Shocking. What I didn’t do Wednesday night was go see U2. It occurred to me recently, as I was talking to one of my closest collaborators, that very few songwriters who could consistently floor me with their lyrics are still alive today. Most of them lived very short lives. Depression and creativity seem to walk hand-in-hand so often; the best songwriters are the most tortured, and the brevity of their lives show it.
U2’s Bono, for whatever reason, has managed to skirt that bullet. Not everything he’s done is absolutely brilliant–they should have lost the track “New York” on the current album, and if you put Zooropa and October together, you can make one good album out of it. But I think it says a lot that U2’s The Joshua Tree is consistently ranked in the Top 10 albums of all time. And, frankly, I think Joshua Tree was only the third-best record they ever recorded. It’s a great album, no doubt, but I prefer Achtung Baby and their 1980 debut, Boy. Achtung captured the uncertainty of the times and the uncertainty of the band’s future (guitarist The Edge was going through a painful divorce) with an intensity people thought the band had lost. I know, the only tracks anyone remembers off that album were the dance hit “Mysterious Ways” and the slow, sorrowful “One,” but listen to the rest of the album in the context of Communism falling and watching your best friend’s life fall apart when there’s nothing you can do about it, and it’s a much deeper album than that.
As for Boy, consider this: Larry Mullen and David Evans were a high school graduates who couldn’t afford to go to college; Adam Clayton was a high school dropout; and Paul Hewson was an orphan who had the ambition to go to college but couldn’t get in because he couldn’t read or write Gaelic. They didn’t understand the world, and here they were, 18, no job, no job prospects, and this record was their only hope for survival. No pressure. They dove in and relished it.
I saw U2 on their Zoo TV and Popmart tours. Zoo TV was the best concert I ever saw, by a longshot.
I guess I’m not going because U2 had the unfortunate mishap of becoming associated with a chapter in my life that hasn’t ended just yet, a chapter that I wouldn’t repeat for anything. The chapter began on Sunday, Nov. 9, 1997. I had to look up the date–it’s the day after the date printed on the ticket stub. I knew what was about to happen. I went to the concert with a friend, hoping to escape it, but what happened was both of us brooded through the entire show. The next day, what I feared would happen did indeed happen.
It wasn’t U2’s fault, but when I hear those songs, that weekend comes back. And I don’t want that weekend to come back. It’s ironic, huh? The title of the current album is “All That You Can’t Leave Behind.” Sorry guys, I want to leave 1997 behind.
One line from “Beautiful Day” echoes in my mind: “What you don’t have you don’t need it now.” He’s right. And I don’t want it. But what do I want?
When I finally find what I’m looking for (groan–sorry, I had to go there), I’ll be able to go see U2 live again. Not until.
So instead, I spent some time with some friends. Good friends, all of whom I met after Nov. 1997, none of whom had anything to do with that chapter opening and probably won’t have much to do with it closing either. And I was glad I did. One of those friends–who, ironically, wasn’t born yet when U2 released its first single in Ireland–slipped me the nicest thank-you note anyone’s ever sent me.
Then I came home and listened to Achtung Baby, beginning to end, once again. That was the record that got me into the band in the first place, and you never forget your first love.