Bono at the World Affairs Council*

October 31, 2005

By Brenda Clemons
2005.10

Penn University must be a very big fan of U2′s Bono. He was the commencement speaker for its 2004 graduating class and was recently invited back, this time to receive an award. And Bono must be a big fan of Penn University, as I’m sure that by this time he has a closet full of awards he has received for his social justice work, yet he chose to go back to Penn University for a second time.

I dressed up in one of my best power suits and boarded the train from Washington DC to Philadelphia. The train ride was pretty cool except for the brief delay we had after boarding and then having to deal with the dining cart being closed and the tight security. It was announced that if you neared the dining cart area you would be asked to show your ticket and if it did not say "dining area" you would be escorted back to your seat. What was in the dining cart?

We arrived in Philadelphia only to find out it was raining. I decided to take the cab only to find a line of people waiting. After waiting in line for about 15 minutes, I finally got a cab–during rush hour on a Friday. My cab driver told me that I would probably get there faster if I walked. I had to agree but I was wearing my power suit with my heels and it was raining.

I got to the auditorium only to find out that I had just missed Bono. He had arrived about 10 minutes earlier and had stopped to talk to people. One excited woman told me that she was able to give him her gift, a scarf that Elvis Presley had given to her mother. She said that Bono accepted her gift but told her that he wasn’t "worthy." I was thinking "wow that is a very cool gift" while questioning my own gift for Bono, a small book of spiritual artwork and writings.

The doors opened and we find out that there are reserved sections but not seats so I get stuck way toward the back (sort of like being at a concert). I had paid for the reception but not the dinner and was envisioning a small group of people mingling with Bono (who would, of course, be drinking wine). I asked an usher if they knew how many people would be at the reception and I was told 600 people; one-third of the people in the auditorium were having the same mingling with Bono fantasy as I had.

After several introductions, the fine folks at the World Affairs Council finally turned the microphone over to Bono. Bono, for some odd reason, made it a point to say that he rode the train from Washington, DC to Philadelphia. I just knew I couldn’t have heard this right so I asked those around me. All confirmed that he had indeed said train. I may have figured out what was in the dining cart.

By now I’m sure that Interference.com readers have seen the news reports of this event and pretty much know the facts but I must say that it was moving to hear Bono recount his time in Ethiopia with Ali, his wife. Although I’d heard the story before, I could see in Bono’s expression and hear in his voice that his mind was taking him back and he was reliving the time that a father asked him to keep his son and take him out of Africa so that he might live.

Bono had us all laughing when he was at a loss for words to describe his meeting with President Bush and the fact that Bush knew a thing or two about the unfair trade policies that have a negative impact on African economy.

After the speech, 600 of us ran the few blocks to the location of the reception. Somehow I was lucky enough to be one of the first to enter the building (sitting near the back of the auditorium had its advantages). The reception was held in a beautiful building but who had time to look, we were all on a mission.

I noticed a red velvet rope blocking off a door. I decided that the rope had to be there for something so I claimed my space. About 15 minutes later Bono came through the door on the other side of the velvet rope. It was like being in a crowd at the backstage door when Bono stops, unorganized with everyone trying their best to get a bit of his attention. Bono started a one end of the rope and worked his way up shaking as many hands as possible.

Finally, it was my turn. Even though I’d met him once before, it had been several years ago and I was looking forward to meeting him again. When he got to me I shook his hand and then quickly put in his hand the book I had for him. He looked down at it and I decided that I’d better tell him that I didn’t want him to autograph it so I said, "It’s a gift," and he said "thank you." Afterward my friend said she took note that, while lots of people gave him gifts, most he passed on to someone else to hold on to but he held onto mine himself.

All in all, it was a great night. A speech and a handshake are better than going home completely empty-handed.

U2: A History in Gigs No. 1: Live Aid, Wembley Stadium, July 13th, 1985*

October 31, 2005

By Kenneth MacLellan
2005.10

Snoop Dogg? Madonna? Pink Floyd? Pete Doherty and Elton John? What was your defining moment of Live 8?

Twenty years earlier, after Live Aid, people asked much the same thing and two performances were almost unanimous in being cited as rousing highlights—U2 and Queen.

Although very different from one another, both were as brilliant as the sunshine on the day of the event. Queen had its time, had its power, and Live Aid proved to be its finest quarter-hour, re-establishing the band as bonafied rock royalty after a relatively lean period. By contrast, U2, less than five years on from the release of its debut album "Boy," was still an up-and-coming band, one of the more junior acts on a bill boasting the likes of The Who and David Bowie.

But U2′s big music had successfully made the transition from club to hall, and from hall to arena, and few doubted that it would translate to the stadium as well. With "Pride (In the Name of Love)" reaching No. 3 in the United Kingdom and No. 33 on the US Billboard chart the previous year, it had a guaranteed show-stopper. Only technology or folly could stop a triumphant 15 minutes at Live Aid.

The band took to the stage with "Sunday Bloody Sunday." Even though the lyrics focus on past conflicts in Northern Ireland, like so many U2 songs, the song’s central message of peace is universal. At Live Aid it was certainly applicable to the Ethiopian famine that inspired Bob Geldof to organize the event.

The opening lines, "I can’t believe the news today/I can’t close my eyes and make it go away" reflected how many felt when they saw the footage of those bony, hopeless faces; the children pot-bellied with malnutrition; the flies and dead bodies.

