Reimagining Fandom

Emily Wolf
7 min readDec 11, 2022

Surrender.

It’s a concept I’ve been striving to embody. It’s what ultimately caused me to reimagine my U2 fandom. And, because you can’t make this shit up, it’s the title of Bono’s new memoir.

Surrender requires honesty — an honest assessment and, ultimately, acceptance of what is, what works, and what does not. After 35 years, I’m finally admitting that certain aspects of my U2 fandom have never worked for me. It’s a relief to let them go.

This all crystallized when I traveled to Nashville — a great town by all accounts, to which I had never been — to see Bono’s Surrender book-tour show at the Ryman, a small, historic theater.

I was so excited.

Books and U2 are two of my favorite things, and Bono’s memoir is gorgeousI inhaled it. Plus, I had a ticket for an actual seat in which it would be not only acceptable, but expected, for me to park my tush. Such a ticket would not require me to ask the super-fan in charge of “running GA [General Admission]” to write a number on my hand in permanent marker; stand in line for hours, eschewing food, water, and anything that couldn’t fit in my pockets; helplessly watch my cell-phone battery drain; give line-jumpers the stink-eye; sit gratefully on a concrete curb only to have my limbs fall asleep beneath me; use a port-a-potty that hadn’t been cleaned since the tour began; be squeezed between metal barricades like a pig off to slaughter; sweat bullets in the unobstructed sun; run — and I do mean run — through the venue like a frenzied child, just for the privilege of fighting other middle-aged fans who’d also left their dignity at home for a spot nearest the stage; ignore my thirst, hunger, bladder, and deep yearning to wash my hands in order to protect said spot; endure an opening act with poor sound quality and the hour-long set-change afterwards; or seethe with anger at the people who got closer to the stage than I did, the band, Ticketmaster, Live Nation, and myself.

No! I wouldn’t have to do any of this! Because this wasn’t a U2 show. It was a book event. To which I would arrive looking and feeling like a goddamned human being.

Or so I thought.

See, I went to Nashville without my best friend and like-minded-U2-show compatriot, Gaby. I hung out instead with a group of kind and generous U2 super-fans. I envied their total lack of ambivalence: Of course they were going to scout out the venue eight hours before showtime, use their closely guarded intel to divine when and where Bono might show up, line up five hours before curtain to catch Bono on his way into the theater, chat up his advance team, and suppress all bodily urges in case Bono might speak to them or sign their albums. Or limbs.

I, however, was on the fence. Literally. As I leaned against the exact kind of metal barricade I’d come to resent the afternoon of the Nashville show, I felt torn.

On the one hand, I didn’t belong. I had no burning need to interact with Bono. None of my clothing bore a U2 logo. I wore no U2 jewelry, trinkets, or tattoos. I was the only one with no plans to buy merch once inside the theater. The silent tension that arose when Bono’s arrival became imminent — and the unspoken, collective understanding that it would be every fan for himself once he did — made me uncomfortable.

Plus, the thing I held in my hands wasn’t an album or photo; it was a copy of my own book, My Thirty-First Year (And Other Calamities), in which U2 plays a role. I wanted Bono to have it, a gift from one debut author to another. When I asked Bono’s security guard — whose name, the crowd around me said, is Brian Murphy — whether I could leave the book with him, he hesitated, looking confused. I assumed he was evaluating whether my novel might be a bomb or something, so I flipped through its pages and pointed to the generous blurb that Neil McCormick, the brilliant writer and music columnist (and Bono’s friend and former schoolmate, sure to be known to Brian) had written on the back. But, apparently, whether or not the book was safe wasn’t responsible for Brian’s befuddlement.

“Don’t you want to try to give it to Bono yourself?” he asked.

“No,” I said dumbly. “I just want him to have it.”

Brian cocked his head, no doubt trying to discern why a middle-aged woman standing against a metal barricade, surrounded by other die-hard fans, and wearing evening clothes at 4:00 p.m. was content to sacrifice possible contact with Bono. He seemed to genuinely consider taking the book but ultimately encouraged me to wait to hand it to Bono myself.

