"[A]ll artists . . . live off faith. You hear a note but have to have the faith that you will hear the next one. Or tell you where to find the next note."
Column: off the record ..., vol. 16-719
April 17, 2016
I’m writing this column where I find myself more and more these days — in transit. My day job demands nearly constant travel, so I’ve adapted to achieving everyday tasks on the road. From pedicures to party planning, I’m perfectly capable of taking care of business wherever I land. In fact, by the time you read this, the piece of paper it was originally scribbled on will have seen England, Iceland and the United States.
Some would say perpetually functioning on the road is difficult, but really the logistics are the easy part. What’s hardest about travel — especially international — is adapting culturally. Table manners, transport etiquette, tipping for good service; all of these things vary from place to place, as does the art of conversation. I used to struggle with topics to speak about for fear of insulting my foreign hosts until I realized there’s almost always at least one thing we can discuss without incident: U2.
No matter what continent I’m on, whether visiting a city or rural locale, everyone knows the band and usually, more specifically, Bono. I first learned of this when I began working in the tech industry a few years back. We had a company meeting at our headquarters here in Seattle and flew all of our global remote workers in for the week. One of those employers lives in Mauritius, a volcanic island nation in the Indian Ocean.
Aside from our employer, I assumed for obvious reasons that this individual and I had nothing in common. Of course, I was wrong. When we met, he said “You’re the U2 girl, right?” Word travels fast, you see. Even to the middle of an ocean, apparently. “Yes,” I responded with a smile. He said, “I like their early stuff. The first three albums.” I told him that although I like all but one of their albums, that era is definitely my favorite and War is at the top. And there we had it: common ground.
In Tokyo, worshiping at one of the few remaining Tower Records last fall, I purchased a Japanese copy of War, and the cashier — who didn’t speak a word of English — pointed to it and nodded approvingly. On a cold January day in Scotland, one of my favorite clients told me about a rousing U2 show he saw in Bristol back in ’81. Common ground.
There aren’t a lot of bands left that have such a global impact, you know?
Speaking of global impact, it’s a little hard to be peeved with the band for not finishing the next album when Bono is doing such vital things for our world. He spent Easter at a refugee camp in Jordan, scripted a stirring op-ed in The New York Times a few weeks later and gave testimony at a Congressional session during a Hearing on Violent Extremism & the Role of Foreign Assistance. Love him or hate him, the man is making a hell of a difference.
In case you missed any of it, a complete listing of his appearances and press activities can be found here.
Also focused on doing good things, Lady Gaga runs the Born This Way Foundation, which “Is committed to supporting the wellness of young people, and empowering them to create a kinder and braver world.”
That group is currently hosting a Kindness Cake Bake Off contest and our own talented baker, Jill Marino, is a semi-finalist! If you’d like to cast a vote and help her win, you can do so once per day through Tuesday. The link is here. Scroll down to the “Garden of Bravery” by Jill to support her.
As many of you probably know, Bruce Springsteen is currently on tour playing his legendary album The River start-to-finish. A local radio personality went to this show in Seattle last month and apparently didn’t get the memo, registering disappointment and leaving early because the only song he recognized was “Hungry Heart.” When challenged and asked how the rest of the crowd was reacting, he admitted they were very much into it. Die-hard fans, probably. Or at least folks who were paying attention when they bought the tickets.
A few years back, Huey Lewis and the News did the same thing, commemorating the 30th anniversary of their album Sports. I took my mom (she’s a big Huey fan) and we had a blast, anticipating each song that was coming next and enjoying them in the order they were originally intended. That crowd loved it too, and that brings me back to a debate I hear amongst super fans each time U2 tours: Why don’t they drop some of the “greatest hits” and realize we’re sick of hearing them?! Well, because “we” are the minority and the majority of fans who fill the arenas and stadiums are more like the clueless Seattle radio personality and less like people who are reading this column. I get it. And honestly it doesn’t bother me that much.
But I sure would love to see U2 play an album as a setlist. For nostalgia, of course I’d like to hear War, but for argument’s sake one of their storytelling albums would probably play better (and sell more seats). Something like The Joshua Tree or All That You Can’t Leave Behind. An album where all the parts fit together nicely.
Which one would you choose? Share your opinion in our forum.
It seems the world of television is experiencing a nostalgia renaissance these days. With the return of TV shows like The X-Files, Twin Peaks and now The Gilmore Girls, consumers like us are sending the signal that they value the original magic of their beloved shows over soulless remakes. It’s as if we’re collectively craving time spent in the company of familiar characters that still live on in our imaginations, desperate to see them just one more time.
As music fans, we’re spoiled to be able to revisit our favorite classic songs anytime we like, but I wonder if the pendulum will ever swing back to the way we used to consume new music?
For example: when I grew up listening to vinyls and cassettes, by default I always heard the album all the way through. There was no control over the order in which I listened, and if I liked one particular song enough to want to hear it again, it was a pain to move the needle or rewind to the precise place that song began. We bought 45s if we just wanted the single, but we’d almost always buy the whole record if that one was good. You couldn’t help but learn all the songs (even the B-sides) and become accustomed to hearing them in that specific order.
When I buy music these days, unless it’s U2 or another band I really love, I almost always purchase it a la carte. With the advent of iTunes, I retrained myself to only spend money on songs I knew I liked instead of gambling on a whole collection. As a result, my shuffle is much less interesting and much more commercial.
So I should probably stop doing that.
On a final note, sadness made its way back to the U2 family this week with two tragic deaths.
Tuesday, the band’s former security chief Jerry Mele passed away peacefully in Phoenix, Arizona. A memorial service will be held at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Phoenix on Tuesday, April 19 at 10:00 a.m. Fans are welcome to attend. If you’d like to make a donation in Jerry’s name, a collection is being taken at the Hospice of the Valley.
Yesterday, The Edge’s father Garvin Evans passed away at the Bon Secours Hospital in Dublin after a “long and courageous battle with illness.” If you’d like to leave a condolence message, our forum has a thread going.
Our hearts are heavy and our thoughts are with the band at this difficult time.
Any opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily represent the views of @U2 as a whole.