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"I think this record is just as innovative as Pop, it's just that the thing we're pushing to the forefront is the chemistry of the band playing together, and I think that is why people are referring back to earlier projects." — Edge, on All That You Can't Leave Behind

Column: Off The Record ... Vol. 19-783

What Would Bono Do?
@U2

OTR off the record 2019 1200px

"What would Bono do?"

I ask myself that a lot. I’ve grappled with extreme public speaking anxiety for my entire professional life—25 years of practicing, and now teaching, law. It’s pretty paradoxical because I also spend a lot of time on the road giving talks about two books I wrote to help law students and lawyers untangle fear and amplify their voices authentically.

Every single time I get ready to present to an audience, my automatic fear and self-doubt response kicks in. I blush. I sweat. I worry. My heart jackhammers against my ribs. Everything hurts. But now, when I realize, "Oh, it’s happening again," I stop and ask myself, "What would Bono do?"

He would straight up own the moment. 

I’ve watched the HBO Special, U2: iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Live in Paris, a bunch of times. In Bono’s voiceover at the beginning of the documentary, he speaks—in his gravelly Irish timbre—about a “feeling of anticipation” before every show. I love how he draws out the fourth syllable of “anticipaaation.” When I get nervous, stressed, or scared before a big presentation, Bono’s words echo in my head. I envision him behind stage, sliding on his glasses, grinning at Edge, Adam and Larry, then strutting into the arena exuding positivity, love, and joy to the nth degree. "Don’t worry about the critics. Not everyone needs to like you."  

The Joshua Tree album came out the year I graduated from high school. Cool girls drifted through the school hallways in U2 and R.E.M. t-shirts. I wasn’t one of them. I stepped into the music world through MTV, mesmerized by Madonna, David Bowie and Cyndi Lauper. My first concert was A-Ha. After college and law school, living in Virginia, I dabbled in R.E.M. concerts and festivals showcasing The Cranberries, The Dave Matthews Band and The Goo Goo Dolls.  

U2 appeared in my life soundtrack, but started in the shadows…as if I was still too naïve, too innocent about the world, not quite ready to handle their sheer force.

Mining my memories for the origin of the huge role U2 now plays in my life, I remembered that I chose "The Unforgettable Fire" as the last song of my wedding DJ songlist, when I was 24, in 1994. I don’t recall why I insisted on that song. My marriage lasted six years, and when it imploded in an unforgettable fiery mess, I moved to New York City with little money and plenty of shame. I sublet a fifth-floor walkup apartment, playing Dido’s No Angel album on repeat until enough red wine gave me permission to sleep.  

Then, the lyrics of U2’s "One" hit me like a Mack truck. Love leaves you if you don’t care for it. Love takes care. I deserved care. We all do.

I spent my first year in New York City crying about my divorce, steeping in sorrow, and trying to figure out my life. I landed a new job in a law firm in the South Tower of the World Trade Center. For ten months, I muddled through each workday, paralyzed in grief, staring out the windows of my 39th Floor office, gazing at the sailboats circling the Statue of Liberty and wishing I was on one. Stuck in a quicksand of anguish, in late summer I took a leave of absence from the firm. I booked a trip to Greece in early September. Sitting on a balcony overlooking the Aegean Sea, I finally started to feel a glimmer of healing and rejuvenation. On my flight back home, the Lufthansa pilot diverted our plane to Newfoundland, Canada. 9/11 happened during my flight. 

U2 played the Super Bowl halftime show four months later. At the end of "Where The Streets Have No Name", Bono flashed open the inner lining of his leather jacket, displaying the American flag and radiating defiant love, healing and community. I was wrecked.  

Over the next eight years, U2 seeped into my soul. I embarked upon another long-term relationship. My guy and I (and our newly adopted rescue dog) moved to California. I transitioned from law practice to law teaching. One afternoon, a faculty colleague invited me to lunch.  

"Who’s your favorite band?," he asked. 

"U2," I blurted. 

"How many shows have you seen?" 

"Um, none, actually," I admitted. 

He took me to U2 360° at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles in 2009. We sat in the stands with an awesome view of The Claw (a four-legged stage structure). While my serene colleague stood remarkably still except for an occasional, almost imperceptible sway to the beat of Larry’s snare drum, every fiber of my soul combusted at that show. I wanted to be closer, to the lyrics, to the vibe, to the experience. 

My second long-term relationship ended and I moved back to New York. I began following a local U2 cover band, Unforgettable Fire. The Bono looked like Bono, and the Larry looked somewhat like Larry, and I jumped up and down at the edge of the stage, eyes closed, yelling lyrics until I was hoarse, and I felt happy.

In 2015, my law school friend Todd and I bought two pairs of tickets to the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour, one show in LA and one in New York. I flew to LA for the show, and afterwards, too electrified to sleep, I logged onto Ticketmaster and bought solo tickets to two additional shows in New York.  

