I had the “worst” seats in the house with the “worst” sound potential at U.S. Bank Stadium for U2’s concert and I couldn’t have loved it more than if I’d been in the front row mopping Bono’s sweat off his brow Shroud Of Turin-style. Still, the bad reviews keep coming: The sound was horrible, I’m never going back, what a waste of time, etc.
I was surprised at the uproar, which got a lot of post-concert play from Twin Cities media that otherwise never pays attention to live music. Then again, I didn’t go to the show to gripe. I spent my time listening as carefully as I could, stayed off my phone and was more into taking in the whole soul spectacle than tweeting my pithy two cents’ worth about the jerk next to me or the price of beer or whatever else might have taken away from total sensory immersion in an explicitly of-these-times live concert by one of rock’s greatest bands.
For my money, the show was great. The sound was fine, and I could hear fine, even though I am partially deaf from going to a couple hundred shows a year and playing in rock bands. But the consensus reaction by my fellow concert attendees left a bad taste in my mouth, and now I’m left to wonder about how the collective soul is faring these days, because it says here that if you came away from that experience complaining about the sound, you should see doctor, get your pulse checked, live a little.
Then again, life is what you make it, you get out of it what you put in (yay and ouch) and if you read this space two weeks ago, you know that my scorched black soul was ready to be saved.
That it was. I was all in. The show started with the quiet hum of 50,000 people anticipating what Bono promised would be “an epic night of rock and roll,” as poems by the likes of Langston Hughes, Jamila Woods/Chance the Rapper, Sherman Alexie, Carl Sandburg, Namoi Shahib Nye, Rita Dove, Margaret Avison and Lucille Clifton, unfurled across the big screen for all who had the inclination to bask in some of the greatest verse ever written. One poem, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, enthused that “The World is a Beautiful Place,” but according to lots of purportedly ripped-off ticket holders, not at U.S. Bank Stadium on the night of Sept. 8.
No, I couldn’t make out what Bono said between songs every time, but it didn’t ruin my night, and the visual and sonic calls for equity, equality and human rights were unprecedented and seriously uplifting. The sour taste in my mouth came later, with the mass preoccupation with I Didn’t Get What I Wanted. Apparently entitlement disappointment is a symptom of the times, and the U2 USBS “debacle” (one Strib commenter’s assessment) is a good example of the fact that we live in a troll culture where we’re now hardwired to complain, comment and kvetch just to prove we were there and have a contrary opinion, all of which gets in the way of real human emotion and experience.
Merriam-Webster online dictionary recently added “troll” to its definitions, leading Claire Fallon in the Huffington Post to sum up, in a piece that came with the subhead “the language of 2017 is a depressing reminder of how bad things are,” the current human condition:
“‘Troll’ had a life before 4chan and Reddit: It used to be a whimsical term for a folkloric monster, or even a verb for searching or fishing. Now, the first action it suggests, at least to Internet users, is, as Merriam-Webster puts it, ‘to antagonize (others) online by deliberately posting inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments or other disruptive content,’ or ‘to harass, criticize, or antagonize (someone) especially by provocatively disparaging or mocking public statements, postings, or acts.’ Trolling has become such a pervasive issue online that it’s inarguably spilled into the real world — take the racist Pepe the Frog memes and other far-right online trolling, which helped spread white supremacist sentiments that ultimately bolstered Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.”
Look. I’m all for critical thought, cranky rock critics and all sorts of debate, but the backlash against the U2 show is toxic and worrisome because so many people were unable to shrug off a small negative to focus on the big positive, and I’m afraid that if so many people have such a bad experience at something they purportedly were looking forward to, our expectations for life itself are probably out of whack.
Me, I was flat-out grateful. After the poetry scrolled, the Waterboys’ “Whole Of The Moon” filled the NASA-feel hangar, the lights went down and the camera phone glow sticks came out, and all I know is that of late I’ve been hit hard with death and loss and life changes and I’m crash-coursing in newfound wisdoms and truths, and for two hours U2 lifted me yet again, saved me the way live music and rock ‘n’ roll always has and provided another memorable signpost shared between band and fan. Thanks, lads. Seriously.
Everything isn’t an epiphany, of course, so nowadays I look for “worth the price of admission alone” moments, which means if it’s a free gig, the rest is solely up to me. I paid $100 for a nosebleed seat ticket to U2’s “Joshua Tree” tour stop in Minneapolis, and the math doesn’t add up because I’ve got several goose-bump memories I’ll cherish forever. Namely, I’m pretty sure I was the only one that night who was astonished to see one of my favorite pieces of Zen writing, Walt Whitman’s “Leaves Of Grass,” taking over the big screen, cutting through to me, speaking to me, guiding me and overcoming bad sound and all:
“This is what you shall do; Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss what insults your soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.”
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org