I grew up with a full diet of music from my family since the day I was born. My dad fed me Basie, Ellington, Sinatra. Mom fed me opera, classical and show tunes and bought us every Beatles record. My brother and sister fed me the best of rock ‘n’ roll, disco and soul.
Once I turned 12, I discovered this new thing called “punk rock,” and I was thrilled that I had a scene that was all mine. I was all in and pursued it with enthusiasm.
But on June 25, 1980, I was introduced to a band that created an immediate profound connection that continues to this day. It was my 13th birthday, and my brother gave me a copy of Boy by U2. He said, “This is the next big thing.”
“What’s a U2?” I thought. I was immediately fascinated by the slick but slightly obscure album cover and silhouetted images of the band members. I appreciated the gift, but I was still more into exploring the local punk music scene.
A few weeks later, I still hadn’t given the record much attention. But one day I came home from soccer practice to the sound of music blasting from inside the house. I opened the front door to see my brother totally rocking out in the family room playing air guitar and drums to “Out of Control” from the Boy album. I thought that if my brother was reacting this way to the music then maybe I should give it another listen. The sound was different, new and blew my mind.
After that, I listened to the record every day after school. I had never heard a chiming guitar sound like that before. And what about those mysterious names like Bono or The Edge. Who were those guys? The songs throughout the whole album spoke directly to me. They spoke to my adolescence and teen angst, wonder, yearning, confusion and emotions.
With songs like “I Will Follow,” “Stories for Boys,” “Shadows and Tall Trees,” “The Electric Co.”, “Another Time Another Place,” U2 made me feel like I was sitting in the same clubhouse as the band talking about what we were going through.
In the song “Twilight,” Bono sings “In the shadows boy meets man.” I completely understood the reference of being in the transition of childhood and adulthood. With “Into the Heart,” he hooked me again: “…of a child, I can go there, I can stay a while.”
I was growing up but wasn’t quite ready to stop being a kid. I really felt it. And what an ego Bono had with “A Day Without Me,” singing “I started a landslide in my ego, look from the outside to the world I left behind.” As a moody teen, I had wondered if the world would keep spinning if I disappeared from it for just a few days.
The musicality of the band was one thing, but I was fascinated by the poetry of their words. They seemed to be light years ahead of me in experience, but I could still relate. And later, I heard the lyrics from the single “Party Girl”– “When I was 3 I thought the world revolved around me, I was wrong. And so I sing now.” Yes! My nerdy self wanted to be the center of the universe too!
Since their first album, I have grown up with U2’s passion and convictions. Their music has been on heavy rotation with me now for 37 years. To this day, many of their songs transport me to an exact time and place of where I was when the song came out. (I even have three tattoos with U2 references.) Over the years U2 has spoken directly to me about human rights, love, politics, loss, peace on earth, the Middle East, redemption, hope, faith, marriage, Martin Luther King, Jr., America, addiction and equality.
Their live shows are nothing short of religious experiences. All fans will agree with that. The entire crowd is in harmony, singing back and forth with the band and fully enraptured by the performance start to finish. I tell people that I have listened to their music so much for so long that in fact U2 is my religion. They lift me up, and the songs have been a regular part of my life and growing up.
I was 14 when I heard Bono sing a very poignant line in the song “Rejoice”: “I can’t change the world but I can change the world in me.”
Strive to be better, make a contribution, and make my little universe good. Message received.
“Sunday Bloody Sunday” opened my eyes and ears to the troubles in Northern Ireland and the IRA.
In high school, “New Year’s Day” (still my all-time favorite song) brought Poland’s Solidarity movement to my consciousness.
When The Unforgettable Fire record came out my senior year in high school, the title track was poetry to me. At 2am one random Saturday night, I sat on the end of the Santa Monica Pier with the girl I had a crush on, and this song provided the ethereal nightscape around my aching teen heart. “Ice, your only rivers run cold, these city lights they shine as silver and gold, dug from the night, your eyes as black as coal.” (And so was her heart.)
The Joshua Tree album, which skyrocketed U2 into the fame stratosphere, was on heavy rotation my sophomore year in college. This was a record of reinvention, and I pored over songs about America (“In God’s Country”), violence in El Salvador (“Bullet the Blue Sky”) and Chilean dictatorship (“Mothers of the Disappeared”). (I was fortunate to see them play both at the LA Coliseum and London’s Wembley Stadium for this tour!)
During my tenure with the Long Beach Marathon, we used “Beautiful Day” in our promotional video to celebrate the fruit of our year-long labors and those toughing it out for 26.2 miles. To this day, as the song soars, it brings a tear to my eyes when I hear it live.
The band and its music have been so important to me that Alissa and I used lyrics from “Drowning Man” in our wedding vows “Take my hand, you know I’ll be there if you can, I’ll cross the sky for your love. And I understand, these winds and tides, these change of times won’t drag you away.”
The band continues to speak and connect with me as an adult. The title of their album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb recently made a lot more sense to me. Bono was referring to himself after losing his father.
Their latest album, Songs of Innocence, included “Iris,” which Bono sings about his mother who passed away when he was young. Listening to it performed live in 2015, I changed the title to “Lois” in my head. The concert happened to be the same day that I was told of my mom’s cancer diagnosis. The next day I sent my mom this line from the song: “The stars are bright but do they know the universe is beautiful but cold.” She wrote back that she agreed.
One time I got to see Bono up close. As he briefly spoke to the crowd, I just stared into his face and flashed back to all the videos, all the concerts, all the great musical moments I had enjoyed with him.
Each time I see them in concert, it’s like old friends have come into the room. I recently saw them play again at the Rose Bowl and am already anticipating their next album and tour. I wonder what new sonic journey they will send me on. It’s an ongoing fan-ship. I’m just certain that the guys in the band can feel my energy as they play and know I’m in the crowd, right?
And now, as I am an older fan but still child-like in my excitement for the band, there is an even more important line from their song “City of Blinding Lights”:
“Time won’t leave me as I am, but time won’t take the boy out of this man.”
Yes, so true, Bono. So true.