Today, I’ve been listening to old U2. I’m talking way back U2, way before Bono turned into a fly who thinks his personality enlightens the world.
Many reading this were likely not alive when the album “October” came out in 1981. Many more of you may not like the band that influenced my early days, the way The Beatles or Pink Floyd or The Who influenced those before me. If you were introduced to U2 after about 1992, I don’t blame you for not seeing the soul that was much more evident in their early work. There is something distinctly different about their first couple of albums that has been gradually stripped away as they became one of the mega-bands of the late 20th century.
The songs on “Boy” (1980) and “October” had a reverence to them that was so strong that it became irreverent. They are folk/protest songs influenced by a youth in Catholic Ireland, non traditional love songs about questioning the world, and philosophical, angst-ridden meditations on existence. If you have a music service like Spotify, I recommend listening to both albums back to back, if only once in your life. You may make a habit of it, or you may never want to hear another raw guitar riff by The Edge (I know, damn pretentious name), but you will be changed in some way.
So what’s with the nostalgic reminiscence about the first music that felt like it came from inside my soul? Why now? Why here, where such discussion is usually reserved for visual artists like Ridley Scott or works by George Lucas or Stephen Spielberg? I mean this blog is usually about the journey of creating a science fiction webseries, right?
I suppose I’m reflective about an artistic medium that helped shape me into the conflicted, cross genre paradox that I am now because the most major influence in my early life is no no longer with us. My mother died last week. This is the third (and I sincerely hope, last) parental death that has occurred during the pre-production and production of Causality. No matter what one’s relationship with one’s mother, there is no denying that she has the most profound effect on us of any single person in our lives.
My mother was not an artist. She didn’t introduce me to any of the movies that I like. As a toddler I asked her not to sing to me because she couldn’t stay on key for a single note, and I pretty much detested her taste in music (though within the last few years I’ve gained an appreciation for the crooners and big-bands that she danced around the living room to.) She hated arts & crafts, and struggled gamely through the creation of Halloween and school play costumes that barely stayed on me through their intended events. She is the only person on the planet that I can draw better than (if you’ve ever seen one of my hand-drawn storyboards, you’ll see how bad that must be.) Though she talked about having an unrealized desire to be a journalist, I never saw her write anything more profound than a grocery list or greeting card.
Despite this lack of creative drive, she was the single most important influence on the creativity within me. How? She shared with me her love of reading. As soon as I could sit up in a high chair, she instituted daily “reading time”. And I don’t mean that she read to me daily, though she did that too, much more so than most parents. Reading time was not when she read to me, that was separate. During this sacred time, she would give me a book, and take her own and we’d sit together silently, reading. When I was very small, I learned to turn the pages of my book, look at the pictures, and watch her as she sat enthralled in an Agatha Christie mystery, or John Steinbeck Americana, or a biography of someone she admired. As I got a little older, I wanted to read like her, and with her help I started reading real books when some kids were still learning the alphabet.
When I was about 7 or so, my parents gave me a series of classic books like “The Three Musketeers”, “Around the World in 80 Days”, and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea”. These books had the actual text of the original, but they were laid out on pages that only had a couple of paragraphs on each, with pictures of some of the key moments. They were small enough that I could hold them easily, so I carried at least one everywhere I went. The pictures and short pages made them accessible to me, and I’d read and re-read favorite sections. One of my favorite things to do when I first got a bike (but wasn’t yet allowed to ride alone on the street) was to ride around and around the outside of the house, from the front yard to the back, 10 or 20 times. Then I’d stop and pretend that I had gone somewhere very far away, pull out the book of the moment, and read it while eating a snack my mom had packed for my Journey. Often when I went back inside, it was time for “reading time”, so we read more together.
Without the inspiration and example of someone who so loved literature, I would be a very different person. I might not have discovered (and re-read more times than those childhood classics) the Dune series which awakened me as the water of life awakened Muad’dib. I might not have taken my love of movies to a level that compelled me to read the screenplays of some of my favorites, or to read the books they were based on (like the oft-mentioned “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” that inspired my all-time favorite, Blade Runner.)
So in saying goodbye to my mom, and thinking about all she meant to me and gave me, this love of reading emerged as one of the simplest yet most profound ways she shaped me. We were very different people, and she admitted to rarely understanding me, but she gave me the tools and the support to bring out who I am. I think that is the best thing that a mother can do, and I am extremely grateful that she had the strength and intelligence to teach me how to be someone so different from whom she might have expected.
Back to early U2…one of my favorite songs is “October” a little known track, even though it is the title of their second album. It is a simple, haunting song with only a piano, and eventually a soft and humbled Bono. As a teenager I listened to this track on repeat for hours. It’s fitting that it came to mind now, while thinking of all my mom gave to me, and how she is no longer here.
October and the trees are stripped bare
Of all they wear.
What do I care?
October and kingdoms rise
And kingdoms fall
But you go on