"If you can break out of Dublin, you can break out of anywhere."
Another Time, Another Place: How To Dismantle An Atomic College Semester
March 23, 2017
[Ed. note: This is the 4th in our "Another Time, Another Place" series, where @U2 staffers recall a pivotal moment in time when U2's music impacted the trajectory of their lives.]
I didn’t want to go to college immediately. A student since I was a 4-year-old preschooler, I didn’t see enduring more learning after high school as my idea of paradise. I wanted to take a step back and figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Having a real career meant a lot to me and I didn’t want to do just anything. I also wanted to take the time to work and save money. Maybe travel and attempt to find myself. My dream of being an actual independent dreamer was thwarted by my father and guidance counselor, who were both firmly set on me going to college after graduating from high school in 2003.
My method was simple. I applied to three schools, one in each state in the tri-state area (my home state of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania). Luckily for me (and my father and guidance counselor), I was accepted at all three. But my heart had always been set on New York City after seeing my first Broadway show when I was 16. So I was pumped and ready to accept a spot in Marymount Manhattan College’s class of 2007 to jump-start my city future.
I remember being in my health class (of all places) during my senior year of high school when the light bulb went on in my head. I had been struggling with what I really wanted as a career. I loved to write and always enjoyed writing essays and term papers. But I was also a pop culture obsessive and knew everything about every celebrity. I was known to keep magazines in my book bag and devour them during study hall (Vanity Fair, Entertainment Weekly and Glamour were my big three).
So it was during a lecture about CPR that my brain said, “Jill! You need to be a journalist and a publicist!” That was it. It was decided and it sounded legit. Now that I was going to college in the place where if you could make it there, you could make it anywhere, I saw this career path as totally achievable.
My senior year was also pretty special, besides deciding what I wanted to do with my life. I had discovered U2 thanks to one of my best friends, Jeremy. He lived on the corner of my street and I always picked him up in my tan 1996 Toyota Camry on the way to school. He had a copy of U2’s The Best Of 1990-2000 and said I should listen to this because I would really like it. I knew who U2 were and could name a couple of their songs. But I wasn’t an uber-fan yet. It took one listen to “Beautiful Day” for me to find what I was looking for (pun intended, of course). I was immediately smitten. Upon obsessing over this CD, I bought The Best Of 1980-1990 and worked my way backward into their catalog. How did I go so long without them? Why was I torturing myself with these awful acts playing on current radio? So I was armed with a favorite band and a career goal. College, here I come!
My freshman year at Marymount went great. I enjoyed a lot of my classes and was really excited at the wealth of knowledge my professors had. My major was communication arts, which covered media, journalism, film, public relations, etc. By the time my sophomore year began in the fall of 2004, I was starting to become sort of jaded by some of it. While I loved learning, I was starting to wonder if I was still really committed to my bright idea of being a journalist and a publicist. Writing was still my first love. PR was another story. I took PR during the spring semester of my sophomore year, and while I liked seeing what it was really all about (even making my own press kit as a final project), it just seemed like a lot more than I could handle. Being a publicist was being in the front lines and promoting clients, and I always liked being in the background. Maybe that’s why I loved writing. I could hide behind my words yet still tell a story. Adding to my frustration was my professor for that class, Professor Siegel, who used to pronounce Bono’s name as “Bo-no” instead of “Bah-no,” which used to send me up the wall. Was her mispronunciation of my favorite frontman’s name the catalyst for me changing my mind about my career? No, but it certainly added to it.
U2 released How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb in November of my sophomore year. This was the first U2 album I bought that was actually new material. I had been solely living off the Best Of albums up to this point (I know, right, who am I??). I bought the CD at my local Borders bookstore and was immediately taken with the black jewel case. I loved the visual aesthetic of it -- the red Chevron lines, the sheer coolness of the cover photo. I took the album with me on the train to school in my Discman (I KNOW!!! I didn’t have an iPod yet, not even the U2 model!) and played it nonstop from beginning to end. This is, and has always been, my ritual when it came to listening to new albums. I listen to all the songs continuously, then start cherry-picking my favorites. HTDAAB is still my favorite U2 album of all-time.
Almost immediately, “City Of Blinding Lights” was my front-runner for a favorite track. It spoke to me as a song about New York. It sparkled as much as the actual title did. I just kept hitting the repeat button on my Discman and absorbed it. Lyrically, it was perfect. It had the same connection to me as “Beautiful Day” did. I think what it really did was speak to me as a writer. Bono’s ability as a songwriter consistently took my breath away as my fandom deepened. He seemed to reach inside my head and heart by knowing exactly what to say when I didn’t know how to. And as my junior year approached, this song and album were going to carry me to my destiny.
