On 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.
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.
Yesterday, I finally received my U22 booklet and discs. It came to me late because I was moving residences when it was shipped, but I had no fear it would eventually find me. And when it did, I was excited to open it up and start playing the discs.
As Edge’s wah pedal effect on Even Better Than the Real Thing was wondering out of my speakers, I began to cruise some U2 forums in order to see what others were saying about U22. I, obviously was late to the show, but decided not to do this until I had my prized copy in hand. One such forum had conversations that covered the gamut from what we deserved from the band in our membership to U2.com to songs that were not chosen for the final product. I read deeper as the conversations were becoming more catty than analytical. My saving grace from this school-yard behavior came when I fell into a forum in which someone mentions a printing error he caught in the booklet. My eyes took a double take. I turned around in my chair and retrieved the U22 booklet out from of its protective mailing sleeve and searched for the mistake. As you may not know, I am a graphic designer and searching for printing errors is a hobby. The statement, made in the forum, refers to the printed date next to Even Better Than The Real Thing, which states that it was recorded in Mexico on the 15th of November in 2011. The date doesn’t jive. U2 played Mexico in May of that year and the tour’s completion was in August of 2011. The band was on vacation by November so something was wrong.
I am not here to criticize the proofreader or the designers because these things happen all the time. Trust me, it has happened to me on a few occasions. Luckily, some of my mistakes were caught as we were going to press, but in this case, it wasn’t. So, I ask is this a collectable, such as Billy Ripken’s 1989 baseball card with the expletive written on the bottom of his baseball bat? Probably not, as I do not seeing this piece being reprinted for the masses. Instead, U22 is a collectable for all of us to cherish, regardless of the printing error or not. The booklet, and discs, commemorates one of U2’s finest achievements in touring, next to ZOO TV, which non-U2.com subscribers can admire from afar.
In closing, we live in a fast paced media world in which mistakes like this happen more often than not. Grab any magazine as you are checking out of the grocery store and look at all of the syntax errors in the headlines of advertisers. That alone would drive any English teacher absolutely crazy. In our case, it probably was human error and I forgive the oversight. Instead, the two discs of live tunes included in U22 will forever remind me how I went from the back row on the Joshua Tree tour in Iowa City in 1987 to the pit on the 360 tour. It took me 22 years to get there and that is why I will cherish U22.
This morning, I received a tweet from a Twitter acquaintance who overheard a conversation on a train in Dublin about my interview with Irish news talk DJ, Tom Dunne, concerning my book about U2. Since the interview was a month ago, I’m amazed that there still is a buzz floating around about the event. To me, Tom’s interview seems like it took place a lifetime ago. Since then, I have packed up my life and moved houses, refinished an antique table, helped my wife choose new lighting for our new space and lastly, getting caught up on life that was left in limbo months ago.
On the morning of my interview with Tom, I had to rise at 4:30 a.m. in order to make the 5:30 a.m. time slot. I was being interviewed over the phone from our house, therefore I could be in my pajamas but I had to be awake. More importantly, I wanted to listen to Tom’s show just to get his vibe, because when it came to my turn to be interviewed, I wanted to tie into the previous conversation. I opened jokingly tying into some Irish boy bands performance in front of some new water feature. I said that Lake Michigan is Chicago’s water feature. It broke the ice for us as we moved into a conversation about how I became a fan of U2. The toughest part of being interviewed live is that you don’t know what questions will be coming at you. I did spend a few days before prepping by reading the book’s press release and then reviewing the highlights, which I knew I had to cover. The most important thing was to be patient and not jump the gun with Tom. Pause and make the interview feel like a natural conversation. This is so not like me, as I can be, not only impatient, but also long-winded. I knew I couldn’t get off track from the questions. I needed to make myself come across, not only coherent, but as a seller of my story.
