Bono’s Ultra Violet microphone

Bono_MicOn the opening night of U2’s 360 tour in America, there I was, in the pit and feet from the stage. It seemed like a long journey to get this close to my band in a live setting. Yes, I had met them on the streets and have a lot of autographs to prove such, but twenty-two years earlier, I sat at the back of Carver Hawkeye arena, catching a one-off show for U2 on their landmark Joshua Tree tour. On this night, however, Irish luck was on my side and worth the wait to be so close to Edge, Larry, Bono and Adam. My wife, standing next to me, could feel the rush of excitement and knew how big of a night tonight was going to be for me. She too is a fan and when the lights dropped, she swam in the pool of exhilaration with me.

As I stood in the inner circle, I was in the throes of working on my memoir, I’m A Fan: How I married U2 into my life without going to the altar and had no clue what was in store for me in the coming months upon its release. However, on this night, I was to take it all in as the band move through classic U2 songs interspersed with new cuts from their recent release. To say it was an intoxicating evening is to say the least for me. U2 pulled out all the stops in creating an intimate affair in an outdoor football stadium packed to the rafters with fans and those wanting to see what all the 360-degree tour was all about. Unbeknownst to me, the thrill of the show came at the beginning of the encore when the stage was dark and a circular object embedded with LED light came from the heavens and met Bono wearing a suit of lights. U2 were circling back to their classic album Achtung Baby and dipping their toes into the resurrection of a great tune ¬– Ultra Violet (Light My Way).

Ultra Violet (Light My Way) was a fitting song to begin the end of a celebratory evening, but of course, any song could have done this because the band has such a deep catalog to dive into. Instead, they chose this song of intimacy, which is what the 360 stage was trying to emulate, and made it more personal. The song, Ultra Violet, is a conversation about seeking the guidance of light at the end of life. Having Bono, singing into a microphone encased in an almost steering wheel like device and illuminated by LED lights, was the appropriate way to marry the metaphors in the song with the theatrics of the singer. It illuminated his face just so and made him seem angelic. The concept between design and execution worked and it seemed the band had come a long way since my first live encounter with them on the Joshua Tree tour. I too had my own journey as a fan of the band and in the coming year, thanks to my soon-to-be-released memoir about being a fan of the band, I would become connected to the illuminated microphone Bono sung into and begin to build a long-lasting friendship with its design team.

My dad, the audiophile.

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.

Mel Shivvers, Eric Shivvers, U2 memoir