Almost two months ago I went to my first U2 show ever. In my review of four dudes in their 50s keeping my eyes as wide as a five-year-old who just got a puppy for two hours, I said something kind of important that I never really elaborated on much: I realized that U2 has been with me throughout my life more than I knew.
When this song popped up on shuffle it reminded me of the thoughts that went through my head while they played this song live, easily one of the greatest and most dramatic songs in their catalogue. I’ve never been a humungous U2 fan. They’re like the chicken of bands in my life. It’s not my favourite food, but I like it and eat it a lot. And there are some U2 songs, like this one, “Pride,” and “Bullet the Blue Sky” that I absolutely love. Most importantly, though, they’ve been around so long that it seems like they’ve provided a soundtrack to my life without my even knowing it.
For my awareness of the band, it starts with “Pride.” Like I said in the show review, it takes me back to Grade 6 and being an awkward, introverted, yet sporty kid.
Then came this song and the other singles from The Joshua Tree. I’m transported to the beginning of Grade 9. Scrawny, lanky Kev, just starting high school in his black cardigan, maroon tie and charcoal pants: the uniform of St. Elizabeth Catholic High School. Obviously, the band exploded with that album – and rightfully so, it’s a classic.
It was the first time in my life that I’d had a locker at school, which was probably the case for everyone at St. E. It was a brand new school, so we only had Grade 9’s that year – no bigger kids to taunt and haze us. The whole experience was a first for all of us. The school wasn’t even 100% finished when we started. Disturbingly, one day I saw a rat run from the area of the cafeteria and into the unfinished gym. Needless to say, I brought my own lunch every day.
But back to the lockers. I put pictures of Bon Jovi and Poison up in mine, along with some magazine cutouts of random cool guitars. But it seemed like everyone else, particularly the girls, had plastered their lockers with sepia-toned shots of Bono and The Edge. Truly, they had caught hold of a generation with that album. And I wondered what I was missing. I liked it, but it wasn’t touching my soul in quite the same way that it was everyone else’s. This song and “Bullet” took a while longer to really dig into me.
Although I never bought it, and still haven’t, it seemed like Achtung Baby was the soundtrack of my final year of high school. The band milked that one for five hit singles, so it stretched out pretty nicely over the whole school year. It was the first time I remember feeling something like jealousy when overhearing people talking about going to a U2 concert. That would’ve been the Zoo TV tour, the one that truly flipped the switch on what a rock concert could be. Who knew it would take over 20 years and a random invitation before I actually got to experience one?
But, yeah, my final year of high school. While U2 flipped a switch on the concert experience, a switch flipped on my social experience of high school during this time. After four years (high school was five years for university-bound kids back then) of feeling invisible, suddenly I felt kind of included. I don’t know if it was me feeling looser or other kids just being less cliquey, or a combination of both. But something changed. I’d hang out with other humans in the “OAC Lounge,” where “Mysterious Ways” or “One” could very well have been playing, and would actually be invited to play the Italian card game briscola, which I actually became kind of good at. But I suspect I’ll write more about this transformational time in a later post.
U2 was pretty quiet during my university years, which gave me a chance to immerse myself in the grungy side of things, along with a lot of music history (blues, R&B, funk, soul, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Beach Boys, Beatles, etc.). But they celebrated my final few months when they released the album Pop and the song “Discothèque.” Edge’s celebratory marriage of dancey disco and righteous rock into one revolving riff brought a little relief to an otherwise stressful time, as I read, wrote and studied furiously to finish up my academic career.
U2’s 2000’s output has been a little less sticky for me, but I remember “Beautiful Day” being around during a tough time. Maybe that’s why the relentless positivity of the chorus didn’t resonate with me at the time, although it’s grown on me over the years. And if I’d really listened to the lyrics, maybe it would’ve worked its magic on me.
I also remember “Vertigo” shaking its way into the world during the early days of my marriage, but not with any real emotional resonance. A great Jimmy Eat World song did a better job at that.
But it was in the 2000s that “Where the Streets Have No Name” came back into my life and really solidified itself as a stirring anthem. And it was the Toronto Blue Jays that did it for me. I’m going to guess it was around 2008-2010 when they started playing that extended, delay-drenched guitar intro at games as they headed into the late innings, as a way to rouse the fans, especially in close games. And, wow, did it work on me. In that setting, a sprawling stadium with thousands of people ready to cheer the Jays to a win, it gave me chills every time.
I’d always looked forward to this song doing the same if I ever saw them play live. And when I finally experienced it, it didn’t disappoint.