U2 opened it’s 2018 world tour in Tulsa of all places…not Dublin or New York. Which meant I had to go, especially since my buddy Doug Sanders bought me a ticket. Doug and I are musical brothers…we both like U2 and Springsteen.
Going to a concert is like going to the zoo…so many sights, sounds, smells, and leopard print. We arrived two hours early and there were thousands of fans queued outside the BOK arena as police lined the streets, their turret lights soundlessly swirling expectation into the downtown evening air.
We sat above main stage right not far from a lady who paid $360 for her ticket. She attended the 1983 U2 concert at the Brady Theater in Tulsa and she still has the $10 ticket stub.
Whether it’s $10 or $360, people will come, because they still haven’t found what they are looking for…and, if they were looking for the Joshua Tree in this set list, it was nowhere to be found. Not one song from The JoshuaTree, although Acrobat, from Achtung Baby, was played for the first time in a live concert.
Bono wore John Lennon granny glasses and he talked a lot…or was he preaching like Billy Graham?
Larry Mullen, Jr. electrified the arena with a snare drum strut down the center runway connecting a round stage on the south end of the arena and a square stage on the north end in the rat-a-tat-tat opening to Sunday, Bloody Sunday.
David Howell Evans, the Edge was…well he was the Edge…brilliant as usual, creating riffs like no other. He is my favorite guitar player.
And if I could play bass, I would play like Adam Clayton, slightly awkward and physically inhibited, staying in the background giving substance to melody, fingers floating gracefully.
The concert was fantastic but getting there is another story…park for 20 bucks, walk this way, stand in this line, empty your pockets, go through the metal detector, up the ramp, climb over seats, step on feet, here we are. Now wait another hour until 8:00…and then another 40 minutes until the real beginning, as security struggles to upload the crowd into the arena delaying the first riffs of “Love is All We Have Left.” And when it’s over, we walk through a rain shower and tornado warnings to our car with a headache and ringing ears.
It was enough to make me wonder why I go to concerts. But I go…
I go to recover lost moments, to steal back memory from the tree of life like a kid plucking apples in an orchard on a rickety ladder.
I remember my first concert, (unless you count Up With People) the Chicago Transit Authority, just down the street at the Tulsa Civic Center, listening to 25 or 6 to 4 and Beginnings as a 14-year old in the midst of the doobie hip and slightly elevated, long-haired mystics who seemed like insiders to the sanctum of rhythmic nirvana yet unknown to me. They danced and swayed in the aisles singing Beginnings:
Time passes much too quickly
When we’re together laughing
Something was happening here and I felt left behind, just outside the door to an inner room. There were horns and bongos, bass that rattled my gut, harmony that raised hair on my arms.
Here’s the thing…you don’t usually find music that moves you, it somehow finds you.
And once it finds you, you want to be in the room with the throng of the broken-hearted and the euphoric, drifting above the mundane, no longer alone in your solitary room with headphones.
Although it is not all magical. Sometimes it’s just life…like the moment at a 2009 U2 concert which featured an opening act, the Black Eyed Peas. We sat in the midst of a group of baby boomers and my brother stood up…alone…in the midst of a thousand concertgoers in our section and sang with the Peas…
I want it,
Myspace is your space, Facebook is that new place
Dip, divin’ socializing,
I’ll be out in cyberspace
And he turned around after singing alone among the middle-aged settled and seated explaining, “I have kids!”
I first really heard the music of U2 on a pastoral highway in upstate New York while driving to Utica where my brother was to be married in the early summer of 1987. I was listening to The Joshua Tree on cassette tape. I can still see the pastoral upstate New York countryside listening to…
I believe in the Kingdom come
Then all the colors will bleed into one
…and I remember, as a survivor of the disco age, that someone was writing music that I believed. It seemed true. So, I go to concerts to see the brush strokes of the painter, to hear the sonic walls of the drummer, to feel the soaring hope of the guitar, amplified by a voice in full wail.
I heard Born to Run for the first time on AM radio…in a 1970 Dodge Charger prefaced by a misguided DJ telling me that Springsteen is the next Elvis.
Later, in New Jersey on a lunch break with office mates, driving the White Horse Pike to the King of Pizza, Springsteen’s Thunder Road came on the radio and four CPA’s sang at full throttle, “roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair…” We were one, bullet-proof and lifted above the drudgery of ledgers to a gathered place, even if it was only a moment, we had escaped, everyday despair brushed aside by the fire of harmonic emotion. We go to concerts to reclaim those moments.
So I go to hear music, but I also go to be inspired by story and poetry, and to recover those flashes of inspiration, moments in my life when I heard a song for the first time and it surprised me, like a sudden storm overhead, if I can steal a line from Joe Posnanski.
My friend Doug emailed me an article by Mr. Posnanski who writes about hearing Born to Run for the first time. It helped inspire Mr. Posnanski to be a writer:
I’d listened to many rock and roll songs before Born to Run, so many, but I did not hear them… in my room, with the broken-frame bed…the Nerf hoop, the boxes of baseball cards in the corner, the broken down stereo and Chris Evert calendar stapled to the door, I could feel my heart blast through my chest and my mind go supersonic and all that teenage lunacy…I was going to be a famous musician and ride around the country in a double-decker bus — and the basic fact that I played no instrument and could not carry a tune did not seem a particularly troublesome hurdle. That’s a great thing about being a child. To dream you only need dreams. Reality is a distant storm cloud; it barely registers. Then, suddenly, the storm cloud is overhead, lightning and thundering, and it’s hard to concentrate on dreams — they spark and flicker and go out like trick candle.
There’s such a powerful longing when you’re young … to escape from your parents, to escape from your town, to escape from your chains, to escape from yourself. All I heard in Born to Run was the last of those, a chance to escape from the awkwardness and the ugliness and the sheer boredom of who I was. The crazy thing about Born to Run is that you can tell there’s something Bruce knows: They ain’t gonna make it. The kid. Wendy. They’re not going to make it. But making it isn’t the point. Endeavoring is the point. Trying is the point. Running is the point. They weren’t born to just accept the awkwardness and ugliness and boredom. No. They were born to run. I can’t tell you that I became a writer because of “Born to Run,” but I can tell you I would listen to Born to Run again and again in those moments I sought courage…
The song doesn’t sound dangerous now. It sounds like an old friend.
And that’s what I hear in Born to Run now. The kid I was, against odds and everyone’s better judgment, did try to become a writer. I know how scared he was. I know how defeated he felt. I remember how sure he was that he would fail miserably and horribly. I can see him — see myself — in that little apartment bedroom, listening to Born to Run, hunching over a spiral notebook and writing page after page of awful poetry and gimmicky short stories and pointless sports columns. Sometimes, I run across one of those old notebooks, and I cringe as I read the words but I’m also proud of that kid. He didn’t know. He was a scared and lonely rider.
I listen to Bruce sing that song now, and we’re all older, and he gets to that part, my favorite part:
“Someday girl, I don’t know when
“We’re gonna get to that place where we really wanna go
And we’ll walk in the sun.”
“I love that part,” I tell my own daughter, Elizabeth, who is 14. She shrugs. That’s the beauty of rock and roll. She will have her own song. Joe Posnanski