Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Spin the Blue Circle

Despite generations of acquired wisdom, life can still host a repetition of poor decisions.

Whether it’s to drink a fifth of Canadian whiskey out of fruit bowl or lose a Bob Dylan song in the embers of a torched relationship, children have been ignoring their parents’ advice against such acts for generations. They’ve heard stories of pain, stupidity or regret, then proceed to make the exact same mistake in the exact same situation. After enough of these experiences, though, enlightenment can set in. Teenagers or young adults will leave the Crown Royal on the counter or save every lyric on Blood on the Tracks for themselves. But, in other instances, they’ll continue to replicate the mistakes of their forefathers. Despite all the pain, frustration and annoyance they’ve witnessed or experienced over the years, they’ll continue the senseless commitment passed down from their fathers and uncles.

For the rest of their lives, they’ll invest in the seemingly calculated heartbreak of the Buffalo Bills, an agonizing decision of loyalty they learned from their families.

After Sunday’s embarrassing 35-8 loss to the Miami Dolphins, the cycle continues. Bills fans are knee-deep in another season of collapse after high-profile promise, yet show no interest in shielding the next round of Queen City-associated youth from the familiar disappointment. Buffalonian couples will do a variety of things to help with their children's upbringing. They’ll buy organic baby food to help them grow strong; they’ll trade a choke-hazard blanket for an infant sleep sack to keep them safe; they’ll spin Mozart for Babies on a small stereo to enhance their little ones’ learning capacity. But, as soon as that kid is old enough to wear a football jersey, you can bet they’ll have a royal blue or white 2T pulled over their head. They’ll be no hesitation, no consternation. Parents will do it, just as their parents dressed them in Bills t-shirts or elastic-cuffed sweatpants when they were kids. And, when they do it, they won’t spend even a second considering that one jersey’s association could possibly torment their child for the rest of his or her breathing existence.

For decades, family advocates have been rallying against the effect that dark things like Ozzy Osbourne records or The Undertaker’s choke-slam have on young children. These are just two apparently detrimental culprits, but there’s been plenty of overlooked ones as well. Things like Mazzy Star songs, John Cusack films or phantom clip penalties in the Fiesta Bowl can frazzle some kids more than a gruesome Saw movie marathon ever will. In the early pages of his literary classic High Fidelity, author Nick Hornby’s protagonist Rob Fleming contemplates such oversight with the following:

People worry about kids playing with guns, and teenagers watching violent videos; we are scared that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands—literally thousands—of songs about broken hearts and rejection and misery and loss (25).

My house was no different. I had easy access to a variety of wrenching songs by John Lennon (“I'm Losing You”), Simon & Garfunkel (“The Only Living Boy In New York”) and Billy Joel (most of An Innocent Man) amid my parents record collection. And, because of their address, interest and familial allegiance, they innocently introduced me to the football team who’d eventually destroy my stomach lining. My parents taught me about the teams of Gilchrist, Kemp and Stratton, the ones that roped in my South Buffalo grandfather with AFL titles in ’64 and ’65. They told stories about O.J. and Ferguson, Joe D. and the Electric Company. They talked about the stadium that once employed my mother as an usherette and welcomed my father as a season ticket holder. They gave me the Bills and their checkered history, but never considered all the possible repercussions of this decision.

Did they know that, by the time I was six, I’d develop a fluctuating emotional connection to a team that went 2-14? Could they’ve predicted how excited I’d be for Jim Kelly’s debut in 1986, or how angry I’d be at Ronnie Harmon’s hands in 1989? And, could they’ve foreseen the emptiness I’d feel on the mornings following four consecutive Super Bowl losses amid my puberty? No, no and no. That could be the lament of every Western New York mother or father who waited through a pregnancy in the late 1970s. Now, it’s too late.

