‘You want to buy him a coffee, a billionaire. He should be buying you a coffee.’ My husband is rightly incredulous. But I smile and nod. I do. ‘You just bought all those concert tickets and you want to buy him a coffee.’
To me, he is not that, I explain, not just a billionaire rock star but someone who has always been there for me, even when others weren’t. And has been there longer than anyone else.
So, yes. I want to buy him a coffee to say thanks.
Just thanks. I shrug and walk away. Maybe my husband will never understand, but I will try and buy Bono a coffee.
Maybe I am seventeen, or nearly eighteen, blonde with blue eyes, sitting uncomfortably with my long legs crossed on the hard wooden floor in an old country hall out, it seems, in the middle of nowhere. A light rain falls on the lush green grass outside. The air misty and cool. It is late summer, or maybe early autumn. The clothes I had packed are not for winter and I wish for more layers, for warmth and to feel unseen, possibly disappear. Although not, I feel alone.
It is a school retreat of some sort. I don’t remember exactly what it is called. A religious get-to-know-each-other to prepare for our final year as class of 1989. With close to 200 of us, I have since been reminded that there were actually four retreat groups spread over different locations, which explains why I feel like I am on my own. I am. There are no close friends with me, at all. But this will be the last time I ever feel this way. So alone.
In the group discussions, I contribute nothing though Father tries so hard. He is young, kind of cool and liked by us all, but nothing he says will encourage me to share my story. I don’t know. Maybe I didn’t even know how to get-to-know-me either, the girl who didn’t fit in or belong, who hid her two invisible disabilities and wouldn’t let anyone get-to-know-me to find out.
I cannot compare what I know now to then. My hearing, although slightly worst through deterioration, has actually improved with hearing aid technology. Thirty years ago, I would not have heard clearly what I do now, but still, I am moved the moment I hear him, and strain to listen the best my hearing will allow. Fortunately, a sheet of paper with the lyrics has been distributed.
‘I have climbed the highest mountains. I have run through the fields. Only to be with you,’ Bono sings in the then recently released track. ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,’ and so begins, in the first of many shared tears, my one-sided friendship with Bono who will be my constant companion, over thirty years and thirty countries.
The first albums I buy, straight after returning from the retreat where I hadn’t necessarily found what Father intended, but did find U2, are The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree. One song, ‘Bad’ I will listen to whenever I cannot sleep and must instead write before my head explodes, my therapy. My only therapy.
‘I’m wide awake. Wide awake. I’m not sleeping.’ Bono sings as I then lay, emotionally exhausted, crying myself to sleep. I will go through a phase when I play it as a lullaby every single night. I am a little obsessed with this song.
Diagnosed as hearing impaired when two, at fifteen I am diagnosed as vision impaired too, and told to expect to be blind by forty. I have Usher syndrome, the most common genetic cause of combined deafness and blindness with more than 400,000 affected worldwide. There currently is no cure. I don’t talk about it, just deal with it on my own, with a little company from Bono.
I have Pierre to thank too. Well, maybe it was Jason, Willie or David, but I chose Pierre as it suits my story.
I am twenty-two, a country girl living in the city, out on a warm summer Friday night, and a cute boy, Pierre, (or Jason, Willie or David) is walking towards me. He looks me in the eyes and smiles. I smile back because, well, he is cute, and at that moment, I realise I happen to be in the right place at the right time.
Pierre passes and after a few footsteps, spins around. ‘Want this?’ he asks, ripping a patch from his jacket and holds it out for me. ‘Memorabilia.’ Then he disappears into the night, never to be seen again.
And that is the end of my story with Pierre.
How do I know his name? I don’t but it could be. It could be Pierre, or Jason, Willie or David. Could be any of those or a few others but I’m going with Pierre. I was not long ago looking for the patch he gave me, and a video cassette, and found neither. But the brilliant thing about having been a brilliant investigative journalist in a previous life, as I am convinced I was, I found something even better than the real thing.
What Pierre gave me was a white cotton patch printed with a black and purple design of the U2 Zoo TV tour logo. Hand written in black was the word ‘film’. He saw it as memorabilia. I saw it as so much more than that, as you will soon see. The video cassette is the concert recorded two nights later. Having won a Grammy, I manage online to find a list of all the crew and, through the process of elimination; goodbye girls, goodbye post-production, goodbye make-up, sound, security and all that. Of the remaining names listed under film related titles, I chose Pierre as the one. Sounds like a French gentleman kind of thing, what he did, and so it calls for a French name. Non? Oui. Merci, Pierre.
Isn’t the internet wonderful? And if not Pierre (or Jason, Willie or David) whoever it was, can get in touch and say, hey, don’t thank Pierre (or Jason, Willie or David) because it was me!
So back to ’93, the small gathering I am delighted to find myself with along a barricade goes slightly crazy. Cheering and pushing. Who is it? Who is it! Oh, a nobody. Collective sigh. Well, nobody to us. We are here for the band! The atmosphere is electric.
I live in my grandfather’s house, just around the corner from the Sydney Football Stadium, and by chance, happen to be walking home at the right time to catch Pierre’s eye and hear that U2 is on their way out after a sound check. It is such a small window of time, a minute or two earlier or later, I might have missed it. I had been happy enough enjoying an evening at a nearby pub but surprised even myself when I just thought, I think it’s time to go home now. I don’t believe it was purely chance. I needed to be there, in the right place at the right time.
Oh, cheering and pushing again, and here they are now! Out they come, one by one. The Edge, Larry, Adam and Bono.
Can you believe it?
Here is U2 and here I am.
And that is when we meet. Bono and I.
