Essays VI

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BELIEVING IN U2

Author: Jim Walsh, as published in St. Paul Pioneer Press , April 27, 2001

I believe in believing in something, so what I have come to believe in most after all these years is rock 'n' roll.

I believe there are those who will believe me to be ancient and almost medieval for making such a statement, but I believe rock 'n' roll to be not a genre of music but an all-encompassing force that simultaneously forsakes and embraces all that came before it and all that has come since.

I believe it to be the sound of freedom, liberation, the human spirit unshackled. I believe in the Kingdom Come and then all the colors will bleed into one.

I believe in electric guitars ringing, chiming, screaming. I believe in last call, drinks all around and the first cup of coffee in the morning after a hard day's night. I believe in torn jeans, T-shirts, leather, tattoos, punk-rock girls, trouble boys, drummers who look like cats clawing out of a corner and lighted cigarettes propped up on the end of guitar necks like incense sticks.

I believe U2's Bono when he sings, ''I believe in you.''

I believe in sock hops and raves. I believe in lyrics that don't make sense, songs that get better after 10 plays in a row, hip-hop beats that curl toes and tongues. I believe in suburban teens finding homilies in Napster, suburban parents finding miracles in home stereos, city slickers finding gold in headphones and all of them connecting to the same giant antenna in the heavens. I believe rock 'n' roll saves lives.

I believe in fire in the belly, passion in the back seat, snare drums that sound like cannon shots coming over a ship's bow and singers, writers and poets who spill their guts, open their veins, make us laugh, show us the way. I do not believe in ''post-rock'' or music that makes me feel numb or dumb.

I believe I am starving for a rock band to blow the roof off an arena, the way I believe U2 will blow the roof off the Target Center on Tuesday night.

I believe I am not alone. I believe we the people have had it with Fake. I believe that more and more of us are rising up and saying what John Lennon sang many years ago: ''Gimme some truth.''

I believe U2's Bono to be one of the fed-up folks. I believe he is on the great explore, and that he will be until the day he dies. I believe his is one of those lives that was saved by rock 'n' roll and that he believes he has a debt to repay. Which I believe he has done already, if only with ''I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.'' Which I believe people, including its makers, will sing, listen to and glean guidance and comfort from many years after all of us have shaken, rattled, and hummed off our mortal coils.

I believe U2 believes in roots, the kind that on Tuesday will invisibly extend from the Target Center stage across the street to First Avenue, where U2 played its first Twin Cities concert in 1981. I believe Bono has a good memory. I believe that is why he called Joey Ramone on Good Friday, and why two nights later, a few hours after Joey died, U2 encored in Portland with the Ramones' ''I Remember You.''

I believe bands like U2 inspire faith. I believe it is no coincidence that Joey Ramone passed into the great beyond while U2's ''In a Little While'' played in his hospital room. I believe that many people who believe in U2 are of many faiths -- some devout, some fallen away, some returning to the scenes of their crimes.

I believe ''Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of,'' which was inspired by the suicide of INXS singer Michael Hutchence, helps the forlorn to remember that This Too Shall Pass.

I believe the most enlightening lyric I heard on the radio this winter also came from U2, one I would wish upon anyone who periodically wrestles with various funks, depressions and blues-to-be: ''You're on the road but you've got no destination/ You're in the mud, in the maze of her imagination/ You love this town even if it doesn't ring true/ You've been all over it, and it's been all over you/It's a beautiful day/ Don't let it get away/ It's a beautiful day/ Don't let it get away.''

I do not believe in nitpicking when it comes to matters of the heart, which is what the U2 stage is shaped like for this tour. I believe people who pay almost $100 to stand in a basketball arena with 20,000 other ordinary/ flawed/ uninspired souls who have been yearning to sing along to a verse such as, ''What you don't have you don't need it now/ What you don't know you can feel it somehow,'' are getting a bargain.

I believe that Tuesday night, Bono will be proved correct in his assertion in SPIN magazine that the reason many of the ''Elevation 2001 Tour'' tickets are general admission is because, ''In the U.S., the experience of seeing U2 was never a physical one the way it was in Europe. There, the whole floor would lift up. It was intoxicating.''

I believe in being lifted up. I believe U2 embodies what Thomas Jefferson said in 1816, which still haunts true today: ''I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.''

I believe our corporate government is not acting in our best interest, and that all the hollow entertainment it sponsors is no mistake. I believe the powers that be want us driven to distraction, to quarrel among ourselves, so they can do their bidding in peace and cloak of darkness. I believe that U2 is not about to let them get away with it.

I believe that the Irish musicians could help save us from ourselves, if we just listen to their dreams of a better world, born as they are of their homeland's eternal strife: Sinead O'Connor, Van Morrison, Mary Coughlan, Mike Scott and all the others who have firsthand experience in overcoming a culture of bureaucratic repression through magic.

I believe America has a hole in its soul. I believe U2, the fighting Irish, can help fill it. I believe them to be a bunch of tough bastards. I do not believe in false idols, like the Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan, who upon the breakup of his band said, ''Fighting the Britneys of the world just got too hard,'' or some nonsense.

I do not believe in giving up. I believe in fighting for what's right, and good, and dangerous, and dirty, and true. I believe in going to war. I do not believe that U2 believes that rock 'n' roll is dead, or that it is a genre, or nostalgia. I believe that if rock 'n' roll will one day join the dinosaurs as a cultural signpost and as a viable spiritual path, then U2 is not going down without a fight.

I believe it to be less lofty than all that. I believe Bono when he sings, ''I'm not afraid of anything in this world/ There's nothing you can throw at me that I haven't already heard/ I'm just trying to find a decent melody/ A song that I can sing in my own company.''

I believe that something like the Holy Spirit flows through people like Bono, who I believe believes he has a job to do, which he has exhibited countless times through his music, his good nature, his trips to Bosnia and beyond, his induction speech of Bruce Springsteen into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and through what he wrote in Q magazine last year: ''I was thinking about Bob Dylan the other day, trying to define what it was about him that I respect so much, and what came to me was a line by the poet Brendan Keneally from the 'Book of Judas,' a line which I used for guidance on the Zoo TV tour but which I realized applies to Bob Dylan throughout his whole career. The line is: The best way to serve the age is to betray it.

''That is the essence of Bob Dylan: not just as simple as being on whatever the other side is, because that's just being a crank, and cranks at the end of the day aren't very interesting, because you always know their position. Dylan was at one point in time the very epitome of what was modern, and yet was always a unique critique of modernity. Because in fact Dylan comes from an ancient place, almost medieval.''

I believe U2 to be cut from the same cloth. I do not believe their bigness gets in the way of their realness. I do not believe that rebellion or shocking the next generation is the sole function of rock 'n' roll, and I believe that those who seek to do so through obvious means have missed the point entirely and are trying too hard. I believe in melody and mini-anthems and maxi-anthems and goosebumps and confusion and rage and rapture and ballads and bashers and buzzing amps and bum notes.

I believe in zoot suits and Beatle boots and Louis Armstrong and the Stones' tongue and ''London Calling'' and Chuck Berry and neighborhood record stores and all-ages nightclubs and no cover and that new Fatboy Slim video with Christopher Walken dancing on the ceiling.

I believe in the ex-Dairy Queen worker who told me he always gave free ice cream to anyone wearing a Rev 105 T-shirt. I believe in looking out for the other guy. I believe everyone should stop saying, ''That rocks,'' about things that absolutely do not rock.

I believe if you care, you rock. I believe if you care about where this world is going, where all of us are going, not just you, then you rock.

Which is to say that I believe in rock 'n' roll. Which is to say that I believe in you, and vice versa.  

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