So last week, I went to Vancouver, British Columbia in the beautiful Pacific Northwest Coast of Canada to see the first two shows on U2’s Innocence + Experience Tour which were on Thursday May 14th and Friday May 15th. I took a week off, arriving on Monday, because I had the additional hope/dream/goal of meeting the band or getting invited into a rehearsal, neither of which is a far stretch as the band has been known to greet fans and invite them into rehearsals from time to time. I wasn’t counting on either of these things happening, mind you; I’m a realist. But I felt like there was nothing wrong at all with giving it a shot. Why not? Life is too short for regrets. I’ve learned that well.
Over the last few days, I’ve struggled with blogging about this because I don’t want to come off as a braggart. A lot of U2 fans can be like that. It’s the first thing they will say about themselves in an introduction. In my fandom, I’ve met some people who have deluded themselves into thinking they have some sort of connection with a band member because of their encounters. I don’t want people to associate me with those kind of fans. I’m just a girl who feels passionately about a band and the wonderful music its members create. I love Bono especially, but when I say that, I mean that I admire him for the humanitarian he is, his intelligence, the work he does in the world, and the beautiful lyrics he pens (sometimes with The Edge). Those words, along with the sonic experience of the music, have inspired me, lifted me up when I was low, and made the best moments of my life feel even grander. U2’s music has been a part of my DNA since I was 15 or so, when Achtung Baby came out, and it has never left me. I guess a part of me just really wanted to let the band know that. And that is why I wanted to try to meet them (especially Bono). I suffer no delusions that to any band member, I’m anything more than a stranger. Which is what makes my encounter with Bono so much more awesome.
Anyway, I’m telling the story because some of my friends have asked me to. If you feel I’m bragging, you can just stop reading now.
The entire goal of my meeting any of the band was just to express my appreciation. I had nothing for a band member to sign. I don’t know why; I just don’t have anything in my possession at the moment that feels special enough to have signed. I didn’t want to lug vinyl around for days. In 2011, the last time I made an effort to meet U2, I carried around an envelope that contained a print-out of the sermon I gave as a layman at my church (Unitarian Universalist) called “Spiritual Journeys Through The Music of U2.” I wanted to give it to Bono because I was proud of it and it was the best, rational explanation my love for U2’s music. Part of me wanted Bono to see that from his creations have sprung inspired writing. I wanted him to know that I get what they are doing.
I still have that envelope, and it’s still sealed, but since 2011, I’ve felt rather silly about it. Why would he read it? It seemed kind of like I was pushing something on him and I really didn’t want it to go that way. A lot of fans also try to push stuff on the band–some documentary they are trying to complete or some written work about being a fan. I just didn’t want to use that meeting as self-promotion. I didn’t want the band to think I wanted anything from them. Because all I want is for them to create more music.
So I went to Vancouver with nothing in hand for the band to sign and no agenda. I just had a rough idea of what I wanted to say if given the opportunity. I went into every attempt assuming that I would strike out (I’m a pessimist) but that it would be great if I happened to meet the band.
As soon as my friends, Kristy and Shawn, and I arrived in Vancouver on Monday, we began to check out the scene around the arena. We scoped out possible entry points for the band and found a spot around a side of the area that was low traffic and mostly used by pedestrians. It seemed like the best spot because there was a lot of activity with recognizable U2 techs hanging around the entrance smoking. Some other fans were hanging around there so we hung around too. Someone claimed to have seen Bono go into the arena earlier for rehearsals.
It was kind of a crazy evening as groups of fans waited there and another garage opening on the next side of the arena that faced a busy street. I guess occasionally the garage door would open on that side and fans would run over there and we followed those false alarms several times. I’m not going to admit how long we stood out there that night… But we left at 1am… And apparently The Edge came out to greet fans shortly thereafter. Oaf.
Tuesday was more of the same. We waited around the arena for a very long time. The hope at first was that we would get invited into the iHeartRadio full dress rehearsal that had been also a prize for some contest winners. Brian Murphy, Bono’s bodyguard, had come out earlier in the day and neither confirmed or denied this as a possibility. By 9pm, we figured we’d lost out on that opportunity. There was some activity of people exiting at one point, but rehearsals continued for several hours. We heard through some of the fan websites that the band had run through two full rehearsals. We couldn’t hear a thing because the traffic around Rogers arena was so incredibly noisy.
The group of waiting fans eventually moved to the garage door next to the busy street, convinced after last night’s encounter with The Edge that this was actually the entrance/exit the band was using. At around 1:20 am, the garage door opened. A black sedan pulls up and a security guy steps out. He says, “I know you all are waiting to see U2. We have a member of U2, Adam Clayton, in the car right here. But I need you to form a line.”
