Prepare yourselves; this story is a long one. Go get a tasty beverage, and come back when you’re ready for the haul.
Mercury delivers an invitation
It’s taken me a few days to recover from the physical exhaustion and make sense of the psychological contents. Just in time for October, a Celtic New Year dawning as an old one draws to a close. A year filled with a series of transformative changes that happen once in a lifetime, if at all.
A lot in this post is difficult to say, because I have friends who love me and who enjoy U2 regardless of my personal journey and changed outlook. Yet, I owe them a lot. They’re part of the reason I’m in the psychic place I am now. It’s not easy being green, but I’m coping.
My friend Liephus, crafty Gemini that he is, got his hands on two general admission tickets to U2 at FedEx Field in Maryland. Without having to pay a scalper. He just has that kind of keen luck when it comes to these sorts of things. For example, he obtained good seats for a Baltimore concert during the Elevation Tour.
He calls me up with like two days notice. I have to laugh at the ironic randomness of it all. Back when I adored U2, I couldn’t get a ticket to save my life. Now (relatively) cheap and awesome tickets offer themselves to me as easy as pie. I’m pleased to say yes, because this promises to be interesting, given how I’ve explored my feelings for the group over the last year.
There’s a post I’m mulling over, on how exposure to UFO Girl adjusted my nervous system to pick up the effectively-infinite music of subspace radio. The narrative quest of seeking out alchemical, musical formulas and reclaiming our own soundtrack is difficult work. It’s relevant here because it’s allowed me to notice how we project onto rock stars our own need to shine and receive adulation, and how that makes us vulnerable to psychic contagions.
A locust on the windshield
Before I head out, my folks and K worry about the plans I’ve made to meet up with Liephus. We have a bit of an irrational row over it, which strikes me as odd. I know this is an adventure springing up out of the unconscious, and I’m aware of the potential for it to be impersonal. I take it as a sign to be cautious, because strange things are afoot.
As I drive out I notice a locust walking on my windshield. The synchronicity is not lost on me. The contagion of possession is already in the air. I resolve myself to be safe and to be a good locust. I direct power to deflectors, maneuvers and sensors. Hope they hold up to any magnetic radiation going on.
Liephus, my Hermes guide through this journey, is in good spirits. It’s good to hang out with him and catch up. We don’t get to do enough of it these days. Though perhaps just as my super-duper, techno-webmaster friend (who calls himself Turtle) was able to bust through the reefs to have lunch with me, so too is Liephus able to drop a line. With Liephus it’s all about the funny, as my pal Alexi can attest.
Arriving at the venue, I’m reminded of the coliseums of ages past. Bread and Circuses. Mass entertainment, controlled by a vast infrastructure of minders. Activists ply the crowd for signatures of interest in causes, as if a large gathering of people attending a performance in pursuit of a shared interest in a particular kind of happiness weren’t a dissident act.
A helicopter hovers overhead wasting fuel. A radio station reports on the event—I sometimes forget there ever was such a thing as radio. It’s been so co-opted by our owners I haven’t willingly listened in years. Blackberry, one of the official sponsors, is busy making their presence known with advertisements and salesfolk, who seek marks in the audience willing to take download suggestions.
I have a feeling that I’m likely one of the few people without a cell phone. It’s a double-edged sword, but here the mass-presence of such devices in a large group strikes me as fascinating. Each of us carrying our own personal computer, tracking device, telepathic connection to the collective, entertainment unit, information retrieval service and camera. Mephistopheles has wrought well on his end of the bargain.
What strikes me most however, is the sheer amount of energy all this consumes. The carbon footprint (whatever that really means) must be enormous.
Lefsetz talks about how the concert business might be in trouble as people make concert-going a once-a-year kind of thing rather than a monthly form of entertainment. His arguments tend to be based on price, aging super-acts that won’t be replaced, and a change in cultural pursuits.
He might be on to something—that’s certainly a phenomena that’s happened to me with movies—a once a year thing. And it’s interesting to me to consider how the decline of oil will affect this kind of public event. However, those are all external considerations. On a personal level, this grand spectacle reminds me of a long, dark parade. With everyone going under the knife to keep it going—the act, the audience, the backroom puppeteers—even me.
Into the lowest level
Liephus and I descend into the general admission pit. We manage to take up a position close to the circular walkway, with an excellent view of the stage. I prefer to be on my feet so I can dance, and close enough to the performers that I feel involved. So the situation is shaping up to be ideal.