Tom made me feel comfortable and his professionalism was grand. Everyone I had talked to before the interview told me he was straight up and gracious with his guests. I returned the favor when he asked me about the Paradise Club in Chicago, which doesn’t exist. I didn’t correct him, but marched on with an answer that would satisfy his audience. As I said, I had to think quickly on my feet as it was 5:30 in the morning in Chicago and I was dragging due to packing up our house and readying my wife and I for a life changing moment. And that is where I made my biggest blunder, not selling the book’s web site. You hear it all the time in interviews “Go to my web site where you can get more information at www.blahblahblah.com.” Those conversations bore me because they take fifteen seconds out of the conversation to send me somewhere. More importantly, I would lose focus for the rest of the interview, as I would probably be looking for a pen trying to write down the URL where I could get more information. I didn’t want this to happen to Tom’s listeners. I wanted to make myself believable and inviting.
After listening to the interview, and revisiting the tweet from this morning, I feel as though I did just that, left an indelible mark on someone on a Dublin train in the past few days. Discussing one’s life with a stranger on the radio is tough, but making it inviting is even tougher as you have to peel off your skin and reveal what’s inside. Think of it as an invitation to one’s inner soul. I did just that with humility, but it was a hard road to get to in life. I guess the stars were aligned just so for this to happen. I am sure someone’s looking out for me, wanting me to succeed. Maybe it’s my Mom, who is once again pushing me out to be free as she is about to leave us in the not too distant future. I am not sure, but in any case, none of what has happened with the book has gone to my head, even when a stranger tells you the conversation is about the interview is ongoing.
Click here to take a listen to the interview.
What would your mother say if she heard you say this? Mine would freak. Actually, I would be saying this to my wife. Her response, “where in the hell are we going to put a Trabbie in this 1,600 sq ft condo? I mean seriously! Were you thinking about this when you entered U2.com’s album cover design contest?” I would not hear the end of it. In fact, I am sure the dog and I would be sequestered to the car parked on the street in front of our condo. I would have to beg my wife to let me into our condo, just to use the bathroom.
With that in mind, I am sure the car that U2 is giving away is not from the ZOO T.V. tour. In fact, I am pretty sure it isn’t. I think the one they are giving away was used for some auto show, pushing the 20th anniversary release of Achtung Baby. The real question is what would I do with a car, painted like Mondrian on acid, which probably barely runs? That is the $65,000 question, which I have no answer for and I am not sure many in this competition do. Add to the fact that we are going to have to pay the expenses of taxes and shipping on this item. Since it’s a car, it will need insurance. I hardly feel anyone has thought among those lines, even me.
But there is something cool about hanging a ZOO T.V. era car from your ceiling, if the ceiling would hold it. You could look underneath it and see its underbelly. With this well made East German before the wall of separation came down poduct, you never know if the transmission might fall out or even worse, spill motor oil on your bearskin rug, which would be a bitch. One idea is turning into a lawn planter. You may have to after three weeks of driving it and paying hundreds in your hard earned currency to get it to your house. It may die somewhere on the side of the road, possibly when you are out running groceries. It will become a lemon (Yes, the pun is intended.) because it is made out of pressed cardboard and been out of production for years. But it’s a Trabbie and you won it with your great graphic design, redesigning an epic U2 album. It can’t die.
Oh, I can see it now. You calling Edge on the phone and asking him to come over and fix it. He’s handy, you think since he has all of those guitar effects that make sweet music. He must know how to fix it. Even better yet, let’s call Willie Williams. He gutted these cars for the Zoo T.V. tour and put lights into them. I am sure he has a set of manuals around somewhere. These thoughts run through your head as you sit in the Trabbie on the side of the road with your cell phone that barely has one bar of reception. People drive by slowly just to look at the brightly painted car with smoke creeping out from under the hood. You think the worst.
So, I ask you, what would you do if you won a U2 Trabbie? Me? If it was one of the classics used on the ZOO T.V. tour? Donate it to a museum and keep the headaches away.
It’s a good question and one that should be thought of in the realm of today’s brand and image. Think about it, who cannot go without having their image taken? Not many, except for Christ, maybe. However, if you saw a swoosh, you would identify it with Nike. Therefore, brands don’t need images. However, for brands to sell to people, they need imagery so we can buy in. So, they seek someone out who fits their brand, sports or otherwise, and then get into bed and marry.
Why do I bring this up? Because, if I put a U and 2 together on a page, you got a pretty good picture who this is. You would at least put Bono in your head. Will that number and letter sell an album? Probably not. However, when you are a designer, such as myself, and you take on a project that needs to be pushed, you turn it up a notch. And that is what I did for this U2.com challenge. I took pictures that were the essence of the album and didn’t recreate the albums images in order to mimic what had previously been created. Not that I am knocking those, but this is what happens when you crowdsource.
