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"What we mean by pop music of the '90s is maybe not what everyone else thinks but it's pop to us." — Edge, on Pop

Column: off the record, vol. 13-559


off the record, from @U2

All in all, it's been a pretty slow news period for U2. Bono did his second TED Talk, but I haven't watched it yet as I suspect I've heard it before (apart from him apparently comparing the Bible to Facebook). Adam and Ali Hewson had some words to say about the new album that made me feel less secure that it will be coming out this year. Over the past few months of this particular down period, though, I've seen more than the average number of people sharing their U2 collections on the atu2.com forums, the U2.com forums and Twitter. This has started me thinking about my collecting as well.

I used to be a collector. I loved searching out rare finds, the limited release items, then adding them to the pile. I had large Rubbermaid tubs full of Transformers action figures, ranging from original figures released in 1984 to the more recent, phenomenally designed and constructed figures. At the height of my collecting, I probably had about 600 of them. I've got long boxes of comics in my parents' barn. There are at least 5,000 Batman stories all wrapped up in backing boards and Mylar bags in those boxes. I had tubs and tubs of Batman action figures, too. Most of the time the hunt was a lot of fun. Expensive, too.

U2 were a harder subject to collect. Yes, there are a number of pressings of U2 3, many international versions of "Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of" and super-rare releases like the Japanese "Sweetest Thing"/"With Or Without You" video disc, the rare vinyl version of the The Unforgettable Fire single that has the alternate vocals for "Love Comes Tumbling" and plenty of other items. However, it was a lot harder to get a $250 "Original Of The Species" CD on Amazon than it was to hit up a few Targets to find an Optimus Prime special edition repaint. Still, I had a fine collection of U2 posters. I had a massive binder of U2 CDs, often with just one track list difference from one CD single to the next. I collected the T-shirts, the tchotchkes that spilled over from PopMart, ticket stubs and more. U2 is a very visual, tactile band, so it's not surprising that physical objects could inspire such an intense connection with the music the band produced.

The digital age changed my collecting, unsurprisingly. eBay is now being used to sell my Transformers and Batman collections, action figures that sat in those same Rubbermaid tubs upstairs in my parents' barn, unused and packed away. I haven't bought a physical comic book in over a year, preferring to purchase them exclusively through the DC Comics app on my iPad. Unsurprisingly again, once I stopped feeding my collecting habits, they lost their appetites. I no longer am very interested in the hunt, spending the cash to get that sweet rare figure, getting five issues of the same comic just because they have some limited edition covers. My wallet is much happier, moving is a much smoother process and the hunt, something that once felt exciting and fun, now just feels uninteresting and excessive.

There is one exception: My U2 collection has taken no such downturn. It should be the easiest collection to unload, since the vast majority of it can be accessed as audio, video and image files on my computer. Instead, I've got an entire set of tall shelves in my room devoted to some of the best-looking covers AMP Visual has produced for the band. I've got the remastered editions, their vinyl that's still in good shape, their deluxe releases, and so on. It looks remarkably coherent as an art collection, even across the different eras. The more I see it, the more I want to add to it, even though, as music, it would be the easiest of my collections to abandon in a physical sense. As I abandon printed media for its digital reincarnations, I find myself wishing U2 would produce even more books with their releases, since their albums seem to look even better when they're hard-bound. Even though I can easily store CD-quality audio files for easy use, I want U2 to release even more deluxe editions of their music.

I've never regretted a single dollar I've spent on U2. I have always felt I got my money's worth in the end (although U2.com got very good at testing that over the years). I've divested myself of a lot of the physical baggage I used to carry along with me from one place to the next, but when I see things like this, or this or THIS (!!!), it's almost enough to make me want to settle down and start getting even more into U2 collecting. I do like having a fairly portable life and being able to up and move from one place to another without too much effort, but imagine waking up and coming out of your bedroom every morning to all of the U2 that fellow atu2 staffer Aaron Sams has collected in that last photo.

And I made it through this whole piece without some "U2 is all that I can't leave behind" line...cough...


(c) @U2/Ryan, 2013