Lyrics etched into my psyche. I had U2 opera in my head. "Every Breaking Wave" summed up my second relationship. "Every shipwrecked soul."

In Fall of 2015, worn out by pre-election drama, I wanted to escape NYC and Thanksgiving dinner political conflict. I Googled U2’s tour schedule. Dublin: Thanksgiving Friday. I booked a plane ticket. I bought an outrageously overpriced resale ticket to the Friday show. It arrived FedEx and I guarded that thing with my life the entire flight to Ireland. 

I landed in Dublin, hopped on a local bus to town, dumped my luggage at my hotel in Temple Bar, and scampered off to a U2-themed bicycle tour. The guide and I pedaled to U2’s Windmill Lane studio, the Bonovox Hearing Aid shop and bars where the boys played their first gigs. In drizzling rain, I snapped pictures of Bono’s handwriting on a pillar near the Oscar Wilde statue in Merrion Square. I added my name to the graffiti on the door of the Hanover Quay studio.  

The bike tour completed, I scurried back to the hotel, slept off my jetlag for a few hours and then found a bar called The Church. The menu offered U2-themed cocktails, but I opted for wine, settling into my element staring at posters of The Edge. Two American girls approached and asked, “Hey, are you here alone?” Within seven minutes, I learned that these girls—Michele and Renee—had been attending U2 shows together for decades, since college in Louisiana. Within ten minutes, they introduced me to the drummer in a Dublin U2 tribute band (John). Within fifteen minutes, they scored me a face value ticket to the Saturday U2 show that weekend.  

I had met my tribe.

To say that weekend was epic is the greatest understatement. Michele and Renee took me under their wings. We bounced around the Temple Bar neighborhood to one excellent tribute band gig after another, leading up to each U2 show. The girls had GA tickets, a phenomenon I did not yet understand. We split up for the shows and then met back at The Church after-parties. We hung all over a sticky, beer-soaked statue of Arthur Guinness and sang 40 at the top of our lungs, arm-in-arm with strangers. It felt like actual church. (And I’m a preacher’s kid). 

A year later, in 2016, Michele (living in LA), Renee (living in Louisiana), and I (a New Yorker), re-convened in Dublin for U2’s 40th anniversary. A year after that, we connected in Boston for the beginning of The Joshua Tree 2017 tour. For my 2017 two-week summer vacation, I bought solo tickets to the shows in Berlin (re-connecting with the entire Dublin tribute band gang), Rome, Barcelona (reuniting with the girls again) and Dublin once more, traveling every three days, recognizing fans from the HBO Live in Paris video at each airport. I’ve never laughed or cried (in joy) so hard in my life.  

I had splurged on (RED) Zone for Berlin (as well as a hideous burgundy The Joshua Tree sweatshirt to fend off a downpour). Bono sang "Singin’ In The Rain" as an intro to "Bad." Being in such close proximity to the band members in the (RED) Zone, I felt numb. Adam smiled in my direction. Larry looked right at me. It was complete sensory overload. And it’s probably because a couple weeks before Berlin, I had a life-altering encounter.  

For the Boston show a few weeks earlier, I had flown north on JetBlue, checked into a hotel, taken a bus to Gillette Field, watched the show, taken the bus back to my hotel and crashed at 2 a.m. The next morning, my cell phone jarred me awake. It was my law school friend Todd. 

"Hey, I’m coming to New York tomorrow. Meet me at the PlayStation Theater at 5 p.m. in Times Square. Adam Clayton is getting a MusiCares award. I landed two tickets. We’re going." 

Groggy and exhausted, still in my concert clothes, mascara streaking my unwashed face, I muttered, "Yeah, right. Bono and the guys are in Boston. I don’t think they’ll be in New York until Wednesday or something." As if I was somehow an expert on their travel itinerary. I yawned, contemplating four more hours of sleep. 

"Get yourself on the plane and get back to New York," Todd directed.  

Guzzling coffee, I flew JetBlue to JFK, took the subway home to my downtown apartment, showered, cobbled together my favorite outfit—jeans, leather jacket, black t-shirt—made myself presentable and hopped back on the subway uptown to Times Square. I found the PlayStation Theater. An army of SUVs flanked the front entrance. I gulped. "Wait, is this really happening?"

Todd and I found our seats in the small downstairs theater, maybe a couple hundred guests present. The Lumineers came on stage and performed a U2 cover. I had just seen them 24 hours earlier as they opened for U2 in Boston. Listening to their rendition of "One," I started getting a little nervous, still unsure about what was going to happen. Macy Gray sang, as did a few other artists. Suddenly, U2 took the stage. Adam delivered an impactful speech about his journey to recovery, thanking all the musicians who helped him: Eric Clapton and Pete Townshend, and of course Bono, Larry and The Edge. Todd and I bawled like infants. Adam, in his proper, quiet English accent, said that Bono had written a song when he was a teenager, "I Will Follow." He emphasized the refrain: If you walk away, I will follow. The guys launched into the song. The audience sobbed through that too, as well as "Stuck in a Moment" and "Vertigo."  

