When I was younger, I was a raging optimist. Well, with qualifiers. I guess I didn’t think things would be okay for everyone, or for the whole world, but everything always worked out okay for me personally. I wouldn't change a thing. When I got my heart broken, I cherished the pre-heartbreak experience and tried to look at the whole thing as a learning experience. When I wasn’t sure what path to take, I tried to relax, secure in the belief that things would pretty much be okay for me if I listened to my heart, or to my gut (most of my other organs are smarter than my brain, with the possible exceptions of my lungs (asthma) and my appendix, which committed suicide).
When I got out of college and had to live, though, I started to feel differently. Paying for college left me flat broke, and starter-level salaries didn’t do anything to improve my situation. I lived in small, sad, telephoneless apartments, learned what “Murphy beds” were, accumulated debt, and tended to despair. Over the years, I came to believe that life was a frustrating sequence of mindless tedium punctuated by refreshing periods of bleak despair. Unless you’re rich, or have a much bolder personality than I do, you’re pretty much going to drag yourself to work, drag yourself home, and most likely plant yourself on the couch with a bag of Fat Rind and wait for oblivion while trembling in fear at the thought of your retirement budget. You get less and less healthy and realize gradually that not only do you have no idea how to accomplish any of your youthful dreams, but you hardly even have dreams any more. Your life slips away, and you miss large chunks of it, and then there’s nothing.
I don’t mean to drive anyone to despair with reading this, but hey, it’s been a long winter!
Anyway. One of the things that’s always helped me out a little has been music. My parents were uninterested in music, for the most part. Occasionally my mom would listen to the gospel station while ironing, but otherwise the radio was used to find out whether we had a snow day from school. They didn’t own a stereo, didn’t listen to records, didn’t sing in the church choir, didn’t attend my high school band concerts – nothing. To this day, my mother will set out on a road trip and never turn on the radio.
What saved me from a musicless existence was really my big sister. We shared a room and she had an old pink radio that got better reception if you piled things on top of it. Three cheers for 1970s album-rock A.M. radio. From earliest memory, the Beatles, Queen, and, God forbid, Black Betty (blam-a-lam) were my companions.
Unlike my husband – whose parents both liked music, and whose father in particular accumulated albums by the score – I feel like I had to start from scratch in my popular music education. In many ways, I feel like I’m still struggling to catch up, but it’s a labor of love. I listen to music every day; I subscribe to a number of concert listing e-mail services. It’s a passion.
I’m the type to rebut political speeches on TV with side remarks along the lines of “yeah, right” or “sure, if you don’t count THOSE civilian deaths” or cheery remarks of that nature. I’m not as intelligently cynical as many of my coworkers in the news industry, but I have a pretty low opinion of human nature.
Except at U2 concerts.
It’s impossible to be cynical at a U2 show.
When I go to a U2 show, I get a general admission ticket, if possible. U2 always charges less for floor – remember when you’re sitting in those $200 seats that the people on the ground paid a quarter as much to be much closer. What that means, though, is a lot more work getting there. For the Vertigo tour, we tried to get to the venue around 6 or 7 in the morning. For the current stadium tour, it’s more like 5 – and that’s just me, just the lazy, same-day experience; the best I’ve ever gotten with that is around 25th in line, and for that I had to stop by the stadium the night before and be numbered. So, travel to a strange city, stay in a hotel, get up around 4 a.m., rush to get ready and assemble your daylong needs – money, camera, ticket, food, water – grab a cab, get in line, and wait. And wait. And wait. If you’re lucky, you can grab a few Zs. Depending on the weather, you might be uncomfortable; you’ll almost certainly be uncomfortable depending on where you’re sitting. Starbucks isn’t even open yet. You spend the day pacing yourself. I know I need to eat and drink – some folks tough it out, but I’m too old for that. You might need sunscreen and a hat, or rain poncho, or even long underwear. Toward mid-afternoon you have to regulate your liquid intake and output – remember, you’re going to be unable to leave the line, and inside the stadium and probably unable to leave your post, from maybe 4 or 5 to about 10 p.m. By the time you enter the venue, you’ve been in line for 12 hours. Hungry, thirsty, sleepy, oh so tired. And you still have to run, run toward the stage and hope for a spot at the railing, and then wait while the setup gets finished, and wait through the opening band (usually bad), and wait during the set break. And then.
I do it for those couple of solid hours completely free of cynicism and anger. Free of criticism and negativity. Just me and 50,000 or so of my closest friends. Maybe this is the kind of ecstasy that charismatic church members feel, the shared passion and uplift. Something to believe in. Me and my kind, jumping up and down to “Until the End of the World.” Screaming to “Vertigo.” Crying during “MLK” and “Walk On.” Raising our hands and vowing to sign, to vote, to click, to text, to help, to hope. Hoping together that group passion can translate to group power; believing in it, for the moment. Impossible to be negative. Things that make you cringe later on the bootleg, or on the DVD – you believe in them utterly in the moment. No political speech seems overly long or out of place, no appeal to act seems misguided or wrong. It’s all the same thing, the same experience. It’s not jarring, not intrusive, it’s part of the experience. Because you believe.
I’ll be a gloomy cynic again soon enough.