Column: off the record…, vol. 14-614

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off the record, from @U2

Dear Diary,

Just as people are debating U2’s relevancy in today’s music scene, I have been struggling with a similar issue as a fan. I’ve been around this block as a fan for a quarter-century now. I’ve gone through the typical motions of fandom: buying everything I could with any disposable income I had; seeing the band as many times as possible before I hit my credit card limit; debating the merits of songs and tours with fellow fans; being a card-carrying member of the band’s fan club since 1989; wearing U2 gear everywhere I went; defending the band members’ choices whenever possible and more.  

I feel like my fandom has evolved much like a child growing up. At first, everything was new and fresh. I was excited about every morsel coming from them. I clipped everything I could from magazines and kept scrapbooks. I wore my Achtung Baby tour gear every day to the point where the fabric wore out. I even wore a disco-themed jacket to the PopMart tour opener in Las Vegas, which is how M2 identified me and thus began my time here sharing my point of view with you all. I loved the ‘90s with this band, and as a result of that dedicated devotion I found my husband in a U2 chat room via the old MSN U2 site. The life I have currently is “All Because Of You” for sure.

As the innocence has faded and experience has taken over, I have lived U2’s songs now. A decade ago, I can say that I could appreciate them for the artistry. Today I can easily say I appreciate U2’s songs because no matter what walk of life you are in, you’re living them. It helps to have the band be about 10 years older than me to a degree.

As with many of you, my family and other commitments have overtaken the free time I used to have to dedicate to the fan activities I used to engage in. I’m lucky if I can pop in a concert DVD every once in a while, let alone listen to their music in the car. I have to sneak it in every so often as music education for my kids: “Now children, THIS is one of the greatest songs you will ever hear in your lifetimes,” as I play a live version of “Where The Streets Have No Name.” Inevitably, we’re back to listening to the Frozen or Phineas And Ferb Across The Second Dimension soundtracks.

A month ago, our local PBS station aired an episode of American Masters: JD Salinger. I’ll admit, I am not a reader of Salinger. I’m sure I read Catcher In The Rye in school but that’s the extent of it all. I was not aware of who he was, the lifestyle he led or the great lengths he went through to retain his privacy. The program focused on a group of fans who shared stories of their pilgrimages to Vermont in search of Salinger to engage him in conversation in the hopes he could answer their question, “What does it all mean?” One gentleman shared that when he actually got to speak with Salinger, the author’s reply was along the lines of “I’m just a writer! You figure it out. Leave me alone.”

This struck me and challenged me in my own devotion as a U2 fan. When asked what I wanted to do for my career in my high school yearbook questionnaire, I wrote “Work for U2.” In college, I worked on the concert committee in the hopes I could learn enough to one day work for U2. My college degree was in journalism with the hopes I could use it to write about the band. Thankfully, this site allows me to use that college degree to an extent.

I still have a notebook with questions I’ve been jotting down since the late ‘80s about things I would like to ask the band. Most of those questions have been answered over these years through other interviews. Those that remain unanswered are ones that might solicit a “you figure it out” response. I have to wonder how many times Bono gets asked those types of questions as he is very good at turning it back around so it’s not him answering the question. Most of the questions I have left are ones that would be best discussed over a pint in a pub with the answers never seeing the light of day in print.

And this is where I struggle with the relevancy as a fan. This band has shared so much of itself that there really isn’t too much left to the imagination to know or to understand. I know what the band members’ world view is; I understand their musical influences; I recognize the band’s strengths and weaknesses; and I have accepted that the personal relationship between band and fan isn’t there like it used to be. There really is not much more to talk about, and if there was a story out there that hasn’t been shared it’s for a very good reason. It’s like that comfortable silence you can share with a loved one when you know completely what’s going on without having to say a word -- that’s where I am with my U2 fandom.

So, in terms of relevancy, what is there left to do as a U2 fan? You can join the masses and complain that the music isn’t released yet or there should be a tour now or whatnot. You can wax nostalgic about what was awesome in the past or determine that Edge’s beanie phase is never going away. At this point, I am content to just appreciate that the music currently available to listen to evolves through each life stage with the hope that whatever comes next will do the same. I am not bothered when the new material comes, just as long as it’s not crap. That’s the deal I signed up for when Bono offered it and I’m willing to wait it out.