So we chaotically formed a line on the sidewalk. People were bunching up so Shawn, Kristy, and I took the initiative to spread out away from the car. The security guy opened the door to the sedan and Adam Clayton, U2’s bassist, stepped out. He immediately walked to our end of the line which, unfortunately left us a bit unprepared on how to handle the situation.
Shawn asked, “Can we get a picture?”
Adam, Mr. Literal, replied, “Sure, just take them as I go.” He moved to the next people in line who had items for him to autograph.
People further down the line just jumped forward as he passed and he paused to pose for them while they took selfies with him. Duh. We moved back to the end of the line and I did get a picture of him and Kristy together but he had to leave before I could get a turn. It was a fast and disappointing encounter. Which kind of sucks because Adam is my second favorite member of U2. In concert, he’s flirty and attentive to fans so I was a little surprised he was so brief with fans. He wasn’t unpleasant. I just suspected that he is less of an extrovert than Bono. (Everyone in the world is probably less of an extrovert than Bono!)
Next, Brian Murphy came by and told us that Bono was tired from rehearsals and needed to rest his voice, so he would not be stopping. He said, “Come back tomorrow.”
That baffled us because we thought the band were going to be flying to Ireland. Through the many news sources, we learned that drummer Larry Mullen Jr.’s father had died on Sunday and was currently in Ireland for the funeral that would take place the next day. But, we later learned, the other members of U2 would remain in town the following day.
A few minutes later, a black SUV rolled slowly out of the garage. Through an open window in the back, Bono waved at the crowd. I noticed he was wearing some kind of hat. It was nice that his vehicle didn’t peel out of there quickly, which he could have easily done. Obviously Bono still wanted to acknowledge his fans.
“You’ll come out tomorrow?” someone shouted. Bono nodded. People applauded and the SUV continued down the street and out of sight.
It was still thrilling to see Bono drive by like that. I left feeling as though that might be as close to meeting the band as I ever got.
The next day, we decided that since the band had been out so late two nights in a row, we were not even going to go to the arena until around 5pm or later to spare us another long day of waiting. (I hate to admit it, but we waited outside the arena on Tuesday for about 10 hours. Yes, I’m that determined.)
So we took it easy, hanging around town. We had planned to go do something touristy in Vancouver, but never really got our stuff together enough to go anywhere. We, who aren’t used to the rock star schedule, slept in the next morning. We took a trip in the late afternoon to an ice cream shop and on our way back to our hotel, we passed the door from which the band had exited the night before.
Several people were brazenly milling about next to the driveway and garage door. We looked at each other in confusion and went to join them. No one seemed to have any direct information about what was going on. It was about 7:30pm and a lot of diehard fans were at a party hosted by one of the big fan websites. We did not see some of the usual people waiting.
About 10 minutes later, Brian Murphy appeared, coming around the building from the side of the arena–the side on which we’d spent several hours waiting on Monday night. He said that Bono might come out soon and he asked us to line up single file on each side of the driveway to wait. Once again, there was some chaos as fans shuffled to find a position. We took the lead to go start the line on the other side of the driveway. Others followed us. Brian looked wearily at the group.
“Don’t go into the street,” he said several times. “I don’t want anyone to get hit.”
He then nodded and started back in the direction from which he’d come. I was at the end of the line on the right side of the driveway and before he disappeared behind me, Brian put his hand on my shoulder. “Be careful,” he said to me.
Everyone was tense. We stared at the garage door. I took deep breaths, my stomach turned. Was this really going to happen? Was I actually about to meet Bono? It seemed unreal. As we waited, more people began to appear. We were starting to get nervous because if too many people showed up, it would ruin our chances of getting to meet Bono. The group was pretty small at the moment, but the more time ticked by, the more people would find out who we were waiting for, especially given the fact that word spreads like wildfire on social media.
I think we waited about 40 minutes or so. Time continued to tick by slowly. My friend Margaret appeared with her mother and I told her excitedly to get in line and filled her in. Then two friends of hers arrived. People were starting to spill into the street. Crap. I kept repeating Brian’s words of warning about the street so people started to line up behind me. I couldn’t believe how oblivious some people were behaving with the speeding traffic so close.
Suddenly the garage door began to rise, inch-by-inch revealing Bono from the feet up. He looked incredibly handsome, dressed in a black shirt with a dark suit top and black pants. He wore a pair of aviator glasses with purple tinted lenses. Just as quickly as turning on a light, the front man surveyed the crowd and beamed. All theatrics, he made swimming motions with his arms. Then he walked to the first people on my side of the driveway and began working the crowd. As he signed autographs, he talked to each person personally. He answered questions in an easy manner, laughing and responding cleverly.