I know this is a competition, but companies and brands are moving towards crowd sourcing and that is not fair to the creatives, who are thought leaders and branders. I feel U2 isn’t doing this, but they probably want to see who is out there pushing the envelope. I say I did, but I will let you decide.
I purchased a ticket to Dublin for a flight last Thursday, landing in the early hours of Friday morning. With a little luck from the web, I found a B&B and got some rest near the River Liffey. Hours later, I would emerge from my nap and head out into Dublin’s bustling streets, just to take in the Irish air and possibly a pint or two. Maybe, I would have a passing conversation with a local and discuss the rich heritage of the country or sink deeper into the bar near the hearth where I could keep myself warm from winter’s damp air. Either way, I would immerse myself into Joyce’s city.
The following morn’ would be Christmas Eve, the 24th of December. I would wake wearily, yet excited to be out of America to celebrate St. Nicks Day or Christmas in a foreign town. I would be bathed in excitement, wandering St. Stephen’s Green and taking a gander at the book of Kells. I would find myself the Irish version of Fish n’ Chips in order to fill the order of hunger of the day as I was still fighting jet lag.
Eventually, I would saunter back to my room and slip under the awaiting comforter for a quick afternoon shut-eye, knowing I would be up late to catch midnight mass at a local church as suggested by my innkeeper. My slumber was helpful as I dreamt of travels before to Dublin with my parents in the 70’s long before I was a U2 fan. My father was a scholar in James Joyce and this was a second home for him. When I awoke, I could feel his spirit in the room as the last rays of afternoon’s light broke through the tiny crack between the curtains. My laziness wanted me to stay in bed, but I felt a pre-dinner jaunt would do me good.
I slipped out the front door of the abode and into the evening. There was a slight wind and I clutched the top of my jacket closed while I walked down the unevenly paved sidewalk towards the city center. I was on my way to Grafton Street, a road of many a Joycean romp from my childhood, which was burned into me with pleasant memories. This night would be no different. My pace was brisk and as I approached the fable street, Dubliners were again taking to the streets. There was an air of excitement. One could sense that the something big was about to happen as I saw may burdened by bags swooshing against one another. I paused and took it all in as the light was now above me in a streetlight.
As I stood there, I noticed a crowd gathered across the street. There was singing and cheering. I looked to my left and saw no car approaching as I put my foot down on the cobblestoned street. A fellow Dubliner joined me in the automotive gap and we crossed the street in concert, pausing for a quickly passing taxi that whaled on his horn for our attention. Once upon the other side from where I crossed, the crowd had grown yet there was no pushing or shoving. It was festivity at its greatest as guitars were strummed and the unison signing of Christmas (Baby Please Come Home.) It was a happy Irish gathering and one in which one of Dublin’s own was in the center. It was Bono carrying on with those who would join. I was happy to be added to the group.
I awoke Friday morning after the dream and had a gut feeling that Bono would yet again hit Dublin’s street to busk. I was on my way to Iowa with my wife to see my parents and my grandmother, who is ninety-seven years young. The thought of a spontaneous flight to the Emerald Isle was a passing fancy as I was packing for a different trip, but I had a gut feeling that what has now become a ritual would happen again in Dublin. I leaned into my wife’s ear on Christmas Eve, at midnight mass, and said, “I think Bono was busking on Grafton Street in Dublin tonight.”
In celebration of the 20th anniversary release of Achtung Baby, here is an excerpt from my memoir about the day I bought the album.
With a mouth full of Novocaine, I walked into Rose Records on Achtung Baby’s release day, close to mid-afternoon. One side of Jamie’s store was plastered in photos of U2 while the other was covered with a displaced Garth Brooks promo poster from an earlier fall release. The wall of U2 graphics was mind blowing. Square images, of highly stylized photographs, covered the space in a mosaic pattern, mimicking the new U2 album cover. The subject of each square, measuring roughly 15 inches by 15 inches, was like a small vignette. One had all four U2 members dressed in drag while another had a profile shot of Bono in black and white with a half-nude woman, standing behind him. I was overwhelmed in the transformation, as the creative team behind brand U2 had left behind their 80s ideals of decorating album covers, except for the October album, with a stark black and white image.