There’s a new generation of Buffalo-loyal parents, ones who were fed just enough heroics to outweigh the cataclysmic heartbreak; enough memories of guys named Smith, Thomas, Reed and Paup to overshadow guys named Johnson, Williams, Losman and Hardy; enough cheers from games against Houston or Miami to overshadow the games against Dallas or Tennessee. These parents have made their share of youthful mistakes, from rounds of Jameson at 67 West to tickets to Hammer or Milli Vanilli at Memorial Auditorium. And, when their children are old enough to trip over the same stupidity, these parents may share their common stories to warn or relate. But, when it comes to Buffalo football, an infectious, emotional obsession with this region’s residents for over fifty years, they’ll make the same traditional mistakes their parents made.

Instead of learning from short-sighted purchases of Price and Posluzny jerseys, they’ll buy their children Spiller and Merriman jerseys. Instead of spending their Sundays at parks or museums, they'll gather with their sons or daughters inside living rooms or stadiums. There will be screams and cheers, expletives and apologies, and all will fly from September mornings through January evenings. Through it all, parents won’t shield their children from the possible disappointment. They won't act because bouncing through their brains is an enduring hope, one that slipped in when they were kids themselves. Despite all the publicized losses and pathetic finishes, there’s this clinging faith that, one day, the Bills will deliver the big one—and it will somehow be the greatest day of our lives.

Buffalonians have been waiting for this day for generations. On the eve of another Thanksgiving, one we'll inevitably spend talking to relatives about an anemic pass rush or sailing Fitzpatrick passes, we know that day's probably not coming this year. Until it comes, decisions to enable the family cycle of tortured fandom will continue.

One Sunday at a time.

(Author's note: This post was finished while listening to Wilco's "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.")

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

When We Paint Our Masterpiece

Take a drive around Buffalo and, if you have any distant memory of the city, you’ll feel good about saying one thing: This place looks a lot better than it used to.

Park space has been groomed or established; new office buildings, housing and courthouses have been constructed; historical entities have been salvaged and rehabbed; cobblestone streets have been implemented; and access to the waterfront has been improved. With a little exploration, you can now find portions of the outer harbor without packing a map and a hacksaw. Just last weekend, I touched the base of the Buffalo Lighthouse, a structure I’d seen encased in fencing for years. By even the most pessimistic standards, you can admit things are progressing past the decades of empty promises.

But, as elected officials preside over this city’s positive developmental direction, will they finally recognize and respect the role of Buffalo’s undervalued creative community in that direction?

Sure, they’ll recognize this cultural sect as important, but not indispensable. If they were recognized as such, funding debates wouldn’t break out during election seasons like this past one. For a region who regularly touts its cultural entities to outsiders and residents alike, how could any of our creative resources be deemed expendable by the region’s politicians or taxpayers? These resources populate local museums and art galleries; they fill pages in newspaper boxes and magazine racks; they construct statues for parks and town squares, and they stretch visions to corners of canvas on sides of Cobblestone District buildings. Buffalonians who’ve left this city have used the acumen acquired on these streets to host gallery shows, draft novels, or play vampires in Sarah Michelle Geller television shows. They’ve even used the inspiration shoveled from these sidewalks to record songs about flavors, slides and superfreaks. In any case, these creative resources have the ability to give Buffalo something no parking garage or property tax can provide: an image.

A city’s image can be formed by a variety of things, such as food, weather or historical events. Memphis has barbecue; San Diego has sun; Boston has the American Revolution. Currently, Buffalo’s image outside the 716 area code has been cultivated with a mixture of wing sauce, exaggerated snowfall, and Super Bowl losses. Residents and displaced Buffalonians know the history, benefits and unpublicized intricacies of this city, but outsiders or prospective tourists—ones local leaders and businessmen are clamoring for—are content to grasp onto the aforementioned trio. Until an interior movement is fueled and utilized to repackage Buffalo in a way that’s impossible to ignore on a national level, those three items will always be the most common things associated with this city. Well, those things and Niagara Falls, a natural wonder located in another city.

