I was living in the South of France in 1981/80 on sabbatical leave with my mom and stepfather. It was a wonderful year and my second living abroad. As I look back in the rose tinted rear view mirror, living on the Cote D’Azur was wonderful. Yes, Dad could’ve fought Mom’s extradition of me to Europe but now that I look back on the year in discussion, I am very glad they didn’t. What I witnessed that year was another event that put me closer to U2 when the spark of fandom turned into a flame – X-mas trip, by car, to London via Paris in 1980.
My parents and I arrived in the City of Lights on December 13, 1981, which could have been an ordinary day for anyone. Three weeks before Christmas and the city was under the cover of a grey sky as we walked across Les Invalides and into the mass chaos near the Polish consulate. My stepfather was Polish but we were out of earshot of hearing the shouts of protest. I go on in greater detail about the event in the book but what is important to understand is the sabbatical to France was adding more color to my life’s canvas. If I had gone through with the legal battle with my stepfather about taking me to Europe and me not seeing my father, the event on this day in history would be just another day to me. It still is just another day until you tie into the connection to U2, who were about to head to the studio in the coming spring to work on the War album. A song New Year’s Day came to the forefront of the recording process but it was a love song. When Bono caught wind of even more upheaval in Poland, the song’s direction changed. The brilliance to the lyric is that it does not state what was going on with the Solidarity Movement just that there needed to be a new day.
What happened in the studio is one of the great things about this band I like. They found a nugget of an idea and changed what they had, almost in the can, into something completely different. Which is why the studio can be as magical as it can be creatively catastrophic. I have spoken to musicians at all levels and once you are in the confined recording space, the creativity can be hard to find. In U2’s case, you go in with a love song and then come out with a political anthem. Add to fray that New Year’s Day became a chart topping song steeped in lyrics about a protest, which I saw with my own eyes. In my mind, the song does not offer hope even though it is a new day. What it tells us is that we have a new day to keep up the fight. The same fight that begins the War album with the song Sunday Bloody Sunday steeped in Irish heritage. The irony is the Irish and the Poles have battles songs on the same record kept apart by a tune discussing nuclear war – Seconds. What if New Year’s Day did become that love song? The trilogy wouldn’t have worked. Which is why this band is brilliant
The funny thing about that trip to London via Paris is that my parents were on the way top New York for business. I stayed behind with friends in London. Before mom left, I asked for a birthday present. “Would you pick up the new AC/DC record For Those About to Rock, We Salute You for me?” I asked her. I even wrote the album title out on a piece of paper. I’m sure the record store sale clerk raised an eyebrow when a Mia Farrow look alike asked for the AC/DC record. Three weeks later, I was given my request as we dined in some chateau in the South of France for my birthday. What I didn’t realize is that the real gift given to me was that day in Paris seeing the uprising despite the longing I had for home and my Dad.