Well I warned you that U2 would be popping up here from time to time. As the two month countdown to their show in Denver (my 25th U2 show) begins, I felt like reflecting on my first U2 show and the weird turn of events that resulted in my meeting Bono earlier that same day whilst I was pantsless.
Growing up, I became aware of U2 via the incredible video for Sunday Bloody Sunday that was shot live during their now legendary concert at Red Rocks. I believe it was around the time that Joshua Tree came out though, not when War, the album the song is on, came out. I say that because my hometown didn't get cable TV until I was almost a teenager so I would not have seen them on MTV until around 1987 when Joshua Tree came out.
I remember very clearly sitting watching that video mesmerized. I had never seen such passion in anyone in my life. It didn't fully register then but it stayed with me in the back of my mind. Years later I remembered it when my friend Cheryl undertook my U2 conversion.
It was the summer of 1996. I had just completed my junior year of college and Cheryl had just graduated. I was at home wasting away with panoramic views of corn fields and the drone of cicadas my only entertainment. Cheryl was spending the summer in Champaign where we both went to school. I wanted to spend some time with her before she moved to Chicago and I wanted something, anything, to do. So off I went to spend the weekend with her. There would be drinking and dancing and general summer fun! Not so much. Somehow, we ended up staying in, playing U2 albums and talking nearly all night about U2, of whom she was already a longtime fan. I was blown away by the poetry of the lyrics from album to album, the spirituality that made me feel for once in my life like I wasn't alone with the questions I had. It was a deep conversation, the kind you have in college about life and God and all the really big things.
Not long after that evening, the album Pop came out. I immediately bought it and fell in love with it. Little did I know that U2 purists hated it and had no idea what to make of it. (I still maintain that it is one of their best, most meaningful albums.) After Pop, I started buying their back catalogue as well as any book about them that I could get my hands on. Over the course of that school year, I developed a full scale obssession. Luckily for me, they embarked on a world tour that would bring them to Chicago in the summer of 1997. My roommate and I got tickets in the nosebleed section of Soldier Field and prepared for our trip.
I was so obssessed at this point that I was wishing on stars (seriously) that I would meet the band and looking for omens in everything. When we pulled out of the parking garage headed to Chicago and almost hit a bird Dahlia, my roommate, convinced me that it was a Persian omen of good luck (What can I say? I was grasping at straws! or was I?)
My best friend Brad was also going to Chicago that weekend so we agreed to meet up with him and share a hotel room. U2 was doing 3 shows in Chicago and Cheryl was going to the show the night before Dahlia and I. We agreed to meet up the day of my show to catch up and chat.
When we arrived in Chicago we first went to meet Dahlia's mom for shopping at Bloomingdales. We were enjoying it but, at the same time, itching to get away and try to find out where the band was staying so we could stalk them. We ended up on a wild goose chase out to a hotel near O'Hare airport. Oh how naive I was back then. I now know that they were staying across the street from Bloomingdales! Grr.
The morning of show day I was antsy and couldn't sleep despite being out late the night before. I was up early before Brad and Dahlia. I switched on MTV for something to do and what comes on? Where the Streets Have No Name...you guessed it...Omen! That was it! I couldn't stand it anymore. Didn't my friends realize that U2 was out there somewhere in the city and we were wasting time laying around in the hotel? Like a kid at Christmas, I harrassed Brad and Dahlia until they got up and we agreed to hit the beach. Probably not much chance of seeing Bono, Adam, Edge and Larry hangin' at the beach but it was better than sitting in the hotel. I called Cheryl and she said she would meet us at the entrance to Navy Pier.
We got settled at the beach, leaving Brad to bake himself in the sun. At the appointed time, I donned a T-shirt over my bathing suit and Dahlia a pair of shorts with her bikini top and we ventured forth to meet Cheryl at the nearby Pier. I suppose it should have occured to me that Navy Pier was not an appropriate place to walk around seemingly pantsless but it didn't.
We waited and waited but Cheryl didn't show. We thought maybe she had misunderstood and had gone to the beach instead. So, we headed back towards the beach all the while talking about U2. I was telling Dahlia that I wanted to meet them so badly that I kept looking at random strangers we passed thinking they were members of the band. She jokingly pointed to a guy on a bike and said, "Yeah, like that guy on that bike over there is Bono." I looked, out of reflex, only to realize that it was, in fact, Bono riding a bike!! I was speechless. All I could do was stand there mouth agape slapping Dahlia on the shoulder as I waited for my mouth to catch up with my brain. Finally, I was able to spit it out. She turned to look at me in disbelief and asked me what we should do? Follow him!! So we did! Trying to nonchalantly speed walk after a rock star on a bike is not easy. The nonchalant part is especially difficult when you finally realize that you are in a very public place and very without pants.
As he was on his bike and we were walking, he was quickly getting away from us. So, we decided to cut across the middle of the pier and "head him off at the pass" as he came around the other side. It was hot out, I was out of breath and sunburned, slathered in greasy sunscreen and pantsless but as I stood there gasping, he rode by. Realizing we'd recognized him,he smiled and said "Hey." We freaked...quietly. As sanity returned, we knew we had to run back to the beach for a camera. You might think I also took a moment to put my shorts on at this point...you would be wrong. And let me add that I was wearing a really old bathing suit that had very little elastic left so it kept riding up my butt.