This movement starts and rolls on the backs of Buffalo’s creative community. This a city packed with artists of every shape and style, ones who’ve made Allentown and Elmwood Village two of our most recognizable neighborhoods. They’re doing their job there, acting as the city’s eclectic advertising and marketing department, albeit without the funding. With allocated financial support, their artistic talents could be utilized toward urban renewal or recreation in other sections of downtown.

Graphic designers, painters, performers, sculptors, musicians, and writers fill seats in Spot Coffee and barstools at Founding Fathers. They’re walking their dogs down Richmond and smoking American Spirits off Bidwell. Many of them are up until all hours of nights working on projects whether the city or county wants them to or not. During the day, some are working at their craft within non-profits or galleries; others are in unrelated professions that afford them the time and means to create or perform. They’re not simply looking for a government handout; they’re looking for reasonable support to assist their community-enriching endeavors, and compensation for their involvement in these efforts. And, in every instance, they’re excited for the opportunity to display the substance of these endeavors for a large audience.

This is where urban development can be augmented by a city’s underappreciated creative class.

If you drive down such streets as Genesee, Franklin or Oak, there are a number of dilapidated buildings, not ready for redevelopment but clouding the intriguing view of those being developed. Their exteriors have been worn down by time and weather, and they’re currently only advertising their depreciation. If you walk down Main Street, you’ll see small parks or squares that exist underutilized or empty. Their benches are splintered or their fountains are inoperable. When city officials see these spaces, maybe they see lost causes. If they’re concerned with pursuing a multifaceted image transformation for this city’s downtown core, maybe they should see these spaces as tremendous opportunities to be tapped by Buffalo’s hungriest assets.

If the city and county think of aiding cultural organizations or artists as a luxury, maybe they’d be more acceptant about the associated costs if they considered these entities as freelance laborers. Their work can do as much to re-imagine Buffalo’s downtown landscape as a courthouse or refurbished hotel can. And maybe some traditional residents don’t think of artists or cultural groups as blue-collar workers; maybe they think of them as eccentric, tattooed dreamers living outside societal norms. This is patently ridiculous, and a public shift in thinking is needed.

If it can be implemented, the city and county could consider generating a program that solicits artists or art groups to create Buffalo-themed art—according to the street, neighborhood or history surrounding either—in these aforementioned spaces. Whether through compliance (of city or county-owned property), suggestion (to private property owners) or direct action (with derelict owners’ property), these parcels could be utilized for the city’s and the creative community’s gain. With every painting crafted over brick and sculpture bolted into concrete, local artists can act to construct a bold identity for Buffalo, one of turning crumbling facades and empty squares into startling murals and sidewalk galleries. A drive down previously vacant streets will take a bit longer; a walk by empty storefronts will be a bit more fascinating. And, all of the sudden, a block of ignored possibilities becomes a desired urban commodity for residents and tourists alike.

Am I the first guy to suggest that Buffalo should enable its art community to use artifacts of the past to design its future? Of course not. I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last. This idea will keep coming forward in numerous variations until an encompassing reality blooms from this concept, one that’s been on the consideration shelf way too long. At some point, some forward-thinking city official will prioritize funding—or help to generate outside sponsorship—dust it off, and commit to its perpetual existence.

Until that time comes, Buffalo will continue its gradual resurgence through reconstruction and rehabilitation. Its artists will remain hard at work, generating the same electric urban undercurrent they’ve delivered for decades. They’ll open studios on Main and sell jewelry on Elmwood. They’ll perform alt-country originals inside Mohawk Place and publish Queen City-inspired stories in literary magazines. Cultural groups will continue to be driven by love, not money, and they’ll try to ignore the annual debates about their funding or relevance. What they do isn’t a choice as much as it’s an infectious calling. They absolutely have to do it.

If local leadership ever come to fully respect the rarity of this work ethic, they just might harness the creative force that could inconceivably transform Buffalo’s regional and national identity into one that dwarfs the tired rust belt jokes. By properly funding these artists’ gritty ingenuity, they’ll not only turn this city into a better version of its predecessor, but into one no Buffalonian ever imagined.

