So there was a time, not long ago by geological reckoning, that I was a U2 fan. Growing up during the pre-Internet late 70s/early 80s in a town where the only place to buy music was a Camelot Music in the mall limited your options somewhat. Nevertheless, the Edge's loud, ringing guitar on songs like "I Will Follow" (from Boy) and "Two Hearts Beat As One" (War) sought me out, appealing to that part of my adolescent male brain that liked loud, ringing guitars, and the lyrics on songs like "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Like A Song" were political enough to make you feel edgy without requiring the commitment of going full-bore into punk.
I snapped up Boy and War at roughly the same time (it took longer to warm up to October), as U2 took up regular rotation duties alongside Queen and Rush. And there they stayed, occasionally making way for other bands but still getting regular spins until we parted ways around 1993. As a result, I have a lot of memories of Bono and the boys, some pleasant, some...not so much. Here are a few.
Live at Red Rocks: Under a Blood Red Sky (1984)
Just to be clear; I wasn't actually there. My parents were pretty liberal, but even they might have had a problem letting a 14-year-old go to Colorado to see a concert. Having said that, I don't think I've met a human being born before 1978 who hasn't seen the "Sunday Bloody Sunday" video. My favorite part is where Bono urges the crowd to let the white flag fly, and then somebody at stage right grabs his ass.
No, I remember this because my freshman English teacher, a six-foot tall brunette named Ms. Keene with legs for miles and a finely honed sense of sarcasm, let us watch most of the VHS tape in class as a reward for... something. However, I'm pretty sure she switched it off momentarily when Bono doffed his shirt during "Two Hearts Beat As One."
"With or Without You," aka The Sappy Romance Stage
Sigh. The Joshua Tree served as the soundtrack for my first big "relationship." "J" and I dated for about 18 months, all told, from midway through my senior year to almost the end of my freshman year at UT (while she was still in high school, a setback from which my rep has never recovered). How we lasted that long is still a mystery, considering the distractions available to the new college student... and that she was (allegedly) cheating on me. Nevertheless, her affections seemed sincere, as this page from my yearbook, complete with full "WOWY" lyrics, can attest.
An actual page from Pete Vonder Haar's yearbook. Be gentle.
The Joshua Tree Tour, November 22, 1987, Frank Erwin Center, Austin
J and I were still dating, and this Sunday-night show at the Erwin Center capped off a nice Thanksgiving weekend in which we'd also seen R.E.M. perform the previous Friday. We went with my roommate and his girlfriend and enjoyed our behind-the-stage seats, which we'd waited in line at H.E.B. for several hours to get.
It wasn't that big a deal, since they played a good third of the show to our section, and they sang "Bad," which I'd never heard live, having been frozen out of seeing the Unforgettable Fire tour three years earlier. Afterwards, we hustled back to our dorm to get some quality make-out time in before she had to catch a ride home. With her parents.
Rattle and Hum and the Decline of Fandom
The warning signs had been apparent for years. Bono was given to bombast even on his best days, while the band's heightened political profile was starting to turn off some of their fans. I was never really bothered by any of that, but the Spinal Tap levels of delusion combined with the colossal self-importance on display in R&H were enough to sour me on the group for a good while.
This, of course, after seeing the movie opening night with several friends. And putting "Van Diemen's Land" and "Heartland" on repeat for three months.
Zoo TV Outside Broadcast, August 16, 1992, RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.
I came back to the fold somewhat with the release of Achtung Baby, which helped get me through a rough first post-graduation year. That summer, my best friend and I made a road trip from Texas to the East Coast, catching Lollapalooza in Raleigh, NC and U2 at RFK Stadium.
It was rainy as hell, but the show was fantastic, thanks in no small part to the crowd. Before the show, while idling in traffic on the way to the stadium, some girls in a van ahead of us shared their vodka. Afterwards, when the parking grounds had been rendered impassable by mud, we were visited by a kindly soul who ran between cars lobbing cans of Keystone at everyone and yelling "Beer Fairy" until his friends, spurred to action by their rapidly dwindling brew supply, tackled him and dragged him away.
That marked the end of my "U2 period." It was an amicable parting, as both of us lost interest in the anthemic sound that hooked me in the first place. Bono and the boys would go on to experiment with techno, while I would continue my burgeoning obsession with Uncle Tupelo and Steve Earle.
I won't be going to the concert tonight, but I can still look back (mostly) with fondness on the old days. Even if I still wince when I hear "With or Without You."