FIRST PERSON – Stalking U2
Invariably the first question people ask when they find out I’m a journalist is who is the most famous person I’ve ever interviewed. When I give them an answer—George Clooney, Tony Blair and Beyonce usually elicit the biggest “oohs”—the follow up is, “Were you nervous?” And the answer is pretty much always, not really. Why? Well I tell people it’s because I am a professional and interviewing people is an integral part of the job description. But honestly it’s because over the years I have developed a strategy to control my nerves when interviewing war criminals, politicians, celebrities and everyone in between; just as the butterflies start flying I remind myself, “Yeah, but s/he isn’t Bono.”
I’ve always said that I can retire once I have interviewed Bono—or Edge, Larry or Adam—as that would be the culmination of my career. There would be no where else to go, no other sights to set because –and I admit this unabashedly—U2 have had a seminal and profound influence on my life. Growing up in Flint, Michigan in the 1980s was a culturally stifling place but thanks in part to MTV I realized there was a whole exciting world that lay outside the borders of my mitten-shaped state. I’ll never forget in 1984 the first time I saw the sepia video (U2 fans will remember there were two) for “Pride (In the Name of Love)” –the guitar riffs were tight and the persuasive passion with which Bono sang tapped something deep inside me that had never been reached before. Somehow these four Irishmen seemed to understand my perceived alienation and insecurities and for a hormonal teenager that was like word from God that I was not in this all alone.
From that first beat on, it was all about U2. I saved up my allowance to get a subscription to their fanclub magazine (it was called “Propaganda”, which is how I first learned what that word meant) and I conversed with other fans across the globe through fanzines and letters; I was an early believer in the power of globalization. Alternative music was not cool in the mid-1980s (at least not in the Midwestern high schools of America) and I remember having a huge argument with a girl in my French class when, in early 1987 before “The Joshua Tree” came out, she told me U2 were, “weird and boring.” Three months later she was on the bandwagon, strutting around school in one of their Joshua concert t-shirts. All of a sudden my band, my boys from Dublin who had connected with me on this primal level, were everyone’s favorite band. They were on the cover of Time, Rolling Stone—my secret was out and everyone wanted to be a fan. If U2 were a stock I could have made a fortune as an early investor on the American market.
My heart broke when my parents forbade me from going to see them in Detroit during the Joshua Tree tour. But since then I have seen them from Philadelphia to Paris and places in between. I dressed up as Bono to compete for my sorority in “Mock Rock”, in 1992 I made the must-do pilgrimage to Dublin during my junior year abroad to visit their recording studio and later that year stood in the front row at their concert in Detroit screaming “I love you Adam” for pretty much the whole show. (I still fancy him!) My senior year in college I wrote a paper for my philosophy of art class comparing Anton Corbijn’s video for “One” and Pablo Picasso’s “Three Dancers”—it must have been persuasive because I got an A.
U2’s line has continually been about people becoming informed and involved through their music—something that I took to heart and probably is a reason why I tend to be drawn to stories focused around humanitarian issues. I founded a chapter of Amnesty International in my high school because U2 supported the charity. I became interested in “The Troubles” (and later even started a Masters’ in Irish history that I never completed) in part because of the lyrics to “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” My deep interest in the Balkans started after reading that each night during their Zooropa tour they had a satellite link to Sarajevo where citizens living under siege would tell the audience about daily life in a war zone.
So after all this, why have I yet to not interview U2 ? Good question. When I worked on staff at Newsweek I periodically put in requests for interviews with Bono—to talk about his music, his work on debt relief—but the line was either that he felt overexposed in the media or that the band were taking a break from interviews. Weirdly I have had several six degrees of U2 moments: I spoke with Paul McGuinness (their manager) for a cover story about Bono in 1999, I interviewed Bono’s wife, Ali Hewson, for a feature about the couple’s eco-clothing line Edun (she invited me to travel with her to Lesotho to visit their factory but Newsweek said I couldn’t go—I was crushed.) My best friend’s ex-boyfriend used to handle Bono’s press for the One campaign, another friend’s dad has advised him on debt issues and my former flatmate interviewed him in Dublin for People and got me his autograph, which hangs in my utility closet.
But I am not giving up just yet. I have already put in for an interview with them this summer during the European leg of their concert tour—I have tickets to see them in Dublin, London and Poland—so I’m holding out hope that this time it will happen. And if it does the 37 year-old me will be professional, articulate and composed—but the 16 year-old who still lives inside me will be screaming and punching the air unadulterated glee.