(Author’s note: This post was written while listening to Sam Roberts Band’s Love at the End of the World, The Band’s Cahoots, and George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Idea of Buffalo

This past Sunday, displaced Buffalonians in cities such as Chicago, Seattle, Boston, Charlotte, Phoenix, Fort Lauderdale, Washington, D.C., and Manhattan gathered at tavern tables, stared at flat screen television sets, and engaged in a pastime that’s become as comforting as a Bills win (albeit amid a Bills loss). Over an afternoon full of Labatt pitchers and plates of chicken wings, they talked about how much they miss Buffalo—and how they wish they could come home.

There are a variety of culprits they’ve determined responsible for keeping them from returning home, the same problems cited by wandering locals for decades. There are absolutely no jobs; the politicians are corrupt; downtown crime is rampant; the city schools are terrible; the winters are unbearable; economic development is lagging; there’s just not enough exciting things to do in the dilapidated region. Yet still, despite this laundry list of complaints, natives gravitate to foreign pubs on NFL Sundays to seek out allies who want to wax poetic about their birthplace and roots. Buffalo is the greatest place on Earth, but they’ll never move back.

Because they can’t.

Was I in any of these cities on Sunday to hear these conversations? No. But, for the last 11 years, I was leading them from a variety of barstools in Boston, Massachusetts. I even spent three years of my life writing a novel about the internal, vexing struggle many removed western New Yorkers feel either every day—or once they’ve had a dozen beers. But, there’s this prevailing and, for some reason, acceptable stance that the young adults trolling around the streets of Denver or Philadelphia are there not because they want to be, but because Buffalo has given them no other alternative. Our downtrodden homeland of burned-out warehouses and weed-strewn boulevards has brutally cast its young into the arms of better jobs and restaurants and transportation and nightlife available in other cities. This account may very well be true in some cases. In others, though, this exaggerated depiction might just be an excuse held by sentimental individuals who’d rather cherish a romantic idea of Buffalo elsewhere than invest inconvenient effort toward building Buffalo into the thriving city it could become.

Buffalo, NY
Once again, I’ll state that I waltzed around as one of these sentimental souls for over a decade. I spent countless nights getting drunk on memories while leaning back against the misconceptions removal from my roots afforded me. I’d convinced myself I couldn’t move home. Sure, I loved South Boston and my life there, but that wasn’t why I was living there. And, sure, my wife is from Boston; my graduate school is in Boston; my job as a sports reporter for the Boston Herald was in Boston; and both rock clubs I tended bar at were within Boston’s city limits. But, these weren’t the reasons I was really in Boston. No way. When I swiveled around on those rickety barstools on Portland or Causeway Street, I truly believed the real reason I lived in Boston was because Buffalo’s failures made me stay in Boston.

The longer you’re away from Buffalo, the more cherished (and distorted) your idea of it can become. It can become as romanticized as your past, with details and descriptions changing to suit whatever feeling you want to have about it. If you’re from the Southtowns, you’ll talk about Blasdell Pizza like it’s a panacea for depression; if you’re from the Northtowns, you’ll talk the same way about La Nova. You’ll remember Buffalo winters as ivory mosaics, and summers as yellow-hued embraces. You’ll reminisce about the Bills dominance in AFC championship games, then find some optimistic angle to explain away their four crippling Super Bowl losses. And, the longer you’re away from this city or region, the more likely it is that this idea you’ve created will become so comforting that you’ll never dare shatter it by ambitiously merging the idea with the risk-filled reality of returning.

