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"I think it's, for us, a real triumph of trying to get to grips with what it to be a rock 'n' roll band playing in a stadium in the turn of the millennium." — Edge, on PopMart

Like A Song: Landlady



[Ed. note: This is the 104th in a series of personal essays by the @U2 staff about songs and/or albums that have had great meaning or impact in our lives.]

My mom didn't die when I was a teenager. I didn't grow up in Dublin and experience the Catholic-Protestant tensions on the streets of my hometown. I didn't watch friends throwing their lives away to heroin. But that doesn't stop me from loving songs like "Tomorrow," "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Bad."

They're great songs and I think we all love how real and authentic they are to Bono's and U2's lives. But without a direct connection to a song -- without having lived the same experiences that shaped the song -- sometimes we have to bend the meanings to things that we can identify with. That's what we do when a line like "I can't believe the news today" comes to mind as we read today's headlines, 35 years after U2 wrote the song. It's what we do when we take a song like "Bullet The Blue Sky" and make it about the refugee crisis.

But U2 also has songs that hit close to home with no bending required. As a teenager who was 2,500 miles from home, I used to walk alone across the campus of my Christian university listening to "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," wrestling with my own uncertainties about God and faith. A few years later, "Ultraviolet" meant everything as I struggled through the near breakup of my marriage. "Kite" came along just a few years after my dad suffered a massive stroke when I was still in shock over how this giant of a man -- suddenly so weak and fragile -- could die at any moment. Those songs are forever a part of me because I was living the same experiences that Bono had written about.

What about love songs? U2 hasn't done many of them over the years, and Bono likes to remind us how "twisted" are the ones he has written. "Sweetest Thing" has some cute lyrics and melodies, but I still have to bend the lyrics a bit to apply them to my life. I have to do the same with "All I Want Is You," "In A Little While" and "With Or Without You."

And then there's "Landlady."

I heard the song a few times and liked it enough, but everything changed when I read the lyrics. Bono wrote a love song that perfectly fits my life, my wife, our marriage, our life. I remember sitting in my office in early December listening to the song on repeat, just staring at the lyrics, mesmerized that someone could put in a song what it's like to be married to your best friend for decades -- because I promise you, it's way different from the kind of love that you usually see depicted on TV, in movies and other songs.

"Landlady" is the song I would write about my wife, Cari, if I was making a living writing songs. That's not how I've ever earned a living, but let me talk about her, our marriage and this song through the lens of my work career.

When Cari and I first married, our life together centered on my career. I was a young TV/radio sportscaster -- a very nomadic life. ("Roam...") You start out working in small markets for almost no money, and the goal is to spend as little time as possible in each place as you work your way up to medium-sized towns and, hopefully someday, big cities. I remember talking with Cari before we got married to make sure she knew what she getting into, and she accepted it. My career came first, and she moved with me from job to job -- Bishop, California, to Twin Falls, Idaho, to Tri-Cities, Washington. Three moves in four years. Cari was with me every step of the way. No questions. No complaints. She sacrificed her own aspirations to come along on my career journey.

Our early marriage was rocky, to say the least. Looking back now, I see that I was too immature and not ready for marriage. It was almost over before it really started. ("No road without a turn....") We separated for a few months and then decided to try again. ("We can be brand new....")

Cari worked various retail and office jobs for the seven years I was doing TV and radio, and she was the main breadwinner in the family. When we moved to the Tri-Cities (my third career stop), the CBS station here offered me $16,800 per year to be their on-air sports director, anchoring the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. sports; I negotiated them up to a starting salary of $17,200. (That's barely $8 per hour.) I was broke. It was Cari who "always paid the rent." Bono talks almost sheepishly about that lyric in interviews, as if he thinks it's pretty dodgy ... but it sure rings true for me.


Bono sings about how Ali "takes me up in the air" -- she gives him the courage to "go where I would not dare." It's quite an admission. I know some of my friends think I really have my s**t together all the time, that I'm running the show here at Casa McGee and all that stuff. And maybe sometimes I like to pretend that's true. But it's not. I couldn't live without Cari. I'm sure I look pretty normal on the outside, but inside I'm a train wreck when she's not around. Oh, I can hold the house together all right when she's out of town (as she is right now), but I'm incomplete when she's gone. And the minute she gets home, my heart soars. Isn't that what love and friendship is supposed to do? A committed relationship should lift us up (a concept Bono sings about in a lot of other U2 songs, by the way).

But the big thing for me where "Landlady" is concerned is found in a phrase that Bono has used in at least a couple interviews when talking about love songs: "cold passion." It's a line he got from the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. I'd never heard the phrase until Bono mentioned it in reference to songs like "Ordinary Love" and "Book Of Your Heart." But I think it's a perfect description of "Landlady," too.

I think cold passion is what defines a marriage that's built to last. In the course of talking with my kids about love and life, I've told them both to marry their best friend -- not the person they want to kiss (or more) the most, not the person who's most beautiful or handsome ... but their best friend. The lust and thrill of new love, of dating, and even of a young marriage eventually fades away. And what you're left with is spending a lot of time with another person. Despite what TV, movies and radio often say, jumping in bed with your partner doesn't offer a permanent solution for the ups and downs of a serious relationship. Cari and I are heading toward our 27th wedding anniversary later this year, and I can promise you that it's the non-romantic aspects of love that keeps a marriage strong. Cold passion. Bono nailed it when he told Rolling Stone that "great relationships have a lower temperature." And that's the thing that strikes me about "Landlady" -- it recognizes and celebrates that lower temperature. I think it's the most mature love song I've ever heard, and I hope it's not a song that only those of us who've been married a couple decades can appreciate.


My TV/radio career ended in 1997 when Cari and I decided to settle down and start a family here in the Tri-Cities. That $17,200 salary wasn't enough to help support a family, so I switched careers. I spent 11 years building websites and doing online marketing. Then I switched careers again, getting back into journalism -- but this time it was journalism about online marketing. I did that for nine years until burnout (and a few other factors) kicked in last year.

While all that was going on, Cari was building a successful business as a local real estate agent -- coincidentally, without my help. Here I was, a pretty well-known guy with a strong reputation in the SEO/online marketing industry, and she didn't need my help. (Gasp!) I was consulting with other small business owners, not to mention big companies like Target.com and The Weather Channel, but when we tried working together about eight to 10 years ago, it almost ruined our marriage again.

Cari returned to being the main breadwinner in the family a few years ago. She's been so successful that I was able to quit my job last July with no idea what I was going to do next. I mentioned to a couple people that I might get back into marketing and help Cari grow her business even more than it had already grown without me. But even as we started working together, I was keeping an eye on the job sites. Just to be safe, y'know? I wasn't sure we were meant to work together. I sent out a few job applications, including for a couple positions where I thought I was a shoe-in to get hired. None of them panned out.

Now, the fourth stage of my professional life is in full gear. I'm officially a member of my wife's real estate team; we're calling me the Chief Marketing Officer. But our accountant says it makes no sense to pay me a salary, so I'm broke again. She's paying the rent. (And buying the groceries and everything else.) We've come full circle and switched roles. This time, life is all about Cari's career, not mine. I'm the one putting my career aspirations to the side to focus on supporting her. I had my time in the spotlight. I went out and tried to make it big in TV, then did make it kinda big in the SEO world. But now I'm happily behind the scenes. And I know I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing.

Both professionally and personally, life has been filled with ups and downs. Every smile and sorrow, every win and loss, every bump and bruise -- it's obvious now that all of it was to get me home to her.

(c) @U2, 2018.