I remember being sixteen in 1987 and standing in the middle of multiple four-foot-high stacks of black Joshua Tree LPs in a music store in Munich, Germany. People were going absolutely nuts to get their hands on the albums, but as I had not yet made the band's acquaintance, I just stood and watched for a while, wondering who these guys were and why they seemed to mean so much to my European counterparts. Finally touched by the madness, I bought a cassette and brought it back with me to the States.
That was all it took.
As I alluded in my earlier post this week, U2's music has played as a meaningful soundtrack to the second half of my life, especially the last 8-10 years. As is true for many fans, the albums through the 90's were not some of my favorites (though there were still some great songs, particularly on Achtung Baby), but when the band came back with All That You Can't Leave Behind in 2001, I remember feeling the way I did in Munich again. Who were these guys, and why did the music they made mean so much to me?
Much of my affection for U2 then had to do with where I was in life at the time. I'd just transitioned roles with The Navigators and was investigating a possible missionary opportunity in Uganda (the album served as the soundtrack for my first trip to Africa). Bono's lyrics to songs like "Walk On" were particularly motivating, as I wanted nothing more than to do what God wanted me to do long-term, but I just wasn't sure what exactly that was (though I was pretty sure it was along different lines than what I was doing then).
By the time the next album, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, came out at the end of 2004, it was again the same feeling, both musically and in terms of ministry. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was right around this time that we decided to make the huge transition from Colorado Springs to St. Louis to begin seminary. Thankfully, Megan had come to love the band as well, and as we were moving to the Midwest in the spring and then to St. Louis that summer, we decided our last fling before I began Greek in June would be to see U2 in May in Chicago on the first leg of the Vertigo tour (which, by the way, got recorded as part of this).
Wow. We said it then and we still say it now: wow. Greatest concert ever.
Like every true U2 fan, we have all the albums and enjoy the "standards" from each, but the last two albums (along with Joshua Tree) hold the most meaning for me. I remember totaling my car in high school swatting at a fly while listening to "Where the Streets Have No Name" (consider the irony); I remember Megan and I deciding, after making up from yet another awful fight, that "With or Without You" was "our song" (in case you're wondering, it still is); I remember semi-seriously planning my funeral in my head in case I didn't make it back from Uganda the first time, wanting "Walk On" played for the benediction (thankfully, I safely returned); I remember standing alone in the middle of our seminary apartment that first summer listening to "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own," literally weeping because of all the insecurity I was feeling (there was a lot of it).
The list could go on, but I won't bore you with my reminiscing. The good news is that we've got a new set of songs to play and play again – good songs with actual melodies we can sing and lyrics with real meaning we can take from and add to (in other words, what we've come to expect from and experience with U2 all these years).
The girls know and love U2's music and they all have their favorite tunes. One dream I have is to take them all to a first concert before they fly the coop. Will this album's tour be the one we all make? I don't know, but how cool for them if they could say, "My first concert was U2." Surely that experience would count for something when we're all sitting in family therapy ten years from now.