It’s a harsh opening statement to this blog, but it’s one that has stuck with me for a few months due to an incident earlier this year, which I will get to in a moment.
We all find ourselves in uncomfortable moments in life and thank God we have U2 to help us through them. What makes U2’s music and lyrics unique is that we can bond with them in any given moment in our lives. Something can pass in front of our eyes and we can turn to a snippet of a lyric and say, “Yeah, they get it.” Many a theorist, rabbi and die-hard U2 fan have dissected the the U2 catalog, which is not what I am going to do here in any way, shape or form. What I want to share with you is how we are less about humility in our lives and more about ego.
Take for instance why Stand Up Comedy is rattling in my head. A few months back, I was in a social situation where egos were suffocating the conversation. Instead of responding to me, I was frustrated by their ongoing betterment of themselves through statements, “This is what I did.” It was textbook Webster dictionary narcissism at its best. I couldn’t believe that I had no way of counter acting their conversation because the person across from me wouldn’t have been impressed no matter what I had done. I could have said “I had an internship as a plumber in London the summer of my junior year in college and had to rescue the royal plumbing system ’cause the Queen took an over sized shit and clogged the loo.” It would have hit the ground and died a tragic death. And that’s when I needed a therapeutic answer for the issue at hand. I said to myself, like most of us U2 fans say, “there is a U2 lyric to get me through this.” And, I was right.
Although I was no big Fan of No Line on The Horizon at the time of its release, I will say a few songs from that album resonate with me. Stand Up Comedy is one and I gravitated to it immediately after the meeting. The simple line:
Stand up to rock stars, Napoleon is in high heels
Josephine, be careful of small men with big ideas
Albeit this is a personal reflection, I’m sure, of Bono to his wife, and or others, for his faults of being a little man with big ideas. To me I see none of it because I have yet to see a major Waterloo in Bono’s life. As for my situation, it was just the line I needed. I took the lyric and ran with it. Affirmation to the ego I was dealing with came to me later the next day. I wished that I had it in myself to stand up on the overflowing, beer can collecting trash can next to me, look the chest beater in the eye and sang, “Napoleon you’re in high heels. Your Josephine should be careful of you and your big ideas.”
Well, it is a fantasy and we can have them because we have a solid toast master who writes some profound stuff that gets us through life.
I moved to Chicago some 23 years ago for a few reasons. One was the better opportunity to catch a U2 show. I knew that their coming to Iowa City on the Joshua Tree tour, when I was in college, was a fluke and that they would not really see the likes of Iowa again as a place of visit on their next tour. Actually, I was wrong. They did play Ames on the Outdoor ZOO TV tour, but that is neither here nor there in this blog conversation. What is of importance is how I got introduced to this great city and for that I have to thank the likes of Roger Ebert. I fell in love with Chicago, not from the movies shot here such as The Blues Brothers or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but from film criticism in the form of two guys sitting in a theater and reviewing movies. The show, Sneak Previews, was based in Chicago and featured two bantering film critics, Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel, who became like close friends through Public Television. I glommed onto the show because my parents took me to the movies every Sunday as a kid and I loved to get lost in film.
Once I moved to Chicago, I still tuned into Gene and Roger’s show, which had now moved onto commercial television with a hokey thumbs up or down reviewing system. I didn’t care for the new stamp of approval, or disapproval process, but I still was a habitual viewer to hear what they had to say, which to me was more important. Gene and Roger seemed to have an air of attitude, especially Gene, but that wasn’t the case as I found out soon after I moved to the city. One evening, after we closed our Starbucks store in Glencoe, a familiar face came to the door, requesting in. A very apologetic Gene Siskel was looking for a birthday gift to take to a party. We obliged and let him in even though our registers were closed out for the day. Without hesitation, we waited on him and got him on his merry way like we would do with any customer of ours, well known or not. The cool thing was it was Gene Siskel and I was not star-struck. It was Gene being a normal Joe. A few years later, when U2 was in town for PopMart, my aunt recognized the same film critic in a store on Michigan Avenue and asked to have a picture taken with him, showing the thumbs up. He was grateful and so was Roger in ever bit the same manner.
Roger passing last week dimmed out city lights once more. Gone was the second half of a great team in film criticism and one of the reasons why I glow when I talk about this great city of mine, which I have called home for the past twenty-three years. Chicago was a newspaper town when I moved here in the early nineties. Conversations about what we read in the Tribune or the Sun Times were commonplace. Thanks to the Internet, those days are long gone, but for Roger he embraced the Internet and marched on, still reviewing a gob load of movies even as he became more and more ill. For that, we are indebted to him. We may not have agreed with him, but we can agree on one thing, we have lost a “Classic,” as noted in the headline, gracing the cover of Chicago’s Red Eye newspaper the day after his passing.
