Thursday, January 31, 2008


When I was in eighth grade, I lived a ten-minute walk from my friend Sarah's house. I used to play "So Cruel," from Achtung Baby, in my skip-resistant Discman, as soon as I reached the end of my block, I'd run lightly for two blocks, and I'd reach Sarah's house just as the last chords reverberated through me. It was a meditative ritual I never told anyone about.

I have no intention of describing or defending my fandom, except to say that the joy it brings me to see U2 live has not diminished in the fifteen years I've been going to concerts. That means I'm as excited now, rushing into an IMAX theater to see U23D, as I was at 13, rushing into Dodger Stadium, to see U2 ZooTV. That says just as much about the band as it does about me, I'll wager.

Because in truth, there is no other visual experience like this one, that I know of. The 3D reality is disorientingly real, even as you swoop in from the heavens to watch over Larry Mullen Jr.'s shoulder, or burrow into the depths of the mad, mad, gorgeously tan Buenos Aires audience.

I think about the people who will argue that it's "too big," and how many times U2 has heard that, and how frustratingly silly it is to think that rock and roll will ever be content as living-room size. It isn't the noise or the screen that makes U23D so large, I'll argue. It is that this 90-minute concert/art video lays claim to narrative, and musicians aren't supposed to have narratives outside of the ballad itself.

What's the narrative? Roughly: Men who know each other well do something beautiful together, try to help a crowd of people become better, more moral citizens, fiercer artists, and honest lovers, and never know if it's "worked."

At times, the people in the theater see through the eyes of Bono, the Edge, Larry, Adam. At times, they see through the eyes of the concert audience. At times, they become an omnipotent, flying, transcendent being with perspective no mortal human (without a crane) could have. We are given a gift of vision that is bigger, brighter, more distinct than those in the crowd. We are the bearers of dramatic irony--even Bono couldn't see the girls laughing or taking cell-phone pictures. Even they couldn't see Bono's shock when his flare lit up too quickly. We get to see everything.

This super-human perception is all-too-familiar in the standard omniscient narrator, and we slip into the position of all-knowing being as a reader without noticing it. But we don't get to do it quite as completely as movie viewers, usually, even with big panning shots and great sound. In 3D, on an IMAX screen, it is total. We are in the film. We are of the film. We are lost, and also, we are most powerful. This is a kind of moral stance, from which you feel utterly connected to all other human life, and that is why, when Bono sings Miss Sarajevo, when he sings Love and Peace (Or Else), when the great anger and grief at continued injustice coarses through, it is more moving than any romantic love song. Does U2 even do regular romantic love songs? I'd say no.

Love is always the higher power, which all people, even those in the throes of sexual jealousy or despair, must call upon and answer to. And Bono's hand-made headband, with the hypersymbolism spelling "COEXIST," is a demand that love makes on individuals, couples, families, cities, nation-states, religions, and so on and so on and so on...


  1. Good god! I'm so glad that I'm going to go see it again (and again and again). How inspiring it is to read this description of what I had experienced. I wish we could see it together!

  2. Thank you for blogging beauty!

    That we get to see everything is absolutely the most important and profound part of the U23D experience. It was like viewing something from inside the world, looking outward...inside each individual world of each band-member, inside the world of each song, and inside of each moment as well..But not stuck in a moment we can't get out of, because of the impossible movements of the thing, it's intertia (credit to the film-makers) that pulls us from moment to moment...sometimes along Bono's vision, sometimes a fan in the audience (the beauty! not a fan watching on a screen, the angle of a fan IN the audience! in front with the few!), sometimes something else all together. I distinctly did NOT feel like that traditional omniscient being of cinema, because there was almost nothing objective about the experience...We were IN IT, and all those gods were defeated.

  3. I absolutely love U2. They are my favorite band since I was a little tyke :)
    I still have not seen this movie! How horrendous of me right? But I cannot wait! I go to all their concerts and cannot wait once more to see them in 3-D! :)
    Thank you for writing this blog! It just made me that much more excited to see it! JPG

  4. JPG--I love your enthusiasm. U2 has seen so many incarnations it's great to find fans who have been able to change with them! Do go see it. Go see it now.

  5. u2 in 3d??? must take my husband!

    (found you through sark)

  6. going this weekend - I cannot wait. you've made me more excited that I am.

  7. I went to your first U2 concert. That's as intimate as having been there for your baptism, high school prom, or loss of virginity. It follows, then, that there are thousands of strangers around the world, who are astonishingly familiar and intimate, because we can access the same revelationary experience.
    And now it's in film. God help the cynics--U2 sounds their death toll in shimmering echo-delay waves of Edge-guitar.

    I love that you mention cranes in this. Cranes.

  8. I think it's wonderful that we're redefining 3D in this way--my stereotype has always been that it's a gimmick for kids, because the only place I've ever seen it was at Disneyland. Although let's be clear: I still think Captain EO was brilliant. To have the technology legitimately enhance something so fundamentally beautiful for the first time since EO blew my mind completely.

  9. i've seen it 4 far. i'm going broke because of it. but I LOVE IT and will probably go see it 4 more times.

  10. ok so this might be weird of me, but blogs are to be read by the public right? so hello vanessa! my name is amy ennis and I found a picture of you on facebook in an album featuring burning man stuff that I got linked to by clicking on a friend's profile, etc etc... and voila! I found your blog. I made you a collection of U2 vidos from MTV in the 8th grade. Do you remember me? It's been fun reading your stuff and I'm glad you're writing. I remember once you wrote something on a piece of paper in bio class, "life is a ribbon..." something something, and you drew a little pencil picture of a ribbon. It was lovely and I haven't forgotten, even if I forgot the rest of the metaphor. I've been living in Paris for a few years. But your writings are WAY more interesting than the French. :) peace, amy

  11. Amy! I still have the video tape, and remember your reassuringly kind and funny presence in class. I love that you are in Paris, and am jealous! Email me! Befriend me on social networking sites! And while I'm deeply flattered, I know it's impossible that I'm doing more interesting things than ALL THE FRENCH. Time to rediscover your city, since it's one of the most beautiful in the WORLD. I hope you went to that Becket exhibit at Pompideau a year and a half ago.