I flipped up the video screen in our SUV just in time for my two oldest boys to catch the New York skyline. They immediately began to argue about which building was the Empire State versus World Trade versus Dad’s office. As Mom held the EZ-Pass against the windshield to pay the $12 to enter the Lincoln Tunnel, we officially entered the Twilight Zone (a.k.a. Manhattan) for the weekend.
My wife and I moved away from the city of blinding lights 14 years ago. Since then we were married, moved to NJ, had three boys, and moved to Virginia. While I still get back once a month or so for work, it’s an entirely different thing to be there together and with two of our kids.
This visit, we spent most of our two days strolling in Central Park, Chinatown, Little Italy, Battery Park and the World Trade Center. Plus the really important places (according to the boys) like the Nike Store, NBA Store, Apple Store, and Times Square. We’d kept our true reason for coming to town this weekend a surprise from them, but after a while they started getting suspicious. Why did we come here this weekend anyway? Aren’t the Yankees out of town? It can’t be that…
I finally caved about an hour before show time and admitted we were really there because of me. I pulled out four tickets to see U2 at Madison Square Garden. I was a little worried that they’d be less than excited. U2 is my favorite band, and while it seemed to me like a pretty awesome treat for them to come along to the concert, sometimes they surprise me with what they consider “awesome”. And this was important—it would be my fourth time seeing them in concert, not counting the day I chased them down 7th Avenue while they played from a flatbed truck for a music video. I’d bought four tickets when they originally went on sale thinking that I’d sell two of them later at a profit (which I could have done), but instead we decided to bring them along and give them a new experience.
The boys didn’t ease my anxiety on the six-hour car ride from Virginia. I casually played U2 on the stereo for most of the ride. “Can we listen to something else? I hate U2,” they said more than once. Wait a minute…but I stayed silent. I think at some point Mommy may have seen the train wreck coming and strongly encouraged them to seem happy when I revealed the surprise. I secretly changed into my concert t-shirt after dinner before the show, and when I came back to the table, they did seem genuinely excited.
It was an incredible show. As usual, the band pushed the envelope with visuals and cutting-edge technology. Bono’s voice still sounds great. As good as their recorded songs are, they’ve always been first a live performance band. I think the boys’ attention perked up the most when Lady Gaga, wearing a frightening black bikini, made a surprise guest appearance for one song. But I do think they enjoyed the experience. “Those songs sound deep…” my 11-year-old said on the way to the taxi afterwards.
Interestingly, there were virtually no teenagers or college-age kids at the concert. The crowd was made up of mostly adults in their late 30s through 50’s. Some had pre-teens trailing warily behind them, like ours. I later showed the boys a couple of old videos of Bono as a flag-waving twenty-year-old and then a cocky thirty-year-old with fly glasses. I don’t think they believed me that it was the same guy.
I can’t imagine going to a concert like that when I was 10 or 11. I didn’t really start listening to U2 until I was in high school, and I didn’t see them in concert until I was married. My parents aren’t really concert-goers, they don’t like crowds, and the only time they braved New York City was to take me to a Yankee game. Asking them for permission go to a U2 concert wasn’t really on my radar.
Who knows what lasting memory the boys will have of the evening. But if U2’s music affects them anything like it did me when I was young, they might just find a special place for it in their hearts. Sure, they’re still just some songs from a rock band, but whether it’s because their message is often challenging, uplifting, tackles issues, has a touch of the spiritual, or because their sound was completely different from other 80’s bands when they became popular, their music means more to me than most. Sure, they’ve gone off the rails more than a few times over the years, but they come at their music from a good place and seem to always find their way back.
As with most things in life, there’s a lot packed into their music and persona that I hope my boys leave behind, but there’s also a lot they can learn from these four Irish teenagers who have managed to stay together as a band for nearly 40 years. Maybe when they’re my age, they’ll think back to their evening at the Garden and smile.