Instead of expressing exasperation at continuing policies of violence, the refrain of "How long must we sing this song?" found new focus, seeking out the world leaders who did nothing in the face of the crisis, who reduced compassion to the factors of an arbitrary, economic decision–one it seemed most did not even consider making.

Suitably, U2′s performance of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" was tense, aggressive. The adrenaline and nervous energy of playing to not only to 80,000 at Wembley Stadium but countless millions all over the globe watching on TV, listening on the radio, was evident in the body language and faces of the band members—particularly Bono.

He was wild-eyed and when he took the microphone from the stand, his movements were frustrated, jerky, as if the stage was caging him, impairing his ability to communicate with the audience effectively. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as the reception the song received at its close proved.

"We’re a band from Dublin, Ireland," said Bono, as he introduced a second song, "it’s a city with some good people, some bad. This song is called ‘Bad.’"

Many had been expecting to hear "New Year’s Day" next. A UK top 10 hit, it would have been the more obvious choice, appeasing the casual fans, building on the momentum of "Sunday Bloody Sunday." Instead the band choose to go with "Bad," at the time no more than an album track from the still-recent "The Unforgettable Fire," a song that the majority of the crowd, and world audience, would have been unfamiliar with.

Why the band opted for "Bad" over "New Year’s Day" is unclear. Given that each act only had a short set, and that technical problems could scupper even the best of performances, perhaps the band felt that having a keyboard was one variable too many. Or maybe U2 felt that the theme of "Bad," of shifting away from an isolated, dislocated self, was a perfect bridge from the vehement disbelief of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" to the communal sing-along that its biggest hit at that point, and intended set closer, "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" was sure to be.

Or maybe the band just felt that, live, "Bad" was a better representation of where it was at musically, giving a better indication of "The Unforgettable Fire" than "Pride."

The first album that U2 recorded with Brian Eno and Daniel Lanios, "The Unforgettable Fire" was a significant step in the band’s creative development. If "Boy," "October" and "War" were black and white sketches, "The Unforgettable Fire" was a watercolor landscape. Layered, atmospheric and often beautiful, it was the sound of U2 growing into the band that would conquer the world with the "The Joshua Tree."

In concert, however, this new, textured U2 did not translate easily. The band was often not happy with how the songs sounded, resulting in them being re-arranged like "A Sort of Homecoming" or swiftly axed like "Indian Summer Sky." And although U2 came to be able to replicate the title track and "MLK," the true exception to the rule was "Bad."

At Live Aid, as it had throughout tour, the opening guitar lines of "Bad" glimmered and sparkled like flash bulbs. Mellow and spacey, it allowed many in the crowd to get their breath back after the intensity of "Sunday Bloody Sunday."

"Bad" built steadily. Over Edge’s guitar, Bono sang with his eyes closed, losing himself in the song. Then Larry Mullen Jr.’s kick-drum came in at the end of the first verse. Then the full drums, accompanied by Adam Clayton’s bass. Larry, Adam and The Edge grooved along like Bono, becoming the embodiment of their roles as "Bad" continued to increase in force and tempo and volume, before pulling back, slackening, as it reached the "I’m not sleeping" line.

Then there was another surge in intensity. The Edge’s guitar hauled the song from chord to chord and back again. Then Bono sang; "Isolation/Desolation/In Temptation/Revelation/Isolation/Desolation/Let it go/And not fade/Fade, fade away."

And then, shortly afterwards, Bono disappeared from the stage.

Inspired by classic rabble-rouser Iggy Pop, Bono had always tried to break down the metaphoric barriers between audience and performer to fully communicate with crowd. He had employed various ways of doing this—going into the audience himself, plucking out a girl to slow dance with, clambering over PA systems, climbing up scaffolding and sometimes crawling across the top of the stage.

The spectacle lead to many memorable performances and helped the band pick up fans in its early years of small gigs and support slots. However, it had also been the subject of many post-show inquests, with Bono chastised for his impulsive and often reckless behavior. With U2 maturing into a new musical phase, it was hoped that on stage Bono would do likewise. But in the rush of performing, Bono was—and continues to be—a law unto himself.

During "Bad" at Live Aid, Bono saw a girl in the front row being crushed against the barrier. On seeing the discomfort on her face, the instinct came to him to pull her out. He watched her for a moment from the lip of the stage. The Wembley stage was high with a steep, sheer face separating it from the photographers’ pit. This did not deter Bono. One leg over the rail, then the next, Bono dangled for a moment, body wriggling, before jumping down, then down again, this time onto the ground between the bottom of the stage and the barrier.

Bono beckoned the security guards to help the girl—which, eventually, they did. After being hauled over the gate, she had no sooner planted her feet on the ground than Bono embraced her. He twirled her round, gave her a kiss, took her hand and slow danced with her for a few moments. After the dance, he put his hands on the side of her head and kissed her before climbing back onto the lower part of the stage.

Although many people at Wembley saw what happened during U2′s set, the television cameras managed to capture the drama of the moment for millions of viewers around the world. What they saw in Bono’s actions was the spirit of Live Aid symbolized, the music community reaching out to help those in need of help, the breaking down of barriers, the coming together of fans and artists as one, the responsibility we have towards others, to reach out and not turn away–these were all aspects of Live Aid that people saw refracted through the prism of Bono’s gesture.

