Essays VIII

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ON THE ROAD TO ELEVATION: A spiritual journey with U2

Author: Ann Tardif © 2002
Written: November 17, 2001

While U2's front man Bono, was busy reapplying for "the position of best rock band in the world" last December, U2 fans were already plotting their course on what would be one of the best years of their lives. Diehard fans had been anticipating a world tour since the release of the band's latest album, All That You Can't Leave Behind (November 2000), and when tickets went on sale, North American fans gobbled them up within two hours. Little did U2 know, that their fans would take this tour so seriously...

U2's fan base has expanded significantly over the last 20 years. Fans are just as devoted, if not more so, than ever before. In a time of uncertainty, U2's Elevation 2001 tour was just what people needed in order to let go of fears and doubts, and begin the healing process. The tour itself proved that fans were still passionate about the Irish rockers, and that they were willing to do just about anything to see them perform. Most people outside the U2 'community' have wondered what makes U2 fans tick, and why they would spend their hard earned cash on multiple U2 shows-- not one, or two but 15 or 26! Understandably, if you're not a U2 fan, it is difficult to fathom the depth of conviction and devotion that is expressed toward a simple rock and roll band.

Nine months into the tour, thousands of fans have already traveled across North America and Europe to attend a ridiculous number of shows. Many of them have met each other in various cities and countries, they've bonded with one another over their shared love of the band, and most importantly, they have made new friendships that will last a lifetime. The 'luckier' ones have made it to the front row, plotted meetings with the band and succeeded, performed on stage with Bono and/ or acquired a few coveted guitar picks along the way. Such are the trials and tribulations of U2 fans from across the globe-- a devoted following of 'U2 friends' who have traveled by land and air, to commune together for four guys from Dublin. Their goal? To get 'elevated,' to attain that spiritual high that one can only acquire at a U2 show. So why does U2 have such a devoted following? Six U2 fanatics are about to shed some light on the matter.

George Harvey is a biochemist at the Montreal Children's Hospital; Lynn Edelstein manages the Party Warehouse in Albany, New York; Stephanie Jewell works for an insurance company in Toronto, Ontario; Kelly Jarvis manages a human resources department in New York; Abbey Fisher is a social activist in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Sara Einarsson works in a call center in Gothenburg, Sweden. Although they are from different backgrounds, these fans share a passion for U2's music, spirit and charisma. They too believe that they can help change the world if they just keep the faith.

When asked what it was about U2 that inspired so much devotion, not to mention cash (for it takes a lot of it to follow this band around), fans responded unanimously: it's the music. U2 writes songs that are profound, inspiring, soulful and honest, thoughtful, emphatic and hopeful. According to Einarsson, Bono is a brilliant lyricist-- one of the best she's heard of, and this is probably because Bono writes from the heart. U2 know what's going on in the world and they aim to make us aware of it. Songs like One, Pride, Sunday Bloody Sunday and Kite can attest to that. When you take a good look at the lyrics, you start to unfold the layers to something that goes beyond a mere rock and roll song. Fans listen to U2 and find solace and hope. They find meaning and the strength to carry on-- they see a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Tony Hicks of the Contra Costa Times best describes the impact that this bad has, "The music itself [is] important, though certainly at times a backdrop. U2 inspires people not only with beautiful, soaring and sometimes irrepressibly fun songs, but unselfish motives as well. They're certainly rock stars, but it's how they take on that role that matters. It has never mattered more than now. A band that has crusaded for peace, hope and charity for two decades could do nothing less than inspire in troubling times."

It isn't just the music however. Call it a natural disaster of sorts-- U2 is alleged to be the biggest rock band in the world. The band creates music that reflects a certain degree of spirituality, honesty and, the naked truth. The music is inspirational and uplifting, yet the band can go the political route without being 'in-your-face.' U2 is active in social and political causes, and encourages their fans to educate themselves in order to make a difference.

Harvey thinks that U2's unique sound isn't the only reason they are so important: "Everything they've done in support of social and political causes is important... U2 have always acknowledged that they have more money than they need, but they're always involved in something to help those who don't have as much as they do." Jewell agrees, "[Their music] is relevant to what goes on in the world... it's political, it's spiritual, and it pulls at [your] emotions like nothing else."

