Sometimes in life, things happen for a reason. Like the day I walked aimlessly into Rose Records in downtown Evanston in the early fall of 1991. I was quiet and shy back then. You’d never know that today but I did have a quiet streak or at least it happened when I first meet someone. In this case, I met someone far more outspoken than me and that person in question is Jamie. She’s an African American gal who is a year older than me and loves her Pinot Grigio.
When I first met Jamie, I was in need of some U2 information. I was tired of trying to get the news from the trades and MTV. I had a gut feeling that someone in Rose Records may know the answer I was searching for about the band. Far be it for me to ask anyone at Musicland across the street. They just wanted to be independent like Rose Records. On this day, I got more than I had bargained for in my meeting of Jamie, Assistant Manager of Rose Records. I found an old soul who just happened to be a fellow Iowa alum and one who was more than just a student at Iowa, her father was the Director of Student Affairs at the university. I felt like I was at home.
Jamie and I hit it off immediately. She became my inside connection to everything music. When INXS’s Live Baby Live album came out, she hand delivered the CD to my studio apartment. She kept me informed with the moving and shaking around U2’s Achtung Baby release as well. I will say she was a little pissed that I wasn’t the first one in the door on the day the album went on sale. I tell this story in the book verbatim as she plays an older sibling disappointed in my lack of enthusiasm for getting my choirs done on time. I let it roll of my back like rain trying to stay attached to a plastic bag. I knew I had disappointed her for all the great things she had done for me. In the end, she sold me the Acthung Baby digi-pack and shoved a bunch of swag under my arm that the label had given her as I left her store. I was lucky. She looked out for me.
Our paths would cross several times after the album’s release. I kept up my appearance in her store and on her answering machine. In time, I took her to one of those brilliant ZOO T. V. shows at the abysmal World Theater, which is a story for another day. Actually, that is wrong. She had a car and the World Music Theater is about 30 miles away from Evanston, which is why we went together. No, I didn’t use her. She wanted to go. In fact, she was more interested in the opening acts – Public Enemy and Big Audio Dynamite II than U2 until they hit the stage. As an honor, we hit McDonald’s on the way home for a post show snack and our lives began to drift apart.
Jamie would come in and out of my life at odd times and she never had enough time to chat when we did run into one another. When I first moved to Uptown six years ago, we crossed paths on the street as she was trying to hop on a bus. I didn’t have enough time to say more than “hello.” A few years later, I was taking our dog to get bathed at Soggy Paws. From the back of the store came a familiar laugh. I recognized it immediately. It was her. “Jamie!” I screamed. We hugged and caught up. She spoke a mile a minute, nothing had changed, and within five, I was at her life beginning in the new millennium. She thought of me recently as one of her other big U2 fan friend was speaking about the band. The irony was that I was in her store within a matter of days. It is how it always works with our friendship. After I had washed the dog, she asked me what I had been up to. I told her my mother was an Alzheimer’s patient and I had written a memoir. When I told her the title, she looked back at me with her usual grin and laughed. “Eric that is very cool. It’s so you, “ She said. It was the last time I saw her.
Jamie comes in and out of my life like the wind. If she read the book, she would recognize herself instantly in the record store clerk. I wanted to make sure that readers knew how special, and lucky, I’ve been when it comes to making friends along the U2 fandom path. Jamie is no exception. This is why things happen for a reason. Life, if we allow it, let’s us meet people who make an impact on us for a long time. My Pinot Grigio, African American big smiled gal does just that and I hope she will find this blog very soon.
In October 1990, I was out of college for five months and living in Chicago, actually Evanston to be precise. America was headed to a Middle East war and the economy was going south. I was a newly minted graphic designer, who disembarked the Greyhound bus in the Windy City two months prior and holding onto everything as I worked for a little upstart company, Starbucks Coffee, just to make ends meet. My life needed vitality on my days off from work. I spent them wisely record store hopping around the city.