This was something I had to consider last spring, back when I was presented the unexpected chance to replace my idea of Buffalo with the actual reality of Buffalo. My wife was accepted into SUNY Buffalo’s Urban Planning graduate program, thus delivering the opportunity to decide on a transition back into the actual day-to-day experience of my hometown. Over the years, I’d grown to cherish my concept of Buffalo. It got me into peaceful exchanges with friends and screaming matches with strangers; it kept me up nights and depressed me through days; it incited nostalgia and anger, one after the other on a rotating basis. But, somewhere underneath my contrived idea of this city was an understood reality, one every nomadic native knows very well. It bounced around my head as I sat in Boston bars; it gnawed a hole in my stomach as I sat in Cambridge coffee houses. For the rest of my life, regardless of where I lived and worked and breathed, I knew one simple truth: Buffalo was attached to me. With all its beauty and blemishes, it’s the only place I’ll ever be able to genuinely claim as mine.

Eventually, I accepted this truth and decided to leave the idea behind. In July, I packed a Budget truck and came back to Buffalo.

Now, this isn't the part of the essay where I transition into a section that details how the streets of Buffalo are paved with gold. It’s not Xanadu; it’s a city with the same economic and social problems that most of the country’s urban centers face. This also isn’t the part of this piece where I tell you Buffalo is just as electric as Boston; it isn’t. It doesn’t have the overt hipster glow of Brooklyn or Portland; it doesn’t feature the balmy temperatures of Tampa; and it doesn’t offer the financial opportunities of Washington, D.C. I could try to regale you with tales of Buffalo’s famed "livability," its underrated Thai food, or the luxurious comforts of the Metrorail. I could gush about the Wrights, Richardsons or Olmsteds, or I could inform you about the low, low prices of homes or apartments for you and your family. All of these items are fantastic, but I won't waste your time with them. You’ve read about them all and, apparently, you don’t care. You’re still somewhere else, another city's resident who wears his Sabres hat to the supermarket. You’ll rationalize your exiled existence with complaints about Buffalo’s job market or other maladies, and you’ll find your local Bills Backer bar for another Sunday of lubricated longing.

But, on one of these upcoming Sundays—just as the Cowboys or Dolphins raise your anger to hallucinogenic levels—maybe you'll reach the point that I reached, one where you can no longer deny the intrinsic connection that silently nags; a clear moment when you're finally sick of complaining about inaction when the opportunity for action is within your grasp. Maybe you’re a cook in Texas who wants to open his own restaurant; maybe you’re an artist in Queens, looking for affordability and the embrace of a supportive community; maybe you’re a burgeoning entrepreneur who’s sick of his stagnant career and wants to start his own business. Or, maybe you’re just lost and searching for the regional identity you left behind. Thriving cities across this country expand by welcoming disconnected transplants from characterless regions. For the city of Buffalo to expand and bloom into the cherished idea of Buffalo, it simply needs to restock itself with its own displaced residents, ambitious Buffalonians who’d like to return for a stake in realizing this city’s potential.

Buffalo's Canalside
And maybe you’re one of these displaced residents, one who's ready for a change. One of these days, you’ll come back here for a weekend. You’ll walk through the Bidwell Farmers Market or stroll through Delaware Park. You’ll drive over the cobblestone streets around the Erie Canal Terminus or ride your bike into Niagara Square. You’ll stare at the fascinating art deco facade of City Hall or the intricate exterior moldings of the Lafayette Hotel, and you’ll notice signs of urban development not seen in these parts for decades. Then, you’ll stand in the middle of this lakefront landscape you once called your own, and suddenly, the idea of joining this city’s resurgent march will make an incredible amount of sense to you. You’ll return to the city that’s been harboring your hesitation before packing for Buffalo, that seven-letter word on your birth certificate.

When you get here, you’ll knuckle down, network, and find a job because you have to, just like you would have to in any other city. It'll be a risk, but finding a job in any city these days is perilous  If you can’t find something accommodating, you can tap into the experience, ingenuity and independence you’ve developed elsewhere and add your own business to the Queen City landscape. Whatever the case, you’ll become a contributor to a cause we’ve all been born into; one that slips through our veins and beats our hearts; one that only Buffalonians seem to understand. And, when you find yourself living the realities you once spent Sunday afternoons pining for, you’ll realize yet another Buffalo-related truth: Becoming a cog in this city’s revival is a lot more fulfilling than praying for its resurrection from a neighboring state’s barstool.

