One of the closest people to U2 in the early days was their childhood friend, Neil McCormick, who was also a musician and longed to be part of their band.
Though he never became a member of U2, he did become a successful journalist, writing for The Daily Telegraph, GQ, Hot Press, The Irish Independent and many more.
He authored a book, Killing Bono, which was made into a film in 2011. The weekend of the U2 concert in Pittsburgh that spring, I had the honor of interviewing Mr. McCormick after a screening of the film.
Since we’d met back in 2009 during the first U2 conference, the chat was lighthearted and the audience was fantastic, asking all of the right questions and laughing along with us.
For as many years as I’ve been a part of the online U2 fan community, I’ve been hearing about Bono’s favorite San Francisco haunt: Tosca Café.
It lived up to the hype when I visited for the first time last week—its ambiance is everything I imagined it would be: dark, yet not cold with an air of nostalgia so strong you feel as if you’ve traveled back in time.
Named for an opera, Tosca was founded in 1919, which explains why much of the decor feels very “20s.” A woman in a flapper gown wouldn’t look out of place near the bow-tie wearing bartender or the regulars who line the bar in their fine linens.
I was there with two girlfriends for a ladies’ night and we all decided to try one of their signature drinks, The White Nun. A sweet mixture of steamed milk, brandy and Kahlua, after my first sip I was glad we didn’t opt for dessert at our dinner a few hours prior. So decadent!
I can see why my favorite front-man is so fond of this establishment. The conversations are lively, yet hushed; the jukebox provides an audio landscape that adds a hint of theater without being intrusive, which offers an air of calm not common to typical bars.
Each year at the school I used to work for, the student council hosts spirit week. The days of the week are divided into themes and everyone is instructed to dress accordingly. Without a doubt, the most popular day annually is ‘Crazy Hair Day’ where kids and adults go all out and color their hair, add silly accessories and sometimes even get a daring cut.
I’ve never cut my hair for Crazy Hair Day, but I did get very spirited and convinced my colleagues Becky and Leslie to help me create the perfect U2 look.
I put my hair in pigtails, then the two of them wrapped about three packages of red pipe cleaners around them in the shape of the letters. I wore a U2 T-shirt just in case the sculptures weren’t recognizable enough. The look was a big hit with kids and parents alike.
The life of a journalist brings many disappointments, but in my life, this one takes the cake as the worst.
I’d been on the road for nearly two weeks following the U2 tour. I started in Las Vegas and ended in New York City, where the band was scheduled to perform as part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s historic 25th Anniversary concerts.
My @U2 boss (Matt) had requested a press pass for me and been denied. Most of the time we’re granted access, but for something this large we knew it was only a “maybe” at best.
I accepted the response and as a “plan B,” I was going to purchase a public ticket to get into the show. We already had one correspondent inside, so the worst that could happen was that I wouldn’t find a ticket to buy and would have to stand outside to hear the music. It wouldn’t be ideal, but it would be better than nothing.
I got a text from Matt that morning saying that fans had just reported seeing U2 go into rehearsals at Madison Square Garden, so I headed over to the venue.
I saw Mick Jagger and the Black Eyed Peas outside the venue. and The Edge drove past us in an SUV (on his way out). After freezing for about three hours, I elected to go back to the hotel and get some lunch/dinner.
I scarfed down a salad from a nearby place and began scanning the Internet for show tickets. Most of them announced that sellers would be outside the venue, so I decided it would be best to draw some cash out of a nearby ATM and get down there.
I dolled up in my favorite Edun dress, put my hair in a professional ponytail and sealed the deal with red lipstick. One subway ride later, I was there.
As usual, the energy at the venue was palpable. People were bursting with joy at the prospect of what they were about to see and I was dying to be a part of it. I approached two scalpers, but their prices were more than double the face value and I only had about $50 over face value to spare.
The lights in the lobby began blinking—everyone was headed inside, and I was about to cry. As tears welled up at the thought of standing out there in the cold all night, my tiny little Samsung flip phone, which was low on batteries, rang. It was Matt: They had granted me a last-minute press pass.
I jolted into action and headed next door to Borders (RIP), where I purchased a notebook and a pen (the only things I had on me were cash and a camera). Next, I had instructions to report to the press tent. There I was given my press pass and literally escorted onto the elevator that took me straight to a floor that was only for the media. There were guards waiting at the elevator to check my pass.
Once I got inside, the mood was awesome—everyone was talking to each other (not always the case in these competitive situations), and the Rock Hall provided a lovely spread of food and hot coffee for us.