It’s an international audience, a variety of classes and walks of life represented. There’s a group of Brazilians in front of us all chilling out and speaking amongst themselves. Behind us is a small, tight-knit group of Germans being stoic but probably enjoying themselves just the same. There’s a father with his young son. Teenagers, old timers, yuppies, working class. There are famous people up in the suites above us too. Good times.
The stage is dominated by a huge structure held overhead by four supports. A circular, stretchable dot matrix kind of video screen hovers above with a weird spike in the middle full of lights. In each of the legs three men in capsules hang suspended by chains to shine colored lights on the stage.
I read that it’s called “the claw”. I don’t know if that’s true, but it certainly is a weird structure. Reminding me of a four-legged spider. Maybe it’s supposed to be a spaceship and that’s what Bono was referring to during the night when he talked about taking off in one. My thought was the band built the thing out of recycled parts from the Pop-Mart tour to try and make back some of the money they supposedly lost on that tour.
There’s an ugly incident while we’re waiting the two hours for the show to start. A young drunken marine accompanied by a chaperone buddy begins hassling the crowd around him, nearly picking a fight with one of the Brazilians. This tall guy comes over and sternly warns the drunk to behave himself. I catch snippets of conversation that the guy is an officer and understands the drunk’s troubles, but he needs to behave.
It’s a tense scene. I’m on the lookout for a yellow-jacket to flag over, but of course there’s never one around when you need one. I just hope that whatever starts I can dodge it long enough for the crowd to immobilize the drunk (and his friend if he joins in).
The guy is already in the unreliable word salad of extreme drunkeness, but I catch him going off about having to go to Afghanistan. I’d be getting drunk too if that was in my cards, so if it’s true I emphasize. Despair at the real possibility of being stuffed in a pine box is no joke. But I exert all my psychic thoughts towards diffusion and avoidance. I do not need possession here, now.
Time is on my side, and they disappear. When you’re that drunk it’s a countdown to the toilet and/or unconsciousness. It does leave me thinking. Here I am attending a concert suffused with causes supported by the act, yet there are wars of criminal aggression going on right now in two countries, with a third still a possibility. Two Vietnams for the price of one, with a bonus round in the wings.
Losing the scent
The opening act was Muse. I hadn’t heard of them before until I looked up who was opening this concert, and I didn’t get a chance to YouTube them, so I didn’t know what to expect.
There were a fair number of fans in the audience familiar with them. Objectively I’d say they were good. Certainly leagues above Fun Lovin’ Criminals who opened for the concert I saw in 1997. I think they performed their task of warming up the audience very well.
Lots of bombast and heavy guitar riffs. Plenty of energy and enthusiasm. At times I picked up Van Halen and Metallica influences. But I found them forgettable. I guess “good” nowadays just means playing your own instruments.
Later in the concert Bono would thank Muse for opening for them, going on at length about how Muse was a number 1 band, about to be number 1 in the country. I wish he hadn’t said that. Because if that’s true, I couldn’t help but think U2 was more associating themselves with a relevant trend than offering a lesser-known band a chance at publicity.
After another period of waiting, U2 came on the scene. Finally! I’d only been standing patiently by for hours and boy were my dogs killing me. I was jonesin’ for a pick-me-up, but alas. Because Liephus and I were packed in by the crowd, and basically not motivated enough to go through the pay-drink-potty-repeat cycle, we hadn’t been hitting the vendors. I found this a strange development, because I usually enjoy a certain amount of inebriation during a concert. I took it as a sign I was meant to observe this event with sensors on full.
Larry the drummer came on stage first, which was a nice touch as he was the guy who started the band. The view was pretty good. Not close enough for a personal space connection, but definitely in the same room. The possibility of a human contact is at least conceivable. I’m as close as I’ve ever come in physical space-time to people I’ve looked up to.
The sound system is not so hot. Too much hard base and not enough clarity. I thought it was just Muse’s style, but once U2 get going I see the system is set up a certain way. If you don’t know the song you can’t understand the lyrics at all. I recognize the songs off the new album from the basic melodies, but that’s about it.
Bono’s voice is poor. I swear at times it sounds like a tinny squeak, as if he’s some kind of munchkin. His vocal range is shot. Worse than that, his charisma is way off base tonight. The show comes to a halt several times during the show so he can slap his gums about some soap box issue he wants to go on about. Dude, shut up and sing. Stop breaking the flow and harshing my mellow man.
The worst thing for me is many of the songs segue into other popular songs. For example, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m looking For turns into Stand By Me. I really hate this kind of approach. It hearkens back to Rattle and Hum, when U2 were accused of ingratiating themselves with various rock acts. It never comes off well here, I feel like they are trying to convince me how big time they are.