Brian told us that Bono did not have time to take pictures with each of us personally, foiling our plans to each get a picture with him. In my head, I practiced what I wanted to say to him. I pictured shaking his hand and saying the simple words. That was all I needed to do. I repeated it in my head over and over as he moved down the line.
When he got to Kristy, who stood beside me, she said, “I want you to sign my iPhone case.” She turned her iPhone over, revealing the custom case that featured a concert photo of Bono from circa around 2005 and offered it to him. She continued, “It’s you!”
Bono flashed a smile and said with patient amusement, “Yes, it is!”
He signed her phone and they may have exchanged a few words. It was my turn, but before I could say anything, my friend Margaret got his attention and he moved on to her. Damn, I got passed by! I was fine with my friend having a moment with our hero, but I was about to miss my chance. This is not going to go down like Adam, I thought quickly. You need to stand up for yourself and say something!
I looked at Brian Murphy who stood to Bono’s side in front of me.
“Brian,” I said calmly. “He missed me here.”
Brian raised his eyebrows. “You didn’t get a chance?”
“No,” I replied.
“Okay, step around to the end of the line,” he said. He looked at the iPhone set to camera mode in my hand. “No pictures!” he reminded me.
“I know, I just want to tell him something,” I said as I moved behind the last five people to the end of the line. The other security guy looked over at me, (rightfully) ready to stop me from getting what appeared to him as an attempt to get more attention from Bono.
“Brian told me to go to the end of the line,” I said.
The security guy got Brian’s attention and Brian told him that it was okay. The unnamed security guy moved aside to let me come forward. Bono was still talking to the people next to me. A girl was telling him she was a doctor working on AIDS research.
“You have the real job,” he said to her with the most charming of smiles. He pointed to his chest. “What I do, that’s not a job.”
I couldn’t believe how humble he was. Here he was, the biggest rock star on the planet, someone everyone in this group admired, and he was telling this girl how much he admired her. I was stunned.
And then the next thing I knew, he was standing right before me, looking right at me with those intense blue eyes behind purple lenses. All thoughts left my head. I had his full attention and for the life of me, my mind was completely blank.
“I forgot what I wanted to say,” I said out loud. Oh my god, I have this moment and now I’m going to blow it! my mind screamed. Think, Heidi, think!! Think!
Seconds passed away in silence. I knew I didn’t have much time to get it out. I swallowed. Then it came to me.
“I just wanted to say thanks for all the years of great music,” I blurted, hoping I sounded coherent. “It helped me through some really rough times.”
I always thought I’d tell him about Mike specifically, how the song “Walk On” had become my anthem for recovery all those years ago. But since realizing early on in the week that if I’d get any moment with any band member, it would be short, I made a quicker, less specific version of the speech in my head. I just wanted U2–especially Bono–to know that their music made a difference to individuals like me. I think if I’d ever written anything that inspired or helped someone, I’d want to know that I affected them in some way. To me, it was like speaking artist to artist, even if Bono had no idea that I too am an artist; or, at least, I aspire to be.
Bono smiled and replied, “Thank you. I’m sure you’ve helped us through some rough times as well.”
And then he reached his arm back inviting me into a hug. I immediately slid into his arm and hugged him back. In my mind, I’d always imagined he’d hug me after I’d told him some version of my practiced speech, so it was truly a dream come true. The scent of some wonderful cologne filled my nose. (Girls always ask how he smells and I can testify that he smells wonderful.) I was vaguely aware that I was hugging Bono. Wow. We both pulled away naturally and he moved on.
Words cannot even describe the elation I felt at that moment. Ever since meeting him and watching him interact with his fans (not just me), I can only come up with one way to describe him: “amazing grace.” He is honestly not like any other celebrity I’ve ever met. He has an aura around him that exudes a calm patience. He cares about giving each of his fans a special moment and he listens. He is the complete opposite of the egomaniac that his haters like to paint him as.
They say that meeting your idol can really ruin your love of his work. He might not live up to the expectations you have of him, or he might say something that makes you realize he’s not the man you imagined him to be from his work. But this is not the case with Bono. If it is at all possible, I feel like I love U2 more because of this experience.
It should also be mentioned here that U2’s security is just as accommodating as the band appears to be. They want you to meet the band too. I can think of dozens of rock stars who totally blow off their fans and their security treats fans with a disconnected callousness as though they are the enemy. But U2 surrounds themselves with good people too. The fact that Brian didn’t just shrug and say, “Oh well,” when I told him that Bono had passed me up just speaks volumes.
Shawn took the following sequence of pictures which pretty much tell the story of my meeting Bono perfectly. Note that in each photo, Brian Murphy even looks like he is happy for me that I got to have a moment with Bono. (Thanks for not using video mode. I sound like a dork under normal circumstances and I likely would have sounded worse in this case. I would die of embarrassment if I had to watch this interchange take place. It sounds better in my head.)