‘Oh hello, how was your night?’ I casually remark to my cousin who lives with me, after I rush home. ‘What me? Oh, you know, I just met up with Bono and the band. But guess what I have got?’ I hold up my memorabilia from Pierre.
My cousin had messaged me earlier this year. ‘Want to come to U2 with me?’ Of course I do.
The next afternoon, after meeting Bono the night before, I pack my camera in my camera bag with the best film I could buy for shooting in low light, though without a flash, I don’t know what good it will do and try to remember information about aperture and shutter speed back from my university photography classes from three years ago. Then with the media pass on my jacket, I walk back around the corner from my house and waltz right into the press entrance at the stadium. Yep. Just walk in. Well, sort of. I pace. I pace for about twenty minutes, just outside the door until I think, well, I’ve got nothing to lose and I waltz right in, nod to security and continue through the other door which leads me inside the stadium. Just like I have every right to do just that.
Oh my goodness, I can’t believe I just did that!
I just walk in. Quick, where is the nearest payphone? (This is before mobiles.) ‘Guess where I am?’ My friend is envious. Last night I had rung saying, ‘Guess who I met?’ Less than twenty-four hours later, here I am, gloating again.
‘I got in the concert! I am in the bloody stadium. I cannot believe I did that.’
And I cannot believe what I do next.
So confident now I am, absolutely determined to make the most of this media pass, I waltz down to the security guard at the media area at the very front of the stage, demanding to be let in.
‘No, sorry.’ The guard is firm.
‘Hey mate, look at my pass.’ I still act like I have every right to be here, though wasn’t sure if the pass was colour coded for different days. But he doesn’t have a problem with my purple pass, it was just that I needed to be accompanied by someone with another type of pass.
Really, really cannot believe what I do next.
‘Hey you. Hello! You have one of those! Can you take me to the stage front?’ I ask everyone I see with the special pass, I have no shame.
Still, no one will take me.
But have no fear, I am so excited to actually be there, I don’t care about being in the media area and make my way as close as I can to the walk way which is attached to the main stage and find a spot that is just two people back from the edge. The energy in the crowd before U2 even come out is absolutely electrifying. I’ve never felt so giddy with excitement.
Here we go.
I am completely blown away. That has to have been the most mind blowing experience I have ever had. That, what was that? I knew a little about the concert, that it would be a multi-media event, and would satirised television and media over saturation by attempting to instil sensory overload in its audience. Goodness, my head is spinning, and that is just the first song!
I cannot stop smiling as Bono struts his stuff just metres in front of me, even looking right down my camera lens at times. And the girl he pulls up to dance? He plucked her from in front of me. Bono, I wanted to scream, you picked the wrong girl!
Security is pissed off, pointing madly at me and my camera, but I just flash my pass and ignore them. Make me. Here I am at the first Sydney ZOO TV concert and nothing will stop me.
Thanks Bono. And Pierre (or Jason, Willie or David). That was simply the most memorable night of my life. And the photos, not perfect, are my most precious memorabilia.
But, I must say also, I am sorry.
Learning recently that it was the only U2 concert ever (don’t quote me) that not all band members played, Adam too hungover to perform, I closed my eyes and thought, what are the chances, the night they meet me, this drama happens. Of course, it was really something to do with a breakup, supermodel and a wagon, but hey, meeting me, that’s a big deal too.
Bono, I am sorry. You were so emotional that night. I know, because I googled and also, because I actually had a ticket to go again the next night too, this time high up in the stadium. Same concert, but completely different experience. To see the crowd light up their lighters (remember, before mobiles) during ‘Love is Blindness,’ I was in tears. But you, Bono, you were different too.
Bono, I am sorry. I read you thought the band might break up, and there I was, this twenty-two year old city living country girl, with a bloody camera, in days before everyone had a camera at a concert. Each time you looked down the barrel of my lens, I imagined you thinking, what the hell are you doing here out of the press area?
So Bono, I want to buy you a coffee to say thanks and to say sorry.
But also, you know what else I uncovered googling? Bono, you and I need to chat. You and I are both facing blindness. I knew when I first met you, that I was facing blindness, and I think you knew of your Glaucoma then too, though wouldn’t reveal it for decades.
I didn’t know then there was a reason, but I was so grateful you started wearing wrap around sunglasses. I needed to wear them to protect my eyes too, and before then, they were not cool. Bono, you made them cool, thank goodness, and so I bought myself my own ‘fly’ glasses and felt cool too.
There is so much more to say, like how your words save me, like when I first heard ‘Song for Someone,’ and it seemed the world was pissed off you gave them a free album. I felt like that was the only way to ensure I heard the lyrics I needed to hear.
‘If there is a light. You can’t always see. And there is a world. We can’t always be. If there is a dark. Now we shouldn’t doubt. And there is a light. Don’t let it go out,’ you sing, and I really believed that this song was for me. It dropped, in my phone, when I was at rock bottom.
Bono, we need to chat. Over coffee? My shout.
And I have something for you. Well, it’s not just for you, but for everyone around the world who may be facing blindness. Something money cannot buy.
Bono, I have a project, ‘Sunsets for Kate,’ just have a look at the hashtag. Those, well over 10,000 sunsets are for me, for you and for everyone around the world who dreams of seeing a lifetime of sunsets in the lifetime of their sight.
So, Bono, can I buy you a coffee? You and I need to chat.
PS. And I must mention, ‘Love is Bigger Than Anything in Its Way’ has become my anthem, as I lose my sight. I sing it in my head, every day, as I walk along. And it is true. Love is bigger. Could you please, PLEASE, please perform it in Australia.
If you do, know there will be one girl somewhere in the stadium in Melbourne and Sydney singing it louder than anyone else and probably crying. I am always crying at your concerts.