Don’t get me wrong -- if ever given the opportunity to share a pint and have a deeper conversation with the lads, I will not pass that up. However, I’m perfectly OK with the Salinger approach of “figure it out yourself and leave me alone!” U2 don’t owe me any explanations; the four men are just the artists. Good artistry leaves it up to the observer to figure it out.

Until next time …

©@U2/Lawrence, 2014 

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Like A Song: Grace

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Like A Song[Ed. note: This is the 84th in a series of personal essays by the @U2 staff about songs and/or albums that have had great meaning or impact in our lives.]

Grace, she's got the walk

I’ve always been ungraceful.

Ballet lessons? After clomping around a dance floor at age 5, I abandoned attempts to be a swan-abee and took up piano instead.

High heels? I still wobble when I walk in them.

But Grace carries me.

Grace, it's the name for a girl
It's also a thought that could change the world

Just like U2 in the song “Grace,” I’ve always pictured Grace as a girl, maybe because Grace is such a beautiful thing. Like a mom to all, she’s soft, but solid. Gentle, but strong. Loving … always loving, no matter what.

To Grace, we — all of us in the whole world — are always good.

Grace, she takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain

I’ve been ashamed of lots of things I’ve said or not said, deeds I’ve done or haven’t done, relationships I’ve neglected, people I’ve hurt, people I’ve ignored. All the bottles of bleach or Oxi-Clean in the world aren’t enough for my stains.

But Grace is enough.

She travels outside of karma, karma
She travels outside of karma

“An eye for an eye,” they say. “It all comes back to you.”

But Grace comes to me instead.

It makes no sense, and that’s what’s so amazing about Grace. Some people say Grace comes from God. But you don’t have to believe in God to believe in Grace. She’s got endless, all-encompassing arms, and a heart full of mercy, not judgment.

Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things

Grace finds beauty in everything
Grace finds goodness in everything

I used to think that Grace was this really gorgeous lady in gossamer white robes, with a voice like the sweetest violin melody you’ve ever heard, and the long legs of a ballet dancer.

But now, I think Grace is wobbling around on heels. And I hear her voice in the melodies of a guy who wears black and used to dress up like a devil.  

(c) @U2/Lindell, 2014

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Achtoon Baby: Li’l U2 in … Bono Needs an Intervention

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Prince? Bruce Springsteen? David Bowie (not pictured)? How and why are those three music legends getting featured here?

Well, if you heard the recent gossip about Bono having a case of writer's block (see here), that should serve as your entry clue. @U2's Kelly Eddington trots out some of rock's royalty to help Bono through his struggles in the newest edition of Achtoon Baby. Enjoy!

 Achtoon Baby: Li'l U2 in ... Bono Needs an Intervention

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Column: off the record…, vol. 14-613

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off the record, from @U2

I learned something new last week. Well, I learn a lot of new things every week, but here's one from last week that's specifically relevant to this column:

It's really hard to write one of those personality quizzes that are so popular now!

I'm talking about the Which member of U2 are you? quiz that we launched last Wednesday. It was actually a group effort involving a lot of the @U2 crew. I came up with four questions of my own and shared those with the group, then we brainstormed a bunch of ideas until the final set of 12 questions came together.

But that process was like the proverbial drawing blood from a shell. Coming up with question ideas was pretty easy on its own, but then you have to come up with possible answers that can be associated with each band member and that's where it gets pretty difficult. (Q: What's your favorite breakfast food? A: Pancakes. Okay, which band member is pancakes?)

Regardless, we got it all sorted out and we're approaching 18,000 completed quizzes right now, which is really cool to see. And we'll be doing some more quizzes in the future, so stay tuned for that.


The other thing I learned is that I have a little of all four band members in me.

