I took a trip to visit my sister her sophomore year in college at Vanderbilt University. A strange place as, at 16-years-old, I didn't know yet that I was a 'liberal' yet alone a 'liberal Yankee'. I had actually never even heard the word 'Yankee' used with any seriousness until I visited Vanderbilt. In retrospect I'm sure my parents thought this was a good idea, to send their teenage daughter to a school of Vanderbilt's prestige so I could learn about college life for a long weekend with my smart sister. I mean what could possibly go wrong sending a wild teenager off to visit her sister, who was also secretly and equally wild, for a week surrounded by gorgeous young co-eds, and booze?
One afternoon we were sitting in my sister's dorm with all the chaos of college kids getting ready for a night out, drinking beer and wine, I'm sure there was a cigarette or two and everyone was giggling and chatting. The girls seemed older and sophisticated at the time, but now I see they were a bunch of 19-year-old girls not much more clued in than I was as a junior in high school.
I was sitting on my sister's bed when I heard a sound. A song came on the radio. I heard this repetitive riff, it sounded exciting, it sounded impatient, it sounded kind, it sounded like a blessing, it sounded like a benediction, it sounded like it was about to roll me in the waves and throw me on the shore. It sounded like someone running...hard with their lungs bursting and hair flying. This song sounded like a soaring invitation.
There is a scene in the original 1931 movie Frankenstein. In this scene, Frankenstein's monster, misunderstood as evil, but really just scared, hears a violin. The 'monster's' patched together, disjointed, terrifying self goes slack, he staggers towards the music, and his huge towering body lurches towards the blind hermit who is playing the violin. Frankenstein clutches his ears, is filled with wonder and is soothed and he is no longer a monster. He is no longer alone. Metaphorically the blind hermit 'sees' only a person who loves his music and Frankenstein is accepted and finds shelter and warmth.
I now know the sound I heard that day amidst the syrupy-sweet southern girl chaos was U2's The Edge on guitar. That riff is the lead-in to One Tree Hill from their 1987 album, The Joshua Tree. As the girls around me faded away, my hearing narrowed to just that song. What was this sound? Where was it coming from? It was so different and epic and sweeping and the singer sounded like he was tortured and exaultant at the same time. I didn't understand it, but I didn't want it to stop.
The Joshua Tree and One Tree Hill are my Frankenstein's monster moment, I wanted to fall to the ground, consume this sound with my brain and clutch my ears to hold it in. It was a holy moment in what I now call my own personal Church of Rock.
Early in my career at KFOG I dated a handsome drummer for a U2 cover band, Zoo Station. (He was also the graphic artist at the station, oops.) In 2008, long after we had stopped dating, I hired his band to play a concert at Squaw Valley for a St. Patrick's Day event at the bottom of the mountain. Three feet of snow fell the night before, the sun was bouncing off the blinding white slopes, and 8,000 people descended upon Squaw to hear a cover band (granted an exceptional one) play music from an album that was by that time 21 years old. The age range of the crowd was young children to 65+.
The crowd kept begging for more encores, 125 kegs of beer were sold, girls flirted with the band members and you would have thought that Bono himself was there for all the cheers, adulation and free beers being passed up to the band. The staff at Squaw, notoriously hard to please, told me it was one of the most successful events of the season.
I have never been to a U2 Concert. I have had tickets many times, but always there was that late in the day phone call, from a beloved client, who would give anything to go. The last time I had tickets, one of my favorite clients was hoping his 12-year-old daughter's first concert could be U2. Who could possibly say no to that?
It is now 2017. U2 will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree at Levi's Staudium this Wednesday, May 17th. Forbes reported that 1.1 million tickets were sold in 24 hours. Forbe's 'back of the napkin' math estimates that the tour will pull in well over $100 million and will most likely be the top-grossing concert of 2017. With dates selling out immediately in Rome, Paris, Berlin and of course Dublin, Live Nation is scrambling to add dates.
Karmically, it is now a client, the team from William Grant & Sons importer of Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey (shameless product placement) who is providing me two tickets to see U2, and this time I'm going. I'm going to go be a part of a 68,500 person celebration of how words, music, and 30 years of trying to give back can inspire people to be less monstrous and more inclusive. I'm going to remember that words and music historically have been us to be 'one' and to take better care of the world.
And in the world a heart of darkness
A fire zone
Where poets speak their heart
Then bleed for it
Jara sang, his song a weapon
In the hands of love
You know his blood still cries
From the ground