U2’s Music and Mission–and My Kid’s First Rock Concert – Jim Wallis
Oh no, my eleven-year-old went to his first rock concert this week! Oh good, it was Bono and U2. That would express the feelings of many parents about their child’s introductory rock and roll concert experience. FedEx Field, where the Washington football team plays with much less energy and appeal, was filled with people from bottom to top, in boxes to bleachers, with a sound that seemed to reach every corner of the gigantic stadium, and with lights that inspired admiration and awe.
The stage alone was more than any other contemporary rock band has produced, according to 25 year-olds I know, who really “know” about this stuff. It has been described as a 164-foot high “claw” that loomed over the stadium, to a “cathedral,” to a “spaceship” said Bono, “But it isn’t going anywhere without you!”
“Mom, how do you know the words to all these songs?” Luke asked Joy Carroll, who has been singing along with this band for its whole 33-year career. U2 roused the huge crowd with its best tunes like “Beautiful Day,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For;” with the highlight for me coming when Bono began with a solo rendition of “Amazing Grace” that moved right into “Where the Streets Have No Name.”
But it was the stunning and extravagant stage, set, and lights of the U2 tour that stole the show. U2 literally lit up the sky and filled the air over the nation’s Capital with a display of sight and sound unlike anything I had ever seen. And in the middle of the show, Joy and I got a light tap on the back, turned around, and lit up ourselves with big smiles as we greeted our long-time friend Willie Williams—the man responsible for the amazing grace of all that light. “I heard you were here, and they told me where you were sitting. So I had to come over and just say hi.” “This is the person responsible for all the lighting,” I told Luke, who could hardly believe this was all happening to him.
And because it was the nation’s Capital, the politicos were all on hand. How many concerts feature shout-outs to Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Judiciary Chair, Patrick Leahy, (who Bono called the “John Wayne” of Washington), or one to Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick , who were all on hand. “Can you believe it,” cried Bono, “A Cardinal at a rock concert!” And we even got to come in on the One Campaign bus with the Cardinal!
“Politics” was indeed part of the concert, not the partisan politics that dominate Washington D.C. – (Bono made it a point to praise politicians on “both the left and the right” who have cared about places like Africa, he even dedicated a song to President Bush for increasing foreign aid) – but the moral politics that characterize Bono’s clarion call to conscience and action which echoed throughout the evening.
In fact, what I love about a U2 concert, headlined by the Irish tenor with the sun glasses, is how it achieves such a powerful combination of art and social justice, music and message; and all with such fun. The New York Times titled its review of the opening concert in Giants stadium as “Fun With a Mission.”
As always on nights with U2, activism for human rights and democracy was lifted up. “Walk On” was dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate under house arrest in Burma/Myanmar. “How long has she been under house arrest,” asked Luke. “20 years” I said, and watched the look of concern and indignation on the face of a pre-teenager—at a rock concert. Luke also got to see a short video of a beaming Desmond Tutu, another Nobel Peace Prize winner, talk about “the kind of people” who make a difference in this world, and invited us all to join the One Campaign.
On the way out of the concert, Luke whispered that he had just heard somebody say, “The only thing I don’t like about Bono is his political sh*t.” Luke asked me what he meant. I said there are some people who don’t like the message of Bono and U2, just the music. But it is precisely the incredibly inspiring blend and, dare I say, integration of music, message, and mission that makes U2 not only so compelling; but also so important.
It was a night of mutual affirmation with a band and an adoring audience, their community, who truly seemed to love being together again. It was an evening of joy and justice. The final comment of a first time almost teenager was, of course, “It was awesome,” but, unlike most of the moments and venues where this overused affirmation of the younger generation is invoked, this time it was accurate and appropriate. The concert was truly “awesome.”