I cannot believe it’s been twenty years since I sauntered into Rose Records to purchase Achtung Baby from my pal, Phyllis Jones. It seems as though a lifetime has passed by since that fateful day in 1991, but in others it hasn’t. I can still remember the weather. The overcast sky hung low. There was dampness in the air. All the trees had given up their leaves in preparation for winter. As for me, life was good albeit I was still working retail and I had issues with my career. Luckily, nothing disastrous in my life had happened. It would be a year and a half before my stepfather would pass away and Mom was quite a ways away from being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. So, I can say I was in a good spot. More importantly, hope was in the air as a new U2 release was tucked under my arm as I left the record store.
By 1991, I had been a U2 fan for close to a decade, but I was leery about where the band was going. I think we all were. We didn’t know if the band of the 80s would put up the white flag of surrender and call it a day, much like their discussion, which is circumventing in the press as we speak. I was afraid of what would happen if there was no U2, but I had faith in the powers that be as the music world was changing as well. In just a few short weeks of U2’s most ambitious release to date, Hair Metal would be long gone and replaced by crafty lyrics of personal demonism in Nirvana’s Nevermind album, which already blanketed the radio waves. U2 was waiting in the wings with their new metamorphosis. It was given a name, Achtung Baby .
The play of that harsh German word, Achtung, that we grandchildren of WWII knew well against the solemnest of things, a baby, was hard to wrap your head around. It was grabbing. It was provoking. We all wanted to tear into it. However, we did it with skepticism. U2’s first release from the album, The Fly, scared the shit out of older fans. They ran away, like a disappointed children not getting what they wanted, saying that this was the death of their beloved Sunday Bloody Sunday band. In spite of this, I got in the ring and took that Rose Records’ bag home, which sheathed my newly minted disc.
I threw my coat on my director’s chair and shoved the disc into my CD player. I turned off all the lights and sunk into my futon. The stereo was arm’s length away from me, just in case I heard a tune and wanted to go back or hit fast forward to get to the end of the song. I can say in all honesty that I wasn’t converted the first time around, but I was close. I actually knew what to expect because I had heard their cover of Cole Porter’s Night and Day, from the Red Hot +Blue album. Therefore, I wasn’t completely overwhelmed. Well, slightly.
The Rose Records’ store in downtown Evanston, where I bought this classic disc, is long gone, but the memory of walking into that store that day still remains with me. Achtung Baby was a turning point for U2, but as I’ve pondered what is being released in the deluxe set these past few months, I’m a little underwhelmed. I was hoping for more content from those stolen studio tapes from Hansa. Maybe there wasn’t enough there.
Or as my pal close to Midnight Oil told me a few months back, “some of the stuff should have stayed on the cutting room floor and should never see the light of day.” I agree to some extent. However, Achtung Baby and it’s accompanying tour, ZOO TV, revolutionized music and live performance. It’s sad that we fans couldn’t get one more nugget out of the band. If it were up to me, I would have added two more discs, which would include the whole concert from their live radio simulcast of their Royal Dublin Stadium show in 1993, but it’s not. I may have to wait another 30 years for the 50th anniversary box set, hoping there will be new material. I expect to still have my hearing at age 73.
I am sitting at my desk with our dog curled up on his bed, lying next to me, as I write this brief blog today. I’m safe. No one is knocking on my door bothering me. I have no child in my house crying because of lack of food. All of my family are in pretty good health. Lastly, my wife and I have ample clean drinking water. The only thing keeping me up at night is my career or lack of it. For Bono, it’s different. He hears those cries of need in his head and has to extinguish them. As a young man, he decided to take on the world and make change. He’s non-stop in his beliefs of getting the world on a better track, even if it is at the cost of a few sleepless nights.