Dude, I know you’re big time. You don’t have to prove a thing. This makes me feel cheap.
The bassist Adam walks calmly about the paths assigned to him. He’s a Pisces so I feel a kinship with him, even if it’s unconscious. I dig how he walks about, showing his skill without much ado. It may just be cocky smugness, but it also might be the ability to just enjoy what he does and keep the whole thing together with tremendous art. I like what he’s doing the most—covering the gaps and keeping the show moving along with understated skill.
But I’m focusing on external realities here.
Into the death
I used to be just a concert participationist. That is, I relied on the artist(s) to send the message to me and I would do anything they asked to keep the energy flowing. Not anymore.
Over the last year I’ve discovered a quality within me, a psychological power to draw upon deep resources and share strength. One of the ways this expresses itself is when I go to concerts. I don’t just receive, I give. The artists reflect back to the audience their own need to experience being alive. And there I am, reflecting back to the artist that what they do is sacred, needed, beyond the infinite.
At first, the band members pick up on the unseen energy streaming towards them, nourishing them with encouragement. The first few songs, I see in their body language that they recognize something’s different. It’s kind of cool, because your psychology isn’t what most people are expressing, and that makes an impact.
When I saw Bob Dylan in concert, he turned towards me and reflected my giving back at me. I had to stop, and was arrested by a timeless moment, the moment of true art. Artist and audience on the fulcrum together. How cool is that?!
After a few songs, the band members (who I believe are all pretty tight and attuned to each other, as all long-lived bands probably are) start to dodge me. I can sense it. They don’t want my energy at all. Which is both weird and disappointing. I’m not being rational here at all; it’s a fantasy in my head, yet external reality matches the internal dialogue. I let go of my efforts and let the performance unfold without my input. There’s no room for it here.
Bono often exhorts the audience to clap hands, make peace signs, or sing along at select points. I refuse to participate. I am not of the crowd even though I am. Am I a damned betrayer? A voice inside me says “No, you are true, even thought it pains you.” It feels too much like audience manipulation to me, as if we were all at a 1984 Save For Hate Week rally, responding to the unspoken contract of words and gestures to act on automatic.
I also refuse to look at the bright screen up above, even though now I can hardly see the band because of their dodge. I force myself to look away from the programmed electric spectacle and seek out the real people behind the performance. I insist on a human experience. But they flee.
It’s as if the audience move to hide the performers when they might have to show themselves. People taking constant pictures with their cellphones and digital cameras, as if they could not hold this moment in their hearts even if they wished it.
The capturing behavior of the personal cameras make me think of the dearly departed George Carlin who commented on this very phenomenon. “How can people be nostalgic about such a concept as ‘a little while ago’?” But this is how people are now.
Yet I am moved by the songs that break through the inauthentic lifelessness of the wasteland to bear witness to living. Then I make my own devil sign as if I’m at a heavy metal concert. Considering the storm of heavy base this is not inappropriate. I sing aloud to myself.
Yet I know the double meaning of the sign. I am hexing as well as representing. I am crossing lines and upholding them. Those around me are confused and reassured because I’m giving mixed signals. I am anguished, however. To be both at one with the group and yet be apart from them is the suffering of the rebel. Strong and weak at both times, having to live on both sides of the line without comfort. I’d rather be part of the crowd, they must be going somewhere.
There is a sensation that I recognize as being part of the greater me of me. An experience that speaks to me a living spirit’s bridge to the time and space of now which I must inhabit between two points. That sensation comes to my attention now. I hadn’t expected it to appear here in this place, but it does so now, and I wait for it to give me a clue as to why I’m here. Who am I that I should be here now, in this dark parade, witnessing and consciously regarding.
I am not here in my heart even though I wish to be with those who are enjoying the concert with all my being. Am I spoilsport? “No, you are a true fan.” Have I changed? “Yes.” Has the band changed? “Yes.” I put my hands in my pockets and touch K’s talisman to reassure myself. Her caring for me I imagine will help me see this through.
Out of the depths, I try to remember a song I wish U2 would play right about now, but it eludes me. I spend the rest of the concert at intervals trying to remember the name, even though the lyrics come to mind.
And what am I to do?
What in the world am I to say?
I despair, because I know there was a time when U2 was a measure by which I knew myself. I could listen to almost anything of theirs and go to my happy place.
Then the highlight of the evening. U2 plays The Unforgettable Fire, without any crap, and for a single song I am reminded of the times when this passion of mine was true and boundless. I close my eyes and dance, back in my own Lorien and Revelstone.
Don’t push me too far, don’t push me too far, tonight
Am I pushing? “Yes.” What am I pushing? “Yourself, with expectations that are no longer appropriate.”