One afternoon, I came across a store in downtown Evanston, which housed a case in the back filled with bootleg Compact Discs. It was like an altar that beckoned me to visit. It sucked me in like a vortex. As I scanned the case, I saw a lot of old live recordings. Classic shows of Prince, on the Purple Rain tour, and Springsteen, on his Born in the U.S.A. tour, were propped up on picture frame holders and wrapped neatly in shrink wrap. I kept looking at the candy and then my scanning came to a halt. There it was – U2 Point Depot. I looked at the price and crapped my pants, $90. I knew it was out of my price range, as it would take 2 months or 3 to pay for it on my measly $6.25 an hour job. Luckily, the store would let you listen at one of three listening stations. I did just that. I listened to, and recorded it into my grey matter, every track in its entirety. Then I heard that famous quote by Bono as the show closed, “It’s no big deal, it’s just – we have to go away and … and dream it all up again.” I was crushed. Was this meaning U2 was done? This was their exit stage left? I was worried as I am sure others were too. We had no Internet to turn to find the answers to our questions. We had to unearth the right source to give us the information of band status. I asked the store owner and he looked blankly at me as I gave back the headphones to the listening station. I was lost.
As I exited into that cold, grey October day, I had no idea the band was in East Germany dreaming it all up again or at least trying to. Without any contact with die-hard fans, I was left in limbo but the show stayed with me and so did the price tag. It had been five years since The Joshua Tree had been released and exactly two years since Rattle and Hum. The music world needed U2 and the band needed us. Fear was growing inside me that they would release The Joshua Tree Part I. Actually, Rattle and Hum was just that album, if we could call it an album. U2 needed to leave the spotlight and go dream like Martin Luther King. They had been on top of the mountain and now, they had to venture back into the valley. It would’ve been ok if they left the valley behind without seeing their dream of Achtung Baby come to fruition but they had bigger ideas, “to dream out loud, in high volume.”
I eventually bought the Point Depot album on vinyl and took it to my aunt and uncle’s house to record it on cassette. Paul McGuinness would be mad at me today twice since I bought a boot and then taped the boot onto a cassette but we will get to that discussion later. For this day, I had a copy of U2’s last show on cassette and stuffed into my Walkman. As I waited for the unknown survival of our Irish heroes, I listened incessantly to the Dublin show on acetate. With the addition of God Part II and One Tree Hill plus a couple other newly minted gems, the show was very reminiscent of my first U2 show in Iowa City two years prior. I was in auditory heaven as waited like hell to get a signal that the heartbeat of the band was still an active pulse.
I remember the day tickets were announced to the show. I was aimlessly flipping through The Daily Iowa, our student newspaper delivered daily to our room, as I ambled my way to the dining room in Burge Residence Hall for breakfast. Suddenly, my eyes caught a display ad – 1 night only U2 Carver Hawkeye Arena, October 20, 1987. All of the rumors I had heard were now true. U2 were coming to the University of Iowa. They changed the venue from the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls to Iowa City just because they weren’t allowed to put up their outdoor stadium stage inside the UNIDome. Or, at least that’s what the rumor was when it hit the streets and bars on campus four weeks earlier. More shocking was the band would be coming to where I was going to college. It was as if the rock gods were looking down on us and hit our campus with a lightening bolt stating, “With the powers vested in us, U2 will play Carver Hawkeye Arena.” It was a life changing moment and one everyone wants to have when they are in college.
Let’s back up a second and talk about what this meant for ticket buyers 23 years ago. There was no Internet and no Ticketmaster in 1987, just good old class skipping and waiting in line, no matter what the weather, for those coveted ticket numbers. It’s a bygone era, which I miss dearly. I loved the camaraderie of standing in line wearing the smell of the night before’s U2 celebration still on our breath. Some of us would be huddled under a sleeping bag for warmth. An errant Thermos, filled not with coffee but something along the lines of other warmth, would be passed around to get us through the boredom. Others would be knee deep in the books trying to look studious with good intentions if the Prof. stopped by. More importantly, you would make new friends whom you would see in six week’s time at the show sitting near you. All of this is a long-gone era, as the intimacy of the Internet has taken away our street socialization of making friends and talking about our band months before the show. The swapping of stories with new found acquaintances has been forced to technological interaction with an “LOL” or “BTW I was there too.” Now, you never know whom you will sit next to at the show and how they got their ticket.