When it was over, Todd and I pulled ourselves together and started debating where to grab a late dinner. My phone was dead. Todd’s phone had a spotty connection; we needed to get upstairs to ground level to get a signal so we could Google restaurants. We hopped on an escalator, pausing at an upper landing while Todd began researching food options.  

A few minutes later, I glanced down the escalator. I noticed Wesley Schultz from The Lumineers (or more specifically, his wide-brimmed hat) riding the escalator up to the landing.  

Thirty seconds later, up came Macy Gray.

"Um, Todd. Todd…I think all the musicians are coming up the escalator. What if…?" 

As soon as my heart started slamming against my ribs, an elevator door opened at the other end of the landing. Two enormous security guards emerged. And Bono.  

Now, my friend Todd is often around celebrities because of his work. He took one look at my wide-eyed gape and murmured, "BE COOL. Act like we belong here so they don’t make us move. BE COOL."  

I. Was. DYING.  

Bono walked right by us, out the door, into the chaos of paparazzi and fans.

Subtly hyperventilating, I turned back to Todd, then glanced down the escalator. I saw The Edge floating upwards towards us amid an entourage of ten people. He too sauntered right by us, not a glance in our direction. My eyes were bugging out of my head.  

"Be cool," Todd urged. 

Thirty seconds later, Adam rode up the escalator, with a single handler. They stopped in front of Todd and me. The handler asked ME to take a photograph of Adam, and handed me a cell phone. I managed to eke out a "congratulations" to Adam, meanwhile fumbling the cell phone like a circus juggler. I couldn’t function. Adam waited patiently for about ten seconds, kindly smirked at me and turned and walked outside into the crowd. I almost burst into tears. "I…cannot…believe…I just blew my one moment with Adam." 

Mortified, I turned back toward Todd. I then noticed a blond mirage jogging up the staircase.

Alone.  

Head down.

Larry.

Larry looked up the staircase. I looked down the staircase. I think I mouthed, Larry? He stopped…at the top of the stairs…next to me. I think I told him I love him, and the band, and that I was at the Boston show the night before and that I’m grateful, who the heck knows what I said.  

I owe my friend Todd the most giant debt of gratitude because, in all his infinite presence, coherence and wisdom, he asked Larry if it would be okay to snap a picture of him with me. Larry leaned in, put his head against my head and smiled. I gushed a few more words of adoration and appreciation in his direction. He smiled, nodded and departed. 

Todd and I walked out the same doorway that our four favorite musicians had just exited. They were long gone. We started down West 44th Street, got about twenty feet along and then turned to each other, hugged and jumped up and down like teenagers. Best moment ever. 

We stood on Eighth Avenue in the midst of Times Square chaos and examined the Larry photo. Other than my death grip on Larry’s shoulder, it’s phenomenal, so authentic and personal. Todd and I hopped in a cab, went to The Spotted Pig (a restaurant in the West Village) and re-played that sequence of events over and over until the bartender asked us to please stop talking about it. I am forever grateful to Todd for giving me that experience and that photo. 

Since the 360° Tour, I’ve been to 25 shows. I deeply treasure our U2 tribe.

Michele and Renee introduced me to my first GA experience during the 2018 eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE Tour. We half-slept in Michele’s car outside The Forum in Inglewood, California, delirious with laughter. The girls ushered me to the rail near the E stage; Larry pointed a drumstick in our direction. Pure joy. 

Acquaintances question why anyone would go to more than one show on the same tour, or spend money or vacation time to travel to see a band. U2 obviously is much more than a band to so many of us. 

I deeply admire how the guys recognized at such a young age that they had formed something so special. I revere how they have dedicated themselves to working together for 43 years as a team. Their immense bond, mutual respect and love for each other exudes in every performance. They routinely express gratitude for the crew, the fans, their spouses and their families. They are incredibly creative and unafraid to take risks. They don’t take their fame for granted and they try to make the world a better place.  

After every show, I feel motivated to be a better person and try to help others. No other band even comes close to inspiring me that way in my work, my friendships and my life. No other community or body of work provides such needed perspective when I get caught up in unnecessary personal or professional drama.

In introducing the song "Iris" during the 2016 tour, Bono credited his mother for his life’s work, stating, “she left me an artist.” U2 has done the same for me. I would not have one ounce of the confidence I have to take risks as a writer, a teacher, an adventurer, a friend, without this band having played such a pivotal role in my personal and professional journey. Literally every time someone—a shopkeeper, an Uber driver, a student, a colleague—says, “Have a great day,” and I respond, “U2,” I smile and think of our band and our tribe. Thank you to U2 and our U2 family. Can’t wait to sing, sing a new song, with you.

(c) @U2/Brown 2019