What would this world be like without Nelson Mandela? Cold is the first word that comes to my mind. Empty would be another. I say this because I studied world history in high school back in the 80s where we read numerous articles about Apartheid. I was in no way the aware child back then as I am today as an adult. In fact, South Africa and its issues were so far away from my interest that I slogged through social studies without a care in the world other than wanting to be on my bike, training for another race. It wasn’t until a few years later when U2’s song Silver and Gold brought back my history lesson from high school and threw it in my face. The thing you have to know about me is that I went to a Catholic Preparatory school in Tulsa. Sadly, it wasn’t a melting pot of cultures. We only had one African American kid in our class of thirty-five, which made my well-rounded life a little more insular on the home front. It wasn’t until I got to college, which is where I started to explore issues, thanks to U2 and being surrounded by young, forward thinking students. I don’t regret my parents wanting me to have a great high school education, but it came at a cultural cost.
As my senior year in college was venturing to it’s spring semester, word was hitting the streets that Mr. Mandela was going to be released from prison. I never thought it would happen. If the word was true, there would be a huge cultural shift in South Africa as the whites had been in powers for years and leading with Apartheid, a system of racial segregation enforced through legislation by the National Party governments, who were the ruling party from 1948 to 1994. That is almost fifty years of rule that had to be overturned. I could not fathom such change in short order. Especially when the United States had its own issues with the racial divide that has gone on for a much longer period of time. What made the events of February 11, 1990, Mandela’s release date, would be one of the biggest cultural shifts of all time.
Now, Apartheid wasn’t abolished on February 12, but South Africans knew that there was a sea change coming. Mr. Mandela began laying the new groundwork for his party, the ANC or African National Congress. He made a statement upon his release to commit to peaceful struggle with the minority white ruling class. In time, he became president and changed the country for the better. The list of his achievements is lengthy, but what he did in four years is a stunning accomplishment. To get 1.5 million children into the education system and provide 3 million with telephone service does not sound like much, but these actions put in place the movement towards a healthier South Africa. Mandela earned accolade upon accolade for moving his country forward. Today, at 94, and long since retired from presidency, South Africans can feel his heartbeat through their country. U2 feels that pulse when they are on tour, playing live in the month of July. They will stop the show and sing Happy Birthday, not to one another, but to Mr. Mandela.
I wasn’t a fan of the U2 Special Edition iPod. I felt as though it was another marketing ploy on both sides of the marriage between the band and Apple. U2 was in need of getting in touch with its younger, growing fan base, who barely knew what vinyl was let alone a cassette tape. However, hooking up with the hip device maker Apple and releasing a signature iPod was a no brainer. Apple, on the other hand, was looking to increase brand presence. When the already pop culture icon, the iPod, and an established rock band, U2, joined forces, both sides would be winners.
Steve Jobs wasn’t some kid who easily made his way to building Apple. Like all great inventors, his business started in a garage. As for U2, they started in a kitchen and could hardly play their instruments. Both Steve and U2 knew that they wanted to change the world by chasing a dream. Steve’s was to make a computer for the lay person. That computer, the Apple, changed lives. It became the computer which would become the staple for my field – graphic design. Steve was not afraid of marketing this machine either. Apple will be forever known as creating one of the most iconic Super Bowl ads ever, playing on the idea of George Orwell’s “1984.” Mr. Jobs took risks and changed the world. U2 was not that far behind.
U2 came upon the scene just about the time Apple was taking over the personal computer sector of the business in the early 80s. They too had to prove themselves to the grander world of music. It would take four albums, but the work created at the beginning has stood the test of time. Boy, War, October and The Joshua Tree are so independent of one another in terms of sound, yet they are intertwined in their evolution. Much like Apple’s growth, U2 had to change within themselves to become more successful. As for Steve Jobs, he had to leave his company and then come back with new ideas. U2 did the same thing as they left the 80s behind and welcomed the new decade with their albumAchtung Baby. The Irish quartet moved away from their safety net, yet embraced the change in music at that time. Steve Jobs followed later. He created what people wanted and that was a computer which could easily be used to cruise the ever burgeoning interest in the Internet.
