Saturday, July 30, 2011

U2. Me, Too. We, Two.

I went to my first sober concert this week. (Me and 65,000 other Pittsburgh fans.) My first sober concert ever at 39 years old. And not just any concert, but U2. A band I’ve been waiting to see since I was 13 years old. Granted, Bono and the rest of the guys have aged and grayed a bit in the 30 plus years they’ve been playing together, but then, so have I. I have to admit (and here, my husband will just have to put up with the traces of the superficial, breathless, fluttery-eyelash, hormonal teenage self that still occupies the front-and-center of my amygdala), Bono still looks damn good in his leather pants.

My first concert? Depeche Mode. Madison Square Garden, 1987, 2nd row. Prior to the concert, my girlfriends and I got drunk off a few six-packs. I don’t remember much except a lot of flashing strobe lights, smoke machines, synthesizers, and my friend vomiting on the floor. Oh, and for some reason, one of the roadies thought it was a good idea to give a bunch of 15 year old Catholic school girls back stage passes to meet the band. I mean, this was 1987. Pre-Brittany Spears, pre-belly button, taut-tummy shirts, pre-thongs-on-teenagers, pre-super-provocative-hyper-sexualized-brazilian-wax-and-tattoo-on-my-clitoris decade. I mean, we were trying to pull off suburban-punk-wannabe: Doc Martens, short plaid skirts, black tights, red lipstick. Never mind that we would all take the Long Island Railroad home to our cul-de-sac neighborhoods post-concert.

But. Backstage we went. Shared a few very drunken beers with Depeche Mode and their opening band, Book of Love. Got autographs. Did not exchange any sexual favors. (Though at a later concert of theirs at Jones Beach, desperate for backstage passes once again, one of my once again drunken friends would desperately allow herself to be lecherously groped by their manager, a man with bleached white hair and a row of toddler-tiny teeth in their tour bus. What she really did for the passes, she’d never tell. But we all met the band again. Starry-eyed, arrogant in our bragging rights. Confident that we really didn’t belong in suburban safety. Even Depeche Mode had seen that in us!

Concert after concert. All of them involved being intoxicated. The point seemed not to remember the music, but to disappear inside of it—to be swept up in the flashing lights, in the billowing smoke, in the press of the crowd. To remember the heady intoxication. But the songs?

Once, I even attempted suicide at a concert. Lollapalooza. I was 20. Deliberately downed 17 shots of vodka in about 17 minutes. My intention was simply to disappear for good. To be swallowed up in the music, in the anonymity of the thousands of people who were there, to not be found. I came without I.D., so I did not want to be found either. But I was found, in some nearby field. Underwear on, but jean shorts gone. Who knows how I got there, or what happened to get me there. I was transported to the closest Emergency Room. I came to, completely strapped down to a gurney, wrists and ankles tied up, hooked up to an I.V. and catheter, a blood alcohol level of .39. Almost, almost, very, very close to dead. I woke up disappointed because I was still alive. I woke up having to lie to doctors and nurses and my parents. “Gosh,” I said. “I guess I drank too much.” Ooops. They all believed me. Despite the ribbons of old white scars on my arms. Despite the new red fissures that crossed them.

But all that is in the past.

This week I’ve been feeling pretty good, hooked up to a continuous I.V. of U2. They played for two and one half hours straight. New music, but a lot of their “old” music, the music that got me through my adolescence, the music I listened to when I was alone in my room, believed no one understood me, believed that I would always be an outcast, always feel empty, always feel adrift. The music I listened to when I took the bus back and forth to high school, dreading having to step into school, dreading having to walk the long manicured streets of my development towards home, my Walkman snug over my head, Bono singing to me and only to me: “With or Without You,” “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “I Will Follow,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” These songs kept me alive. 26 years I’ve been waiting to see this band. Maybe my Higher Power knew I needed to wait this long so that I could hear the music, so that I could remember the songs, feel them inside.
Let me not veer off into complete sentimentality here. Out of the 65,000 fans crammed into Heinz Stadium, who did I have to sit next to in the Upper West Deck? Two middle aged dads, talking very loudly, very seriously throughout the concert about one of their daughters.

Dad #1: “It started during college and she’s never gotten over it.”

Dad #2: “Like the freshmen 15, only the reverse.”

Dad #1: “She goes in for treatment, comes home, gets better, then gets worse. Anorexia is hell.”

Dad #2: “It seems like it’s everywhere.”

Dad #1: “It has the greatest mortality rate of any mental illness. Sometimes I wish she had cancer or leukemia. Then there’d be an end to all this. I keep hoping and hoping and it’s killing us all. There’s nothing her mom and I can say that helps. There’s no end to this.”

He was right. That’s what it feels like at times. No end to all this. All of it. The Bipolar Disorder. The Eating Disorder. The shame and guilt. But I turned away from him, turned towards U2 singing to me, to me, to me this night, that night, and all those many, many nights keeping me alive and hopeful. And shit, I am still alive 26 six years later, 26 more years than I expected to be, given the desperation and desolation of all the previous decades.

So I turned towards U2 singing before me, live and alive, and turned towards Christopher standing beside me—yes, the man who loves me for me, the man who I love standing beside me. I wasn’t locked away in some room alone, Walkman attached to my head, singing to myself. We were raising our hands together, singing (okay, belting out) along with Bono and the boys together, along with the 64, 999 fans, part of, not cut off. And after the concert? Driving home together, to our kids and dogs and cat and Chinese water dragon, to our imperfect, complicated life together.

“Drowning Man,” U2

Take my hand
You know I'll be there
If you can
I'll cross the sky for your love.
For I have promised
For to be with you tonight
And for the time that will come.

Take my hand
You know I'll be there
If you can
I'll cross the sky for your love.
And I understand
These winds and tides
This change of times
Won't drag you away.

Hold on, and hold on tightly.
Hold on, and don't let go of my love.
The storms will pass, it won't be long now.
This love will last, this love will last forever.

And take my hand, you know I'll be there.
If you can I'll cross the sky for your love.
Give you what I hold dear.

Hold on, hold on tightly.
Hold on, and hold on tightly.
Rise up, rise up with wings like eagles.
You run, you run.
You run and not grow weary.

Hold on, and hold on tightly.
Hold on, hold on tightly
This love, lasts forever.
Now this love lasts forever.