"Although spending a couple of months a year [in Ireland] is only a vague impression of home, any place else would seem like work."
June 11, 2005
"You're absolutely mad!"
That quote has been on my mind ever since I mentioned to someone at the U2 show in Boston on May 28th that I was going to be seeing the band quite a bit on the Vertigo tour. I was silly enough to also mention that I had seen them more times than I have fingers and toes before the tour started.
Absolutely mad? Surely, I'm not that crazy. There are many reasons I travel thousands of miles to see this band perform. There are also many reasons why I continue to share my love for this band with the greater fan community. After meeting hundreds of @U2 readers on the road over the first leg of the Vertigo Tour and being asked why I do what I do, I'd like to share what makes this fan tick.
My story starts on December 15, 1988. Somehow, I managed to miss every major U2 moment up until then because I only paid attention to what the teenage magazines were telling me about musicians like Duran Duran, Wham! and other '80s wonders. Sure, I watched Live Aid and the Conspiracy of Hope tour TV coverage, but I wasn't interested in any of the other music besides what was currently being played on my local Top 40 station.
December 15, 1988, was the day of my grandfather's funeral, and it was the day that I went to New York city for the first time. My grandfather knew that I wanted to go on this school field trip with our Latin and German classes, and it was his command that I go "no matter what." So, I honored his wish and went. After eating dinner in a German restaurant, I went across the street to a Crazy Eddie's audio/visual store to look around. Two people were standing near the U2 section, arguing with each other about who was going to buy the last Rattle and Hum cassette. I snuck in, bought it and walked out of the store before the two people even noticed they were arguing over nothing.
Listening to Rattle and Hum on the drive back to Connecticut that night brought me to a place that nothing ever had before. The music resonated, made me think, challenged me, and most of all moved my soul in ways that completed me. Many of you know that feeling. I didn't know anything about the movie, the press reviews, or anything about the band's personal affiliations. It was the music. It was the drumming in "Hawkmoon 269," it was the passion of the singing, it was the chiming of the guitar and the pulsing of the bass that made me want to listen to the music more.
By Christmas that year, I had bought U2's entire back collection and managed to rent Under a Blood Red Sky from my local video store so much that I should have bought it instead.
This newly found passion and joy I had for the music had to be shared with others. So I subscribed to U2's fan magazine, Propaganda. In those pages, I found a section called "The Grapevine" -- fans from across the world looking to talk to others. I had hit the jackpot! I started writing to people and realized that the very same feelings I had were shared by others globally. I still have a penpal in Glasgow from early 1989 that I continue to write to, and that's a friendship that I treasure quite a bit.
Now, it was more than just the music for me -- it was also the fans. I met people from every walk of life, every age and stage. Most importantly, it gave me a global view that I never had before. I was learning about cultures, languages, and challenges people faced in their homeland. This was before the internet, so the only way I would have learned this is through the classroom. This was real life, and it was because of this band's music that I was seeing a bigger picture of what life is about.
It was a global community that was also not afraid of activism. I got involved in my local Amnesty International chapter and educated people about the work of Greenpeace and other organizations the band supported. Over the years, this community grew quite large thanks to the internet and the way communication became more instantaneous. Amazingly enough, my passion for the music hasn't wavered, nor has my commitment to activism since I came aboard in 1988. As a matter of fact, it's gotten stronger.
I'm at a point in my life where I'm able to see different parts of the world and meet people face-to-face. After writing to people for years, it's a great homecoming to finally meet them. My Glaswegian friend opened his doors to me on quite a few occasions, and I'm so excited that he'll be seeing the Vertigo tour in just a few weeks. I've been sharing the concerts with him, and his level of enthusiasm is contagious. This is the same experience I have with all of my penpals across the globe.
People have asked me how I could be so uber-enthusiastic to be at a show. Standing on the floor of the Fleet Center in Boston on May 28th, watching people coming in before the show started, just about everyone had a look of excited anticipation on their faces. It was a room full of people ready for "lift-off" and it was awesome to be part of something bigger than myself. It's about sharing with friends that passion for the music, and how it touches each person so specifically, yet universally. It's about letting go of what's been bothering you and losing yourself in the music. For me, it's always been about the music -- and specifically the drums. It was the drums that got me hooked almost two decades ago. Larry Mullen's drumming continues to be the reason why U2's music still has the power to resonate within me.
U2's fans are the reason why I still find enjoyment in following this band. Each person's story and personal account of what this band means to them is so rich with emotion, and it is what makes this subculture so unique. I was talking with a friend about this a few days ago, and he summed it up best when he said, "U2 fans are different. I met Ken from California for the first time in my life in San Diego and we were talking like we had been friends for years. I have said it before, and I keep saying it, it's the common set of values that draws us together. I show up for the songs, for the tears, the fears, to visit with friends who I typically only see once every 4 years and just not the band. Multi-show fans are there for the music first, but a close second is the friendship."
He is right when he said it's about the friendship. These friendships get renewed during tours. It's not just the band and crew who get to see old friends, it's all of us as well. I am so excited to see all of my buddies on the road during the third leg, and I'm psyched for my friends in Europe who are seeing them now. It's more than just the light show and the confetti -- although, those are all important elements of the U2 experience. It's about meeting all of you out there -- the mad ones who go through a lot of trouble and go a long way to see a U2 show. I could go on for days about other reasons why I am proud to be among this community, but I think you all know because it's your story, too.
© @U2/Lawrence, 2005.