I grew up with U2. I still can’t shake the bastards. They’ve been stalking me like a bad bill for the last 30 years. And when their music takes me, it makes me howl.
It started innocently enough in high school. Like most teenagers in my suburban town in the 1980s, I wore robin-blue corduroys, plaid-patterned flannel shirts (with the sleeves rolled up to my elbows), and battered tennis sneakers. When I strolled down the locker-lined corridors of my high schools my pants went: “Wiff, wiff, wiff.” I even had my longish blond hair feathered and blown dried.
My music collection (and it was records back then. Big, black plastic discs of sweet heaven) teamed with the pounding musical collisions of Van Halen, AC/DC, Judas Priest, and Iron Maiden. I was in permanent air guitar mode.
Then the weird kid at my high school (and when I look back now – he was probably the coolest dude on Earth wearing Ramones concert t-shirts and drawing Talking Heads logos on his notebooks in 1982) sat next to me in study. We were friendly and he talked up this band called “You, Too.” (or at least that’s how I imagined it was spelled).
He wanted me to listen to “I Will Follow.”
I ignored him, of course. He was the weird kid after all. What could be better than going home and cranking up Eddie Van Halen doing “Eruption?” What a goddamn mistake.
But then – and I’ll never forget this day – I visited one of my friends on a hot summer day. He was upstairs taking a shower and we were already drinking Buds. It was a Saturday afternoon and that’s what we did. On his enormous console TV was a new cable station called MTV.
Through my cool buzz, I noticed the drums first. And then that guitar – that sad, mournful moan of a guitar that seemed to stutter and then burst into melody like it was on the edge of something.
Four horsemen galloped across a snowy forest. The four band mates dismounted as the music built and then this haunted, falsetto voice filled with passion sang out: “All is quiet on New Year’s Day.”
I sat, transfixed.
Here was this band that looked like they stepped out of a Chekov short story standing in dazzling, snow-encrusted field with a fluttering white flag behind them. They were playing an amazing song; an anthem of peace.
I was hooked.
“New Year’s Day” remains my favorite U2 song. Whenever I hear it (and I play it often), I’m transported back to my friend’s living room and the upholstered chair where I perched. It was a moment in my musical education – seeding me for college when I would discover punk, jazz, and alternative music; that music wasn’t just about heavy metal songs about chicks, booze, and rock n’ roll.
A part of me discovered then that music could mean so much more.