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"There are still some wild, unorthodox, unpredictable, furry animals to go in this zoo." — Edge, on the Zoo TV tour

Column: off the record..., vol. 6-201


(Matt McGee is taking a few weeks off. Marylinn Maione fills in with this week's OTR.)

There's been a strange convergence of disparate elements of my life this week. Although it wasn't very pretty, on Sunday I got to relive the glory days of the '70s when the Steelers won their 5th Super Bowl ring. On Tuesday, the team was welcomed home to a throng of 250,000 people, or most of the population of Pittsburgh. I haven't been a football fan for a long time, but I had fun watching my kids enjoy the hoopla as much as I did at their age.

Then on Wednesday, my favorite band had a clean sweep at the Grammys by winning all five categories in which they were nominated. I don't take much stock in the Grammy awards, as I find it hard to believe that anyone actually listens to the records they're voting for (how else do you explain Milli Vanilli?), and truly great records don't even get nominated. Where was Beck's Guero? Nonetheless, it's always a spectacle and the industry surely appreciates U2's contribution to the musical landscape. Bono was the epitome of grace while accepting the Record of the Year Award, and ever the diplomat, had nothing but kind words for the competition. We can only guess at what Larry had to say before he was so rudely interrupted, but we can all be pretty sure in knowing what he said afterwards!

Finally, on Friday, Italy's immeasurable historical contributions to world culture were celebrated during the bizarre but often beautiful Opening Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Torino. My mother's family came to America from southern Italy in the late 1950s (my dad was retrieved in 1960), so I am a first generation, 100% Italian-American. I want to be like Sophia Loren, who can have her pasta and eat it too, and still look great in white high-heeled go-go boots at the age of seventy-something. Camina, Ragazza! (That's as close as I can get to "You go, girl!" in Italian).

I was especially happy to see "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own" win the Grammy for Song of the Year. This song resonated with me the first time I heard it, reminding me of my maternal grandfather, the stubborn, hard-to-live-with Bob Hewson in my life. The details in the song are eerily similar to what I grew up with, right down to the opera. My "Nonno" first came to America as a young musician in 1923 with his band, which broke up after just a few weeks in New York. Forty years later when he settled the family here, they bought a used stereo console so my mother could listen to Elvis, and my grandfather to Mario Lanza, (in his opinion) the greatest opera singer of all time. We all lived in the same house, so it's no wonder that I fell in love with U2, whose songs are often dramatically operatic in scope but still rock.

Until "Sometimes" was released I had no idea Bono had a similar experience during his upbringing, but it makes perfect sense to me now, particularly when listening to Zooropa. In opera, falsetto is used to escalate the tension in the story. Bono, (at the height of his vocal powers on this record) effectively employs this device in the second act of this record. Take the falsetto out of "Babyface" and it loses that sinister feel and becomes a sickly sweet love song; "Daddy's Gonna Pay for Your Crashed Car" also gets its creep factor from the falsetto. On "Numb," the Fat Lady adds some sugar to the Edge's bland monotone, making it palatable enough to listen to through to the end. My favorite is "Lemon," which dashes at you right out of the gate and has to be reigned in by the monochromatic colors of the chorus, lest you step off the ledge from the heartbreak.

True opera is about heartbreak, and "Sometimes" broke my heart every time I heard it live, more so when Bono would add bits of arias that I knew the words to, but not the titles. The same is true for "Miss Sarajevo," probably the only song where my mom and I both "get it."

I am walking around with my head in the clouds, so proud and thankful for all the people and cultural forces that have had such considerable impact on the shape of my existence.

@U2/Maione, 2006.