"I'm not sure you ever get to be an ex-rock star. You can get to be a fading star."
This is an article I wrote for Hot Press magazine, which appeared in their September 3, 1997 issue.
September 03, 1997
It was big and yellow and it was in Bono's mouth.
No, yer man hasn't swallowed the PopMart arch. Not yet.
He has been officially inducted into an Internet subculture of U2 fans known as Wire. (Edge has, too, and he has the Tag to prove it.)
That big yellow thing? A Wire Tag. Bono had it in his mouth as he ran around the catwalk during U2's show in Chicago on 29 June. While you may not see it in Bono's mouth at the Lansdowne Road gig, you will surely come to know plenty about Wire, the internet mailing list for U2 fans: The Wirelings (as they're known) and their yellow tags are planning to overtake Dublin in the days surrounding the U2 concert.
They're also bringing a traveling version of the graffiti-soaked Windmill Lane walls: A 30-foot long, black-and-white banner signed by every Wireling who's seen it so far during the band's PopMart tour, including Bono, Edge, Larry, Adam, and Paul McGuinness.
The banner reads "World Wide Wire," and that it is. It's been to all but four shows on the first leg of the tour, and it's making its way through the European dates now, taken by an internet-worked group of fans who've volunteered to carry the 10-pound banner from gig-to-gig.
The idea is "to create a tangible testimonial to our virtual world of Wire," says 31-year-old Mike Conway of New York, who led the charge in making the banner and establishing the network of fans. "But really, we just wanted a way to bring the folks of this [mailing] list together, share our love for the band, and have something in the end which represents this love."
Bono was the first in the band to sign the banner -- "To the men and women behind the Wire," he wrote. Paul McGuinness signed it the same day. Edge put his name to it a few days later in Pittsburgh; Adam and Larry got on board in Chicago.
Conway already has volunteers set up in South America, Australia, and New Zealand to carry the banner to shows which haven't been announced yet. And when all is said and done, the Wire banner could end up in one town where PopMart isn't stopping: Conway plans to donate the banner to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
Wire Tags are the brainchild of Angie Inboden, an 18-year-old fan from Illinois. "I'm so happy I got the idea and ran with it," Angie says. "All of the stories I heard of people meeting each other made it the most worthwhile."
To get a Wire Tag, you're supposed to be a member of Wire. That's the only qualification. That, or being in the band. Angie personally delivered tags to Bono and Edge outside U2's hotel in Chicago.
"I did feel incredibly proud when I gave Bono a tag and he was happy to receive one of his own," she says. "He said, 'Now I get one too, eh?' with a smile that made me so grateful that I'd acted on the idea in the first place. He had me tie it, and he ended up wrapping it around his wrist because it wouldn't fit over his hat. I think that was kind of the crowning moment."
There have been other moments, too. The same night of the tag-in-mouth episode, Bono changed the lyrics to "Even Better Than the Real Thing," singing "Give me two more chances to ride on the Wire that you bring."
Angie is quick to point out that getting Bono to wear a tag and sing about Wire was never the idea behind the Wire Tags. It started out as a way for Internet friends to recognize each other in a crowd of U2 fans. There are about 4,000 subscribers to the Wire mailing list, and Angie estimates there are at least 1,200 wearing Wire Tags to PopMart shows around the globe. (The actual count is impossible to guess because many fans are making their own tags.)
"It was great having the tags on and meeting other fans from Wire," says Donna Souza, who's worn her tag from Vegas to Philadelphia, Madison to Foxboro, and a lot of places in between. "They help us find friends in strange cities and places."
The tags won't get you anywhere -- at least they're not supposed to -- but they will get you noticed. They measure about 5" by 7", and they're laminated with black lettering on a bright, yellow background.
"I think I realized that the idea was really working," Angie says, "when I got email the day after the Las Vegas concert from someone telling me that he had met 50 people he otherwise wouldn't have met because he was wearing a tag identifying him as a member of Wire. And it kept happening!"
And it's still happening. Hey Dublin: tag, you're it.
© 1997 Hot Press/Matt McGee. All rights reserved.