A couple Sundays ago was John Lennon’s birthday and I have always wondered what would have happened if John had lived to see Bono’s good deeds. John, in some ways, was a mentor to Bono. The “Give Peace A Chance” movement was one that Bono has clung to. Even though the real humanitarian in the Beatles was George, it was John who had the most profound impact, I think, on our Irish rocker. The difference between them is John was more of a pacifist in some ways where as Bono has been more in your face. I think it ‘s the difference of where they are from to be quite honest – Bono being Irish and John being English. There heritage is neither here nor there in this discussion what is up for discussion is how the nay sayers completely do not understand how Bono has made a dent in the world as they, those nay sayers, have done nothing but sit on their hands.
If Bono wasn’t in a rock band, would he be down at Wall Street? Hell yes! He would not only be marching with them but designing the flag and carrying it. I believe he would find a common theme about the disgrace of corporate greed and get everyone to rally. One would argue he is the part of the issue as he, and the band, have move all of their finances off the Emerald Isle, but I said he’s taking up Wall Street as a citizen. The question would be if he could be the loudest to garner the attention. I believe so and in his current status of rock star, he is doing just that with the One campaign.
As I look at the picture shot of him in the Paris office of the One campaign yesterday, I see that same man I saw singing his heart out on the Joshua Tree in 1987, only much tamer and mature. The pensive look in his face, as he looks out the window, tells me that he still has much more work to do, but is satisfied with what he has done so far. He’s taken the plight of the humankind; much like Atlas has carrying the world, without abandon. He’s tireless in making change and for that, there’s hope we will have a better world.
Music is my lifeblood. It’s a plain and simple fact. From Bowie to The Cure to Nirvana to U2 and well beyond, I listen to a very eclectic group of genres. However, I’m no longer a consumer of music like I was in my post-college years. I still “listen” to newer bands, but have not been very impressed with recent releases. The last time we had a major shift change in music was in 1991.
Call me old, but is was a vintage year. I believe it was the last great year of musical releases. R.E.M., The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana and U2 all put out records that changed music and all of those works have stood the test of time. There haven’t been too many runs since then that have made such an impact. Yes, I may be naïve to the fact that other great albums have come out, indie or otherwise, and changed the world, but these were commercial releases. Releases that took risks, bore their soul and stood out of the crowd. Of the three, Out of Time by R.E.M. is the weakest. I would call it a filler album in R.E.M.’s catalog as they began to wander through their Warner Brothers contract. Not so with The Red Hot Chili Peppers whose work on Blood, Sex, Sugar, Magic stands tall amongst others in their catalog. It’s their brilliant masterpiece, which was aided by producer Rick Rubin. Another producer, Butch Vig, worked with a little known Seattle band, Nirvana, who would make as much of an impact on the musical world as the Sex Pistols did 14 years earlier, with their album Nevermind. Added to the mix was the debut release of Pearl Jam’s Ten, which aided in exploding the flannel wearing Seattle grunge scene into the musical landscape of America at the time. And then came Achtung Baby, U2’s long awaited release.
For this U2 fan, Achtung Baby was one of the most anticipated albums. We had no Internet back in 1991. One had to stay in touch with “someone in the know” in order to get release information. My insider worked for Rose Records here in Chicago. I can still remember the day I bashfully set foot into her store looking for answers to my questions about U2. I had not heard news of them for a while and feared that they may have split up. I would have been heart broken if that had happened. I walked into Rose Records on Sherman Avenue, in Evanston, on a late spring day in 1991. I asked the store clerk about U2. She asked me if I was a fan. I said yes and she proceeded to review her cluttered surroundings for a release list. Her search ended with success. She gave me the date and then introduced herself as Phyllis. She became my “someone in the know” as she settled the unease in my stomach. I was now filled with anticipation. What I wasn’t prepared for was how much of a metamorphosis would take place in Hansa Studio where the Irish quartet initially recorded the album.
On the day of the U2 release and with a mouth full of Novocain, I bought the newly minted U2 disc and headed home with wariness and excitement. I put the CD into my player with trepidation. I turned off all the lights in my apartment and let the gray, overcast sky outside my window blanket my room. What seeped out of my stereo moments later was something so different and transformative that I asked myself if this was still U2. I would come to learn that Bono and Edge were knee deep into the Manchester dance sound. Those influences can be heard on Even Better Than the Real Thing and Mysterious Ways. By the end of the first run through of the disc, including a couple song repeats, I wanted to hear it again. U2, like Nirvana and all of the other releases that year, were transforming music. The likes of which have not been seen since.