Confession – I am a U2 fan.
I have been ever since I was 7 or 8 years old, still waking up early on weekends to watch Video Hits, and saw four guys playing on a runway, jet planes soaring over their heads while the singer, clad in black leather and wraparound shades, told me it was a beautiful day. This guy was swinging down escalators and riding the luggage carousel. I’d always wanted to do that. This was the coolest thing I’d ever seen.
My parents broke the news gently – the planes probably weren’t real, and these guys were not a new band. It didn’t dampen my excitement. They were playing on a runway. This was still the coolest thing I’d ever seen.
As a teenager, these boys and their music become very important to me. I wasn’t a happy high schooler, but their songs helped. “Beautiful Day” made me get out of bed in the morning. “City of Blinding Lights” helped me look in the mirror without shame. “Mysterious Ways” made me feel powerful when it was easier to feel helpless. I cannot count the number of times I wailed along with “Bad” or screamed to “Acrobat”. In my darkest moments, I would play “Stuck In A Moment” and let the song slap me into shape, convince me to get back up and keep going. If it was my last six minutes on Earth, I would listen to “Where the Streets Have No Name” and leave this life content.
It is difficult to properly express what the music, and the men behind it, mean to me. They did not change my life, per se, but made me realise I had the power to change it myself. Bono said it himself – “Our music is not something to lie down to, to get out of to, to die to, to commit suicide to. It’s not a soundtrack to a nervous breakdown”. There is joy in their music. There is pain and loss, heartbreak and fear and anger, yes. But underneath it all, joy.
In the past few weeks there’s been a lot of talk about the band and their new album. On the back of their Golden Globe win and Oscar loss, speculation about songs and tours is rife and, for the most part, contradictory. It’s due out in April. It’ll be released next year. It’s coming in the Summer. It’s not coming at all. Maybe, after nearly 40 years, they should just pack it in. About the only thing anyone can agree on is the rumoured title – Ten Reasons to Exist
By the time the album comes out – and the band insist it will be this year – the title will almost certainly have changed, but for people like me, it is surprisingly apt. We all have low moments. We all go through the ups and downs, the result of our circumstances or of the chemical defaults so often inherent to begin human. We all need things that help us through. Our reasons to exist.
For me, it’s things like waking up on a wet Sunday morning and huddling under the covers while the rain falls, or making a really good laksa after craving it for days. It’s things like wearing a new pair of shoes for the first time and feeling like a rock star, or the squirm in the pit of your gut just as your plane leaves the ground, or your dog curling up with you an falling asleep on your feet. It’s things like writing that next chapter and hugging your mum and peeling the shrink wrap off that new album by your favourite band just before listening to it for the first time.
There was a time a few years back when I was a little ashamed to admit my love for U2. In spite of, or perhaps because of, being the biggest band in the world, it’s very uncool to like them. Nowadays, I refuse to feel guilty about something that makes me happy. There’s too little joy in the world to worry about seeming ‘uncool’. When you find something that makes you happy, whether it’s counting down to your next holiday or going home to your family each night or waiting for next week’s episode of Downton Abbey, you should never feel ashamed of it.
Just over ten years after I first saw U2 playing on a runway with CGI planes taking off over their heads, I finally saw them in the flesh. An enormous, clawed spaceship towered over us, a massive screen descended from above. Bridges moved over the audience, Oprah got a shout out, and that singer, still wrapped in leather and shades, swung over the crowd hanging from a steering-wheel microphone, his laser studded jacket a blur of red. We lit up that stadium, turned it into a field of stars while they played for us, and it was, without doubt, the coolest thing I’d ever seen.