above. And this morning, March 18th, at another worship-service, I got to sing the second verse and chorus on “Walk On.” Like Bono, I am packing a suitcase for a place no one else has been; and I owe Bono, the Edge, Larry, and Adam great respect, because they let me out of my cage, and they let me fly for freedom. 🙂
While I don’t (yet?) know Bono in person, I owe him and the band he fronts a debt, because they broke the bonds, and loosed the chains, and helped me to discover a portion of my God-given identity. Clothed in that identity, I walk on towards that place, high on a desert plain, where we will meet one day as equals. 🙂