I like some of the same music that Bono has said was a big influence on him, and we also share similar spiritual beliefs. I'm very into tech and gadgets like The Edge is said to be. I'm probably the least like Adam, but I do appreciate luxury like he's said to. And like Larry, I'm usually more than happy to skip the party and stay home with my family.

I've taken the quiz probably 10 times now, though, and Larry is the one I usually get. I can live with that. And judging from the replies we got on Facebook and Twitter, it seems like all but a few people are happy with their results, too.


A couple months ago, I mentioned that we're working on an update to U2tours.com. That's still in progress, but now it's getting very close to being ready for the doors to be opened wide. We already invited about 20 close friends and longtime @U2 readers to use and test the new site, and they provided us with some great ideas and feedback -- some of which we're now working on putting into place (and that's just about finished).

The next step will be to launch the site in "beta" mode, meaning that we know we're not 100% finished, but we want people to be able to start using the site and providing us feedback on what's working, what can be better, etc. We know we still need a lot of help on set lists, and we're prepared to hire new permanent @U2 staff members to help with that. So if you're really into U2's live shows and like tracking what songs they've played from show to show over the years, that could be a great fit.

Anyway, look for more on this in the near future. We're excited to get the site launched in beta mode and let U2 fans start using it and helping us get it finished.


There's no new U2 music coming out soon that we're aware of, but there is some U2-related stuff on the way. May 20th will see the release of Mystery Girl Deluxe -- an expanded version of the Roy Orbison album that features "She's A Mystery To Me," the wonderful song that Bono and The Edge wrote for Orbison during the Joshua Tree tour.

According to the official Orbison website, the upcoming release will include a studio demo of "She's A Mystery To Me" as one of the bonus tracks, along with both versions of the official video. There's also a documentary called Mystery Girl: Unraveled, which features some old video footage of Bono talking about Orbison. Here's the trailer:

 

Until next time...

 

(c) @U2, 2014.

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Take @U2′s ‘Which Member of U2 are you?’ Quiz

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You've seen those quizzes online, right? You know, the ones that let you answer questions to find out things like What Star Wars Character Are You?, What Justin Bieber Song Are You? and so forth.

There are several websites offering these quizzes regularly, but we noticed that there's a severe lack of U2-related quizzes. In fact, we don't think there are any. (Gasp!) So, the @U2 crew is setting out to change that, starting today with our first quiz:

Which member of U2 are you?

It's only 12 questions and shouldn't take too long. You'll get your result as soon as you click the "Finish" button at the end. When you're done, be sure to tweet about it or share it with your friends on Facebook so you can compare who's Bono with who's Larry, Edge or Adam.

And no ... I'm not telling which band member I am. Not yet.

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The Joshua Tree Added To US National Recording Registry

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U2's The Joshua Tree, their fifth studio and still best-selling album, has been added to the U.S. Library of Congress National Recording Registry.

According to the BBC, the album is one of 25 recordings added this year to the archive; some of the recordings date back to the 19th century. 

In an article from ABC News, Librarian of Congress James Billington said the recordings represent part of America's culture and history.

Nominations for the archive are usually collated via online submissions from members of the public and the National Recording Preservation Board (NRPB). It appears that U2 were chosen following numerous nominations from the public.

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12th Annual AWF Build A Well For Bono’s Birthday Kicks Off

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With 40 days to go before Bono's 54th birthday on May 10, the African Well Fund has kicked off its annual "Build A Well" campaign. According to the AWF site, this year's "Invisible"-inspired theme, "there is no them, there's only us" will "benefit a community-based water and sanitation project in the Ebo municipality of the Kwanza Sul Province in Angola. The project aims to increase access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation for more than 12,000 people living in these communities."

As in previous years once a donation is made, fans are encouraged to sign the birthday card. All well wishes will be conveyed to Bono at the conclusion of the "Build A Well For Bono's Birthday" campaign.

Over the past 11 years, fans have generously donated over $$225,000 for Bono's birthday.

