I was in the supermarket the other day, and the music system played a U2 song I’d never heard before. That’s always a surprise, as there are only a handful I haven’t listened to, and tried to acquire. Unfortunately, I couldn’t catch any of the lyrics, just Bono’s voice and the Edge’s guitar. Sounded a lot like something they’d done during their days in between Zooropa and Pop. Couldn’t find it on the internets, but the way I see it, I’ll find it if I’m meant to.

It brought me back to those days when I felt identified with U2. There I was, in a dark place, but sustained by the music of a close and reliable friend. Oh, but the changes there are always a coming down the line! Along comes Passengers, an experimental album with a guest appearance by Pavarotti. The album didn’t exactly do it for me. It broke the mold of what I expected from U2, and not in a good way. There was a lot of experimental music that indicated a searching in the band they had never done before. I figured they must really be busting their butts to come up with a new sound.

So, in the interim, I finally got a hold of October to tide me over. I found the majesty and personal exuberance of the album uplifting. This was the period in which I finally abandoned tapes for CDs and began to acquire a collection for play on my handy-dandy new remote control system. I focused on U2 singles and connected with sounds I’d only heard a few times on the radio, or on friend’s tape mixes. Plenty of material to keep me going for the next, most awesome of all albums.

Pop comes out, and visions of sugarplums dance in my head. The rumors say its “U2 does techno”, which to me meant they would take electronic music to the next level with their own brand of rock and roll talent. I dive into my copy and listen, waiting for the awesomeness to kick in.


There are a handful of good songs on the album. In particular, “Mofo” I think is the best effort in that it shows what the rest of the album might have pushed forward artistically if U2 hadn’t backed off. That’s the problem. The song selection comes off as an initial attempt to push the boundaries, and ends in a lack of confidence. The bad songs come off as attempts to fill the album after having pulled back from what might have been beyond the band’s abilities.

The Pop Mart tour repeats this motif, with the band trying to hide behind the veneer of self-depreciation. Guys, if you weren’t serious, why did you even bother? I can get a comedy album anytime around the block.

Interestingly enough, this is the first tour where I manage to get tickets. The price was steep as I recall, and they’ve only gone up since then. The spectacle of the lemon and the outfits was wasted, I think. There’s no way to top the Zoo TV tour. I think that was one of those once in a band’s lifetime things. But just the same, the concert was nothing short of a religious experience. A lot of the songs from Pop played much better in concert, and I kept thinking, “Why didn’t they record this version on the album?”

My girlfriend of the time dumped me right as I bought two seats. As a result, I had plenty of room to dance. The seats were nosebleed, so I couldn’t really see the band. I rocked out to every song drunk out of my gourd while standing on the fold out chairs. I think my neighbors must have thought I was nuts and were afraid I would fall. Who cares what they thought! Finally, after long last, I could experience my heroes. It was a night I can never forget.

However, the album hardly had enough momentum to sustain me, and the words of my ex-girlfriend from that time made an impression on me. She said they had sold out like REM and were going downhill. Much as I didn’t want that to be true, I had a sinking feeling she was right.

The next album, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, certainly provided evidence for that. There wasn’t a single song on that album I could stomach, which was extremely unusual for me. I tried. I listened as much as I could stand, but no magic happened. I went with a friend to see them in Baltimore during the Elevation tour, and they were good in concert. The new songs didn’t do much for me, but all their old material was excellent. While I didn’t have a religious experience, I did have a good time.

I’m sure there were other albums in between this one and the next. But now that I look at it, I think I stopped being interested in the in-between stuff. I detected a lack of energy in their music I’d never experienced before. Was it me? Had I changed? What had happened?

The next album came, How to Deconstruct an Atomic Bomb, and I bought it with a certain amount of reservation. Unlike the previous disappointment, I was actually able to listen to this album at first.  Maybe I was hoping they’d turn things around and didn’t want to face facts, so I tried even harder to like it.  But I soon grew tired of this album and tossed it to the bottom of my heap, along with other albums that I never listen to anymore.

It’s as if I’d outgrown them. Everything before the moment of disappointment still sounds good to me, but everything after that sounds like junk. I’m separated from a feeling of myself that I can no longer access. They have ceased to carry that projection for me.

I think, now, as I consider it and look back, that it must be a mix of things. The band members were never the heroes I thought they were, and they’ve simply run out of good music with which to hide their flaws behind. I’m no longer the same person, in that my projections don’t catch very often on others anymore. I don’t think I’ll ever have a favorite, personal band or musician like U2 was to me again in this lifetime. Too much history that can’t be repeated. I’ve left the garden and can’t go back. Even if I could, I don’t think I would.  It wouldn’t be the same.

At first I blamed U2, and I hated what they’d become in my eyes. Being my personal band, I took their transformation personally, even though it had nothing to do with me. Then, after the anger and disappointment of loss, I started drifting and walking in the desert.

Freed from my false idol, my music quest could finally begin.