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"I don't really like hanging out with musicians. [I]t's hard to really talk about anything. Sitting and talking about Peavey amps is not my thing." — Adam

Living Up To Bono

Scattered Thoughts On An Important Birthday

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Watercolor by Kelly Eddington

 

Note: Due to Bono’s delightful surprise appearance on RTE Radio 1 with Ryan Tubridy, the moodiness that haunts my first few paragraphs has been somewhat dispelled. But I’m leaving them as they are, because “in these unprecedented times,” moodiness prevails. Also, I wrote the section about Elvis a week before the interview aired. I have a witness!

I’m beginning this essay on April 30, 2020. The date is significant, because in any other year I’d have begun writing well in advance of Bono's upcoming birthday on May 10—taking my time, planning each paragraph, bouncing with excitement every time a new turn of phrase or a new connection occurred to me. In any other year I would be watching the springtime unfurl with its usual display of defiant joy.

Now, everything I write (or post, or tweet) feels like another stanza added to Thomas Nashe’s A Litany In Time Of Plague. It might be tempting fate to say, “I’ll work on this some more tomorrow, and then a little bit next week, or whenever I feel like it, as long as it’s ready to post by May 10.” Nope. Better work on it right now—just in case. So I’m sorry if it seems a little disjointed.

Things could change by press time, but as of today, all is quiet on the U2 front. Some fans find the quiet unsettling. I think I worry less than some, but more than others. “Come on, Bono,” whines the little gnat that lives in my head. “Give us a drawing, a scrawled lyric, a selfie. Let us know you’re there.”

There’s a grim headline in the New York Times today: “Millions who had risen out of poverty are pulled back in by the pandemic.” The World Bank warns that global poverty rates will rise for the first time since 1998. The developing world will be hardest hit, of course, with sub-Saharan Africa seeing its first recession in 25 years, along with a devastating rise in unemployment.

Bono has dedicated more than 20 years to the eradication of global poverty. Apart from U2, it is arguably his life’s work. No wonder he’s been a bit quiet. I hate the idea that this setback—and it’s a big one, like having carried a boulder up a mountain only to be kicked all the way back down—might rob him of his hope.

___

 

When I was a little girl in the 70s, I had a friend I’ll call Donna. Her house was a mystery to me: a spooky old stucco box on a dead end street, with uneven wooden floors, creaky doors and old-fashioned bedspreads. Nothing at all like my own paneled, carpeted ranch house.

Donna’s family was devoutly Roman Catholic. In her house, I encountered my first holy cards and anatomically realistic bedroom-wall crucifixes. On the wall above the dining room table was a technicolor depiction of the last supper. And on the wall opposite that, a portrait of Elvis Presley in his curly-lipped, sloe-eyed glory. Donna’s mom was a big fan.

When I got a little older, I thought of the dining room staring contest between Jesus and Elvis as unintentional kitsch. But I think I get it now. Donna’s homemaker mom, with her patent-leather-black hair and her Cleopatra eye makeup, had a longing for both faith and pleasure, in balance.

I went to Cleveland for the U240 celebration at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame—mostly so I could watch “Rattle And Hum” with Kelly Eddington. But Kelly had to leave early on Sunday, and I had hours to kill before my flight home. I spent that morning wandering alone through the permanent exhibits. I didn’t expect to be touched by the biographical Elvis video. Growing up in the 80s, I saw him from an ironic distance, a figure of fun. Young Elvis might have been important, but Fat Elvis? Laughable.

Only he wasn’t. Not at all. For one thing, even toward the end of his life, he could sing. And the shiny jumpsuits? They were winkingly, subversively sexy. I’m sure Elvis knew that. He knew the way the stage lights would hit the diamante trim and the sweat on his face. I found myself drawn to him, and even moved by the passion in his voice, just like the women who made up the bulk of his audience. I should have figured this out long ago—there’s nothing funny at all about female desire. Without it, rock and roll would never have happened.

 

___

 

Bono was wearing the rose-colored glasses with the star-shaped hinges when he turned up in my dream, the night after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We were sitting side by side in a brilliantly sunny meadow at the top of a mountain. I was afraid to look down from that height because I knew that if I did, even for a second, I would see something I couldn’t bear.

So I looked only at Bono, right at his face, and said, “I don’t know how to be good.” Which meant, I think, “I don’t know how to process this utterly senseless horror without going under. You’ve seen some stuff. How do you do it?” Bono just smiled and gave me a kiss. (Wow.) I felt understood and accepted in a way that might only be possible in dreams. I wanted so much to stay in that meadow, high above the world, but of course I had to wake up.

I think about this dream all the time, because it felt like a gift. And I think about it every time another inexplicable, inexcusable human tragedy occurs in the world. This is what some of us do with Bono—those of us who think we’re too smart to put our faith in any deity, but who don’t mind sheltering under someone else’s faith when the chips are down. I’m sure he would hate this, but Bono can be a good substitute for whatever is missing: the deceased father, the taciturn partner, the relentlessly silent god.

 

___

 

I have a tendency to speak my mind. I can get away with it pretty well in person because I’m small, and because I’ve been trained to soften up whatever I’m saying with “I feel” and “I could be wrong, but,” and a disarming smile.

Online however, where so much fandom activity takes place, I don’t pull too many punches. This has sometimes landed me in trouble with other fans. I suppose I don’t mind a little bit of trouble, because I know that I said what I did out of an abundance of love and protectiveness toward U2.

I have moments when I think, “That wasn’t important enough for a comment. I could have just let it slide.” But by then it’s too late, and because we’re dealing with each other online and not in real life, we can make each other invisible, so there’s never a chance to resolve the issue, or even to apologize.

July 1, 2018 was a sweltering day. I survived the shadeless GA lineup on 8th Avenue and made it into Madison Square Garden, grateful to still be on my feet. There was only one person between me and the e-stage rail. It was a perfect spot for staring up at the band in a (possibly) creepy way.

And of course I was singing along with all those beautiful, prayerful songs of experience…right next to someone who had blocked me on every social media platform the year before.

Love is all we have left…the only thing that can be kept.

Love is bigger than anything in its way.

Are you tough enough to be kind?

I’m not sure if the blocker knew I was the blockee, but I certainly recognized her. Sometime during “One,” as we both swayed in unison to that bittersweet song of disunity, I thought, “This is crazy. When the show is over I’m gonna say, ‘Hi. It’s me, PJ from the internet. I hope you had a great night. You looked really happy.’” I would wait until that breathless moment of grace: the moment after Bono sent the big lightbulb swinging over our heads like a benediction.

Reader, I chickened out.

And now? Who knows when we all might be together again, standing cheek by jowl in a consecrated hockey arena, united in the sound, bumping each other’s sweaty shoulders, sharing each other’s breath. I would give anything to be there this summer, or even next summer. I would stand next to absolutely anyone—blocked, muted, unfriended—with tears of defiant joy on my face. So glad that we are all still here.

Happy 60th, Bono, and here’s to 60 more. I wish I could repair the world for you. But I promise I’ll find a way to be good.

(Final draft: May 8, 2020)

 

(C) @u2/DeGenaro, 2020