My father died at the end of October. I put the finishing touches on my last OTR in the car while my boyfriend Patrick and I drove to New Jersey to be with him at the end. His death came as a result of rare complications from simple surgery, but we all had enough time to gather before he passed. The end was very peaceful and he was surrounded by his wife, three daughters and their partners. Being at his side for his final breaths was an excruciating experience but one I am grateful to have been a part of.
The last day and a half of his life were filled with music that comforted us all -- the nurses arranged for a harpist to play at his bedside in the ICU, and later, when he was moved to a hospice room, we all plugged in our mp3 players and took turns filling the room with music that had been important in our lives. It was the Bach cello suites that accompanied my dad on his journey from this world to the next.
Less than 48 hours after he died, most of the state lost power as a result of Hurricane Sandy. People delivered food we couldn't refrigerate, so we ate around the clock. We grilled all the meat in the house because we couldn't use the electric oven. We caught up on local news and damage reports as we charged cell phones in cars. To everyone's disappointment, my father's funeral had to be postponed until northern New Jersey pulled itself back together again.
Three weeks after Daddy died, we returned to New Jersey for the service. The evening before the Mass, the family received mourners in the vestibule of a large, modern church where I was approached by the music directors for the funeral. Because I live out of state, I wasn't directly involved in the planning of the service. When I asked what pieces they were going to play, they listed contemporary religious pieces I had never heard of -- concluding the list with "an acoustic version of 'City of Blinding Lights' by an Irish band named U2." My jaw dropped. Comforted and slightly unnerved, I am still convinced my father somehow had a hand in their decision to play something so extraordinary at a funeral. The next morning, rather than singing a maudlin collection of traditional hymns, a congregation of about 200 celebrated my father's life as I lip synced my favorite song of the modern U2 era. I couldn't have received a more timely and cherished gift.
Fellow staff writer Tim Neufeld and I recently gave a paper in Washington, D.C., titled "The Pedagogy of Rock and Roll: Teaching U2 in the Liberal Arts Undergraduate Classroom" as part of the 2013 Popular Culture Association National Conference. We have both written previously in this space about our classes and teaching, but the conference was the first time we had seen each other in action -- and actually completed a project together. I couldn't have imagined a more encouraging collaborator.
We shared assignments and anecdotes about our students with each other and with other educators from around the country who use popular culture (gaming, film) to inspire critical thinking and writing in their schools. Although I stayed only a brief two days in Washington, it whet my appetite for the big show later this month in Cleveland. I am so excited to meet other @U2 staffers, academics and fans at the U2 Conference in a few weeks. For more information about the conference and to register, go to www.U2Conference.com.
The headlines last Monday morning were breathtaking. Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979-1990, had died of a stroke. She was 87. I read the breaking news on Twitter, followed up by reading The Guardian online and later listened to the BBC on my way to work. Over the 90 minutes or so that I gathered my thoughts about her passing, my emotions fluctuated between sadness at the loss of a groundbreaking female leader and anger toward a woman I had so long blamed for the continued oppression of the Irish in the '80s.
In retrospect, it makes sense that my initial thoughts about her passing related to the music and musicians that were on my mind in high school and college. First, I wished Joe Strummer were alive; it was from The Clash that I learned about the British economy and labor movement. I am sure Joe would have a lot to say about the effect Thatcher's policies have had on the current state of the union. Similarly, I wondered what Billy Bragg would have to say about the death of the Iron Lady and the posthumous celebrity she has received, so I went looking. He posted his remarks on his Facebook page and, as he should have expected, has had to suffer the consequences all week.
As far as I can determine, Bono hasn't said anything publically about Thatcher's years as prime minister since May 2011, when he praised Garret FitzGerald (former Irish Taoiseach) for the way he practically charmed her into signing the Anglo-Irish agreement in November 1985. Yet, my clearest memories of Bono's assessment of Thatcher's reign come from the 1986 Live for Ireland concert at the RDS Arena in Dublin where the band covered Bob Dylan's "Maggie's Farm" in a scorching indictment of the British government at the time. I remember listening to that cassette over and over again -- not just to hear U2's set, but also to marvel at the astounding audience participation Chris de Burgh inspired during his performance of "Don't Pay The Ferryman." I have never heard anything like it before or since. The only performance that comes close is Freddie Mercury's at Live Aid. Although video of de Burgh's Self Aid performance doesn't seem to be available on YouTube, the CD is available on Amazon for as little as $3.99 used. Having lost my cassette long ago, this week I upgraded to a compact disc.
Editor's note: This column has been updated from the original version.
(c) @U2, 2013.