In an almost magical twist, when my sophomore year ended in May 2005, I went to see U2 live for the very first time in New Jersey for the Vertigo tour. And “City Of Blinding Lights” was the first song they played. I’m a firm believer in the universe’s mysterious ways. To see my favorite band live for the first time, and for the first song to be the song I had started using as my college torch song, was fate personified. I left that show feeling lifted to a higher level. I hadn’t felt that way about anything in terms of music ever. My boy band phase aside as a teen, this was something that was beyond my wildest dreams.
My junior year was the year of hustling and it was the year I really took it upon myself to be courageous like Bono, to do the things I wanted that were going to benefit me and to find the belief in myself. I gave up on PR and focused on writing and journalism as my career. I took more classes in the English department to get a fuller sense of the written word. I scored an internship at a fashion magazine, which showed me the world of publishing. In October, I went to see U2 for a second time on the autumn leg of the Vertigo tour, this time in the actual “City Of Blinding Lights.” Seeing U2 at Madison Square Garden is an experience I think everyone should have. Their love for the city is genuine and the city loves them right back. I feel like seeing them in NYC is different from seeing them anywhere else because of this emotion (the only other place I can compare this to is seeing them in Dublin, where the sentiment remains the same). I wore my tour shirt to my internship the next day, which might have been a first at a fashion magazine.
The spring semester of my junior year in 2006 was the real turning point for me, in terms of my writing and also my devotion to U2. I was taking Intro to Nonfiction and feeling really excited because I felt a connection to this style rather than fiction or poetry. I loved memoirs and writing personal essays. So I was really excited to take this class. I had also started an internship at a popular celebrity glossy magazine, which was definitely my niche. One day, I walked past my supervisor’s desk and she had a stack of books sitting there. I scanned the titles and U2 & Philosophy popped out at me. I asked her if it was hers. She said lots of publishing companies send her books to review for the magazine and some don’t fit the magazine’s style. She said I was welcome to have it, so of course I snapped it up.
I was reading the book at my desk during my nonfiction class when I heard someone say condescendingly, “U2 and philosophy? Are you serious?” I looked up with shock to see who could be so rude to say that. This kid in my class, named Bradford, who took the title of hipster way too seriously (skinny jeans; white shirt and vest; long, wavy hair; ironic facial hair), and never spoke a word to me in class before, stared at me as I held my book open, still on display. I was so stunned. I didn’t even know how to respond to someone being so bold in trashing someone’s choice of book. I should also note he was a freshman. So already he thought he was smarter than his own good.
His trashing of U2 didn’t stop at my book. I had begun an essay I wrote for class with a U2 lyric (from “Original Of The Species”), and because this was a nonfiction class, workshopping was a huge deal. We arranged our desks into a circle and critiqued everyone’s work with positive feedback as well as feedback to enhance the piece (not blatantly negative). Apparently, you can’t write an essay with a U2 lyric because this kid thought it was the stupidest thing. I’m not sure how I found the strength not to hurl across the classroom like a panther and maul him. I really loved my class and my professor, and this idiot was really ruining it for me. I was learning (and would continue to learn in years to come) that U2 are very polarizing as a band. There are people who adore them and/or respect them. Then there are those who think they are the worst band in the world. Because I felt so loyal to them for bestowing upon me the gift of their beautiful music, I defended them every chance I could. I could handle people disliking Bono. But the band as a whole, whose catalog spawned a massive array of classic songs? They needed to be trashed, too? Sorry, it wasn’t happening on my watch. I wore my Vertigo shirt to class any chance I could. I kept my book out on my desk. I stared at his dumb hipster face and made sure I was extra critical of his writing. And throughout all of this, HTDAAB carried me every step of the way. It relaxed me before class. It gave me a bit of bravery to be proud in who I was, as a writer and as a U2 fan.
In U2 By U2, Edge says of HTDAAB, “We thought we were going to make a political album but, in the end, it’s a much more resonant record, reaching beyond the moment we’re all living through to something very personal. There is a lot of family in these songs and that’s probably what you are drawn to when times get tough.”
This was a tough time for me, as I was doubting my ability as a writer because someone in my class didn’t understand my style and it was affecting me. Making it worse was that he always had to point out how much U2 sucked. I found the familial connection in the songs on the album because U2 felt like family to me now and because I found so much of myself in Bono’s songwriting. I had to get out of this frame of mind of letting this negativity affect me.
“You don’t have to lose your soul to gain the world,” Bono said, describing the message of “City Of Blinding Lights,” and I took that to heart. I wasn’t going to allow part of myself to fall away because of other people.
By the time my junior year was over, I had made it through my nonfiction class unscathed. I wrote a really fantastic final paper that everyone really enjoyed, including Bradford. I never saw him again once I became a senior. But I was never going to forget his digs at U2 because it was always going to make me defend them for as long as I was a fan. I decided to add creative writing to my minor and focused more on shaping my style as a writer. I look back on this time in my life and I’m happy I went to college right after high school instead of taking a year off. I think it all worked out how it was supposed to, as the universe intended. I was meant to have all of these experiences in New York City. U2 were meant to be my soundtrack. They helped me find my voice.
© @U2/Marino, 2017