I’m only asking but I think you know
Come on take me away, come on take me home again.
What’s being asked? “To let go.” What am I taking home tonight? “A piece of yourself from this parade.”
I suddenly realize the last 3 albums of U2 have sucked for me. I’m in a slow fade out. Every concert I go to from now on will only have more and more sucky songs that I don’t like, the ones I do connect with slowly disappearing. Save for moments like these where some small crumb will remind me of times long gone by.
I understand now some of what Galadriel meant when she said she passed the test, and would diminish to go into the west, and remain herself. This isn’t an unfamiliar experience. I’ve already dealt with it somewhat in the decline of my favorite roleplaying game, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. But that is a post and a story for another time.
Do I really want to go through life on the “Fun-never” principle? That is, 95% crap to get 5% payoff? That seems to be what the times are all about now. But I have seen how it doesn’t have to be that way. I took it for granted before, but this time I see it. Freedom and responsibility at the same time. I want “Fun-now.”
No one wants to believe when their time has come, but now I am forced to believe!
I’m sober, which I’d rather not be. My body is starting to feel the effects of this experience. My feet hurt with the hours of standing and dancing upright. Hunger and thirst start to gnaw their way to my attention. I’m a fasting hermit, sacrificing physical comforts for the sake of a numinous experience. That’s when the visions start to dance at the edges of my eyesight.
The tall guy who diffused the ugly situation earlier alternates between watching me warily and genuinely enjoying the concert. I don’t blame him for being cautious. My body language must be confusing people. I notice that a space is opening up around me, as often happens in concerts. People start to get the message that I’m different. That I’m here on weird business.
Out of the corner of my eyes Bono’s face becomes that of a ghastly insect. Well, he has played the part of a character known as “the Fly” in years past. He walks by on the walkway, trying to get people to throw their hands up. They do, but I hide behind them, I no longer want him to notice me.
In fact I can’t stand him when he speaks in between songs. He stumbles over his words as if he were a two year old; making statements about the world that seem so phony or off base I want to cringe. Near the end of the concert, for the encore, he comes out dressed in a suit covered in lasers and I look away as if he were trying to blind me with the stupidity of his costume.
The lights dim, and he asks everyone to light up their cell phone. He’s making a point about all of us being pieces of some big happy galaxy of stars or some such platitude. But I have no such tool. I am dark matter, a dark star, a dog star moving through the audience without a technological marker. It’s an incredibly disheartening and isolating a moment for me.
Bono sings One and Ultraviolet (Light My Way) during the encore. The first sounds like an accusation, the second a plea of grief.
Did I disappoint you?
Did I leave a bad taste in your mouth?
I admit, my mouth tastes like a skid mark right about now.
I remember when we could sleep on stones
But now we lay together in whispers and moans
The sensation is present again, so I strive to pay attention. There’s a message here that seems to be saying, “Come back to us, we are lost.”
Bono went off near the start of the concert about the band having a spaceship, which wouldn’t leave without the audience. I recoiled. I’m not looking for some fantastical escape plan. No one here gets out alive! I did the UFO escape back when I did X-Day 1996. The real life space program has run its race and there’s no golden ticket dude.
How would I come back to anyone who was lost? “Hear what is said.” Where am I? “At a crossroads.” Aren’t I already there? “Yes.” One foot in the real, one in the unreal? “Yes, now move your wounded, aching feet back and forth to the sound that approaches.” Is this a temptation? “Yes, this is a dangerous moment, as crossroads are.”
I am moved to imagine myself turning back to rescue souls still in darkness. But this spaceship ain’t me, it’s a savior fantasy the kind my false idol might indulge in. I’d love to fly high—I reach my hands to the sky like branches, but my feet dig into the earth like roots in pain.
Xtine once asked me in a letter to teach her. She had nothing to give, no wisdom or insight. I was so angry then, because I wanted someone to be my teacher, not be one myself. Now I’m looking at another teacher and finding I can’t stand the sight of him. Is this really the me that I wanted to be, could have been, wasn’t, is?
“You caught a glimpse of yourself, sought after it with all your heart, and now you have it”.
What the Hek do I know? “Enough to wrestle with this telling.” I had to be my own teacher, even as my false idols ran out of mojo, leaving me to face the nothingness of the real me. But how do I handle being this sucky? “You have something in you to see this through.”
