As you know, U2 turns 40 today! There is so much awesomeness about this ironic birthday celebration U2 staged for social media today, I don’t know where to begin. Larry’s face…Bono and the balloon…the cake…the cheesy song…I could watch it all day. I think I will watch it all day.
Like many of you, I’m thinking today about the reasons I love this band – and like many of you, I’m also reflecting on what U2 is really about. I don’t believe U2 is just about outstanding music, global philanthropy, or taking every opportunity to speak out on geopolitics. If you believe that, then you aren’t really taking into account their full four decades of history. So I want to list those things today (yes, partially because some fans are being told that if they aren’t 100% in love with what Bono is trying to do by speaking out about the U.S. presidential election, then they “don’t get what this band is really about”). To anyone who is causing divisiveness by saying that to their fellow fans, I say BS. I say B-freaking-S.
If someone has said in all sincerity, “You’re welcome!” when Bono says, “Thanks for giving us a great life,” then they obviously get what U2 is about – because it probably means they’ve given them at least 500 pounds; traveled long distances to see them; stood outside in the heat praying for a chance to meet them before a show; and of course, listened to a song like Bad, 40 or Moment of Surrender in their car with tears streaming down their face more times than they want to admit to anyone. It might also mean they’ve devoted time to contributing to the U2 fan community. And above all, it most certainly means they cherish the music. So today, please don’t tell another fan that they don’t get what this band is really about. It goes against Bono’s ever-present U2IE tour mantra: “No them, only us.”
Activism is an important part of U2, but it’s just one part of U2. There’s so much more to them, and their 40th birthday is the best time to reflect on those things. Here we go:
- U2 is about forming a band with 3 upperclassmen at the only Protestant/Catholic combined high school in 1970s Dublin, gathering them in your tiny kitchen only to find that none of you can play very well at that point, and having no idea that you’ll be improving, working and traveling the world together for the next 40 years. You’ll have no idea that one day the beloved frontman of the band will tell your audience, over and over, that you were the man who gave them their first job.
- U2 is about finding your life’s purpose two years after the loss of your mother at age 14, marrying your high school sweetheart and admitting that you still need her more than she needs you after you’ve been married for 35 years and raised four children. You’ll bury the impact of that maternal loss for decades, until one day it all comes flooding out in songs on your 13th album – and you tell your audience that it’s one of the hardest things you’ve ever done in your life.
- U2 is about a guitarist who is so much more than a guitarist: someone with the progressive brain of a musical mad scientist and the disposition of a kindly, beanie-capped engineer. You thought you were headed for a corporate or academic future, but instead you become the future of music. And you aren’t afraid to admit that none of it was your design.
- U2 is about bouncing back from your personal struggles. Instead of becoming known as “the one who had some problems,” you earn the title of “jazz man” and the “poshest” member of your band – the band that almost kept you from graduating high school, but would eventually propel you to worldwide acclaim.
- U2 is about reinventing your art and image, again and again and again – sometimes to your advantage, sometimes to your peril, but always to your amusement.
- U2 is about everyone in this family business making the same amount of money so that hurt feelings just don’t happen – because the relationship between the four of you always was, and always will be, more important than the business.
U2 is about loyalty, longevity and brotherhood – period.
Happy birthday to the greatest band in the world!
“We spent ten minutes writing this next song, ten minutes recording it, ten minutes mixing it, ten minutes playing it back, and that’s nothing to do with why it’s called 40.” – Bono