But all Bono had done was help prevent a fan being crushed against the rail. The interpretation of the moment lies with the audience and, given that the event and bill were criticized in some quarters for using charity to self-promote, Bono’s actions could have easily been interpreted as opportunistic.

Two factors prevented this perception; the first being the obvious spontaneity of the gesture and the second is a testament to Bono’s unique charisma. Quite simply, no one else could have got away with it. Not McCartney. Not Bowie. Not even Freddie Mercury. If any of them had attempted something similar, the whiff of gimmick would have lingered with them long after the event’s finale. With Bono, however, the gesture may have been unplanned but it was not uncharacteristic. If anything, it was the pinnacle of the type of direct contact and communication Bono had been striving to achieve since the earliest days of U2. And while the rescue is seen as a symbol of Live Aid, what is not often said is that it was also an encapsulation of Bono as an artist–and as a man–as the intervening years of campaigning and awareness raising have shown.

While all this was happening off stage, on it, The Edge, Larry and Adam were still playing "Bad," oblivious to what was going on below them, undoubtedly aware of the clock ticking down U2′s set time, their feelings flitting between anxiety and anger over Bono’s disappearing act.

The chance to play "Pride" had gone by the time Bono got himself back near a microphone. To compensate, he decided to snippet some cover versions into "Bad." Beside the photographer pit, he led the audience through a call-and-response rendition of Lou Reed’s "Walk on the Wild Side," before throwing in the Rolling Stones’ "Ruby Tuesday" and "Sympathy for the Devil" for good measure.

When U2 finally wrapped up "Bad" and left the stage, the song had been going for 11 minutes.

Unfortunately, history is ignorant of what was said to Bono by his bandmates and manager Paul McGuinness after U2 left the stage. It is safe to say that they did not congratulate him on single-handedly symbolizing Live Aid. Indeed, 20 years on from that day’s set, the issue is still a contentious one, as a recent ITV U2 special revealed.

"Well, we might get to play the song we didn’t get to do last time," said The Edge, giving Bono a look, when asked about U2′s plans for Live 8.

"What I’m doing this time is I’m taking precautions," remarked Larry in the same ITV interview. "I’m taking a little tape recorder. If he [Bono] disappears, I’m pressing ‘go.’ If only he’d told us. If only he’d written to us."

"Poor Larry, his arms were so sore from playing that beat for so long." said The Edge.

To paraphrase a Smiths song from the same era—they can smile about it now, but at the time it was terrible–as Bono suggested, when interviewed by BBC Radio 1 for the 10th anniversary of Live Aid.

"I was really bummed out," he said. "I’d thought I’d just shot the band in the head in front of a billion people."

In the weeks following the event, Bono was prone to embarking on long drives to stop himself from brooding on the matter. It was only when fan reactions began to filter back that he was able to come out of his despondency, and see that rather than shooting the band in the head, he had given its international appeal a shot in the arm.

Concrete evidence of U2′s post-Live Aid sprout in stature came a year later when it performed in support of Amnesty International on the "Conspiracy of Hope" tour alongside the likes of Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Reed and Joan Baez. Many of those in attendance were there specifically to see U2. And the song they wanted to hear the most? "Bad."

That year Bono visited Ethiopia for himself and the trip had a profound effect, not only influencing the lyrical tone of the band’s next album, "The Joshua Tree," but also instilling a conscience over the condition of the continent as a whole. This conscience has been with Bono ever since, coming to the fore in recent years with the Drop the Debt, DATA and other campaigns, each of them endeavoring to help the continent stand on its own two feet and not be reliant on Live Aid-style charity in the 21st century.

The year following Live Aid, 1986, was also the year that Freddie Mercury bowed out of live performance, the grip of HIV/AIDS too strong for there to be any more shows after Queen returned from a three-year hiatus with 1989′s "Miracle." One of the final flourishes from one of rock’s most gifted frontman, Mercury’s unfortunate, untimely demise in 1991 is unquestionably a factor in why Queen’s Live Aid set is now seen as the ultimate performance from that day, beating U2 into second place. But this would be the last time U2 would be runners-up to anyone. The release of "The Joshua Tree" would see the band capture the crown of Biggest Band in the World—a title it still holds tightly to this day.

When Robbie Williams came on stage to the tom-tom-snare of "We Will Rock You" at Live 8, he brought to mind Mercury, the great dame in white vest and black eyeliner, leading Queen, and the crowd, through that sublime set of hits and handclaps at Wembley. No one at Hyde Park attempted to recreate U2′s set from that day, not even the band itself. This time it played all the songs it was supposed to and Bono left the issue of crowd safety to the security men.

But U2 has probably again defined the event for many with its sparkling rendition of "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band" with Paul McCartney, a performance that both opened Live 8 and set world records as a download. The key, ambassadorial role in helping secure the increase in aid for Africa. Like 20 years earlier, the band’s role in proceedings will be remembered for what happened on and away from the stage.

Review: U2 at the Wachovia Center, Philadelphia, October 17, 2005*

October 26, 2005

By Kal Carpenter
2005.10

U2 fans are already calling this the show of the year, and I’d be hard-pressed to disagree. Obviously the bias factor comes in since it was the first show I’ve seen since right about this time four years ago during the historic shows at Madison Square Garden in post-9/11 New York. But if I can sit here now and type the following sentence after being a part of one of those shows, then the bias factor is quite insignificant.

It was the greatest performance I’ve ever witnessed by U2.

