Monday, July 25, 2011

It's a Big, Beautiful Machine

Saturday night, U2 played TCF Stadium here in Minneapolis. It was the first outdoor stadium concert in Minneapolis in 30 years. My husband and I were there.

We were the snarky ones in Section 226. I spent a good portion of the night texting sardonic, not terribly clever tweets ("Bono, The Edge, and those other 2 guys are really rockin out." "I thought Bono could keep the rain away by the shear force of his will and the power of his sunglasses.") and shouting cynical comments about the size of Bono's ego into my husband's ears. We "people watched" and played "Suburbs? South Minneapolis? NE Minneapolis? Student? Uptown?" in which we tried to guess where fellow concert goers lived based solely on appearance. Bono, with his entirely leather outfit and sunglasses, stumped us. We don't get a lot of that around here.

So if we were going to be so jerky about it, why did my husband and I shell out 100 plus dollars and sacrifice a night away from Little A? We're not particularly huge U2 fans. I think that somewhere in the basement, I might have a Joshua Tree CD that never made the transfer to the hard drive. Even so, like most Americans, U2 has been unavoidable. It has, inevitably, been the background music to a high school or college memory. So, yeah, U2 has a little nostalgic meaning for us.

But the truth is, we had a great time on Saturday. Yeah, yeah, part of it is that I always have a great time with my husband, no matter what we're doing, but it was a little extra thrilling to be a part of this spectacle. There were 60,000 people out, energized and geared up to partake in a cultural phenomenon. The college girl on the bleacher next to us was beaming excitement like laser beams out of her face. She was so amped up and jittery and gushy, she could have easily been on something. But she wasn't. Her drug of choice was Bono's awesomeness.

We guffawed a little at the foursome entering the stadium, all swagger and soaking up the adoration, to Bowie's "Space Oddity." We sang along to the songs we knew. The stadium floor literally bounced. The rains came. And we stood in it, getting soaked, more or less not complaining. We watched the fireworks from a nearby festival explode behind the stage. We had to leave right before the first encore (see above mention of time away from Little A) but we could hear "Where the Streets Have No Name" as we walked through the nearly empty surrounding campus to our bikes. They riffed a little Purple Rain into "One," as a shout out to local hero, Prince. We biked home in the rain, my husband leading the way as droplets covered my glasses.

That Sunday, we still talked about the show and still marveled at the size of Bono's ego. The man had stood, listening to a crowd of 60,000 people sing his own song back at him and declared it "the most beautiful sound in the world." Really, Bono, really? Your own music being sung back at you is the most beautiful sound in the world? More beautiful than children's laughter? He'd mentioned the Peace Corps and Gabby Giffords and Somalia and Burma. Oh, man, did he mention Burma. (As a side note -- and it's a long random story that I'll post about at some point -- but I can read a little Burmese and someone needs to teach Bono how to pronounce Aung San Suu Kyi. I can do it. I can teach him. Bono, give me a call so that I can help you. Please. Call me.) We wondered, is Bono going to save the world or does he just think he is?

The next evening, while on our family walk, my husband brought up a book he'd read in college: Garcia by Blair Jackson about Jerry Garcia. (Yes, don't worry, I give my husband plenty of grief about his long-haired hippie days.) The thing that fascinated my husband about this book is that it looked at the entire culture and industry that had risen up around this stadium band, The Grateful Dead. Thousand of people followed them from place to place and bought t-shirts and food and transportation (and weed, lots and lots of weed). They had roadies and drivers and techs. There was a lot of money and a lot of jobs. And it all mostly centered around this one guy, Jerry Garcia. He didn't necessarily deal with it very well. In fact, he did a lot of heroin to deal with it.

Of course, this made us think of Amy Winehouse and other musicians (Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Robert Johnson) who flamed out at 27. Can you imagine being 27 and suddenly (seemingly) all of these people and industry and fans are relying on you? One day you were playing guitar in the basement with your buddies or singing at divey clubs and then the next you're performing in front of thousands of people and thousands of people are relying on you, your talent -- not just for their entertainment but, in many cases, for their jobs. That's a lot of pressure. When I was 27, I was mostly reading books and drinking in bars on the Upper West Side while in graduate school.

But not so with Bono. How does "the sunglassed one" not flame out? For one, he's quite a bit older than the artists mentioned above. But my guess is that he has to have a giant ego. He has to know that this entire tour, the whole machine, which costs three quarters of a million dollars in overhead every day even when they aren't actually performing, rests pretty much entirely on his back. No wonder it gave out last summer.

His music, his banter, the performance, the spectacle, it can't alienate anyone. So if it seems, at times, a little hokey, that's OK.

In other words, I get you, Bono. I get you.

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