For me no one had a bigger impact on my formative years than Saint Bono. I tried to emulate his horrible Western 'Rattle and Hum' era wardrobe. I studied his Rolling Stone interviews. I dissected the inner workings of his lyrics in search for answers to life's mysteries. He was my school teacher and here was some of my curriculum.
- Literature: Bono was my gateway to Flannery O'Connor, James Joyce, even Norman Mailer. I remember him mentioning in passing how cool "Ulysses" was so I spent all of my summer vacation money at the Ex-Libris bookstore in Sun Valley, Idaho to get a nice copy. Despite my best and repeated efforts I never made it more than 30 pages into that thing. I did have better luck with Norman Mailer and his 'Executioners Song', the inspiration for the underrated Joshua Tree classic, 'Exit'. That book was far more accessible and set in my Utah backyard. Too bad it was written about the notorious serial killer Gary Gilmore.
- Social Activism: One cannot truly experience growing up without responding to the well intentioned calls of activist groups that occupy liner notes and arena lobbies of our favorite concerts. For me it was Amnesty International, Green Peace, with a little bit of UNICEF. While their messages get a more cloudy through middle age and a more complex lens, their earnestness and devotion to their cause is to be admired.
- Religious Studies: U2's Christan imagery not only inspired fervor in many Mormon boys such as myself it also led to some of the greatest Mormon urban legends. (i.e. that whole silly bit about Bono writing 'Streets' for Salt Lake City or 'One' for a Mormon girl that wouldn't let him in the Temple.) While I never fell for the Mormon-connection side of the U2 religious experience I did spend plenty of time poring over the Psalms, namely Psalms 40. I remember using that Psalm and the U2 song by the same name to lead my seminary class in a daily devotional. I must of thought I was so cool and so spiritual.
- Musical Exploration: U2 also introduced me to the wider world of music. (Don't worry Brian Tibbets you still get credit for Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles, Colors, and the Smiths) My old CD collection is full albums from the Pixies, Joy Division, the Pogues, the Clash, Velvet Underground, Sex Pistols, and the like. Some were accepted into my musical rotation, most gathered dust next my mystical moods collection. Every time Bono or the Edge would list a musical influence I would follow their path so that I could, perhaps, better understand the essence of my favorite U2 songs.
- Reinvention: Amongst my friends U2- Bono particularly- took a big hit in popularity when they transitioned from the earnestness of the Joshua Tree years to the leathery irony of Zoo TV. While I didn't fully understand of the genius of the move at the time I did value their courage in stepping out of a successful act and completely reinventing another one. Comfort is only good for lounge wear; life is to be experienced on the uncomfortable edge of exploration and discovery. It was the Fly, or was it MacPhisto, who taught me that.