October 17th’s U2 show in Philly was one thing, a gift: a gift to Philadelphia, a gift to out-of-towners like myself, a gift to any Bruce fans in attendance and, most importantly, a gift to U2 itself. The band outdid the expectations of the fans who caught the previous night’s show and the fans who hadn’t seen them in years. I think Bono even surprised himself a few times with some of the high notes he hit. His voice never sounded so powerful. That was a gift in itself. Whether it’s God’s gift or one his father passed to him after his death, Bono has truly been blessed with one of the most powerful and enduring voices of his time.

There are no perfect words to describe the show Monday night. You could feel it the whole day as clouds gave way early to nothing but sunny blue skies on warm day for Philadelphia in October. U2 fever was in the air as my friend and I got in line early to get good and close and perhaps inside the ellipse—the coveted dream spot for most floor ticket holders. We weren’t so lucky, but still wound up about 10 feet outside the ellipse next to the railing on Edge’s side.

As U2 was about to take the stage, the house lights turned down to The Arcade Fire’s majestic "Wake Up." Then a lonely spotlight came down on Edge as he started playing what I thought was some kind of intro to "Vertigo." In my heart I wanted them to open with "City of Blinding Lights" as the opener of a U2 show is as important as any part to me, and to me that song makes for the best possible opener on the new album. Well my wish was granted as Edge then started into the familiar opening guitar chime of U2′s most joyous rave-up since "Where the Streets Have no Name." The LED strings came down with confetti raining on the crowd, which was now roaring, and on its feet, jumping up and down like children on the playground. As the piano started, I got chills, now screaming and jumping like a child myself, only to turn to my right and see Bono seemingly raising from under the arena somewhere, his arms spread out, looking up at the ceiling, screaming and soaking in the moment as much as the rest of us. I’ve always declared that no opener could ever give me bigger chills than "Elevation" and the "whoo, whoo-ing" as the band took the stage, but to me at that moment "City of Blinding Lights" may have become their greatest opener yet. Ever since I booked my tickets for Philly, I had a hunch, or at least hoped that Bono would say "City of Brotherly Love" in one of the main choruses. He did, twice, in fact. The crowd ate that up as Bono knows how to pump a crowd better than Hulk Hogan.

The band then broke into "Vertigo" and just when I thought the crowd couldn’t get any louder after an opening like that, I was proven wrong. "Unos, dos, tres, catorce" the crowd chanted with Bono, and the band truly rocked on this one. Bono struggled a little early it seemed, but by the end of the song as if to prove something to himself, he went above and beyond the call of duty, screaming his head off in a fury and intensity I haven’t heard since the ’80s. In fact after the song, he needed a water break as Edge broke into "Elevation." The crowd got a laugh when the spotlight fell on Bono in the middle of a water bottle search. I could be wrong, but it looked like he accidentally got handed a beer, took a swig, and opted for water instead. This version of the song was good, but didn’t quite recapture its 2001 form. But how could it really? Then Bono said, "We’d like to play a few songs we wrote when we were teenagers," and Edge slid into "The Electric Co." Then came "I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For" with Bono passing the lead vocal spot to the ready, willing and very able sold out house for a few verses. I read a recent review about a show in Washington D.C. and the author seemed to be annoyed by Bono’s apparent "dependence" on the audience for an occasional breather
on vocals. I must confess that the audience participation at a U2 show is something that myself, and I’m sure most others look, forward to just as much as hearing the band itself. You will never witness anything like it by anyone other than U2. The audience gets just as good a workout at U2 concert as the band does and we do it with pride. It is the least we can do for those four guys who work their ass off night in and night on out on their tour.

"Beautiful Day" was much of the same as you could almost feel the crowd lifting up the building, singing along to the swooping chorus. Then came a trio of newbies with "Miracle Drug" (with Bono giving a lengthy speech during the intro about Edge truly being from another planet as we all saw on "Late Night With Conan O’Brien"). "Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own," was very moving and followed by one of the night’s show-stealers, the ever-raucous "Love and Peace or Else." The band just flat out rocked the living hell out of this one with Bono banging on Larry’s lone drum until I thought his arms were going to fall off. The entire house was in an absolute frenzy now and they didn’t slow down rolling right into a passionate and relevant as ever "Sunday Bloody Sunday," followed by an almost scary version of "Bullet the Blue Sky." Just when the audience could take no more, the band slowed things down and Bono gave a very heartfelt rendition of "Miss Sarajevo" with Bono taking over Luciano Pavarotti’s duties on tenor. He really nailed it too, which impressed the hell out of me with all the wailing and screaming he had just put his voice through in just the first half of the show. The crowd showed their appreciation and respect for his performance with a thunderous applause. And the house exploded yet again as they went into "Pride (In the Name of Love)." The "oh-oh-oh-ohs" from the crowd seemed to last an eternity, which I know the band just ate up.

Then it came, the moment all U2 fans wait for with giddy anticipation at a U2 show. I like to think of it as the "penultimate climax" of the evening. And as the low organ began to shimmer throughout the building and Edge’s familiar chiming guitar came to life, I began screaming and jumping up and down, causing those around to follow suit. "Where the Streets Have no Name" on this night, took the audience to a place that no other song, band, or thing on this planet could take you. I’m not sure if it was Heaven, but it was someplace close. I think it takes the band to that same magical place, every night U2 plays it. It’s a journey we all take with the band. I’ve never seen a bigger smile on Adam’s face as Bono put his arm around the trusted bassist and friend as the song came to its ethereal conclusion. They then closed out the first set with a cell phone lit house set the tune of "One."

