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"One part of his brain is a genius, but he can only focus on one thing. He wasn't able to negotiate his way through school, but he can sit and read seven books in a day." — Ali, on Bono

Column: off the record..., vol. 1-5


I think I get about 200 emails per week from random U2 fans, most of whom I don't know. Very few of these 200 emails catch my attention the way one caught it on Saturday, September 22nd. Someone who didn't leave a name emailed with this request:

Hey there -- I was just wondering if it would be possible to send me the lyrics to "Carry Each Other." Thank you! Have a nice day!

My first thought was "Carry Each Other"? and that was followed quickly by "Oh. She must mean 'One.' " Still nothing remarkable about this email, except that as I went to hunt down those lyrics it occurred to me that this wasn't your typical U2 fan, if it was a U2 fan at all. And I remembered the night before, how millions upon millions of people watched the America: A Tribute to Heroes telethon and heard "One" played over a moving video clip of the rescue efforts in New York City and Washington, DC. I figured this is probably someone who wanted the lyrics after seeing and hearing that clip. I fired them off, noting the correct name of the song and the album it was on, hoping maybe I'd encourage this person to discover more about U2.

Fast forward five days. Another email comes in. In this email, "Kelli" left her real name. The subject said "One by U2" and she wrote:

Hey, I have been trying to figure out what this song means...I love it and I keep understanding one message and then getting another one. Do you know by any chance? Email if ya get a sec! Thanks a bunch!

Not six minutes later, she wrote again in an email with the subject "Walk On":

Sorry to keep buggin' you but do you know what this song means...like what they wrote it for? Thanks! Have a great day!

A big grin came across my face as it occurred to me I was probably right about the telethon -- she must've seen U2 perform the "Peace on Earth/Walk On" medley, then the "One" video clip, and been inspired to discover more. And for some reason, I handled this email differently than the rest that come in looking for a piece of information, or help with ticket sales, an old URL, or what have you. This was a chance to bring a new U2 fan into the world, in a matter of speaking.

I wrote Kelli back and told her she wasn't "buggin' me" at all! I told her it was actually kinda fun to run into someone in her position -- someone seemingly new to the band, someone wanting to learn more. I never run into these kind of people anymore! All my friends -- and this is not a complaint in any way -- are U2 veterans; we don't sit around talking about the meanings of songs. We don't sit around waxing poetically about the inspiration behind Bono's lyrics.

When I was in college in the mid- and late-'80s (back in the day!), there were lots of people like Kelli. My U2 fandom was no secret and these kind of people sought me out. I actually developed what I called a "U2 initiation" to get them started. It was about 4 hours long. I had all the albums ready, a collection of newspaper and magazine articles, and some video/audio tapes of live performances like Live Aid. We'd start from the beginning and the goal by the end was to bring another U2 fan into the fold. I'd play certain songs from the albums, throw in the Live Aid stuff, find a couple choice quotes from the articles, and so on. It probably bordered on brainwashing, but this was all in the name of a good cause, right? Best of all, it was FUN!

And that's why I'm glad Kelli emailed last week. I don't have time for those 4-hour brainwashing sessions anymore, but this is someone who wants to learn more about U2 and after a 14-year layoff from those brainwash sessions, I'm happy to help. So Kelli and I have been emailing. Kelli says she's known about U2, but only started paying attention within the last year. She first heard "One" in the trailer for the movie The Family Man. In the last email, Kelli said "I think I'm going to become a U2 junkie REALLY soon!" This is gonna be fun.

Okay, everyone admit it -- if you've been a fan for any length of time, you've tried to teach your friends or a family member what it's all about. Maybe it wasn't a 4-hour brainwashing session. Maybe it was!! How did you do it? Maybe you used Rattle and Hum...maybe you used magazine articles...maybe you have your own methods for teaching friends and family about U2. If you've done this kind of thing in the past, let me know how you did it. Give me your tips and hints. Email me at offtherecord@atu2.com and I'll post some of the best responses in next week's column.

This whole thing about U2 fans and trying to educate others about the band and music reminds me of what is probably my all-time favorite quote about U2 fans. It's Irish writer John Waters, from his book Race of Angels: The Genesis of U2:

The meaning which U2 have for their fans, and the feeling which that meaning has created, are mysterious things. Truly, they are "secrets," which belong to each individual fan, but which add up to something a little puzzling for those who are not privy to the "secret." (pg. 19)

If you've ever had a friend who "just doesn't understand" what it's about, you know Waters is right. I get all the proof I need when I start talking about U2 and coworkers just shake their head. They don't know the secret. They're puzzled.

That's all for me. See ya next time. Enjoy this week's Answer Guy. (By the way, I am not the Answer Guy. Thanks to all who have asked.)

From: Brad

Hey, I have a strange U2 question, and you might be the person to ask. I read that you haven't watched many videos lately, but I'm going to ask you anyway. In the NSYNC video for "Pop" (I'm not one of their fans, but that's all they play on MTV) I believe that I hear a U2 reference. At about 2/3s of the way through the video, when the "band" is in the middle of a dance part, the computered generated music changes from one version to another. Anyway, between the two versions, I very distinctly hear a low voice say "U2." I've heard of NSYNC commenting on their respect for U2, and they are also going through the same kind of thing that U2 went through when naming something "Pop." I'm just wondering if anybody else hears what I hear.

Not only does the Answer Guy hear what you hear, but he hears more. I have heard a low voice saying "U2" in the video you speak of. But the teen pop phenomenon is much more insidious than this brief NSYNC song. If you listen to the chorus of Mandy Moore's song "I Only Look Legal" backwards, the phrase "Follow Me, Sheep!" is heard clearly three times. If that weren't enough, the Jessica Simpson song "Jailbait" says quietly, "Bono is my slave" during a drum break. The forthcoming Backstreet Boys CD is said to contain a song which includes the lyrics "go back to your Dublin estate, we're the B Boys and we're lookin' great." A strong challenge by the youngsters.

From: [No name given]

Hello! Today I went to Best Buy and bought the U2 "Elevation" CD but on the CD there's a little red sticker that reads: "Strictly limited numbered European tour edition," and at the back there's another sticker that reads: "Made in Holland." On the front cover it looks like Bono's shadow. Ok is this CD rare or somthing?????? And how many of these CDs are there??? 'Cos it says limited numbered on it.

Dear [No name given]:

I wouldn't call it rare by any means, but they are all numbered like that. I'm guessing 100,000 were produced.

From: Peter

I've got a question for ya: how well did Bono, Edge, Adam and Larry do in school? What were their grades. Listen, all I want to know is their grades, do not start talking about other stuff outside from what I want to know like you did with Mary. Don't make this answer up, if you don't know it just say it!

Dear Peter:

If I didn't know the answer to anything, I wouldn't hesitate to remain quiet. Truth is, as Answer Guy, I know the answer to everything. It's in the job description. I must commend you for sticking up for Mary, although I take offense at the allegation that I made up other stuff that she didn't want to know. I believe Mary to be a bright, intelligent woman who wants to know everything there is to know about the greatest band in the world. I found Mary to be polite and charming. Now about the band's grades in school, I know how they did, but you'd probably think I made it up anyway, so let's just say they each did as well as could be expected.

Have a question for the Answer Guy? Email today: answerguy@atu2.com

[Disclaimer: All questions taken from legitimate emails. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. Sell before date stamped on carton. All times approximate. Do not use while operating a motor vehicle or heavy equipment. Batteries not included. Some assembly required.]

@U2, 2001.