U2 – Zooropa

The other day my daughter asked me what people wore in the 90s since it’s school spirit week and her class is supposed to dress in that style for one day. I looked at her in jeans, a plaid button down shirt over a t-shirt, and a pair of Chuck’s, and said, “like that only, baggy.” We sure didn’t go for skinny jeans back then. I tried to think of other looks that she might be able to scrounge together. There was the baby doll dress with the clunky black shoes but she turned up her nose at the couple of flowery short dresses I found in storage.

I pulled up some videos hoping for inspiration. We checked out a couple of Nirvana videos, Sonic Youth, Bikini Kill (thinking she might fancy a riot grrrl look), L7. She wasn’t biting. I found a couple of Lush videos, maybe she would favor a more British take on things. The only thing she took away was a whole lot of black eye makeup.

The more I thought about it, the more I had a hard time putting my finger on a 90s look. Personally, I went from being an occasionally employed college grad who sported thrift store chic, to someone hoping to be hip while working at a museum in DC, then a cubicle farm at an insurance company up in Maine (ever the home of function over form), a year as a grad student overseas, and I closed it out working on the 30th floor at a publishing company in midtown Manhattan. Not a lot of crossover.

After looking at the videos, I hauled out some CDs to see if the cover art and liner notes might be of more help. My daughter lost interest and settled on her usual clothes; she’d just try to do something different with her hair. But once I started flipping through my music I got sucked in. I picked up a tape I’d made and was transported back to the early 90s.

Perhaps surprisingly, I went through a small U2 phase back then. Let’s call it their Berlin period. It’s a little strange that the height of their fame would be the moment when I would sit up and take notice, especially since I’d had friends that were on board from day one who had tried repeatedly to get me to fall for them and I had always remained more of a casual observer. It wasn’t that I disliked them, I just felt like they didn’t need me as a fan.

They certainly didn’t need me in the early 90s either as Achtung Baby took over the world. Blame it on Berlin. I’d been so swept up in the fall of the Berlin Wall and the huge and swift changes that took place all over eastern Europe in its wake. I also had it bad for the Wim Wenders film, Until the End of the World. I saw it in the movie theater four or five times and had the soundtrack on regular rotation. In that context, the U2 song became a favorite and I wanted more. I bought Achtung Baby and listened to it almost in secret. Of course I was going to love “Zoo Station.” Berlin. Trains. What’s not to love? But I found myself liking most of the album, in spite of the radio saturation.

We had an intern at work who came from Berlin. I rented old Wim Wenders films and peppered him with questions. 1993 brought Zooropa from U2 and Faraway, So Close! from Wim Wenders. By that time, living in DC and my job were starting to get to me. I wanted a big change. I decided I was going to quit my job and go to Europe. Though my plan was to make it to Prague and try to find a job (something that didn’t seem that far-fetched at the time), I was going to start my trip in Berlin. Before I could do it though, I needed to save up money so I got a second job working part-time at a bakery and I tried to cut down on costs wherever I could.

Riding my bike to work was something I did a fair amount but once it got dark and cold, I generally took the Metro. I decided I could at least walk home from the museum job if I didn’t have to be at the bakery right after and not spend as much on fare cards. I needed music for the walk though so I made a U2 tape with what I had available; Achtung Baby, Zooropa, and I borrowed The Joshua Tree from one of my housemates. I wanted the songs that made that Berlin connection but I also wanted it to be a companion once I was over there. If my plan worked and I’d stayed over there, I was going to just have the handful of tapes I’d managed to bring with me for who knew how long. I brought it along in the car today with my Walkman/FM transmitter combo for a rare Tape Deck Tuesday appearance.

Side A:
Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car
Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses
In God’s Country
Some Days Are Better Than Others
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For
Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
Where the Streets Have No Name
Mysterious Ways
Running to Stand Still

Side B:
Zoo Station
Even Better Than the Real Thing
Until the End of the World
Stay (Faraway, So Close!)
So Cruel
Re Hill Mining Town
With or Without You
One Tree Hill

I took the tape with me when I finally made it to Berlin in February of 1994. Listening to it is a little bit of time travel for me.

A Sort of Homecoming

U2 – A Sort of Homecoming

Back in the early-mid 80s, I was not much of a U2 fan. I didn’t have to be to still know all their songs. I always had a friend who was a devoted follower so you’d hear them no matter what. I admit at the time, I didn’t really pay a lot of attention. I bought The Unforgettable Fire at some bargain bin sale a few years ago. When I put it on I was instantly transported back to cold bus rides home from high school football games (I was in the band).

Those dark, frigid days have been on my mind lately as we had a blizzard last weekend that dropped about 20″ of snow and knocked our power out. That wasn’t really a surprise, it happens every time a hurricane comes around. The difference is hurricanes usually occur in warmer months and lose their steam as they head north so the last couple of times, I’ve taken the kids up to my mother’s in Maine to ride it out. We’d lose power at home and my husband would stick around in the area to assess any damage and let us know when it was safe to come back. It’s been nice to have that refuge though I’ve felt a little guilty about just escaping the worst of it and waltzing back in when everything is comfortable again. I’m not going to feel bad about that any more.

Heading north wasn’t going to help us escape a blizzard (and sure enough my mother got buried, snow up to the door handle) so we stayed put. I had left the heat up a little higher than usual, made the kids take their showers early, found the flashlights and was just finished making dinner when the lights first began to flicker. We managed to finish eating but didn’t get the dishes done before the power went out. I played a board game with the kids, we read some books, then went to bed early. My seven-year-old was scared so I let him sleep in with me and my husband took the futon. I’m not used to going to bed that early so I was awake for a while in the middle of the night using a little of my precious battery power on my phone to see how others were making out.

It was 52 degrees inside the house when we woke up. Bearable but chilly. We made a tent in the playroom and lined it with blankets and pillows to try and trap some heat in. I went out in search of coffee and to see if anyone in the neighborhood had power.

See those wires? Coated with inch thick ice and hanging ridiculously low. I knew we’d be in for another cold night as I didn’t see any plows or power company equipment anywhere. The kids were being good sports about it all, even when their iPod and Nintendo DS ran out of power. We played some more board games (note to self, buy new games you can stand to play more than once), ate cold pasta, cereal, whatever anyone found palatable at the new room temperature was fine with me.

With the sun down it got cold, fast. Both kids piled into the bed with me and we took turns reading aloud by flashlight, gloves and hats on to keep the parts out of the covers from getting too cold. It reminded me of the first year we moved up to Maine. Our house in NY hadn’t sold so we were living in rented houses, the first one an unheated summer cabin which we stayed in until Thanksgiving. My sister and I shared a room, wearing two layers of pajamas and socks, mittens and hats to bed. My mother and younger sister shared a single bed, with the cat on top, just to keep warm. We survived that, have some really great inside jokes and stories we can tell, this is going to be fine, I told myself.

Because of the cold or the early bedtime, I woke up again in the middle of the night. I thought back to those days in the unheated house. As a teenager, it was something to be gotten through, put up with, grumble about. I’m sure I never gave any thought to what my mother was going through, teenagers aren’t known for their great empathy with their parents after all. Now I am the mother and I was responsible for making sure we did all survive it fine with nothing more than a good story to tell. Things sure look different from this side of the fence. The temperature in the morning was down to 42F. We were in the midst of getting ready to pack up and head to a friend’s house when the power company called with an anticipated restoration of power for 2pm. Phew! And thanks, Mom, for the grace I never even knew you were showing under all that pressure.