Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
Every time I hear the word follow, every single time, I think of my 16 year old self, getting ready for Club, and then I think about Bono. Yeah, that Bono; the dude with the shades from U2. I hear him making his fervent pronouncement, “I will…follow!” at the end of the song of the same name.
Who’d have thought Bono would be a sort of John the Baptist for me, making the way for Jesus in my heart? It was U2 and the noblesse oblige of some suburban mothers who taught me that follow wasn’t a four letter word. That following Him didn’t have to take my (very high) cool factor to the basement.
Club was where church kids with attitude spent their Fridays. It was the one place where we could both listen to our alternative music and ask questions about God that we didn’t want to get into with our parents. It was where the mothers plying us with vats of Kool-aid smiled evenly at everyone; no matter how we dressed. A few churches across Pittsburgh opened wide their social halls for a cover band, led by the long-haired cool guy Ramsey, and let us dance in the dark until curfew. Even carefully coiffed “edgy” kids want to hang out with an endless supply of good music and free cookies. I didn’t want to follow anyone if it didn’t make me look good. Club made it possible for me make myself comfortable on the fence.
Two things defined our time at Club, and as teenagers; music and style. My friends and I planned our outfits with care, making sure all our-black clothes were clean, our tights ripped just so. Friday after school, we gathered at my house and sprayed our hair into impossible spikes, rimmed our eyes with liner, laced up our boots and marched off.
When the DJ played Depeche Mode, The Cure, The Smiths, The Psychedelic Furs, Echo and the Bunnymen we danced our faces off. We cornered the territory and we defined it, policed it, with vigilance and a healthy dose of self-importance. We, my dark clad, angry looking friends and I, were real fans. We understood the artists, you know. We uncovered the deeper meanings behind songs like “Lips Like Sugar,” (there really is no deeper meaning there) and “Khundalini Express.” We followed the artists’ lives with no help from twitter or Facebook. Cripes, we were still playing music on tape decks, people.
I knew that we were not conforming. I knew that we were different. I knew that they were nothing more than followers..
Except. That’s exactly what I was doing. I believed that to like a genre of music, one needed to look a certain way, act a certain way and follow a prescribed set of ideologies. Even if a kid doesn’t use music as an identity shaper, high school years are fraught with the tug between following and leading, between dependence and independence. Plus the hormones! It’s a wonder so many of us survive that time.
Following the distanced and contrived facade of someone else’s imagining is to find ourselves in the same predicament as U2; we still won’t be able to find “what we’re looking for.” It was fine to experiment with personae as I grew into myself, but at some point, that fence on which I sat grew rather uncomfortable.
Thankfully, the DJ played U2 as well as Siouxie and the Banshees. When I heard that iconoclastic cry, the decision to follow, I knew it was time to choose sides. Here was a band that wrote about more than having sex and how painful break ups are. Here was a dense and wrought musical language that combined faith and cool like nothing I’d ever seen. Here was a middle ground that allowed me to engage both my intellect and my emotions to approach an idea about God.
Which is to say, U2, and the kind ministrations of the juice ladies, pushed me off the fence. I wanted a textured faith, to follow something relevant and lasting but also deep enough to handle my questions. I wanted a faith that let me engage in culture to find the redemptive. In my mind, it hadn’t existed until I fell for U2.
Unlike so-called Christian bands, which even my pastor dad skewered as bad theology and worse music, U2 consistently has been able to use spiritual and scriptural allusions without the blunt force of straight-up Jesus talk. Few “secular” artists strike such a powerful balance between rock and reason, juxtaposing the (assumed) debauchery of stars with spirituality like U2. Without looking too hard, one could hear the redemptive bubbling to the surface in so many of their songs. A basic understanding of Judeo-Christian beliefs were all one needed to notice how cleanly scriptural truths were presented.
To a teen standing on the edges of faith, wading into the treacherous waters of identity formation, U2 offered a flavor of belief system I could swallow without a chaser of Kool-aid. Listening to U2 honed my critical thinking skills and I listened to other music, other lyrics, or approached the visual or written arts. I learned to decipher the music and art I consumed, asking what it demanded of me. I was going to follow this Jesus, I sure didn’t want a crappy soundtrack.