U2 is a different kind of rock band, and similarly, U2 fans are unlike any other type of fan in the world. Both are devoted, passionate and intense. Both care about the state of the world and want to fix it. U2's lyrics are poignant and relevant to the world we live in and the lives that we lead-- the band sings about the good, the bad and the ugly. There are no sugarcoated words-- they make you think about things that take you outside the box, and encourage you to explore new territory. Edelstein describes the band as worldly-- "This [band] has taught me so much about the world. I became a member of Amnesty International because of them... If anything, I have learned [that] we need to open our eyes and [stop ignoring] the plights of those who are helpless or in need."

Many fans feel that U2 have enlightened them over the years. Because of U2's unabashed support of social, political and humanitarian causes, fans have taken the time to find out about the political situation in Ireland for instance-- they know what Sunday Bloody Sunday is about and they sympathize. They know about AIDS research and how some countries desperately require drug treatment but do not have access or funding to implement it. They, too, support Jubilee 2000, a cause that lead singer Bono has been advocating for the past year. With the help of fans, among others, Bono has succeeded in convincing the majority of world leaders to drop third world debt. Over the last 20 years, U2 have served as mentors, educators, and as a result, fans have willingly educated and implicated themselves in causes such as Greenpeace, Amnesty International and War Child. Fans genuinely want to make a difference. These are issues that touch us all, and many fans appreciate U2's active participation and sincerity in trying to make the world a better place.

Not surprisingly, when U2 kicked off their tour last March, fans were prepared. General Admission tickets were hot. U2 had decided to sell 1,200 General Admission (GA) tickets on the floor, with the rest of the tickets being reserved seating. Among the 1,200 lucky GA ticket holders, 300 fans would be permitted inside the heart-shaped stage. A chance at being front row compelled fans to line up early or even camp out over night in order to secure a 'good spot' in line. For the same reason, fans began attending show after show, and 'Elevation 2001' became an addiction among the U2 community.

"GA is like nothing else. Camping out in line... meeting new people and then being RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM!" squeals Fisher delightedly, "It's all love on the floor, and you get sweaty and gross but you feel so ALIVE when you're there-- it's the way you should feel every second of your life."

Most people only dream of feeling this way, and essentially, the natural high that one gets at these shows is one that you wish you could feel permanently. Once you've been 'elevated,' you're addicted. "Every night is special in its own way," says Jarvis, who has been to 26 shows since March. When fans were asked why they felt compelled to travel to Europe, the United States and Canada, all replied in unison that the atmospheres were different, there was always the 'possibility' that U2 would do something special, and as Jarvis pointed out, "It's pretty wild to see 20,000 people who don't [even] speak English, go absolutely nuts [over] four Irish guys!"

These six fanatics have been to many shows, have camped out and waited 13 hours in line before they actually got inside the venue, literally spent thousands of dollars on flights, tickets, merchandise etc. Why did they do it? "The passion and intensity for GOOD and for FUN and for LOVE is stronger than with any other band!" says Fisher, with a grin on her face. All six U2 fans can say without a doubt, that one of the main reasons they went to so many shows, is because they meet such great people. "Mostly, I find U2 fans to be exceptionally nice, friendly and caring," says Einarsson. "I have met a lot of people that I will [stay] in touch with, hopefully for the rest of my life!" Jarvis wholeheartedly agrees, "It's like I found my U2 soul mates [in line]. These friendships will last long [after] the end of the tour, and it's nice to know [I'm] not the only U2 freak out there!"

The amount of money that has been spent on this tour is ludicrous. Between $1,000 - $3,000 per person was spent-- this includes show tickets, flights, merchandise, hotels etc. Jarvis, our veteran pro, says that she can put at least one of Bono's children through school with the amount of money she's dished out! But none of these fans are really concerned about money. "If I can't afford it, I don't go," says Fisher matter of factly. The other fans nod in agreement. Edelstein, who has been to more than 30 U2 shows in her life, won't let anything stand between her and U2. If work and geography don't interfere, she will be there, front row center-- "It's all about priorities. Mine happens to be to see as many shows as I can squeeze out of my savings account." Ask any of these devoted fans if they would do it all again, and their response is an enthusiastic "YES! In a heartbeat!"

U2 fans do not equivocate U2 with a church, nor do they consider Bono to be a reincarnation of God. They do, however, feel that going to a U2 show is a spiritual experience. "Absolutely!" says Jarvis. "They make you clap, sing and praise the Almighty for all the good he has done. They pray and ask others to [pray] and care about those less fortunate... you leave a U2 show with a natural high and a love of life, and that in itself is a very spiritual thing!"

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