The Night I Met Bono
October 20th, 2004 I met Bono of U2 and ONE Campaign fame when he was in Portland giving a talk on behalf of DATA. Only thru a series of occurrences of being in the right place at the right time did I get to view this talk from the front row and go back stage. Meeting this man was the biggest event of my life so far; since I met him people have asked, "So, who do you want to meet now?"
All I can do is look at them blankly and eventually say, "Nobody...that was as high as it gets for me". To better explain that, allow me to go back to 1987.
I had just finished watching the pilot for 21 Jump Street and was still quite enamored with just how terribly hot I’d found that new guy, Johnny Depp to be…whew! I was flipping thru the channels looking for something else to watch and I ended up on one of the music channels. A video I’d never seen before was playing by a band named U2, and the song was With Or Without You. The video was shot in black and white and the music had an intense yet ethereal quality to it matched only by the man singing the actual song. He was wearing a leather vest, a cross necklace and he had his hair tied back in a pony tail. He had a guitar slung across his shoulder and hanging by his side and he was mostly looking down at the floor. When he looked up he had the most intense eyes I’d ever seen in my life….I was completely disconcerted by this man at first sight.
I knew very little about this band; I knew the man who was singing was named Bono but little else. I remembered seeing U2, Boy tour flyers stapled to telephone poles in downtown Seattle when I was in high school but I’d never seen the actual band play. My Aunt Polly was completely crazy about the Bob Geldof penned song Do They Know It’s Christmas as performed by the group of guest celebrities who called themselves Band Aid. The song was one of the first super group charity efforts to help saveAfricafrom famine and disease and it was actually a pretty good song. My cousins had the video on tape and when we were visiting they would play it and then sit there and name off who each of the people were as they were singing their lines.
(And yet another side note; my cousins also could do a mean play along to the Morris Day and the Time Video, Jungle Love. My cousins Alan and Ryan had Morris Day and Jerome NAILED!)
But, back to Band Aid, the video had Boy George, Cyndi Lauper, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, George Michael, virtually everybody who was big in the ‘80’s. Bono’s line was the bridge which said (with a great deal of intensity and power) “Tonight thank God it’s them instead of you”. There’s actually a really great interview with Bono regarding that very line on a DVD called Out of Ireland. He tells how Geldoff came to write the song and how Bono came to be assigned the particular line he sang. I didn’t think much of his look at the time, but even then I had to admit despite the company he was in his intensity and presence stood out. In retrospect I saw that Bono was somebody special even back then; the point being I still remember him even though I barely knew who he was…for some reason he stuck in my memory. The first time I saw the With Or Without You video he did a whole lot more than just linger in my mind for a moment, he actually seemed to be stuck there!
In looking back on that day I can’t tell you whether it was the singer, the Edge’s guitar, the lyrics or the manner in which the video was filmed that got my attention; I think it was a combination of all those components. What I can single out is that Bono’s demeanor was the most intense and intriguing I had ever seen. I was hooked and I had no idea why.
I went to the record store and bought a copy of The Joshua Tree album that With Or Without You was on, and virtually played no other music in my car, home stereo or Walkman for the next several weeks. I liked every song on the album, I was in love with the feel of the guitars and something about Bono’s voice very nearly seemed to put me in a trance; the album made me feel things I’d never felt previously. I was hooked and from there embarked on what would be a love affair with U2 that would still be alive and well almost 20 years later.
I was approaching my 40th birthday and I had decided I needed to do something immature an irresponsible, so I got a tattoo. I'd wanted a tattoo on my calve for a long time but had never been able to decide what to put there. One day I decided on a U2 design that I didn't anticipate growing tired of and I made the appointment and had it applied to my leg. Although my Dad has tried to make me feel like an ass for getting a tattoo I just continue to tell him, "It makes me a little bit happier every time I look at it". It takes all the fun out of making fun of me for him, but that's okay.
Shortly after I got the tattoo a friend of mine said, "Now you should get Bono to sign it. THAT would be cool!"
I had to snort at him and say, "Yeah, and I think I'll have some monkeys fly out of my butt as well; do you KNOW how difficult it is to meet that man? He has several people on payroll who are there specifically to keep people away from him. I'm pretty sure I'll never get close enough to ask him that. Good idea though!"
My friend told me I had no vision and you never know where you are going to end up. I blew him off until I saw the ad in the Oregonian a couple of months later advertising that Bono was going to be the keynote speaker for the World Affairs Council of Oregon in October. As soon as I saw the ad I had to say to myself, "I'm going to meet Bono". I don't know why I knew that was a given, but I did.
I spent the next couple of weeks doing my best to appear a crazed stalking fan; I called EVERYBODY whom I thought might be able to help me figure a way backstage to meet him all to no avail. After about 50 phonecalls and the same number of e-mails I decided I needed to hang it up; I had a ticket to be at the talk and that was going to have to be good enough. I'd made my peace with it.
A week later I was scheduled to volunteer with DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) which is Bono and the Gates endeavor. Mind you, I was hungover and really debating bailing on the gig; it was volunteer work, what would be the harm? I had a strong gut feeling that told me to get my lazy butt of the couch and show up where I'd promised I would. I got up.
