"It's a very special song, because it's the first time that we ever really made a statement."
-- Larry, on "Sunday Bloody Sunday"
Another Time, Another Place: The Innocence + Experience Tree
August 20, 2017
[Ed. note: This is the 5th 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.]
When U2 released their “Happy Christmas” video last December, it turned my holiday frown upside down. Minutes before I saw it, I was shocked and saddened by the news of music icon George Michael’s death. As a lover of '80s pop, I felt a part of my favorite decade go dark. So to see U2 in a very adorable video, complete with twinkling lights and a dancing Santa Claus, made my heart melt. And then my brain latched onto the only words that immediately popped out: “Songs Of Experience” and “Joshua Tree.”
Of course, the mere mention of SOE had my mind spinning. Was it finally coming out? Were we finally getting a continuation of what was currently my favorite U2 tour ever (I+E)? But what did JT have to do with it all? How was it going to tie into SOE? I analyzed this at my father’s kitchen counter with my phone in my hands, reading every tweet and news article.
Soon it was announced that U2 would be launching a tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of the JT album. I will admit that I was a little disappointed, as I’d been waiting for SOE since the I+E tour ended, and I was really craving new material. But I got myself in check. How could I complain when we would be getting a U2 tour? New album or not, the fact that I’d be seeing them that summer made up for it. After all, it isn’t really summer unless we have a U2 tour, right?
I connected with Songs Of Innocence and the I+E tour so much because both the album and the tour helped me with where I was in my life at the time. It is so meaningful to me that when people ask me where to start listening to U2, I tell them SOI without hesitation. One of the many “Bono-isms” repeated during that tour was, “If you don’t visit [your past] at all, you are condemned to stay there forever.” With the SOI album and then hearing the songs live, I was able to tie up my personal issues with a bow and make that bow tight, because I no longer felt the need to beat myself up over these things. The failed relationships I’d endured, my still-overwhelming grief over my grandmother’s death (my own “Iris”), my friendships, my autoimmune disease diagnosis, and my place in New York City were all laid out on that stage. I walked out of those shows feeling outside of myself and renewed. I was looking for that feeling again and I wasn’t sure I would get it with the JT tour.
When The Joshua Tree was released in March 1987, I was over a year and a half old. Instead of learning the drum beats to “With Or Without You” by tapping a spoon on my high-chair table, I was most likely babbling to my stuffed Big Bird doll. How amazing would it be for my parents to tell a story about me learning Larry’s drumming as a little tot? I don’t deny that the record is incredible and timeless, but it’s not my favorite classic U2 album (that crown sits on top of Achtung Baby). But I knew U2 were going to do something special with this anniversary tour and wouldn't treat it like a “greatest hits party.” I was going into this with open ears and an even more open mind. Would I be a changed person after these shows like I was back in 2015?
I attended four JT shows -- opening night in Vancouver, Foxborough, and both shows in my home state of New Jersey. While I did enjoy myself at every single one, I’m going to focus on the show in Foxborough, which stands out as my favorite. This show was close to the I+E shows I attended two years ago. A lot of the same elements were in the air at Gillette Stadium. They all came together to give me a summer night I would hold close to my heart. As I hinted at earlier, U2 shows are often my source of clarity. And everything came into focus in Foxborough.
I attended this show with my father. I am turning him into a major U2 fanatic, and couldn’t be more pleased. I remember sending him the tour dates and he was already on the phone booking our train tickets and hotel reservation. He even bought a tour shirt at the merch stand and wore it for the show. I wore my JT tank top, so we were indeed a most dynamic father-daughter duo.
Like most vacations I take with my dad (or even when I’m at his house for a visit), even though I’m in my 30s now I still find it a bit daunting to talk to him about life stuff. I want him to think that I’m making the right decisions and doing the best I can. I know he feels that way already, so I don’t know why I doubt myself. But I think no matter how old we are, we always want our parents to be proud of us and what we’re doing with our lives. At the time of this show, I was working two jobs (tour life is expensive), and was exhausted and unsure how long I wanted to do any of it. My twin sister makes a lot more money than I do, has one job with a stable schedule, and is a lot more established in life than I am. So while I don’t feel like I’m competing with my sister, I do feel like I’m falling behind. NYC will do that to you.
We were sitting outside for breakfast at our hotel and these issues came up. I always feel nervous and my words get jumbled. But my dad is great and knows what I’m trying to say. He then started talking about bigger “grown-up” things, like retirement plans and financial advisors. I felt each bite of my omelet sink to the bottom of my stomach. It got way too deep for me and I know how my mind works. These were things I would dissect and put on the front burner because now I had to deal with it all AT THAT MOMENT while trying to see U2! But that wasn’t my dad’s intention at all, which I knew internally. He just wanted me to begin considering these things. I like to nickname myself the Queen of the Worst-Case Scenario; I think that everything will turn to ruins if I don’t deal with it immediately. Luckily with my dad’s reassurance, the inner workings of a 401(k) could be discussed after seeing U2.