The break was quick as Bono and The Edge, carrying an acoustic guitar came right back out. The Edge started a familiar set of chords but I had to think a few seconds, until I realized they were playing my all-time favorite from "All That You Can’t Leave Behind,"—"Walk On." I knew this was special, which was confirmed when I later found out that it was apparently the first time they had played it since the Elevation Tour. Then came the new live favorite of the band, "Fast Cars." The Spanish-tinged guitar piece came as a pleasant surprise though for a b-side as the band and crowd was really into it.

Then came the big surprise of the night and perhaps of the entire tour. Bono inquired to the audience about a sign he had seen earlier (in my direction) asking for "People Get Ready." He confessed the band would oblige, but only after they found a guitar player. As Bono was looking for any takers, out strolled none other than New Jersey’s favorite son himself from the backstage area—The Boss. Bono played dumb at first pointing at him asking the crowd a few times "who’s this guy?" to which the entire sold-out house gladly replied in that low, almost degrading tone, "Bruuuuuce." My eyesight isn’t what it used to be, and I turned to my friend and said, "Who are they booing?" to which he replied "The Boss!" I couldn’t believe it! I was in utter disbelief. Next to U2, there was only one other artist that I had never seen that I pledged I absolutely had to see before I die, and that was Bruce Springsteen. And there he was, with the other I had pledged to see before I die. All under the same roof, on the very same stage. They playfully jammed for about 10 minutes, with Bono even coercing Bruce’s darling wife Patti Scialfa out on stage to join in the festivities. The crowd reached a fever pitch at this juncture. I was ready to ask my friend to pinch me really hard, or better yet, punch me in the face as hard as he could to determine if it all was really happening. But every time I began to wonder if this was real, I could feel the gigantic smile on my face, one so big that I doubt I would have recognized myself if someone had put a mirror in front of me.

The second encore quickly ensued as the band went back to "The Joshua Tree" with "With or Without You." I prayed the band had just a little bit more, and it didn’t let us down, as it came back out for thirds, going full boar into the bands new biggest rocker "All Because of You." And then the night finally came to a poignant and peaceful close with an extended rendition of old favorite "40." And as is tradition, then band began their final exits as the song wound down. First Bono, then Adam, then Edge and, finally Larry. He stepped out in front of his drum set, and with a short humble wave to the audience that had humbled him, he walked off. It was over. For U2 anyway.

But not for us. No, the thousands of people who had just acknowledged the hardest working and greatest band in the world with a moving standing ovation, stayed. We weren’t quite finished. We had a little more work to do. And so not a living soul moved, as we kept the moment alive and continued to serenade each other, the band, our loved ones, our forgotten ones, our memories, our demons, our mothers, our fathers, our brothers, our sisters, our sons, our daughters, our friends, our hopes, our fears and our dreams. "How long … to sing this song?" we sang over and over until our voices had almost nothing left to give.

As I said earlier, there are no perfect words. No perfect words to describe that Monday night in Philadelphia, the "City of Brotherly Love." For three hours the arena in Philly became the "City of Blinding Lights" and, as Bono put it during an ad-lib of "People Get Ready," one that would even make New York shed a tear. But where it happened isn’t point I’m trying to make. That band and that crowd of people, whether it was in that arena or my quaint home on the farm, that night became "The City of Blinding Lights."

The Story of U2’s ‘October’*

October 24, 2005


By Teresa Rivas
2005.10

"It’s best to do it under stress. Maybe I have a few lines in my mind, or words or images. I play around with them, fill up a track, move on, fill up another track. Then I go back with [Steve] Lillywhite, and maybe Larry or Adam, and see a train of thought."
—Bono in a July 1983
Trouser Press interview about the frantic scramble to rewrite the lyrics to "October" after they were stolen from a show in Portland, Oregon.

Why have we neglected "October"? No matter if you love or hate U2′s sophomore album, you must admit there’s a dearth of attention to this very Christian, very frantic record.

Well, of course, time is the great equalizer; it heals all wounds, buries all feuds and even pulls the brightest stars toward obscurity. So one would expect that "October" wouldn’t be as talked about as some of U2′s newer albums, there are a number of strikes against it—it’s old news; the band wasn’t as famous as it is today so there is simply less record of the time to look back on; the U2 of the ’80s isn’t the U2 some fans love today, it wasn’t as focused or as mature; the album’s too overtly Christian for some tastes.

Perhaps it’s useless to speculate but "October" still seems to be one of U2′s most obscure records. Everyone’s buzzing about "Boy" these days because of the throwbacks the recent Vertigo Tour has done. "War," it may be argued, is one of a trinity of pillars supporting the U2 canon, along with "The Joshua Tree" and "Achtung Baby," a popular success also held in critical acclaim. “The Unforgettable Fire” may seem neglected as well until you consider that "Pride (In the Name of Love)" comes from this album, a quintessential song that even the uninitiated would have trouble overlooking, as well as "Bad" and the title track. The next album, of course, rocketed the band to superstardom, and no album that followed could escape the glare of the spotlight (with the possible exception of the quasi-soundtrack without a movie, "Passengers").

