"It's an extraordinary thing, I will admit, to have [U.S. Sen.] Jesse Helms to throw a lunch for you. You know it's bad for both of our images."
Column: off the record..., vol. 14-614
April 13, 2014
Just as people are debating U2’s relevancy in today’s music scene, I have been struggling with a similar issue as a fan. I’ve been around this block as a fan for a quarter-century now. I’ve gone through the typical motions of fandom: buying everything I could with any disposable income I had; seeing the band as many times as possible before I hit my credit card limit; debating the merits of songs and tours with fellow fans; being a card-carrying member of the band’s fan club since 1989; wearing U2 gear everywhere I went; defending the band members’ choices whenever possible and more.
I feel like my fandom has evolved much like a child growing up. At first, everything was new and fresh. I was excited about every morsel coming from them. I clipped everything I could from magazines and kept scrapbooks. I wore my Achtung Baby tour gear every day to the point where the fabric wore out. I even wore a disco-themed jacket to the PopMart tour opener in Las Vegas, which is how m2 identified me and thus began my time here sharing my point of view with you all. I loved the ‘90s with this band, and as a result of that dedicated devotion I found my husband in a U2 chat room via the old MSN U2 site. The life I have currently is “All Because Of You” for sure.
As the innocence has faded and experience has taken over, I have lived U2’s songs now. A decade ago, I can say that I could appreciate them for the artistry. Today I can easily say I appreciate U2’s songs because no matter what walk of life you are in, you’re living them. It helps to have the band be about 10 years older than me to a degree.
As with many of you, my family and other commitments have overtaken the free time I used to have to dedicate to the fan activities I used to engage in. I’m lucky if I can pop in a concert DVD every once in a while, let alone listen to their music in the car. I have to sneak it in every so often as music education for my kids: “Now children, THIS is one of the greatest songs you will ever hear in your lifetimes,” as I play a live version of “Where The Streets Have No Name.” Inevitably, we’re back to listening to the Frozen or Phineas And Ferb Across The Second Dimension soundtracks.
A month ago, our local PBS station aired an episode of American Masters: JD Salinger. I’ll admit, I am not a reader of Salinger. I’m sure I read Catcher In The Rye in school but that’s the extent of it all. I was not aware of who he was, the lifestyle he led or the great lengths he went through to retain his privacy. The program focused on a group of fans who shared stories of their pilgrimages to Vermont in search of Salinger to engage him in conversation in the hopes he could answer their question, “What does it all mean?” One gentleman shared that when he actually got to speak with Salinger, the author’s reply was along the lines of “I’m just a writer! You figure it out. Leave me alone.”
This struck me and challenged me in my own devotion as a U2 fan. When asked what I wanted to do for my career in my high school yearbook questionnaire, I wrote “Work for U2.” In college, I worked on the concert committee in the hopes I could learn enough to one day work for U2. My college degree was in journalism with the hopes I could use it to write about the band. Thankfully, this site allows me to use that college degree to an extent.
I still have a notebook with questions I’ve been jotting down since the late ‘80s about things I would like to ask the band. Most of those questions have been answered over these years through other interviews. Those that remain unanswered are ones that might solicit a “you figure it out” response. I have to wonder how many times Bono gets asked those types of questions as he is very good at turning it back around so it’s not him answering the question. Most of the questions I have left are ones that would be best discussed over a pint in a pub with the answers never seeing the light of day in print.
And this is where I struggle with the relevancy as a fan. This band has shared so much of itself that there really isn’t too much left to the imagination to know or to understand. I know what the band members’ world view is; I understand their musical influences; I recognize the band’s strengths and weaknesses; and I have accepted that the personal relationship between band and fan isn’t there like it used to be. There really is not much more to talk about, and if there was a story out there that hasn’t been shared it’s for a very good reason. It’s like that comfortable silence you can share with a loved one when you know completely what’s going on without having to say a word -- that’s where I am with my U2 fandom.
So, in terms of relevancy, what is there left to do as a U2 fan? You can join the masses and complain that the music isn’t released yet or there should be a tour now or whatnot. You can wax nostalgic about what was awesome in the past or determine that Edge’s beanie phase is never going away. At this point, I am content to just appreciate that the music currently available to listen to evolves through each life stage with the hope that whatever comes next will do the same. I am not bothered when the new material comes, just as long as it’s not crap. That’s the deal I signed up for when Bono offered it and I’m willing to wait it out.
Don’t get me wrong -- if ever given the opportunity to share a pint and have a deeper conversation with the lads, I will not pass that up. However, I’m perfectly OK with the Salinger approach of “figure it out yourself and leave me alone!” U2 don’t owe me any explanations; the four men are just the artists. Good artistry leaves it up to the observer to figure it out.
Until next time …