Having already seen the show in Vancouver, I knew how the setlist would go. But the vibe felt totally different in Foxborough. U2 were now many shows into this tour, and everything seemed tighter and effortless. There were no kinks in the chain and it all flowed perfectly. And the energy was off the charts. After their intro set transitioned into the main JT section, when the stadium glowed red for “Streets,” I thought that the stadium was going to combust. The roars from the crowd echoed all around me and I never felt so alive hearing this song. The majestic tree was projected in all its glory and I knew this show was going to be different from Vancouver. I could feel my soul being rattled from the first chord on Edge’s guitar.
After I caught my my breath when “Streets” finished, everything mellowed with the opening notes of “I Still Haven’t Found.” While I’ve heard this song dozens of times, I’d never really felt a connection to it. It’s a brilliant song, but it’s never been one of my true favorites. But something came over me as Bono began singing. Everything from the morning filled my headspace. I thought about turning 32 the next month, about the confusion about my job, and about that 401(k)! All the self-doubt I had about my life took over and I did what I needed to do in that moment. I turned to my dad and just wrapped my arms around him. We both sang along with Bono and it was all I could have asked for. I didn’t know what I wanted in my life and I wasn’t sure what I was still looking for, but my dad knew that and it was OK for me to feel uncertainty. This was all the validation I needed. It was so comforting and I was at peace.
My emotions and tear ducts were tested again later on in the show. I mentioned earlier that Achtung Baby is my favorite U2 album as far as the classic records are concerned. My favorite song on that album is “Ultraviolet.” Seeing it during the 360 tour filled me with emotions, and I didn’t know if I would get to hear it live again. Their new spin on it was breathtaking. I can’t speak for every woman, but I personally feel a sense of fear and concern over the current state of the nation. I’ve learned that it’s important to be educated on all the issues, but often reading the news is where a lot of the fright comes up.
I’m lucky that I live in NYC, where I’m allowed to be vocal. But for women who maybe felt that they were always going to have to keep their views to themselves, U2 showed them that they truly “light the way” and every woman has the right to speak up for what she believes. I couldn’t believe that these four men from Ireland were giving not only the females in their life a beautiful tribute, but also all women everywhere. Shining on that screen were personal heroes of mine (like Michelle Obama and Lena Dunham) and women who helped shape a world where we can be brave. I wanted to learn more about these names. I wanted to use my voice and follow in their path. I never felt more proud to be a U2 fan than I did in that moment. I will be eternally thankful for not only this fresh take on one of my favorite songs, but also for the empowerment I felt flowing through my veins.
Looking beyond U2 and their songs, I would like to reflect on another significant moment in the show for me. The song playing when U2 came onstage was “The Whole Of The Moon” by The Waterboys. The Waterboys were the favorite band of the first guy in NYC who broke my heart. A lot of my self-esteem and trust issues originated in that relationship, and like any female, I’ll always remember the tiniest of details about him. But in a twist of fate that I could not have predicted, the memories of a heartbreak were overshadowed by a flutter of full-bodied heartbeats. I sent a selfie of me with the stage in the background to a guy I was talking to at the time. He knew I was a U2 superfan, and fully embraced it and thought it was the coolest thing. We hadn’t been on our first date yet but had been texting nonstop for over a week. So when I sent him the photo and said that I was waiting for them to take the stage, I was sure he would tell me to “have a good time” or something like that. I was floored when he sent me this response:
“Keep me posted, I’m living vicariously through your live music experience!”
I was stunned. To have someone not only understand how important U2 are to me, how I see them multiple times live because it’s like my religion, and that being a fan is a huge part of my life, meant the world. Some guys I’ve dated have used U2 in sexist and humiliating ways toward me. But those are situations I’m going to save for my next therapy session, not in an essay on this website. This man didn’t once balk or act annoyed when I sent him pictures from the show. We’re still seeing each other and he still thinks it’s awesome how much I follow this band around. I’m excited to see where we go from here.
When the show ended, I was numb but floating. In my hotel room, I went through my photos and videos and was so content. It blew Vancouver out of the water. I didn’t think it was going to top the NJ shows I had coming up (it didn’t). I had that same sense of joy as when I walked out of the I+E shows. A lot of bits and pieces in my life came full-circle in that stadium and I was excited to see what was next in my journey. I feel that maybe the JT tour was meant to happen. Like Bono said during I+E, the past must be revisited in order to go forward. They chose to take another look at the JT 30 years later because it was as relevant now as it was in 1987. I always get a sense of reflection when seeing U2. I thought a lot about the future and what was to come, the same way U2 must have felt when writing this record. There is no other artist or band that has made me experience these feelings of rebirth like U2. My hesitancy toward this tour dissolved on that night in June.
I like to think of the JT tour as the tasty appetizer to what will surely be the delicious main course of SOE. And my hunger is ready to be satisfied.
© @U2/Marino, 2017