"October" has no place on the Best of compilations aside from a hidden track at the end of the first collection. Some may argue that the relative insignificance is justified—the album just didn’t survive on the heels of such confluent events like the heady tours on two continents, Bono’s hurriedly rewritten lyrics, and the majority of the band’s escalated ties to Christianity. Yet, love it or hate it, there is no denying that if there were no “October,” there would be no U2 as they are today. Even if it appears that this album played a small part in the band’s evolution, it still provided success in the United Kingdom, proving U2 wasn’t a one-hit wonder. It gave the band breathing room between the intensity of its first and third albums (even if the actual production of the album was no autumnal stroll) and propelled the band members toward the moods and ideas that would make them into the U2 of legend. And it has a story to tell.

It was 24 years ago, when Pope John Paul II was wounded in a failed assassination attempt, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamist extremists, and AIDS was first identified. Salman Rushdie published "Midnight’s Children", IBM debuted its first personal computer and MTV came to the airwaves with an all music video format—"Video Killed the Radio Star" was its first. In the United States, Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president and in July nominated Sandra Day O’Connor, from Arizona, to be the first woman on the Supreme Court. And U2 was touring America.

It was in March 1981 that things, so to speak, fell apart. After a Portland show, three women talked with the band backstage and walked off with Bono’s briefcase containing $300 and all the lyrics he had written for their second album, slated to be recorded in three months, according to U2.com.

That may have brought things to a head, but it was not all the band had to worry about. “Boy” was voted Best Album, Best Debut Album and Best Album Sleeve in the Hot Press Irish National Poll Results. It peaked at No. 52 on the UK album charts and No. 63 on the US charts, according to U2.com. But the tours on two continents took a lot out of the band—it was in no shape to try scramble around trying to put together an album with all that preparation lost on top of the pressure of ensuring that "Boy" was not just a blip on the radar screen. In addition, bassist Adam Clayton felt isolated from the group as his friends as Bono, Edge and Larry Mullen, Jr. grew more attune to their religious beliefs. Deeply committed to the Shalom Christianity group, the three rose early every morning for prayer and seriously considered forgoing a musical career if they could not reconcile it with a Godly lifestyle. Members of Shalom were living in Portrane, near Dublin’s north beach. Bono would be baptized in the sea there and they were living in a caravan in a field with others who also prayed, fasted, and put pressure on them to leave the band. U2 almost met its end along that rocky coastline, when Edge told Bono he was going to leave the band, and Bono agreed he would be willing to go too. After two weeks, Edge decided he could be both a Christian and U2′s guitarist and the band stayed together, but there is a sense of that uneasiness in the record, according to Niall Stokes in his "Into the Heart: The Stories Behind Every U2 Song."

The first song on the album, "Gloria," is a testament to the band members’ faith and sets the tone, which will also betray the confusion in the band at this tumultuous juncture. "On ‘October’ I became more aware of the third part of myself—the spiritual nature—and I could have chosen to lock it away, and some would have preferred it that way, but I allowed it out," Bono said in a 1984 interview published in U2 Magazine. "’Gloria’ is about trying to express such things, an insight into the moment when a song is written. A lot of our contemporaries were just throwing a lot of dark images together and pretending it was deep. But there was no real door open to the inside, to what was really happening."

"’October’ was a struggle from beginning to end," The Edge said in 1992 Musician interview by Bill Flanagan. "It was an incredible hard record for us to make because we had major problems with time. And I had been through this thing of not really knowing if I should be in the band or not. It was really difficult to pull all the things together and still maintain the focus to actually finish a record in the time that we had. You could hear the desperation and confusion in some of the lyrics. ‘Gloria’ is really a lyric about not being able to express what’s going on, not being able to put it down, not knowing where we are. Having thrown ourselves into this thing we were trying to make some sense of it. ‘Why are we in this?’ It was a very difficult time."

And of course, the eternal question persists—who’s he talking about? About God, a girl or both? As usual, interpret how you please, you’ll find evidence to back it up either way, especially with all the Latin translations.

"I Fall Down" is a song that Stokes submits only makes sense in retrospect. He relates a story in "Into the Heart" that during the “October” tour, U2 were playing the Ritz in New York when a girl got on stage and, as Bono has always taken to dancing with the audience during songs, did so with her. She introduced herself as Julie and began dating one of their road crew. Bono doesn’t go as far as saying that he wrote the song for Julie before he knew her, but perhaps it’s a good case of life imitating art.

"I Threw a Brick Through a Window" doesn’t mention anything about a brick, or of the target other than a reflective surface, but you do get the sense of fury and frustration that became so definitive during the outrage of "War." It is in a sense a window into the hostile confusion of the times, of living in a violent Ireland at a time when anger was fought with hatred. While some of Adam and Larry’s work on “October” and arguably on this song would have been more comfortably situated on “Boy,” the direction of production and the themes are part of the darkness in this album. Being Christians doesn’t preclude anger or questioning at the ugliness in the world.

"In ‘Rejoice’ I said, ‘I can’t change the world, but I can change a world in me,’ Bono said in a February 1982 U2 Magazine interview. "Music can possibly direct you and change you as a person. I think the ultimate revolution is the one that goes on in a man. I’m not saying, ‘join the revolution, be like us’… where you go is your decision." Bono has recalled that there was a kind of religious fervor at Mount Temple Comprehensive School during 1976 that resurfaced around the time of “October”—things starting to coalesce, including their involvement with the Shalom Christians. However, as the Edge can clearly be heard in both "Rejoice" and other songs on the album, like "I Threw a Brick Through a Window," there was a struggle lyrically for expression, a floundering that was often saved by his ever-more distinctly played guitar, according to "Into the Heart."