As Bono starts up the last song of the evening (I peeked at the previous setlists online so I know what the odds are of various songs being played), there’s another song I wish he’d sing. But Acrobat is too real for this moment, too off the chart to be honored now. Bono sings the words to a crappy song I can’t stand, but I hear the song I really long for:
And I’d join the movement if there was one I could believe in
Yeah I’d break bread and wine if there was a church I could receive in
Whatever it is I’m going through, it’s right on. The sensation has delivered the message, now it’s up to me to understand. I believe it’s time for me to separate from this parade, before I plunge into a madness of sadness. Even though I’m wounded by the change in U2, can never go back, am fearfully worried by this strange experience, still I believe in what is occurring. Maybe I’m the only person free to act.
What will we do now that its all been said
No new ideas in the house and every book has been read
The magic has gone away, all things that could have been done have been done, there is naught left to do but die a little bit to myself. The earlier lyrics of New Year’s Day come back to me, and I go back to the beginning, back to the first U2 song I ever heard.
I—I will begin again.
I—I *will* begin again.
I willingly accept this passing away and give away my fantasies of U2. Then I aim psychic torpedoes at each of the band members in turn. Lock on. Fire. Blasts of energy bounce off their deflectors (I’m nobody, and they’re imbued with archetypal energy after all), then I watch as my vision blacks out, the entire dark parade collapsing like a paper doll (or a dry layer of skin) and burning away to ashes. A piece of me is gone forever now.
From a nest of myrrh
The lights of the stadium burn like flares, the half moon bright in the night sky. I’m back in the real world with both feet, which ache so bad I fear I will collapse. Luckily, my guide Liephus is there and he steadies me with his awesome mirth. I take steps and manage to hobble towards the exit as the crowd disperses.
I take a step, then another. Just as thunder boomed when I walked out the door of the haunted house, my deafened ears echo with silence as I depart the dark parade both externally and internally. There’s a echoing final tremor in my soul.
I leave the dark parade as if I were freed from a prison of the self. Crowds everywhere, vehicles, life continues. They may as well be symbols of life energy freed up by the end of the parade. I know that it wasn’t me. But part of me can’t help but feeling I’ve broken a spell, and souls are released into the night to live their lives again. Or at least my soul is my own, and the exodus mirrors the vast energies of my heart flowing back into the world.
The return home is not unlike a reminder of the continuing struggle of life. Hordes of people stuffed into metal subway coffins like sardines in industry. Not unlike the line of students marching into the meat-grinder / brick-maker machine from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. This is the ultimate face and fate of the rebellion and social consciousness U2 peddles.
Yet everything proceeds as if it were a dream. A silent song of witness bears me along and I behold with detachment and the fear/desire of being alive—threats of harm, disappointment, hopes that something important will break through.
For a moment, I recognize how many songs, friends and clues have been given to me that I might survive this very night and understand. It’s a sign of a process within me, a culminating act of personal discovery that has been building for years to emerge into consciousness.
Liephus and I reach the end of the line and part ways. I’m so grateful to him for being my guide, but I don’t know how to express it without sounding dumb. So I get in my beaten down, smoke belching car and drive home.
A need arises in me to make a conscious choice as to what the experience means, now that I witnessed a strange eruption from the unconscious, this dark parade. It is not enough to view the contents of the deep, one is called to make sense of them even if one does not hope to be right about the sense.
The song I’ve been trying to remember comes to me at last. Rejoice from the October album, the last U2 album I ever bought that I liked.
I can’t change the world
But I can change the world in me
If I rejoice
My journey started in 1983, bloomed in 1987, crested in 1997, weakened in 2000, and ended in 2009. And I enter October, the Celtic New Year, having completed a cycle so profound I can scarcely begin to comprehend it.
I should be upset. Instead I’m joyful. The journey is complete. I make my own music now, and I dance to the concert of my heart. That’s stuff I’ve been working on for a while.
Back at home, K and the kitties welcome me with their awesome vitality, even though it’s late. My mom dropped by and left a delicious dinner for me in the fridge. RC Cola and fried chicken spaghetti, yeah! I feel like Max from Where The Wild Things Are at the end of the story, safe at home to rest, having gone through the darkness and returned to find everything in its right place.
I crash hard. But I dream just the same, at first peaceful and incomprehensible, as if the dream itself is a part of what I am seeing. I’m in high school freshman gym class, sitting in the lines we used to while waiting for class to start, bored and constrained by rules.
Then a spirit wells up inside me and I spring to my feet. I dance, moving and flying like a wild dervish, defying gravity and convention alike while the song Rejoice resonates in my dream. Joyous feelings course through me, and the walls of my high school gym are replaced by a vast expanse of mountains in a high valley.
The last thing I remember before I wake up is that I’m about to do wonderful things and I know it because I and my song are together, flying in the same direction.