February 28th, 1983: it was a Monday, so I was in class. 9th grade, to be exact. It may have been the Monday we dissected frogs in Biology - and froze while doing so, since our new-age teacher believed in free-flowing spirits and always left the class windows cracked open. It may have been the Monday I got to read the part of Romeo in our English unit on Shakespeare, secretly hoping that Donna H. would read Juliet. It may have been the Monday that fellow freshman Leroy A. tapped me on the shoulder and asked (quite nicely) if I'd let him cheat off my History test (I didn't); or the Monday all the boys fawned over our fresh-out-of-college Chemistry teacher. Well, truth be told, we did that every day.
But for four early twenty-somethings who played in an Irish rock band, February 28, 1983 was the day they would release an album that would change their lives forever, and soon enough would change mine.
I remember when I first heard U2's War. It was later that same year in either April or May. Polly Guthrie handed me a recorded cassette tape after school: Check this out, Steve, I think you might like it. I actually didn't at first. Yep, you heard right. This U2 fanatic was a hardened skeptic at first. In an era where popular music was refined for mass consumption, War was too rough around the edges for my early 80's ears. Too in-your-face for my face.
It was only after a second and third listen that I began to "get it." The discombobulation experienced when listening to War for the first time was precisely what I needed it to do. The pounding drums, the thumping bass, the screaming guitars, the intense and impassioned vocals. And the message: was he singing about God, or a girl? Or both? And if he was singing about God, why was he being so angry about it? Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant were the only ones in my music collection singing about God, and they didn't sound anything like this. Could you really sing about God and be indignant and up-in-arms while doing so? Oh, that moment when a young lad hears the sound of righteous indignation for the first time. No more! No more! Wipe your tears away! Wipe your tears away!
I played that cassette until the tape wrapped around the little wheels inside the player and spilled out onto my bedroom floor. So I bought the album, and bought every one after that. Well, the earlier ones first, Boy and October. I had some catching up to do. And then: Under A Blood Red Sky. The Unforgettable Fire. Wide Awake In America. The Joshua Tree. Rattle And Hum. Achtung Baby. Zooropa. Pop (not at first, though. This one took some time). All That You Can't Leave Behind. How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. No Line On The Horizon. Nearly three-quarters of my time on this planet.
To say U2 have been a constant in my life since February 28, 1983 would be doing injustice to the concept of constants. And it goes beyond their albums. I've seen them in concert multiple times. I've read dozens of books about them and by them. I've covered their songs in my own gigs. Before my oldest son could say his ABC's he was reciting the band members' names and their corresponding instrument; and with great fatherly pride I recall how, at the tender age of six, he learned to play the opening drum riff for "Sunday Bloody Sunday." I've quoted their inspiring activist lead singer in numerous sermons and even sung their song acapella in one. I've been told I'm the only preacher around with a signed picture of Bono hanging in his office.
If the holy scriptures are the script for my life, then U2 is the soundtrack. I hope to God there are more acts written, and if the rumors are to be believed about a new album sometime this year, I'll be the first in line to get it.
For today, though, I'll be listening to their seminal album non-stop. Bono, Edge, Larry, Adam - thanks a bunch for starting the War thirty years ago today. Keep fighting the fight.