Each time a celebrity would approach for interviews, they’d give us a heads up of about five minutes. In between those times, we were free to watch the concert on our nearby monitor or head into the audience on our level and watch it live.
The stars milling around in the hallway made my head spin: Will.I.am, Metallica and others. I could’ve kicked myself when I went into the restroom and a fellow writer told me that Michael J. Fox (my first celebrity crush as a child) had just ducked in to our press room and said “hi.” My timing couldn’t have been worse.
But that was okay, because the interview of my life would soon take place (so I thought).
One by one I would marvel at all the folks who came in to speak with us. Annie Lennox was among the first, and she was so passionate and inspiring. Her work at the time was to dispel the negative thoughts associated with sufferers of HIV, so she wore a shirt that would make some believe she had it (though she didn’t). Aretha Franklin was delivered via wheelchair, but stood at the podium strongly when we asked her questions (I remember her saying that she wanted to work with Will.i.am). Ozzy Osbourne commiserated with other fathers at the thought of his baby Kelly getting married (lucky for him that wedding never took place). Jeff Beck and Little Steven were more humble than I thought they should be, given their years of delivering amazing music.
The whole time this was going on, my stomach was flip-flopping and my boss was texting me questions to ask U2 from our other staff members and readers. My excitement level on a scale of 1 – 10 was about a 35.
The best part is that when I told other media who I was representing, they all thought it was so cool I was dedicated to just one band. I helped them fact check stories they’d already begun writing about U2 (as I’m a bit of a walking dictionary in that sense); they were going to help me be sure to get at least one question in (they knew it would mean more to my audience than any of theirs). I’ll never forget that feeling of kinship. I was in Madison Square Garden surrounded by notable journalists who were treating me as one of their own.
And then it happened.
As U2 were wrapping up their performance, we were all collecting ourselves for their arrival. Writers began easing toward the first few rows of chairs; photographers began turning on the lights of their cameras.
The Rock Hall reps emerged and announced that U2 would not be coming into the press room. Apparently the band had somewhere to be directly following the show.
I had immediate flashbacks to 2005 when I stood on VH1’s red carpet all night waiting for their arrival only to be told they weren’t coming.
Was New York my bad luck charm, or was I just not meant to interact with this band?
I still don’t know the answer, but I cried a lot that night once I was safely out of range of the venue.
I had quite the hectic travel schedule this week. I’d started in Las Vegas, been on a road trip to Death Valley, went back to Vegas, moved on to Pasadena and once I touched down at home in Seattle, I took the second packed bag at the door and set out in my car for Vancouver. This was all in a span of six days.
I adore British Columbia and consider Vancouver one of the most pleasant cities I’ve ever visited. Once I checked in to my hotel, I took a walk in the dark to my favorite local store (London Drugs) to stock up on Canadian goodies (Coke with no corn syrup, flavored Tetley teas, special candies). As I passed the various busy shops along Robson Street, I remembered all of the wonderful times I’d had there in the past.
I stopped into Chapters books to browse, then Starbucks for a hot cup of coffee. I retreated to my hotel room, checked my e-mail and relaxed the remainder of the night.
The following morning I grabbed a continental breakfast from the Hampton Inn dining room, then set out to meet Scott, his wife Leigh, and two of their friends at the stadium. We weren’t too far back in the general admission line (I don’t even remember our numbers), and the crowd was great, but it was so cold.
Though it didn’t begin to rain until shortly before we entered the venue, I remember taking turns going to my room across the street to defrost while the others held the place in line. I also remember us girls trading magazines and heading out for a hot lunch at one point.
My friend Becky from work was also in line, not too far behind us. Later on, we would run into Aaron (from Halifax) and Kim (from Portland), who we’ve been going to shows together for years. It really is like a family reunion when U2 hits the road.
The show itself was good, but the boys were showing their exhaustion. Adam had been sick and Bono’s voice was shot, then to top it off there were sound issues with his microphone throughout the night. I was glad that it was their last show of that leg of the tour, if only to give them time to re-charge.
When the show concluded, my friends returned to my room where they’d stashed their things, then headed out for their own hotel. I grabbed a cup of decaf coffee, drank it down to get warm, then packed and slept in my clothes.
I would be getting up at 4 a.m. the next day to make my flight to New York to see U2 perform at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Celebration. The plane was leaving from Seattle around noon.
U2 decided to broadcast their concert at the Rose Bowl last year on on YouTube, live as it happened. Since it was the largest gathering of people that had ever assembled in that venue, it made for a massive operation of camera crews and equipment, which were amazingly non-intrusive throughout the show.