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Column: off the record…, vol. 14-612

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off the record, from @U2

I have been reminiscing about the days before the 24-hour news cycle and social media-driven rumors after reading two promising reports this week that U2 are back in the studio and planning their next tour. I'm encouraged that we might have a release later this year, but I'm not getting my hopes up until I have something more concrete to go on. Like many fans, I have had my hopes raised and dashed many times over the decades. It was easier to be a U2 fan back in the '80s when I was in high school and college. I didn’t judge or compare the music to itself; I just listened. I listened to albums and cassettes over and over again until I wore them out because I wasn’t searching Twitter for selfies taken with band members outside restaurants or combing obscure online industry zines for snippets of confidential information leaked by producers or hangers-on. Back in those days, the wait was somewhat like foreplay. It made the climax of the one live show that I could see that much sweeter. At that point in my life, following the band around the country or the world was beyond my ability. Now, with a full-time income and job flexibility, I can see several shows every tour. I was more patient back then, because I had to be. If Willie Williams’ suggestion this week (that the next U2 tour will be less imposing) proves to be true, I may have the chance to see the band at Pittsburgh’s new Consol Energy Center – a new facility across the street from the old, demolished Civic Arena where I first saw the band in April 1985. If I just put down my mobile phone, I might be able to enjoy life coming full circle.


Speaking of circles, John Waters, author of Race Of Angels: The Genesis Of U2 (Fourth Estate, 1994), is back in the spotlight, but this time under somewhat vainglorious circumstances. For someone who at first seemed to me to be on the cutting edge of Irish culture, his vociferous opinions on blogging and homosexuality have mystified me. At the beginning of January, Rory O’Neill, popular Dublin pub owner and drag queen (@pantibliss), mentioned on RTE’s Saturday Night Show that he thought Waters and other media figures were homophobic. After Waters and the others threatened a lawsuit, the network removed the clip from its website and paid 85,000 euros to Waters and members of the Iona Institute for defamation of character. The debacle has been hotly debated on the streets of Dublin and in the national parliament as Ireland considers putting marriage equality on the ballot in 2015. Until late January, Waters had written a column for the Irish Times every Friday for more than 20 years. At that time, in the wake of the scandal, he took a leave of absence. On Friday, the Irish Times and Waters parted ways for good. Although he no longer writes for the Times, he will continue to write a Sunday column for the Irish Mail.


Also in publishing this week, Liberties Press, one of Ireland's leading independent publishers, launched Where The Streets Have 2 Names, featuring hundreds of unpublished photographs of U2 and other bands who were part of the Dublin music scene in the late '70s and early '80s, such as the Virgin Prunes, The Blades, The Black Catholics, The Undertones and The Buzzcocks. Patrick Brocklebank began his career with Hot Press and, as a favorite photographer and confidant of many emerging musicians, received commissions from international publications as the bands gained notoriety. In 2012, The Little Museum of Dublin exhibited a selection of his U2 photographs (and has since set up the only permanent display of U2 memorabilia in the world). Subsequently, Scott Calhoun gained access to the collection and Brocklebank’s photos were displayed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of the U2 Conference in April 2013. Where The Streets Have 2 Names is available from the Liberties Press website and was edited by Sinéad Molony.

(c) @U2/Hess, 2014.

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Like A Video: Beautiful Day (Under the Brooklyn Bridge)

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Like a Video[Ed. note: This is the 24th in a series of essays by the @U2 staff about U2-related visuals and videos. Some essays may be informational and educational, while others may be more personal.]

I can tell you exactly where I was the night U2 filmed a surprise concert under the Brooklyn Bridge in 2004. It was Monday, Nov. 22, and I was a sophomore at Marymount Manhattan College, most likely in a media studies class required for my major in communication arts. My school should be thankful Twitter didn’t exist at the time. One leaked tweet about the show and I would have made up an epic excuse to skip class. My favorite band playing a mini show in my favorite city? I wouldn’t have missed it for the world! But unfortunately, I did.

U2 were promoting their new album at the time, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. That happens to be my favorite U2 record and the one that turned me into a fan. But the song in this video is for my favorite U2 song on the planet, “Beautiful Day,” from All That You Can’t Leave Behind. I chose this video from the concert because it is so relevant to the place my life is in right now.

