Last night I went to see U2 play at Madison Square Garden. Whether or not one is a fan of the band, it is impossible to be unimpressed by its nearly four decades-long career. Few artists in history have been able to sustain relevance over that span of time. And unlike so many other musicians today, who churn out meaningless songs about sex, clubs, and partying, U2’s success is built on soul-stirring lyrics about love, hate, injustice, faith, and politics—about the human condition.
As I stood dancing among a sea of people, it occurred to me that I could learn a lot from U2’s example.
- Write what you love. I think one of the keys to the band’s ability to sustain such a long, impressive career is that it not only constantly experiments with its work, but that it does so while staying true to the voice/message that inspires its individual members (as opposed to chasing trends in music). The authenticity of its music and lyrics resonate with its audience, which enables the songs to endure, and the band to constantly inspire and provoke. As a writer, it is a good lesson. There are always trends in fiction (especially romance fiction), but I believe the best way to build a long career is to ignore those fads and write from my heart. That’s my plan, and I’m sticking to it!
- One. Not only is this word the title of one of my favorite U2 songs, but it also represents a variety of themes. One person can make a difference. One moment in time can alter the world. All people can come together and act as one to effect change. Last night’s audience was comprised of people, young and old, from all points of the globe—a diverse group that became unified by passion for this music. Through art (music, paintings/film, and literature), we are unified—our differences momentarily forgotten—by a shared yearning for understanding, meaning, peace, and love. Perhaps if we remembered this when faced with conflict, we could all do our part to eradicate prejudice.
- Change is good. Throughout the concert, Bono repeated something to the audience (watch it by clicking on the highlighted phrase/link). He said, “America is not just a country. It’s an idea. Still being shaped. Still being born.” That struck me on two levels. First, that we Americans most likely take our rights and freedoms for granted, and that we forget how much power we, collectively, can wield as citizens if we choose to act. And second, that change is not only good, but critical to survival (as a country, but also as a person making his or her way in the world). And like our country, we have the ability to adapt to the world around us, to improve, to grow, and to make each day a truly new opportunity to leave an impact.
- Sexy at Any Age. Middle-aged woman in contemporary society are under constant pressure to look young. This “feeling” of mine is verified by dozens of sources, most recently by Time Magazine’s somewhat frightening article Nip. Tuck. Or Else. But watching Bono and the band last night, all of whom are over fifty, helped me to remember that sex appeal comes from within. It comes from knowing who you are and what you want, as well as having the confidence to go after it. When framed in that light, it is easier to ignore the deepening creases in my face, the sunspots on my legs, and the slightly looser skin around my middle (of course, I still don’t like that last bit).
Ultimately, I have to thank U2 for not only delivering the goods last night on stage with their music, but also for inspiring me to take a fresh look at my life and the world around me.
I hope I’ve passed along a bit of that inspiration to you.