In July 1981 "Fire" gave U2 its first British chart single, according to a 1987 Island Records bio of the band, and helped the group go back to the studio with some hope. "As I recall, ‘Fire’ was our attempt at a single. God knows where our heads were at," Bono said in "Into the Heart." "There was something good about it—I just can’t remember what it was." Bono jokingly accredits the problems with the song to the fact that the band was recording in Nassau, in the Bahamas, and it isn’t hard to figure out why such great bands make such bad records there—because who would want to work in paradise? At least they got the thrill of a single out of it—and even Bono might suppose there is something to a cheap thrill.

"Lots of people want us to be mouthpieces for different things." Bono told John Neilson from Creem in April 1982. "But I figure I can only be a mouthpiece for myself. It is saddening, though, the things that are going on in my country. Fifteen miles from where I walk the dog is craziness and murder being committed in the name of God—in the name of lots of issues. It’s bad—very, very bad. It makes no sense to me. ‘Tomorrow’ was an attempt to look at that situation or a certain situation around that." Yet, home is home, something that no one can escape, no matter how bleak the situation. That duality is another problem to grapple with when you’re young and touring around the world—what you have left behind will always be calling you back, but repulsing you with its hatred. "We were all affected by traveling and being away from home, which was a recurrent theme on ‘October,’" Bono said in a March 1982 Trouser Press interview. "Like ‘Tomorrow’—I never thought much about home until I was away from it."

The eponymous track "October" is much like a microcosm for the album, its simple, stripped-down nature feels like the empty woods at the end of fall, and Edge’s piano is one of his simplest and finest early melodies, a perfect match for the song, it’s hard to believe he hadn’t tinkered with it in years. Bono summed it up when he told Stokes, "October…it’s an image. We’ve been through the ’60s, a time when things were in full bloom. We had fridges and cars, we sent people to the Moon and everybody thought how great mankind was. And now, as we go through the 70s and 80s, it’s a colder time of the year. It’s after the harvest. You can see things and we finally realize that maybe we weren’t so smart after all, now that there’s millions of unemployed people, now that we’ve used the technology we’ve been blessed with to build bombs for war machines, to build rockets, whatever. So ‘October’ is an ominous word, but it’s also quite lyrical."

That uneasy truce with religion comes up again in "With a Shout." It may be said that after an inside, disillusioning look at the music business during its tour, it would be easier to part ways—the undeniable religious tones in the entire album are in the spirit of that rebellion.

Yet, no matter how bleak or trying life in Ireland may be there were still reminders of what life was like other places. Bono related the story of a young border patrolman whom the band met on the road, who became a part of "Stranger in a Strange Land," to Stokes. "We were going to Berlin, we were all in the back of a van in our sleeping bags and we had to travel through the corridor between East Germany and West Berlin. And we were stopped by this border guard. The song was just a little portrait of him. He was our own age, with short hair, in a uniform and his life was pretty grim and he was seeing these guys in a rock ‘n’ roll band passing through. I had a feeling that he realized how much we had in common, and yet it was all over so quickly."

"Scarlet" was another title the band had considered for "October." Perhaps it was just a piece that Bono didn’t write (or rewrite) lyrics to, but despite its minimalist appearance, it is a quiet moment that allows you again to hear Edge’s burgeoning piano work and Adam’s bass.

"Bono points to ‘Is That All?’ on ‘October’ as outlining his approach," reported U2 Magazine in May 1982. "That’s the point I’m trying to make—is that all? I can sing you a song to make you happy, I can sing you a song to make you angry—but is that all? I think music can be more than that, it can be more than the sum of its parts.’"

And on that revealing if hurried thought, "October" ends and U2 is set to launch onto a world stage that will embrace them for another two decades. The band came through this crucible with heart and passion, for what it’s worth.

Review: U2 at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, October 16, 2005*

October 22, 2005

By Teresa Rivas
2005.10

Just like everyone who is reading this review, I love U2. I love the band enough to take time off work, wake up before the sun rises, stand in line for countless hours for a chance to be smashed against a railing, denied beverages, seating and the chance to use the bathroom for five hours, just to be able to say that all four members of the band passed within a few feet of me.

But I won’t do it again.

It had nothing to do with the actual concert itself, which was absolutely incredible. But honestly, let’s not kid ourselves, the waiting is part of the concert experience, and no review should exclude it.

My decision to abandon GA began even before I set foot (and lawn chair and blanket) in line on Sunday. I was in New York on Saturday and regretted having to cut my trip short because I knew I would have to get up at 6 a.m. the next morning. I arrived around 7:30 to find that I was already behind 100 other people (several of whom had brought their own tents). At that point I must say I lost hope and wondered dejectedly why I had even bothered now that I had no chance to get along the rail.

This reality was compounded by the aggravating fact that at the time that they split the lines (around 8:30), and for a good three hours afterward, the U2.com members line was quadruple the length of the nonmembers’ line. The staff told us that the nonmembers would not walk through as direct a route as the members’ line to the arena floor, but this seemed little comfort when people who arrived hours later than I did got a number less than half mine (and saved $40). One woman who was 125 in the members’ line switched over to the nonmembers’ line and got the number 32.

