You know those things and people in your life that you didn’t know you needed until there it was, filling up holes you didn’t know you had, making life so much better, enjoyable, sweeter??? Forgive me for being dramatic, but that, my friends, is U2XRadio, a channel on SiriusXM dedicated to U2’s music and to the music, new and old, that inspires them.
Back in late 2019, U2 told us they had an announcement. There was a huge lead up to it. A promised big surprise to be declared on December 4, 2019 during their concert in Japan. What could it be?!?! Fans were rampant with supposition: extension of the Joshua Tree Tour? A new tour? A new album and then a tour? Just please, whatever higher being you pray to, NOT the end of the band… please, let it be anything but retirement!
Fans around the world stayed up or woke up (some of us at wee hours) on Dec 4 to hear what the big announcement was. It would be impossible to try to sleep anyways, with all that excitement and FOMO coursing through our bodies. I had my laptop perched on my bed beside my pillow, as I laid down and watched the concert stream; waiting, eyes drooping, but heart pounding.
Finally, the massive Joshua Tree outline on the 45 foot tall, 200 feet wide high resolution screen started twinkling on their stage and words poured across that screen. Words talking about radio, pirate radio, and then U2XRadio was written on the screen and I’m thinking… huh… ok. U2 Radio? I don’t need a radio station devoted to U2… I have all the albums, the dvds, some bootlegs (shhh)… I can play them when I want… What do I need a station for, especially one I have to sign up and pay a subscription for through SiriusXM??? I’m gonna sleep now.
And then life went on. And I forgot about the radio.
And then 2020 came. You all know what I mean. The apocalypse. Australia burned. There were murder hornets in the USA. I can’t even remember everything else that happened. Because COVID-19 happened. This disease that everyone, myself included, thought was just another flu, if perhaps slightly more serious…. Ummm. This disease, this pandemic, that is still ravaging the world. That kills and maims organs and paused the world’s economies; that put most of us in lock down, some of us in self-isolation (desolation, separation, dislocation. let it go).
This disease that keeps us two meters (6 feet) apart from each other. That likes it when we sing in front of each other because it can propel to other bodies faster, harder, and with more distance. That likes it when we are close to each other in proximity, and loves it even more when we are slammed up hundreds and thousands of people pressed together, all of us singing, because then it can truly infiltrate. This disease that, therefore, stopped concerts and conventions, and pleasure travel, and hanging out in restaurants.
This disease that left U2 fans even more grateful for the four plus years of tours we luckily had just before the world fell apart, but wondering and yearning for when we could see the boys again. When we could see each other again. Because loving the boys and the music is one thing, but it’s one thing (of many), the core thing, that unites this fandom into a family. And like a family we like to visit each other, and hang out and catch up. Yes, around concerts and U2 events, but also just because that’s what you do with friends and family, even when there are no events. Or you make up your own events to gather each other together.
Unable to gather in physical space, with the COVID world we gathered online together to watch/listen to U2 concert dvds, youtube recordings/etc., to play U2 trivia, at specified days and times. We hung out, we live tweeted as we watched (#U2togetherAtHome). We laughed, we cried as we listened.
It, of course, is not the same as sharing an in-person, out-of-body, spiritual experience at a U2 concert with 70,000 of your closest family members. Dancing, sweating, singing, bouncing, revelling, loving this band together. But these #U2togetherAtHome events helped, they saved our sanity. They still do. The U2 fandom will always find a way to be together.
But still we missed our boys. We still miss our boys. That interaction with them. The connection. The conversation. It’s a strange conversation. Sometimes its like any conversation, face to face, one on one, band-member to fan, if even for just seconds.
Most times it’s a conversation on a different level, between band and fandom. We engage in an exchange of information with them by them giving us their music and tours, through their interviews, activism, posts on social media, etc. and we respond to them through fan participation by buying the music, joining their campaigns, going to their shows and giving them all our emotions while they play.
I miss this conversation. I miss the concerts. That connection and euphoria of a U2 show with my U2 family. I’ve said it before, I miss U2 concerts like I’d miss breathing. And the COVID space between us all feels wider than two meters.
So I signed up for the 4 month free trial on SiriusXM on July 1 so I could try out this strange new platform, this U2XRadio thing…
Who am I kidding? I would’ve signed up anyways. Free or not. COVID or not.
July 1, 2020. U2XRadio premieres – the airwaves open wide and there they are. My boys. First Rock Gods, now wavelengths. Perhaps not wavelengths of celestial intent like my other Fandom Family Favourite (Hey, Castiel), but wavelengths of intent without a doubt. So very much intent. U2 start their radio channel with an immediate, on point, timely, and emotional conversation direct from them to the world, to the fans.
