That time Bono dedicated "40" to you (and you freaked out)
It was July 10, 2015.
It was late in the night, much later than our usual "old people" bedtime. Phaedra and I had flown in to Boston from Houston, Texas. Among other reasons, we had come to see our first U2 concert. It's embarrassing to admit that we had never witnessed U2 live, but there you go. We were latecomers. But like the rest of the concertgoers standing near us, who happened to be mostly men in their 50s, we were sweaty and exhilarated. We had sung our lungs out for the past two hours.
I had spent the past year researching the band. I'd read everything I could on their early years. I'd pored over magazine articles, album reviews, long-form essays, fan forums. I'd watched interviews on YouTube about Bono and his faith. I'd corresponded with representatives of the One Campaign. And I'd spent an afternoon with Bono and Eugene Peterson in Lakeside, Montana, three months back, on April 19. With a view of Flathead Lake behind us, we had filmed a conversation around their shared interest in the psalms.
Coming to the end of the concert, Phaedra and I felt like we had missed out on an entire lifetime of good old fashioned rock and roll. We hadn't, however, expected the concert to feel worshipy, but that's how it turned out: worshipy. And liturgically ecstatic and totally righteous. After a handful of encores, we thought we'd come to the end. If we'd known better, or if we'd bothered to ask the brawny middle-aged men around us, we would have known that, like the vision of St. John of Patmos, the best was yet to come.
Bono comes to the mic. He starts telling a story about their band manager, Dennis Sheehan. Dennis, who had been their manager for 30 years, had died on May 27, 2015. Jack Heaslip, the band's unofficial chaplain, going back to their years as teenagers in the '70s, had died three months prior, on February 21. Too much death, it seems, in too short of a time had left the band members sober of spirit. Bono tells the crowd that Dennis had long-been associated in his mind with the song "40."
"It is imperative that we play it for you now."
At this point the Edge begins strumming the opening notes. The crowd goes bonkers; dopamine levels surge. Middle-aged men begin leaping, high-fiving, pumping their fists in the air. Tears stream down their faces. I kid you not.
Originally released as a commercial single in Germany, in order to promote U2's appearance at the Loreley Festival in 1983, "40" has become the iconic U2 song. The text is, of course, drawn from Psalm 40. And much like the hymn "Amazing Grace," it is the one song that all humanity, no matter what their creed, whether religious or irreligious, wants to sing at a U2 concert.
Because who doesn't ask the question, "How long?"
How long, O Lord, until justice rolls down like water? How long until the eyes of the blind are opened? How long until lovingkindness and truth have met together? How long until righteousness and peace have kissed each other? How long until the earth is healed? And, in light of the Manchester attack this past Monday, how long until the brokenness that marks the human heart is wholly mended?
How long [I fill in the blank]? How long [you fill in the blank]?
Ten seconds into the song, Bono steps up to the mic again. "David, this is for you." I don't hear him, of course, because I have men in their 50s hugging each other as if it were their last night on planet earth, howling as they anticipate the theme song of saints and angels. In music, as in life, it's all about anticipation. Bono steps away from the mic.
Then just to make sure, I guess, that it was clear whom he had in mind, of all the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of Davids in the world, the innumerable host of Davids who might occupy an Irish Catholic city, Bono leans into the mic and says: "David Taylor."
It's not that this narrows the field all that much, but a little shiver goes down my spine.
I look at Phaedra. Phaedra looks at me. Did he just say my name? I mouth to her. She mouths back, Yes. I freak out. What?
Then, like the good middle-aged gentlemen that surround me, I get a little misty-eyed.
Here is another view of the events:
(You can find all relevant info about the project here at the Fuller Studio website. You can read about the background to the project here at the Brehm Center website.)