That night we were working a table to get people to sign the ONE campaign petition at a screening of A Closer Walk. As we were setting up the table I noticed the table next to us had an easel with a big display of the upcoming talk and Bono's picture. Of course I got to talking to the lady working the table about it, and she volunteered, "I have all these VIP tickets that allow people to get a picture with him and talk to him, but I don't know how I'm going to move them".
I stared at her sort of slack jawed and asked her how much they were and could anybody buy them? She told me the price and that yes, anybody could buy them. I had one reserved in my name that very night! I was to find out later that the lady whom I was talking to from World Affairs Council happened to be the President of said organization. That was handy.
As I was walking out to the car I was very much aware of the little bit of magic that had happened for me that night. My gut had told me to get up and go someplace I hadn't felt like going to, I'd followed it and gotten what I'd pushed, pulled and stalked after to no avail the month before. I was already quite a believer of "life guides you where to go, you just need to pay attention to the signs"; on that night any tiny doubts I had at all were squelched forever.
October 20th arrived and I sat in the front row for the talk, directly in front of Bono and felt pretty good about being that close to him....When I got back stage, I was still okay, but as soon as he was standing in front of me looking at me, my brain melted! I'd broken into a sweat and my face was bright red before I even said a word; I knew how those people you see in the movies who are trying to diffuse the bomb before it exploded felt as sweat dripped down their forehead! Bono was looking at me a little bit funny and I think that had something to do with my bright red face. All I could think of to say was, "Thank you! Thank you for everything you do." Then I told him I volunteered for DATA and the ONE campaign. I wasn’t trying to kiss his ass, I just couldn’t figure out what else to say.
He said, "Sweetheart!" and gave me a big hug.
I didn't see THAT coming...time stopped for me as he squeezed me and all I could think was "Bono has his face in my hair!" When he let go of me I took a step back and I said something incredibly stupid (along the lines of Baby in Dirty Dancing telling Patrick Swayze she had “carried a watermelon”), and had to walk away to recompose myself.
I finally got myself together again and walked up to him and told him the one thing I had wanted to say...I told him I had been at the last North American stop of the Pop Mart concert in Seattle the night he shaved his head. He cracked up laughing and said, "Oh!!! That was the best show of the whole tour, Eddie Vedder was there, etc...etc..."
I told him that I remembered him saying that he felt like the tour had been misunderstood...that he had been trying to prove you COULD turn a casino into a cathedral; and how he'd said he felt like a lot of the critics had missed that. After I re-capped all that for him, he said, "It made sense that night, didn't it?"
I told him that despite the critics missing it, I had gotten it. He sort of smiled and said, "You did, did you? Good..."
Since that exchange had once again sucked my brain completely dry I puttered off again to go reload my brain until it was was time for the photo line. Bono's assistant kept trying to get me to walk up to him, but for some reason I just couldn't make myself approach him again...She finally pushed me with both hands in my back and said, "Bono. This is Denise. She's shy."
He said, "Come here darlin'!" and put his arm around my shoulder and pulled me into him. I put my arm around his waist, and that is the last thing I remember! I had to walk up to the photographer later and ask him what I had been doing in my picture, because I had absolutely no recollection of it being shot! The photographer assured me I was smiling, and I shouldn't worry.
Last, but not least, I realized I had forgotten to ask him the one thing I had been planning. I got brave and grabbed him by the shoulder and said, "Bono, I HAVE to ask you for my one weird thing...My friends bet me I couldn't get you to autograph my leg!"
At that point I showed him my U2 tattoo on my calve...he looked at it for a minute with his head tipped sideways and then said, "Oh!", and kneeled down and drew a cartoon of himself and initialed it.
Very last thing, I gave him a cd of Todd Snider’s, Nashville Skyline whose lyrics I truly love, and something told me that Bono might like some of his stuff as well...I handed him the cd, and he looked at me like, "Why?". I told him that since he was my first favorite writer and I “get” his stuff, it just made sense to me that he might like my second favorite writer...He smiled and thanked me, and then his people led him off to go to the airport.
As I stated earlier I'd been loving that man since 1987 or so...it took nearly 20 years, but something I never thought would happen did. I met possibly the most difficult to meet person in the world! And he was the NICEST, least pretentious person I have ever met. I got not one tiny wave of arrogance from him...My only regret is that I wish my brain had been able to take it better and hadn't basically shut down on me every time I got close to him! Hopefully our paths cross again someday and I deal with it a little better than I did this time! It was the greatest, yet most surreal thing that has ever happened to me in my life. That meeting is the reason I get so very irritated when I read things other fans say about the band being too material or commercial, or not having "the stuff" anymore....There is nobody who is kinder and more graceful with his fans than Bono, and he seemed more sincere than a lot of normal people I know in my regular life....I don't do very well with anybody trying to say otherwise about him or any other member of the band!
That night as I was lying in bed trying to go to sleep the thought occurred to me; "Remember how whenever you see people dancing with Bono onstage cheek to cheek you've always wondered what that feels like? Well, now you know".
If anybody ever tells you something is impossible, don't listen. That night I learned that anything is possible if you only learn how to listen to your instincts. I'm sure I drifted off to sleep that night with a smile on my face.
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