It starts with Bullet The Blue Sky, one of U2’s most political songs ever, a song questioning USA politics. It was written in 1986 about the USA military involvement in Nicaragua and El Salvador, but it has evolved in its role in political commentary and fervour about American politics over the years. This day, the U2XRadio premiere, it feels like a call out to the USA: “Hey, U2 Family,” they seem to be saying, “we miss you too. How are you doing in amongst these massive world changes? USA, WTF??? What are you doing? Trump. COVID. Racial Injustice. WTF, USA?!!” “Outside it’s America, outside it’s America.“
The conversation continues with Pride, In the Name of Love, the second song played on U2XRadio. A song about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his role in the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s and his commitment to non-violence: “Hey U2 family. WTF, USA, and everywhere around the world. Apparently, we still all need to have this conversation about racial injustice: all humans have human rights, have civil rights and all humans should therefore be afforded these rights equally. Why, oh why is there still so much systemic racism? We stand with you. For George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, and too many others. They took your life, but they can not take your pride. They took your rights, but they can NOT take your pride. We stand with you. We stand peacefully, without violence. Remember the Civil Rights Movement. Remember MLK. What more, in the name of love?”
This band is nothing if not political, is nothing if not activists, is nothing if they didn’t use their platform. It comes as no surprise then that these songs open up their conversation with fans and any listeners on this U2XRadio, their new platform. These two songs and the entire opening playlist was curated by the band themselves and you just know the conversation between them was intense on deciding these first songs. These first words. There is great importance in how something starts… first impressions, love at first sight, the first sentences of books. It matters.
The third song, New Year’s Day, is also a political song. It was written about the Polish Solidarity Movement. But the lyric that struck me while listening this time was simply this: “I will be with you again.” This, to me, is U2 saying: “Hey U2 family. We know this COVID thing is hard. We know the physical distancing from your friends and family can hurt and take a toll. We feel it too. We miss you, we miss playing music for you live. But someday, we will be with you again.” Even the imagery of the song suits this period of time. This unique moment in history: “All is quiet on New Year’s Day, a world in white gets underway.” It may not be New Year’s Day, but, wow, has the world been quiet. This pandemic has paused so much of our lives. And now, slowly, we are relaunching – stores are opening, services are returning. We can gather together just a bit closer while still taking precaution… The world gets underway.
Wow. Just when I think I cannot possibly love this band more, they give us this gift. They give us an opportunity, a new platform to converse again. (I haven’t even mentioned the phone text-line they also gave us in conjunction with U2XRadio…)
This is the conversation I needed. And, make no mistake, it is a conversation. They curate the main program (U2XRadio). Bono and the Edge each have a program (Bono Calling and Close To The Edge) where they talk with other musicians, friends, celebrities about music, the world. There’s guest DJs that will spin their favourite U2 songs and fan over U2 (Guest DJs Play U2 – Matthew McConaughey was the first). And there’s opportunity for U2 fans to take over the station for 5 songs and share their stories. That’s right, U2 fans involved directly in this conversation!
Even The Edge refers to this radio station as a way to speak directly to fans, to have a direct connection with us (during the first episode of Elevation on Sunday July 5, 2020).
I missed this conversation. I missed this connection. Damn, I missed my boys and this family over this strange time! But here they are. Here we are, together. All over social media, U2 fans are listening to U2XRadio together, and engaging in the conversation with each other and the band as they speak through those wavelengths.
This radio station is the gift I didn’t even know I needed until there it was. Listening to it, knowing that somewhere out there so many other U2 friends are listening at the same time, is sort of like being at a concert again. It’s sharing the experience, the passion. It’s connecting with each other, even if miles apart. It’s wonderful.
Hearing the fans’ 5 songs through the program Desire and their reasons and stories behind their choices is compelling. It extends and strengthens the sense of oneness in this fandom, or at least is it for me. Though our experiences that brought us to U2 are different and our reasons for loving songs, unique, there are commonalities: life events such as losing a parent, being introduced to the band’s music by a friend or family, the joy of listening to an album for the first time, a song or 100 that somehow changed or saved your life. I may not personally know all the fans hosting their session, but hearing their stories somehow strengthens the collective bond we share by loving this band. Same goes for the sister program, Guest DJs Play U2, where other musicians and friends of the band play their songs and tell their U2 songs.
Listening to the band talk about their experiences in writing and recording the songs, hearing about the artists that inspired them and songs from those artists, how they found their opening acts, hearing songs and concerts from their vaults, previous drafts of songs, mixes; it’s all a fan’s dream come true. When someone asks you if you could have a conversation with any celebrity, living or dead, who would it be and what would you ask, if U2 is the celebrity, U2XRadio is that conversation. “Hey Bono, who do YOU fanboy over? What songs changed your life?” “Hey The Edge, tell me about the creative process behind this song.” “Larry, tell me about the band’s early days?” “Adam, what about your activism? “Also, all of you, seriously, what music do you guys listen to? What do you recommend?”
(For more information, to sign up, and to find the schedule of the programs on U2XRadio, go here.)