My feelings against GA were cemented when, after waiting around the back entrance for several hours hoping to catch a glimpse of the band’s arrival, the grouchy security woman’s predictions proved true—the band was still in New York and would not arrive until at least 5:30 (a time when the staff would have already herded us into bunchy quasi-lines) and did not plan to stop. This bothered me because through both legs of Vertigo Tour the band had not yet taken the time to stop for fans waiting outside for it to arrive in Philadelphia and this time we wouldn’t even be treated to a wave. I was also concerned that the show would not have many new surprises since the band wouldn’t have time for a sound check and would probably just go with its standby set list. I sadly trotted back to my lawn chair.

Although the staff did not open the doors on time at 6, they made us abandon our chairs, blankets, coats, food, etc. around a quarter to 5. For those of you who don’t know, the Wachovia Center stands in the middle of a barren, windswept plane, surrounded by acres of parking and skirted by Interstate 95, not unlike the surface to the moon, so with the waning sun and increasing wind, we were made to stand in loose formation, freezing, for almost an hour-and-a-half. Of course even though we have to go through the entrance one-by-one, the lines are always loose clumps where numbers can be only vaguely adhered to (a frightening prospect when one or two people can cost you a rail spot) and then further confused by the truncated stampede to yet a tighter clump at the door and subsequent bottlenecks at the entrance. It would make so much more sense to put us in real lines by number, I thought as my limbs went numb.

Once we were inside, I admit I didn’t pay any attention or enthusiasm to Damian Marley. At that point, the act was just another impediment to seeing U2. I’m really not sure what the rationale was for choosing Marley as an opening act—a misguided attempt to appear hip on U2′s part? Marley’s talented, but I don’t think it benefits either set of fans. Marley’s surely don’t want to pay the price of a U2 ticket—especially since the announcement came so late they would be subject to the exorbitant amount of eBay’s sellers.

But finally the moment came when the Arcade Fire’s “Wake Up” filled the room. The music dimmed and as confetti rained down on the screaming crowd, the band appeared belting out "City of Blinding Lights." In that moment, despite all my discomfort and questioning throughout the day, everything was worth it. U2 is a panacea and, as The Edge’s guitar rang out those crisp notes, I wouldn’t have traded my spot for anything in the world. Because I was standing on Adam Clayton’s side of the stage, each band member passed by me on the catwalk at least once so I couldn’t have been happier.

The opening to the show was very powerful. "City of Blinding Lights," was followed by "Vertigo," "Elevation" and "Electric Co." It was such a great way to start the concert because everyone was so excited that the show had finally arrived that the crowd was bursting. It was a great mood to set. The last time that U2 was in Philly, on May 22, Bono had a cold, so I was happy for all the extra energy that filled the room. There were times when his voice sounded a bit strained, but when he needed to hold a strong note, like in "Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own" or "Miss Sarajevo," he sang beautifully and with a force I hadn’t heard during the first leg.

So I was a little sad that things quieted down with "The Ocean," but I guess it gives the feet a rest. Things began to pick up a bit with "I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For" that was reminiscent of the earthy "Rattle and Hum" version.

Things picked up quickly with "Beautiful Day" which at the end segued into The Beatles’ "You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away," followed with "Miracle Drug," "Sometimes" and "Love and Peace or Else." The energy carried over to "Sunday Bloody Sunday,” and into an exceptional version of "Bullet the Blue Sky,” in which a blindfolded Bono had a little boy guide him to the tip of the ellipse allowing The Edge to perform his full guitar solo, which I had missed on this tour, and a little time to improvise. Bono’s work doing the Pavarotti vocals in "Miss Sarajevo" that followed was equally impressive and the first part of the show closed out with "Pride," "Where the Streets Have no Name" and "One."

The first encore opened with "The First Time," perhaps a slow beginning but since it is one of U2′s sweetest songs and hardly ever done live, I was happy as Bono promenaded past me crooning. "Stuck in a Moment" was next, followed by "Fast Cars," one of my favorite performances of the evening, again probably because it’s so rare and one of my favorite "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" tracks. The banded wandered off stage again to "With or Without You,” but the crowd, of course knowing better, kept up until U2 returned to do "All Because of You," "Yahweh" and close with "40."

There is nothing quite like U2 withdraw. As we shuffled out of the building, of course I was ecstatic and overwhelmed at the show, but there is always the tinge of sadness that it is really over. The next morning when I woke up the humming ring was gone from my ears and, confronted with such silence, I could have wept. I sympathize with my fellow fans down under who have yet to see the band, but I do hope that a new album is quickly forthcoming so the cycle may begin again.

The verdict: Well, once the show started, naturally, it was two and a half hours of the sublime, in Kantian proportions. But, honestly, I think I’m just going to try to get some good seats next time around. Being awake, up and exposed to the cold for so long just left me exhausted when I should have been bursting; dread should in no way mar the experience of U2, but I was despairing about the loss of an entire day weeks before the 16th. I know there are people who enjoy the marathon vigil but I am not one of them and, sadly, cannot share in their experience. Why can’t we all just agree to arrive later or get numbers at another time and not be tied to the stadium? Why can’t ellipse entries be based on number and not chance so that people who arrive during the opening act don’t waltz past people who slept there the night before?

Philadelphia was fabulous on the 16th, a show with all the U2 magic and I hope everyone enjoyed it as much as I did. To those of you who rock the GA line, we salute you.

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