Technology aside, we all have our first, U2 show that is. Whether it was 23 years ago this week for me or last summer on the 360 tour or even before me, we can share and revel in the fact that we can remember exactly what happened to us on the night we first saw the band. I was taken to campus security inside Carver Hawkeye Arena and had my U2 banner taken away from me. My cousin, who I was with at his first show which was on the PopMart tour, lost $10 to a bootleg t-shirt seller as the seller was bum rushed by the cops outside Soldier Field. I upset a table of food and spilled Champagne, on my then girlfriend and my now wife, moments before her first U2 show. These are the experiences that never leave us. Add to this is our reminiscence of where we were in life, who we attended the show with that night and what our pre-U2 concert ceremonies were. Oh, and there is the U2 show itself. Witnessing one of the great bands of our generation, taking the stage in front of us, and becoming a life altering moment, an event ingrained in our memories for life. I still remember the lights going down 23 years ago tonight and the fans rushing down the stairs and spilling onto the floor with U2’s energy emanating from the stage. It was as if I went to a tent revival, one that has stayed with me all of this time.
In closing, I guess the real question is why, or how, does U2 have this affect on us no matter when you see them for the first time. It should be an easy answer but it isn’t as they touch us in various ways by writing brilliant lyrics, sonic guitar riffs, odd stage antics, or just performing a solid show by master craftsmen. Maybe, we believe that they are doing right in the world or make it a better place or perhaps they suspend our daily pain for an evening as we take in a night of great music. All of those are valid points. Even better, it’s the community they create as we congregate amongst ourselves in anticipation of the next show we attend or next U2 whatever. In my 23 years since the first show, nothing has changed. U2 are still attracting the same passionate fans. Some of us are older but young at heart. The real question is where did the 23 years go?
I share with you video from my first night. U2 opening the show at Carver Hawkeye Arena with Where the Streets Have No Name.
I invite you to tell the story of your first show. Share with others. Come on. It’s OK.
We all do it. We regurgitate what Bono says. I’ve been known to repeat, or re-craft, those infamous statements he says which are embedded in our DVD collections of U2’s live shows, movies and videos. It’s charming and a challenge to take a brilliant statement and try to work it to your advantage. Make it sound like you are the one who is virtuoso in linguistics when all you are really doing is stealing it from the hipster Bono.
My first encounter of the quotable rocker was when I saw U2 for the very first time in Iowa City on the Joshua Tree tour in 1987. I guess Bono took a spill in Washington DC a month prior and he spent 12 shows on the tour with his arm in a sling. The night I saw the band, he was relieved of the harness he had used for his dislocated shoulder and dedicated Trip Through Your Wires “to my once broken and now mended arm.” The Irish accent on “arm” was very Brogue. We tried to get it right several nights later over pints of Guinness at the Sanctuary on South Gilbert Street. I attest. We couldn’t get it right no matter how much we drank.
Another quotable incident happened outside a hotel in Chicago late at night a few years back. A very energized Bono came out to the street dancing this insanely hilarious dance and proclaimed, “I am the monkey dancer.” My cousin and I rolled with laughter. On the way home in the cab, we kept repeating the line. We were addicted to what we witnessed as Edge shoved Bono in the back of the waiting car outside their hotel. It was a site to see. I capture the moment of me confronting the “monkey dancer” about the previous night’s antics in my memoir:
Bono arrived a couple minutes later. The rush was on. Several people ahead of me got their photos taken with him as he graciously signed memorabilia. I approached Bono with the CD insert of The Joshua Tree in my outreached hands. He took the booklet began to sign it. I interrupted him.
“Bono, please sign the insert ‘Will, I’m the monkey dancer. Bono.’”
He stopped. Look at me through his blue tinted shades.
“How do you know about the monkey dancer?” He smiled.
His eyes were like glowing crystals behind his shades.
“We witnessed your dance Tuesday night when you exclaimed it at the top of your lungs out here on the street.”
