u2*

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JACK WHITE: Mean Girls Edition

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Written by Joan Baez in 1985 after performing at Live Aid and watching the rest of the show from her hotel room: 

“I see a face I don’t recognize on the screen. It must be coming from England because the swaying audience is dotted with union jacks. The singer is dressed in black, and has long, slightly messy brown hair. He is streaming with sweat, and some of his hair is stuck to his cheek, in road map designs, making me want to brush it back. The song is cosmic, heavenly, lilting, and persistent. The singer jumps in the air and stomps around in heavy boots. He doesn’t fuck the microphone the way rock stars do when they realize that technology has made it possible for them to extend their egos out over a crowd of thousands. No, this young man is deadly serious about something, and is expressing himself with such tenderness it is enough to break my heart. He calls to the audience. They call back. He sings little bits of songs from the fifties and sixties, all in his utterly unique sound, and they sing back. He is directing a choir. They are the choir, and they are transported. Am I making all of this up? Possibly. The group’s name appears next to the Live Aid symbol superimposed over his mystical dance. U2, Live From Wembley Stadium. This is the group my fifteen-year-old advisors have told me to watch. This is the group they say is political, even pacifist. The singer is working his way down toward the crowd, jumping onto a narrow wooden skirt a few feet below the stage. He is gesturing to the crowd, waving someone toward him. He takes the long drop into the orchestra pit, and continues his sign language invitation. Eventually, a young girl is lifted bodily and handed over the fence which separates him from the crowd. She is simply passed over like an offering. She lands on her feet and is in his arms, and he dances with her. She is probably stage-struck and in shock, and her head is sweetly bent down, and for the next few seconds he is cradling her as they dance.

I can’t recall ever having seen anything like it in my life. It is an act, but it is not an act. It is a private moment, accepted by seventy thousand people. The dance is short, sensuous, and heartbreakingly tender. He breaks away from her and is helped up to the level just under the stage, and there finds another girl, dances with her the same way. All this while the percussion and hypnotic guitar continue relentlessly, lyrically, with the audience waving their arms back and forth, a part of the ritual. The singer moves back onto the stage, and, still pouring with sweat, continues with the song. His voice is nothing special. It is unsteady and it cracks. But it is compelling, as he is compelling. There is something about his seriousness which has captivated me.

Rock stars can look and be serious, but it is usually about themselves or their inflated vision of themselves. None of us who stand in front of a hundred thousand people hearing our voice (and band) amplified, tampered with, echoed, and smoothed into cosmic velveteen can escape certain grandiose delusions about ourselves. But this Irish lad is involved with something more than self-aggrandizement.

Granted, his ego is well intact, and he is a superb showman, but there is something more going on. And I would like to know what it is. That I would like to be wrapped up in his arms like the little English girl there is no doubt. But if my instincts are correct, there is something which preempts flirtations with him. Something bigger than him or me or us combined, or our music combined. Something to do with politics, kids, freshness, and breakthrough. And love.

Out of the hours of Live Aid that I saw by the end of the day, the high point was witnessing the magic of U2. They moved me as nothing else moved me. They moved me in their newness, their youth, and their tenderness…

I finish up someone’s warm beer…and shut my eyes. I see…the little map of hairs stuck to the youthful Christ-like face of the Irish singer from U2.”

“Eddie was seeking the advice of Bono a lot. After the shows you’d see Bono and Eddie over in a corner in deep discussion.”

-Nancy Wilson

“I seem to always take the role of scolding them for not wanting to be pop stars I think they suffer me with some grace. Anyone in their right would do [what Pearl Jam have done]; this is actually how to have a life, how to keep your dignity.”

-Bono