U2 live at Red Rocks.
There was just nothing like it.
Watching that VHS tape on a suburban afternoon in my early teens was as momentous an occasion for me as my first glimpse of Elvis or my subsequent discovery of The Beatles. I couldn’t believe it: the pouring rain, the air of myth and mystery around this strangely-named wind-swept Irish band, Bono’s note-perfect soaring vocal. It was Day One of a whole new musical adventure for me, and I’ll never forget it.
In a way I’m proud to say that I got in on the (almost) ground floor as a U2 fan. By the time I discovered them, “The Joshua Tree” hadn’t even been released yet. I’d had a passing run-in a few years earlier, when I bought the cassette copy of “The Unforgettable Fire” on special at the Pick n Pay Hypermarket. I’d really liked “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” but the album turned out to be odd and inaccessible and nothing like the Top 40 stuff I was used to at the time, so I took it back and reclaimed my R7.50.
But that Red Rocks concert.
Totally changed my life.
I was about to become a fully-fledged, card-carrying teenage melancholic, and U2 was THE perfect soundtrack. When “The Joshua Tree” came along in 1987, it was just more cement to an already solid foundation.
A friend taped his scratched vinyl copies of “October” and “The Unforgettable Fire” for me (one on each side of a TDK C90), complete with jumps that made me think the songs were just like that for years until I heard “Promenade” on CD and Bono didn’t repeat “a spiral staircase” 15 times.
I got older and gloomier, sadder and more self-obsessed, and U2 was just there for me all the way through it. “The Unforgettable Fire” was my theme music. I was too young to realize what was really happening to my heroes: they had undergone the transition from nascent indie mystics to swaggering (and dare I say it, rich) popstars, while I went through a heartbreaking family tragedy at the worst possible age and clung on to “A Sort Of Homecoming”, “Heartland” and “One Tree Hill”.
All remained fine for a long while. I even liked the band’s reviled “Rattle And Hum”, and the movie inspired me more than ever to make music my life.
Then came “Achtung Baby” and The End Of U2.
I see now why they consciously undid their legacy, chopped down the Joshua Tree and embraced the swagger. It makes total sense, and over a long time I grew to love “Achtung Baby” and admire “Zooropa”. I even sort of liked the Passengers side-step. I was changing, becoming a morose, depressed man, and U2 were still my idols, even though I now felt left out of the party. U2 were suddenly sexy and ubiquitous. Everything I wasn’t. They were no longer “mine”.
They were gods.
My life changed radically in 1996. I embraced religion for the first time, and was relieved to hear about U2’s spiritual leanings. The band’s Christian hope leaked into everything they had done, and I finally saw what it was about them that I had always responded to. My soul soared with them, my spirit was comforted by them, I didn’t feel alone and weak with music like that in the world. I had heroes worthy of respect. They had dignity and values and seagulls coming out of guitar amps and they anchored my life.
Which is why I wish they had just stopped it there.
1996’s “Pop” was the first real commercial backlash against U2. I still really like that record, I don’t get all the negative slagging-off about it. But I remember being secretly a bit relieved when I read that the album wasn’t being well-received and that the PopMart tour was going badly. Good, so my heroes were just humans after all!
That would’ve been a good time for them to quit, I think. Bow out with dignity, on a relative high. Just like The Police did only 5 albums into their meteoric career.
It’s gone on and on. Best Of after Best Of, weak album after weak album, a systematic dilution of a hard-won legacy. “No Line On The Horizon” in the bargain bin. Songwriting awards for shite like “The Hands That Built America”. A Spiderman Broadway musical. Bono wearing Gucci. Four consecutive eye-peelingly boring live concert DVD’s. Three consecutive crappy album titles. Bono in Armani. Corporate sponsors. Gone is the soaring, goosebump-raising music, instead: turgid “White As Snow” and “One Step Closer”. And, horror of all horrors, “Unknown Caller”. Did Larry Mullen Jr. play that guitar solo?
Is this really the band that summoned down “Elvis Presley And America”? “40”? “Scarlet”? “Walk To The Water”?
I don’t even know if I’m a fan anymore.
They just look like four bored millionaires onstage these days.
I wish it had all stopped years ago.
My fault for taking it all so seriously in the first place, I suppose.
Bono and the secretive Allie in a corny Louis Vitton ad? Are you kidding? Reasons to be pissed off at U2 #56.