I am an early adapter when it comes to music. I bought U2's 'Unforgettable Fire' for my best friend when we were in 8th grade. No one had even heard of them yet and he seemed a little bummed about my gift. Two weeks later he had flipped out about them. By the time 'Joshua Tree' exploded, I'd already moved on.
Now, I am not knocking U2. I own several of their albums...'Achtung, Baby' (shut up, Mike!), 'Joshua Tree', the underrated 'Pop', and 'How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb'. They have gone beyond mere critical judgement into cultural landmark status. But do I sit down and CHOOSE to listen to them? No. If they come up on iTunes random I might let the song play out, but more often than not I'll skip 'em.
So here's my U2 timeline. I bought 'Unforgettable Fire' because of 'Pride'. They didn't sound like anything else on the radio and that appealed to me. Shortly thereafter I really got into hardcore punk music and I moved on. I thought 'Joshua Tree' was amazing but I don't think I bought it.
One of my good friends was a true believer. He called me up to say that he'd stumbled upon 2 third row seats for their show that evening at the Boston Garden. Did I want to go? Hell, yeah! I cancelled my plans and we met up in the afternoon to make the 2 hour drive north.
Now, I'd never been to the Boston Garden but it was a special place for me, being the home of the Boston Celtics. At this time, Larry Bird was at the height of his powers and you couldn't get a ticket to a home game if your life depended on it. I'd also heard my Dad tell stories of going to see the Bruins play in the afternoon and hiding in the bathrooms until the Celtics played that night. I imagined him and his buddies to be like the Artful Dodger in 'Oliver', smoking cigarettes at age 10 and giving the cops a hard time.
Up until that point, I'd only been to medium size clubs or bars to see bands. This would be my first arena show. Third row no less! U2!
They were at the absolute apex of their fame at this point...that new fame where everyone seems amazed and energized by the spotlight. Their music had opened up and easily filled the space in the Garden. This isn't easy. There are very few bands who don't lose their essence when writ large. U2 seemed to swell right along, in fact it seemed as if they might burst the roof off of the joint.
3rd row sounds really close but in reality it is still a good 60 feet away and the stage was raised. But we could see the expressions on their faces, the sweat, the wonder. So when Bono asked for a volunteer from the audience to play 3 chords, we went insane trying to get noticed. I was still a novice on guitar but I could sure as shit play 3 chords if I had to.
I became a flopping rag doll aching for attention. I screamed Bono's name. I am embarassed to recall these details. They chose the GUY SITTING RIGHT NEXT TO US.
Moments later, there he is, onstage at The Boston Garden with U2 playing guitar next to The Edge.
So close. But they were so good that this close shave didn't diminish my enjoyment of the evening. They turned the lights on in the building for their encore and left the crowd singing along to 'How long?' 15,000 of us filed out still singing.
I'd grown accustomed to musical expression designed to hit the back of the room, not a football field away. I am still blown away by the sound they managed to make, just 4 guys. 4 guys!
This would have been 1987.
Cut to January 2002. I am visiting Los Angeles to scare up auditions for pilot season. I am still in shock from 9/11. The Patriots have made it to the Super Bowl. At the very last minute, my cousin swings a couple of extra tickets. He's pulled strings. My buddy Jeff and I have about 8 hours to plan. We cannot book a flight into New Orleans directly, they're all sold out. We have to fly to Dallas first and then drive the 8 hours to New Orleans. We are pumped.
I am a huge Patriots fan but I've never been to a single game. My first Patriots game will be the Super Bowl. Amazing.
Jeff and I are like 9 year olds as we go. We aren't wearing big foam # 1 fingers, but we might as well be considering how we're acting. Our rental car is a giant gray granny Oldsmobile. We exit the airport, make a beeline to a Circuit City, and buy a radar detector.
We average 100 miles an hour across Texas. Turns out the radar detector isn't necessary as people are passing us left and right. We are supposed to be meeting a group of folks at Emeril's restaurant that evening. It is Mardi Gras on top of Super Bowl weekend so New Orleans should be insane. I've never been so I'm going to get the ultimate show.
We roll into New Orleans, roll out to the restaurant, eat an amazing Emeril meal, revel in our good fortune, enjoy each other's company. The next day the Super Bowl looms!
Paul McCartney comes out and sings 'Freedom'. Terrible song, but it is Paul freakin' McCartney. The echo of 9/11 is powerful and Jeff (a fellow former New Yorker) and I are moved. But there is a game to be played!
The first half is hard fought and we are in the game. When halftime starts, there is an unbelievable flurry of activity on the field as the workers create a huge stage for the halftime show. The lights go out and the crowd goes crazy.
Almost 15 years after I inadvertently saw U2, here they were again. The stage is a giant red heart. I know they played more than one song, but I can only remember 'Beautiful Day.' During the entire performance, the names of those who perished on 9/11 scrolled over the audience in light. All of a sudden, the Super Bowl seemed like an after-thought. I was at this game to see this.
Up until Super Bowl Sunday, I'd maintained a defiant stance in regards to 9/11. I was lucky enough not to have had any direct loss. I didn't feel as if I had a right to lose my composure when there were so many who'd suffered so much more. But there, in the Dome, under the care of an Irish rock band, I shook off the shackles that those bastards had thrown around me.
I reclaimed my right to grieve for my homeland.