It was a solid concert, but I’ll admit to being a bit disappointed in the frat party atmosphere. You could tell that some folks bought tickets purely because they wanted to appear on camera. Couple that with the fact that the venue ran out of floor access wristbands and our entry to the stadium was delayed as a result, it wasn’t the greatest show experience.
On the flip side, every time we turned around there were celebrities passing through. We saw Colin Farrell, Demi Moore, Paris Hilton, Shirley Manson, Glen Hansard, Pierce Brosnan, and many more (I got photos of some of them). Plus, the stage looked amazing.
With only one more 360 show to go in 2009, I was getting sad, but also looking forward to sleeping in my own bed the following week.
What other group of people would drive 12 hours round trip to see a dead tree?
It was the day after the Vegas U2 360 show and we were all in relative proximity to the legendary Joshua Tree, which the band was photographed next to back in the 80s. Never mind that it would take nearly six hours to get to—or that it had fallen dead many years ago—this was a sacred site in our world and we wanted to pay our respects together, as one.
I explain my complete journey in this essay I composed for our site.
A video from our first stop at the majestic Zabriskie Point (also a pit stop for our favorite band) can be found here.
And if you want to see the iconic photo that we’re trying desperately to duplicate in the first video, follow this link.
Our staff began with a hearty breakfast at the Denny’s on the Strip, then went grocery shopping for the following day’s road trip.
After that, we stopped in at the Pinball Hall of Fame, a place Michael and I had learned of after one of our listeners wrote in following this episode of Cinebanter. Note: if you have any desire to listen, please be aware this show is from our early days when we used Skype and the audio is not to our liking.
It seems that the man (called “Hippie”) who used to run Michael’s childhood arcade in East Lansing, Michigan, now owns and operates this museum in Vegas. Sure enough, when we all filed in to play vintage games like Centipede and Tempest, there was Hippie, standing over a machine he was fixing. Michael soon identified himself and they began sharing stories from the 80s. It was very sweet.
Next, we headed back to the hotel, changed into our official staff shirts and drove to Sam Boyd Stadium. It was blistering hot outside, so we opted to avoid the huge general admission line (in the sun) and somehow got stuck helping security send folks to the appropriate entrances. We blame our staff shirts for this additional duty.
Once inside, we secured spots next to the VIP section, which is a great place to watch the show and not nearly as crowded as the front. Right behind me were Elisabeth Shue, her husband (Waiting for Superman director) Davis Guggenheim, Sean Penn, The Edge’s wife Morleigh Steinberg and many others who passed through during the concert.
The gig was great—high energy, small venue, lots of Elvis references, etc.
Afterward, we all scurried off to bed so we could be well-rested for the next day’s mammoth road trip.
I’ve been to over 30 U2 shows, but only once have I had the pleasure of being on stage. And I still didn’t get to meet them.
I was in North Carolina to help host the first-ever U2 Academic Conference and we had a full day of sessions and fun behind us. Because I had several shows lined up to go to on the tour, I actually refrained from requesting a ticket to the show that was happening in Raleigh that night. I figured I would take one for the team, stay in my hotel room and Tweet the setlist from tips my friends would send from their phones. Sure, I was disappointed, but I’ve been blessed to see so many shows, I didn’t feel entitled to get to that one too.
When my dear colleagues at the site I write for, @U2, found out that I didn’t have a ticket, they sprung into action and by the time we made it to the venue and lingered outside sound check, I had a ticket.
Once we were on the inside, a few of my colleagues and I were offered a chance to act as volunteers during the show. There is a song in the set, “Walk On,” which was written about Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is currently under house arrest. As part of the theatrics, a line of people march out during the song with a mask of her face covering their own and stand on the stage for a few moments to show their support.
My friend Sherry and I accepted the invitation, and the experience is something I’ll never forget. Once we received our cue, we were led up the stairs to the stage and paraded all the way to the front.
I was trying to see the crowd out of the two tiny holes in the mask, working to keep an eye on my feet so I wouldn’t fall off the slim stage, and attempting to glance in my peripheral vision at the band I’ve loved since I was six years old.
The music was massive, the drumbeats acting as my second pulse, while Bono’s voice came up my chest through my throat. It was unbelievable to see what the band sees each night as thousands of faces and emotions stared back at them. I got goosebumps, cried tears of joy and found time to sing along in the midst of the surrealism.
Before I knew it, the moment was over and we were escorted back off the stage. I remained in shock for the rest of the show and celebrated well into the night with my friends Marylinn and David, along with U2’s childhood pal (Daily Telegraph writer), Neil McCormick, and legendary Rolling Stone music journalist Anthony DeCurtis.