“No one should know about me and the monkey dancer. Your lucky to have witnessed it”
He gave me back the signed booklet and shook my hand. He turned and nodded to Edge. They climbed into the second limousine and drove off. It was the perfect end to their fall visit to Chicago. It elevated my spirits as I was jobless and in a haze after the events of the month before in New York City.
Above photo taken moments before our monkey dancer conversation took place.
Now it’s your turn!
Share your favorite quote. It doesn’t have to be a personal encounter. It may come from your favorite live show nestled in your DVD, or VHS, collection. It could come from a media event. Please specify where you lifted it from. Let’s have fun with this little project.
So much of my book focuses on my stepfather and it’s not fair to cut out my real dad, the audiophile. I say that because he never jumped onto the CD craze nor the cassette. My father is old school. He’s a reel-to-reel man who cruised Des Moines, Iowa in deep sky blue 1972 Thunderbird with an 8-track tape player playing the greats from Beethoven on synthesizer to Ray Coniff. If I ever pissed him off with my music, he would turn to me and say, “What you’re listening to isn’t rock n’ roll, son. I grew up with Elvis Presley. He was rock n’roll. What you have today is just noise.” But……he still kept buying me my KISS records. In fact, he bought me my copy of Destroyer from which my fascination with the leather-clad band began. I’m sure he’s happy I have moved on and yes, I do covet the simplicity of Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. Who else could sing about getting it out in a chicken coup?
My father’s a simple man, a creative man and a big-hearted man. I carry some of those characteristics inside me. Just ask my wife….“that is something that would come out of your Dad’s mouth.” Which is very reminiscent of my mother…..“your just like your father.” I wear these statements like badges of honor even though that wasn’t always the case as a kid. I wasn’t rebellious but stuck doing a balancing act pleasing both families and not pleasing myself. I had my escapes and music was one of them. Dad instilled it in me. I would go to visit my father and one of my first requests was, “Dad, can you play the Lone Ranger theme on the stereo?” That is only way I knew the William Tell Overture by Giochino Rossini was by the masked ranger I saw on television. I knew my father had it on one of his reel-to-reels. It would take him a few days to find it amongst his vast collection but in the mean time, he would find early recordings of me being interviewed for the Saturday night dinner gang hanging out at our house. I was the main attraction at 2 years of age and fifteen minutes before my bedtime. Those recordings captured not only dad and me but you can hear my mom’s voice of encouragement in the background as I recall in the memoir.
Dad’s interest in music was instilled in me and he knew we had a connection whenever we were apart. In order to keep our connection alive, dad recorded his collection of 50s hits onto 8-track tapes for me to listen to. The songs of Buddy Holly, Elvis, Little Richard and various others stashed in a non-descript cardboard box in the attic which would only see the light of day when I came home. Which leads me to the greatest gift I have ever received from my life – my stereo console. It consisted of an 8-track tape player, phonograph, with 33, 45, and 78 speeds, AM/FM radio, two speakers and the all important headphone jack. Dad also bought me a pair of KOSS headphones which became my best friend as I could crank up not only dad’s tapes but KISS at high volume.
Now it was not always 50s tunes at the beginning. I also had an affinity for the Beach Boys and hold onto your hat, the first 8-track dad bought for me is the Osmond Family singing their classic hits. How all of this got me to U2 is wonderment but dad was just as influential as my stepfather. His love of music, contemporary art and woodworking didn’t go unnoticed. His love for life has never left me either. What is gone sadly is the T-bird, that 1972 boat classic car with leather interior and opera windows. I remember sitting in the shotgun seat, on a cushion so I could see over the dashboard, wearing my black sunglasses, tough skin jeans and wearing the latest cool tennis shoes from Sears while sat behind the wheel as we cruised Des Moines with the tape player playing. I have fond memories of the parking lot 8-track tape exchange with his buddy Herb who himself was an audiophile driving an Olds 88 convertible. Those were the days. Simpler, fun and where the fascination of music began.
The picture below is of the two of us hanging out in the Soldier Field parking lot in 1997 two months after PopMart came to Chicago. You can see the old stadium in the background from which the PopMart arches rose.