Sometimes, it takes a few Irishmen to remind you that America has always been Great
I am usually sad when the calendar turns to September, marking summer’s end and another busy school year.
Not this time.
That’s because I had U2 tickets for their September 3 concert in Detroit, their kick-off to their second American leg of the Joshua Tree tour.
There was lots of great music offerings going on in Detroit this summer. Free offerings. It started with a free Aretha Franklin concert – perhaps one of her last – in June and capped off with Jazz legends like Herbie Hancock and newcomers like Kamasi Washington playing for free at Detroit’s prestigious Labor Day Jazz Festival.
That’s where my oldest son was hanging out last night. He is now in college, studying jazz performance. Because of him, I have deepened my love and appreciation for jazz.
Still, jazz is work. When I listen to jazz music, I work hard at understanding the back and forth of musicians talking to each other through their instruments, finding the structures and the scales and chord progressions in seemingly unstructured improvisations. Who is comping for who and knowing when to clap when one solo blends into the next.
Not so much effort is required of me to enjoy – no – to be enraptured – by U2.
For us Gen Xers, it’s as natural as taking in a breath. As effortless as an old friend.
Sitting up in section 320 in Ford Field last night, my 20-year-old daughter seemed a bit bewildered, maybe embarrassed at me screaming and declaring my undying love for Bono at the top of my lungs several times at last night’s concert.
Mom! She retorted, as if she wanted to inform me: dad is standing RIGHT next to you!
I reminded her I had been wanting to see this concert since I was her age.
30 years I’ve been waiting to scream my head off at a U2 concert.
I’d spent 20 of those years parenting someone.
So, yes, if only for a few hours, mama channeled her inner 20-year-old.
And every memory of my listening to U2 for some 30 years, and the people in those memories, were with me.
From hearing a boy singing an unaccompanied “Sunday Bloody Sunday” as he auditioned for a play back in high school. You were with me.
Biking along the beach in Staten Island for miles and miles, to rest in the sun on a boardwalk bench as we listened to the entirety of Under a Blood Red Sky on cassette. Side one flipped to side two. Sharing earbuds plugged into a single SONY Walkman. You were with me.
To listening to Joshua Tree on my stereo late at night alone in my room, or at a party in college, and debating whether Bono and the like had sold out with this commercially successful record compared to their older stuff on October or War Yes, you were with me too.
So after 30 years, and then waiting nearly an hour after a great opening set from Beck, the first drum beats of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” pounded out, and everyone was on their feet, and the end of the wait was all the sweeter.
Now, I know that at U2 concerts, Bono usually has some kind of theme. A message.
This one was all about America. U2’s love and pride in America.
As of late, I am not too keen about singing the praises of America.
I have endured the past seven months in a semi fog.
As each day dawns, I dread what buffoonery the current White House administration will dish up next to shock and embarrass us, all the while providing a smokescreen for Congress, which is fulfilling its promises of gutting regulations that protect our air. Water. Earth. Workers. Women. Minorities. A dismantling of democracy as we know it.
For seven months, I have hung my American flag upside down on my front doorway as a symbol of our nation’s deep distress. I am a journalist, after all. A declared enemy of the people.
But over and over again, Bono spoke for himself and the rest of his band mates – The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. – as they declared that America is their second home, and how thankful they are to America to opening their doors to millions of Irish and their descendants.
Over and time again, he reminded the audience of mostly Gen Xers (and some of their kids) that America is great because it is known for championing and giving – and not taking away – freedom.
He praised Detroit. This first city stop on their second American leg of the JT tour.
Bono described the Motor City as “city of invention, city of reinvention. A city of history … city of the future.”
Indeed, Detroit is reblooming all around us since we moved here in 2013. This new energy is visible and tangible with every new shop and restaurant cropping up around downtown and midtown. On our way to Ford Field, we passed several about-to-open bars and restaurants, an urban garden teeming with flowers and vegetables, old buildings covered in scaffolding soon to be open to residential and commercial real estate.
Helping U2 visually drive home the message of what is good and beautiful about America and Americana was a giant 200-foot-long, 43-foot-tall video screen, featuring 1,700 gold-painted panels and a silhouette of the tree famously pictured on the album sleeve.
During the 2-hour performance, as the band performed the Joshua Tree from side A to side B, the scenes changed from song to song.
An open road into a desert ambled as the backdrop to the album’s first song “Where the Streets Have No Name” Then desert transitioned into mountain and into Joshua Tree National Park, where my oldest turned to me and said “this makes you want to go out and take a road trip into the open spaces of the West.”
A small-town brass band filling in the instrumental accompaniments to “Red Hill Town.”
An all American girl wearing the most faded American blue jeans clad a stars and stripes bikini top and swung a lasso.
A native American woman danced.
Another woman painted an American flag on the side of an old barn.
A moon shone above a prairie night in “One Tree Hill.”
As the band performed “In the Name of Love,” the text of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech scrolled on the enormous screen. Words like truth, freedom and love were extracted from the sentences and danced independently.
Before last night, I had not known that before he delivered it in Washington, D.C., he first spoke those historic words in Detroit.
Had you had closed with “Vertigo” as your final encore song, with all the jumping and the red and black op-art swirling on the screen and the flash of white-hot lights, it would have been enough.
But no. You gave one more because you needed to end with a somber yet hopeful message.
And that message, in this country that feels at times is ripping apart, was “One.”‘
That in the darkness of Charlottesville and the fury of Harvey, there is a silver light. A light of the fact that we are one. And we must carry each other. “”
Left or right, we have to come back to a point to realize we are United, not Divided States. America is more than our current leadership.
And last night 50,000 Americans were reminded of all that still can be good, that the greatness has never left this nation, by four Irish musicians.
That’s why, a U2 concert is just what every American needs right now. Catch them if you can.
To hell with the ticket price.