Issue 6 - Fall 2007 - The Sound Issue
BY ERIN POTTS
When I was a teenager, my best friend was Kelly Patricia Callahan. She was Irish, and perhaps because of this, she loved the Irish rock band U2. Shortly after meeting her when I was twelve, I too became infatuated, and it was this love that became the strongest bond of our growing friendship. We proceeded to learn everything we could about the band — from Bono’s real name (Paul Hewson) to where they all went to school (Mount Temple) and how they performed a free concert in Dublin every month. There was literally nothing about U2 at the time that we didn’t know.
The first time I saw U2 perform was on a VHS tape my uncle had made for me of the Live Aid benefit concert. I remember the jealousy I felt when Bono brought members of the crowd onto the stage; U2 had an energy and passion that I wanted to be a part of. But soon, another feeling overtook the jealousy. By bringing people onto the stage, Bono was inviting all of us to not just witness his performance or the tragedy in Africa, but to engage in it. My teenage heart was carried away with the thought that I could join U2, that maybe we could stop millions of people from starving in Africa, and that we could do it within the thrill of music. To me, at that moment, U2’s songs became anthems for action and change, and I was hungry for more.
I had to wait a year to see them perform on television again, this time during an Amnesty International concert. While U2’s performance itself was exciting, it wasn’t what struck me most. I was mesmerized by the former political prisoners appearing with the band. They had been released because of the letter writing of Amnesty members, and now they were onstage singing “I Shall Be Released” with Bono. The next day, I started an Amnesty chapter at my school and began the monthly ritual of gathering pens, paper, and half a dozen friends to write letters to foreign heads of state demanding the release of political prisoners. A year into such gatherings, we wrote letters on behalf of a group of Tibetan nuns, the first political prisoners we had worked to free who were our own age. At some point in the weeks around this case, a clear vision emerged of what I wanted to do and who I wanted to become. I told my mom that someday I would organize a concert for Tibet, and U2 would play in it.
A few months later, U2 was due to release a new album. I couldn’t wait; my activism was becoming more and more focused on Tibet, and I was more than ready for a new soundtrack to fuel my work. A few weeks before the release, the local rock radio station announced it was going to broadcast one of the new songs. I readied my boom box to record the historic moment. At 10 pm on the appointed night, I sat cross-legged on the wooden floor in my parents’ bedroom with my index fingers on both the play and record buttons. Within minutes, the DJ disclosed the song’s title: “With or Without You.” I pushed the two big silver buttons down, visually confirmed the movement of the cassette indicating that all would be recorded, and closed my eyes to savor the moment. The thirty-second instrumental build-up sounded promising. Then, Bono sang:
I still haven’t gotten over the disappointment of that evening. And I haven’t listened to much of U2’s music in the twenty years since. But recently, I found a video on YouTube of their performance of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” at Red Rocks in 1983. I watched a pixellated Bono imploring the audience to sing with him — “No war! Sing! No more war!” — while marching with a white flag amid thick fog and red rock formations, and for a second I was brought back to the time, before the love song, when I had loved them so intensely. &