In closing, it’s sad that people of such great talent leave us too soon. I’m sure fans of Apple are asking what’s next for the company. I would say to them not to hold their breath and worry about what is yet to come. Relish in how our lives have changed in the past thirty years thank to Mr. Jobs. Relish that this man will stand tall amongst other inventors such as Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Think of Steve Jobs as one who made our lives more pleasurable and for that I say thank you as I write from my MacPro. Every time I fire it up and hear that famous tone of welcome, I will remember the man that reinvented the world.
This week we passed another anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. In those 43 years since his passing, the world has changed for the betterment of humanity and yet, we are stuck, sometimes, on April 3, 1968 where nothing has really changed. I was born on Dr. King’s birthday of that fateful year and honored to share his birthday. I do not take it lightly. I wear it like a badge of honor because Dr. King was a mover and a shaker in this world. I believe he still is.
It upsets me to see that people cannot see the greater good Dr. King had when he spoke of his vision in the “I have a dream” speech. What I am speaking of is the birther movement in this country, chasing after our current president who is of color and one who is trying to put this country back on course. I feel as though we have stepped back into time and are in Selma, Alabama once again, ignorant and stupid.
When U2’s The Unforgettable Fire was released, I was in high school and I was one of the only ones in my class who liked the record. It was a far departure from their previous release, the War LP, but that was okay. The band took on a bigger figure in Dr. King and praised him for what he had done. Why did it take an Irish band that had very little connection to this man to write such a prophetic song? I don’t know but they did and I have been hooked on the band ever since.
U2 has picked up the gauntlet left behind by John Lennon and Dr. King. Their activism is what makes them great. Their music makes them special. As we sit and watch our country fall apart at the edges, let us think of one thing ”what is the betterment for all of us in the human race?” I think the answer is to get along, walk in peace and make sure those less fortunate get a chance in this world. Remember that famous line “the rich are getting richer and the sick stay poor.” How prophetic.
Hope things find you well as you are getting ready for the Australian leg of your upcoming tour.
I am touching base after our conversation this past August here in Chicago about doing some custom painted pieces……
The ringing phone interrupts my thought. My pal Randy was on the other line.
“Hey, turn on CNN. There’s news out of Australia that Michael Hutchence committed suicide.” His voice crackled over the phone. I got up off my chair and ran to the other room with cordless phone in hand. I flipped on the television and turn to CNN headline news. I missed the story.
“You’re kidding me right Randy?” I replied as I paced back into my makeshift home office.
“No, I am pretty sure I heard it correct.” He said.
“This cannot be happening. You’re not going to believe this. I’m actually sitting down to write him a fax and send it to his New York agent as we speak.” I was depleted.
“Really?” Randy replied.
“Yes, really. I have dial-up. Need to kick you off the phone so I can confirm the news. I’ll call you later.” I clicked the phone off and fired up my network protocol in order to dial into the Northwestern University server. I was on the web within a few minutes and clicked to CNN.com. The page loaded slowly on my Dell 486 machine. I waited. Randy was right. There was Michael’s picture with the dates 1960-1997 inscribed below. I was crushed.
Three months prior I was backstage with INXS when they visited Chicago for a Q101 show. I could feel the tension as the band was trying to get back to its glory. It seemed as though time had passed them by and their recent album wasn’t working hard enough to rekindle the old flame. Actually, it was the label, as usual, that was causing the havoc. Let’s ad to firing a manager as well. Nothing was going right for the band. Add to that, I had no idea there was turmoil in his personal life.
When Michael came through the back stage gate that night in late August of 1997, I was one of the first to greet him. He was such a lovely and charming person. He was gracious as I gave him a piece of custom painted jean wear. I had been in touch with his front office and sent him some work earlier in the spring. I waited all summer just to see him and the band. I wanted to custom paint work again and tie into a band. Michael, I thought, would be a great match. Sadly, it came to an end faster than it could start.
When I met Bono on the street some years after Michael’s passing, I gave him an envelope with the picture above of his friend. We were amongst a crush of people and I had to speak quickly. Bono attempted to sign the envelope and give it back to me until I told him there was a picture of Michael Hutchence inside. Bono looked at me with his piercing blue eyes and paused. Speechless, he was very polite and said thank you. It was that one time I made a connection and it stuck. Who knows where the photo ended up but I gave it to someone who would cherish it.
I miss Michael. Music is not the same without his soulful voice and his great band by his side. Nothing will top Kick or Listen Like Thieves but Welcome to Wherever You Are comes close with its raw power in songs such as All Around, Taste It and Heaven Sent. Not Enough Time is a brilliant song along with Strange Desire. If you get a chance, pick up a copy of their last album, Elegantly Wasted, and give it a spin. It is a great record with a lot of heart. It will remind you why INXS and Michael were so special.