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"He is a brainy man and he thinks extreme poverty is stupid." — Bono, on Bill Gates

Column: off the record ... vol. 18-776

@U2

OTR off the record 1200

For the record, dear readers, I haven’t done an OTR in a long time. I think it’s because unlike my stellar colleagues, who can write columns like this with ease, I have to be truly inspired to get the nudge to write. Especially about something I’m passionate about like U2. It’s difficult for me. But lightning struck last month and I decided to take a stab at writing one of these again.

Inspiration came in the form of Elton John, of all people. I saw his “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour at Madison Square Garden in early November (about two weeks after my trip to Europe to see U2 in London). I’ve always been a huge Elton fan through my father, Joe. I have a few of my dad’s Elton records in my possession, including my favorite, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. My dad and I have seen him together numerous times. Obviously this show was a bit more sentimental, as this is Elton’s last hurrah of tour life.

I don’t think he’ll be like Cher and do multiple “farewell” tours. He has been honest in interviews, and at the show I went to, about how it’s time to close this chapter of his life and focus on more time with his family. The show was nothing short of spectacular, full of the glitz and thoughtfulness evident in his music. It was during this show I thought about U2 and the idea of farewells.

I know the sense of panic lots of fans felt when the E+I tour was coming to a close. Is this the END? Will we ever see them again? What if this is the last tour EVER? All valid points, yes. I think a lot of those ideas come from being spoiled since 2015, where we had three solid tours from them. And now all of a sudden, they were ditching us for … real life. U2 just need to be regular people living amongst us, which they truly deserve after the constant touring. I get it though. It’s the feeling of knowing they are “there.” Logging on to Twitter or Instagram to see what was going on in their world while they were on the road was awesome. But the tour is over and posts will surely be sporadic. For U2, it’s not a “farewell” but rather a “see you lads later.” And for that, my credit card and I are comforted.

To stick with the subject of farewells, U2 and this year of touring gave me a lesson in saying goodbye and how powerful the release of grief can be. My favorite show of the tour was easily night one in London. But my favorite U2 performance of 2018 without hesitation was the night of June 11 at the Apollo Theater in NYC. It was a mix of being at the right place at the right time that I didn’t realize until it hit me right in the heart. This show also helped me answer the question: “How do you say goodbye to someone you never knew?”

The early part of June was a difficult time for me emotionally. For those who don’t know me, I’m a professional baker. I’ve been working in food since I was 15 years old when I was a simple bakery counter girl. Everyone has heroes when it comes to their passions. Whether it’s singing, acting, music or art, you usually have one person who steered your life in a particular direction. I have three culinary heroes -- Ina Garten (for the beauty of it), Chrissy Teigen (for the fun of it) and Anthony Bourdain (for the truth of it). I found out about Bourdain’s passing at work, and I didn’t believe my coworker when he said it. He read the news alert from his phone as casually as you would a Twitter meme. It didn’t seem true, until multiple friends texted me asking if I knew, how was I doing, how unbelievable it all was. I remember going through the rest of my shift just frozen in thought. Shaping dough into baguettes, I wondered, “Why Anthony?”

I was lucky enough to meet him on Oct. 25, 2016 for a signing of his cookbook Appetites. His biting humor and raw commentary radiated as he spoke from the podium at the Barnes and Noble in Union Square. When I approached the table to get my book signed, I didn’t ask him about food or travel. I talked to him about tattoos. As someone who has many, I wanted to know about the ones he had amassed over the years. He equated it to the way someone collected classic cars, he collected tattoos. I never forgot his kindness, and despite his reputation as the “bad boy chef,” Anthony Bourdain was a truly generous man full of warmth for every fan he met that night.

Because his death was so tragic, I couldn’t shake my own feelings of darkness about it. I avoided any click-bait articles from tabloids like TMZ about the details of it all. I bought copies of the local NYC newspapers and the People magazine issue covering his death and couldn’t handle the aches in my body reading the tributes from friends and peers. I remember telling my then-therapist about it, how I was feeling his death more deeply than I should have, despite not knowing him in real life. She said a lot of her patients had been having the same sort of thoughts, wondering why it had to happen and feeling the loss of a fellow New Yorker we all knew from books and television.

My darkness felt really heavy and I couldn’t shake it. I remember being at work on Sunday, June 10, and not feeling like myself. I was trying to get tasks done and my brain sort of wandered into the mysterious depths of sorrow that had grown there since his passing. I never, ever thought of harming myself. But I was bothered by the constant question of “Why?” and the media still digging up every tidbit they could about his love life and personal demons. I wanted him to be left alone. I wanted him to be protected in death for his legacy, for his young daughter left behind. I shed some tears in our walk-in refrigerator and tried to shake it off. A friend at work noticed I seemed off and I said I just didn’t feel right. She said to reach out to her if I needed to talk. But I somehow couldn’t find the right way to say how I was feeling.

U2 at the Apollo was the next night. By some divine work from the universe, I was able to go to this show and I’ll forever be grateful for the elements coming together to get this to happen. I’m seeing U2 tonight in my city, I’ll forget about all this for a while, I thought. I felt the heightened anticipation of what they could possibly be playing. I definitely felt the sweat pouring down my lower back and upper lip as all of us crowded in the GA pit. There was nowhere else I wanted to be that night. After all, it was just another U2 concert and I was happy to be in their presence surrounded by friends and fans.

U2 plowed through a setlist that exploded with brilliance. Hit after hit, with seemingly endless energy and joy of performing in such a historic venue. I didn’t think I’d be able to last the whole show. I was out of breath from singing and screaming. I was also battling a case of tonsillitis, but sickness be damned when it comes to U2, right?

They started the first encore with a version of one of my all-time favorites, “Angel Of Harlem,” that was like sunshine and soul. Then came “Desire” and “When Love Comes To Town,” during which everyone collectively lost their minds. Bono started talking after that about loss. “It’s been a funny few years-- but not funny. We lost a lot of very inspiring, useful people and gained a few useless people.” He then touched upon the artists we had recently lost to suicide, like designer Kate Spade and “a great storyteller, who I’m sure has stories he couldn’t tell us.” And with that, U2 dedicated the next song to Anthony Bourdain, a song they wrote about a close artist friend of theirs who also took his own life.

Once the opening notes of “Stuck In A Moment” began, I unraveled. I wore my glasses that night (in honor of Larry) and had to take them off because my tears had pooled inside the lenses. I cried so much I didn’t think I’d be able to stand. Everything I wanted to say to my friends, my therapist, to myself … the things I wanted to convey about what losing Anthony Bourdain meant to me came out with that song being played on the stage. The lyrics seeped into my body. It was like U2 ripped my heart open to allow me to be emotional and to mourn someone I saw as a mentor and inspiration.

And if the night runs over
And if the day won't last
And if our way should falter
Along the stony pass
It's just a moment, this time will pass

The friend  I brought to the show with me held me in her arms as I sobbed my way through the song. For maybe the first time in my entire run as a U2 fan, I was too choked up to sing along. But that was OK. Because for that moment, U2 wanted me to feel. They wanted me to grieve and accept this loss. It was cathartic and exhilarating. I felt so light and free when the song ended. The rest of the show felt like a blur. But I didn’t care. For my own sanity, I somehow had to be in that venue, under that roof, hearing my favorite band play a song for one of my favorite human beings. Just one simple song. It was destiny.

A phrase gets tossed around a lot online that says, “Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” Thanks to U2, my farewell was an out-of-body memory I will hold close forever. 

© @U2/Marino, 2018

Any opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily represent the views of @U2 as a whole.