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.
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.