It’s fitting that this piece is being published this week, as I am about to embark on one of the biggest events of my life. I’m finally, after a very long walk on a long and winding road, moving to New York City in a few days. It’s something I’ve wanted since I was 15 and went to my first Broadway show. It’s something I never thought would happen. It’s something that I’ve constantly strived for and never lost sight of.

I’ve written before about U2’s connection to my love of New York. While I don’t know them personally, U2 have been with me on my NYC journey and for that I am forever grateful. My immense fandom for them didn’t fully bloom until I was in college, even though I started listening to them in high school. I listened to them on the long train rides to and from my classes in NYC. When I doubted that my goal to be a fancy magazine writer would ever come to life, I turned to their music to give me guidance. They even got me through my first NYC heartbreak. This video, filmed under the majestic Brooklyn Bridge with the city skyline as the background, fills me with such pride. Bono singing “I know I’m not a hopeless case” makes me feel so happy that I actually have so much hope and joy in my life right now.

It’s hard for me to even pick an actual favorite lyric in “Beautiful Day” because I love everything about the whole song. “The heart is a bloom,” as the opening line? It’s perfect. The chorus of “It’s a beautiful day / Don’t let it get away”? I have it tattooed on me. But the lyrics that I connect to most when it comes to this video are:

You love this town

Even if that doesn’t ring true

You’ve been all over

And it’s been all over you

I’ve had people ask me if once I move to NYC, would I completely ditch “my roots”? I was born and raised in New Jersey, and while I’ve always wanted to break out of my small town, I don’t see myself distancing from it. My family is still there! And come on, I’m from the state that gave the music world Bruce Springsteen (I was even born in the same hospital as him). But while I didn’t ever see myself living there forever, I’ve done everything I could and now I’m ready to move on to start a new life. I literally have been all over and Jersey has definitely been all over me. So seeing this lyric being sung in my future hometown hits me hard. And those who know me really well know I would have cried my eyes out during this entire show as it is.

I have a confession to make while writing this. Having been to NYC about what seems like a million times and doing everything the city has to offer, I have actually never been to the Brooklyn Bridge! I’ve driven past it while in the back of a taxicab, but that’s the closest I’ve ever been. But that is what’s so great about being in this city. There’s so much to do that when you think you’ve done it all, you really haven’t. That’s why I’m so excited to move. So I can see new things and experience so much that I haven’t been exposed to yet. It’s kind of perfect that this is the year I’m moving and I plan to see the bridge. U2’s concert there will be 10 years old this November. I’m looking forward to walking along the bridge with U2 in my earbuds and honoring this significant show, as well as the new chapter in my life.

I guess what I’m trying to say with this essay is that U2 taught me to never give up when I felt like it was the easiest thing to do. Just don’t ever do it, even if you’re tempted to. Everything works itself out if you just believe and hold on and weather the storm. Because after all, like this song says, after the flood all the colors do come out.

(c) @U2/Marino, 2014

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Report: U2 Recording at The Church Studios in London

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U2 has reportedly been working on its new album at The Church Studios in north London, according to a report from Ham & High Broadway, a small newspaper covering that area.

The article says the band members have been spotted dining in the area "over the last few weeks." Maybe the most solid evidence is that the studio itself is now owned by Paul Epworth, who bought it not too long ago from artist David Gray. Billboard reported a couple weeks ago that U2 was planning to spend time in the studio with Epworth. About that same time, Epworth shared this studio image on Instagram:

Meanwhile, Ryan Tedder -- another producer that U2 has worked with -- recently talked to the London Evening Standard about it. He didn't offer any real specifics, but did kinda address the ongoing talk about U2 making radio-friendly music.

"Bono is without question the single-greatest modern-day lyricist out there," he says. "I hear it on the new stuff too -- just phenomenal. When I started OneRepublic, U2 were up there as a frame of reference. I use Bono's lyrics as a how-to guide for being the lead singer in a band. I have the utmost respect for their fans and I would never in a million years try to capitulate to where modern radio is at."

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