On the other hand, not belonging is a lonely feeling, and I couldn’t walk away from the chance to experience something the people around me held so dear. “It’s the best,” they told me, of the times Bono had shaken their hands, kissed their cheeks, signed their memorabilia, put an arm around them, posed for a picture, or even given them a ride or invited them backstage. I couldn’t bear the FOMO I’d suffer if I missed some magical encounter with Bono in favor of a civilized dinner. I stifled the question that always lingered inside me on these occasions: how special can a wave, high-five, or kiss on the cheek from a stranger be, even if he’s a rock star? But the longer I stood there, the more I felt as though I was waiting in line for a U2 show, not quite a super-fan, but super-fan-adjacent, not sure whether I wanted to lean all the way in or take a big step back. And sure enough, the longer I waited, the more agitated I became. I had to get my book to Bono! It would be more special if I gave it to him myself! I’M NOT GONNA THROW AWAY MY SHOT!

Well, Bono’s SUV did drive right past me. But it parked at the other end of the alley, by the other metal barricade. He spent 90 seconds greeting fans before walking into the theater.

And I. Was. Crushed.

Thirty minutes later, I convinced the group who’d so kindly taken me in to leave our prison gate — to which we were all still glued by some kind of inertial, irrational hope that Bono would come back — to grab a drink and inadequate bar snack…before getting right back in line for the show. I hatched a plan to run upstairs immediately after the show to give my book to the sound man; his name, I now know, is Joe O’Herlihy. That too failed. The entire crew had left the theater by the time I’d fought my way up a down staircase.

I loved the show. It was a totally unique visual, sonic, and oral rendering of the meat of the book, which I’d wager is the most vulnerable and intimate work Bono has shared with the public thus far.

But the predominant feeling I had when I went to bed that night wasn’t the joy of the show. It was ickiness. Dis-ease. I was hungry and thirsty. My feet hurt. I didn’t give Bono my book. I hadn’t seen a single Nashville sight (other than the theater). I’d been not-quite-a-super-fan yet again. I had not belonged. I had failed.

It’s taken me a month to digest and reflect upon my time in Nashville and, finally, surrender to my own knowing. The fact is that I love U2’s music. It has always helped me feel my feelings and, at times, reveal myself to me. It has helped me to understand both humanity’s inherent potential and flaws.

And I love U2’s live shows. There is something spiritual and ineffable about experiencing their music in real time, communally — an extraordinary, singular dance between band and audience that turns U2’s music into art.

I’ve finally come to accept that I can and must enjoy these things in a way that feels aligned to me. And that doesn’t involve chasing the band members themselves.

Should I be lucky enough to catch another tour, I will buy a ticket for the (RED) Zone, a standing section on the floor that’s close-ish to the stage where you can dance freely but don’t need to throw elbows. (A portion of the ticket price goes to the HIV/AIDS charity, (RED). If Ticketmaster and Live Nation are going to gouge me anyway, why not pick my poison?) I will eat dinner beforehand and walk into the show like a goddamned human being. I am done with cattle fences, port-a-potties, blistered feet, back aches, and dehydration (In The Name Of Love). I’m done standing around, sticky and uncomfortable, for hours before a show in the hopes that something magical will happen. Because magic will happen — inside, when the music starts, no matter whether I’m one or four claustrophobic rows away from the stage. It will also happen on my car stereo, record player, or headphones when I want to cry, laugh, dance, feel, or escape in private.

Does hanging up my supportive concert footwear and sauntering into a U2 show after sundown make me less of a fan? I don’t know. Maybe. But surrendering to what brings me joy, rejecting what doesn’t, and accepting my right to do both of these things feels important. So does being myself. So does feeling free. After all these years of internalizing their music, I can’t help but think that U2 would agree.

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Emily Wolf

Author, worker, woman, wife, U2-loving frazzled mama.