As we were coming back to secretly photograph Bono sitting outside at a cafe, we ran into Cheryl who was also very excited. I assumed her excitement was because she too had spotted him. I asked her if she had seen "him". She said no without asking me who "him" was then quickly explained she had gotten us 3rd row tickets to the show that night! That in and of itself was mind-blowing so there was much screaming and jumping up and down. Then it finally occured to Cheryl to ask me who "him" was. I told her Bono was sitting about 100 feet behind her and like Road Runner in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, she was off like a shot.
I have no excuse for what I did next other than I was dying and convinced that I NEEDED a lemonade to survive. I thought Cheryl would wait but she didn't (and in my right mind I wouldn't have either). By the time I procured the life-saving lemonade and Dahlia and I got to his table, he was politely ending his conversation with Cheryl. In hindsight, I suppose it was all for the best though. The moment I was standing there so close to him, I felt like if I opened my mouth a scalding torrent of vomit would rise up and spew forth upon him and his table. He makes me that nervous. So, I suppose everyone involved was better off that I didn't try to talk to him. Still, I have been kicking my own ass for years. Lemonade?! Really?!
We headed back to the hotel soon after to get ready for the that night's show but not before driving by his table and taking pictures from the car like stalkerazzi (with a circa 1997 35mm film camera made of plastic and purchased at K-Mart no less). Funniest thing is, after we returned to Champaign and I had the pictures developed, I discovered one of him sitting there as a guy in a U2 T-shirt walks right by having no idea he just walked past Bono.
People have asked me over the years why I didn't go back and ask for a picture with him. Honestly, when I admire someone as much as I do Bono I care about them as much as you can care about someone you don't really know. I understand that for them to have a moment of anonymity like that is a very rare thing. I never want to be the person who ruins that for them just so I can get something for my own selfish reasons. It's much more important to me that they have that peaceful moment than it is for me to have a picture that every time I look at it will make me wonder if they were resenting me for bothering them. Believe it or not, we were the only ones during the time that we were there, who recognized him. But I digress.
There were so many great things about that evening. One of my favorites, which I'll never forget, was walking into Soldier Field to our seats. This was in 1997 before Soldier Field was desecrated by that hideous spaceship-looking renovation and before U2 did General Admission for floor seats. It wasn't long until show time and the majority of people were already in their seats on the floor and in the stadium. It wasn't like today when those of us closest to the stage are the first ones in the stadium and we spend hours watching as it slowly fills. We walked onto the floor at the opposite end of the field from the stage and we just kept walking. Past rows and rows of chairs and people we walked. Ushers would stop us about every 50 feet, check our tickets and tell us to keep going like we were VIPS or something. It was AWESOME! I remember looking up and all around me as we got closer and closer to the enormous stage and being awed by the size of the stadium from the vantage point of the field. Finally, there we were, 3rd row! Of course, that didn't last long. We quickly picked a spot right on the rail and acted like we belonged there praying we wouldn't get tossed by security. I stood there in disbelief that I was going to be that close to the band and all that had happened that day. Standing there on the field waiting, the sun began to set and it was a truly beautiful sight to behold as it came shining through the old columns of that classic building. The weather was warm but there was a cool breeze coming in off the lake and it was one of those perfect moments you know you'll never forget.
Of the show, I could say a lot but what it boils down to is that it was a religious experience. People may think that sounds hokey but until you've been to a U2 show, you won't understand. There's a reason that their live shows are legendary. Unlike any other band in the world, U2 can take 60,000-70,000 people or more and make them feel a kind of harmony with each other that I don't think any of us has ever felt before. Every person there feels the immense size of the event and yet also feels like they are having a personal moment with the band that no one else is having. And no matter what your religious beliefs, you will feel a spirit moving through the crowd that defies any other explanation. (Google "U2 concert religious experience" and see how many hits you get.) It's truly a magical thing to experience.
Since that night, I have seen U2 23 more times in 10 cities, 10 states and 2 countries. I have waited in line at certain shows for up to 36 hours for that coveted spot on the rail all for what may only be a moment of eye contact with Bono. But that one moment is worth everything it took to get there. I've made friends waiting in U2 lines, some who have been in my life now for 13 years. I have journeyed to Dublin and Death Valley on pilgrimages that every die-hard fan must undertake. I have touched the Joshua Tree from the album cover and, yes, even cried when they played a song live that I never thought I would hear in person. I've had the chance to meet all of them now. I finally got that close to Bono again. I still didn't say much but at least I didn't barf on him and now I can stop kicking my own ass. U2, the men and their music, mean more to me than I can explain. I can't wait to hit the road in June to see them again before this latest tour ends. It'll be a long 4-5 years waiting for them to come back and if they would decide not to...I have great memories that will last a lifetime. Also, I can always stalk Bono at his home in the south of France.
Pictures from that first show:
Jerry, U2's personal security, who I have been in love with since I took this picture. He leaned forward during the show to whisper (Yell is more accurate I suppose but whisper is so much more intimate) in my ear that I had my finger over the camera lens.
If he hadn't, I would have missed this shot which Bono actually stopped and posed for
The famous Popmart lemon
The stage after the show
Dahlia, Me and Cheryl after the show