After years spent praying, I finally left the barstool and came home. You can too.

(Author’s Note: This entry was finished while listening to Dan Auerbach’s “Goin’ Home”. And yes, I purposely waited until I was almost done to listen to this obviously appropriate song.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Revisiting the Baby

If I was a 13-year-old kid right now, I’d think U2’s Bono was a complete asshole.

He perpetually presents himself with messianic pomp. He wears studded-leather coats that have sleeves too long for his arms. He’s always wearing racing glasses, yet he’s never running anywhere. He wears boots with five-inch-thick soles to give him a height boost. And, most of all, his band presents themselves like they’re the saviors of rock and roll, yet haven’t released a transformative (or even quasi-relevant) album in 20 years.

But, I’m not a 13-year-old kid. I’m 33 years old, which made me 13 when U2 released their early nineties masterpiece, Actung, Baby. On November 1st, the album became the latest in the never-ending cycle of Generation X theme music to be re-mastered and re-released on those of us who once cherished it in cassette form. (It was also celebrated with the premiere of Davis Guggenheim’s superb documentary From the Sky Down, which aired on Showtime Saturday night.)

With its revival, we can fondly remember how jarring of a stylistic shift the album was for a band largely known for break-up songs (“With or Without You”), protest songs (“Pride” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday”), and songs that served as thinly veiled references to the beauty and contradictions of Catholicism (everything else). We can recall when the Edge officially committed to hiding his hair loss with a rotation of funny hats and bandannas, and we can celebrate an album ruled by the domineering drum beat of Larry Mullen Jr. and the perpetual bass groove of Adam Clayton. And, finally, we can appreciate the birth of The Fly—which was the last time Bono could be universally recognized as one magnificently cool son of a bitch.

I imagine kids these days feel the same way about U2 as I used to feel about Aerosmith. I didn’t care who they were, yet they were continuously pushed in front of my face by MTV like I should’ve. Steven Tyler would saunter through his videos like an anorexic transvestite, wielding that microphone draped in scarves like an unhinged stripper pole; Joe Perry would eventually find the video frame for a shirtless guitar solo, then pathetically pout and air-hump as he channeled his less-than-authentic Jimmy Page impression. I couldn’t stand them and, as a result of this, I never looked into their back catalog until I was much older. I didn’t know about Toys in the Attic; I never heard “Sweet Emotion” until I saw Dazed and Confused a few years later. Nevertheless, I was turned off by the image they presented through theatrical make-out ballads and shitty songs like “Dude Looks Like a Lady.” As far as I was concerned, Aerosmith was a complete waste of my time.

Those who are now pre-pubescent or overtly pubescent have to feel the same way about Dublin’s once Clash-inspired quartet. Over the past decade, U2 has released a series of imbalanced albums which have featured glimmers of greatness (“In A Little While” and “Breathe”), misguided departures (“Vertigo” and “Get On Your Boots”), and moments of yawning, pretentious stupidity (“Wild Honey” and most of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb). The band’s most publicized and played song has been “Beautiful Day”—a tune which very well may have been written by Bono as he leaned into an Irish urinal during a millennial celebration. It’s a terrible, poppy, nursery rhyme of a number, and a new generation has been brought up by Rolling Stone magazine covers and U2 encores to believe this song to be one of the foundational building blocks in the band’s skyscraper of success. If this is the case, I completely understand why these listeners don’t understand the reverence shown to U2. But, if they were raised amid the rotation of Actung, Baby and the hilariously decadent Zoo TV tour, they’d understand.

As a 13-year-old, my tepid interest in U2 consisted of me borrowing my sister’s cassette copies of The Joshua Tree and Under a Blood Red Sky. At the time, I was merely curious about the band because,

a. as an Irish Catholic, you were required to like U2; and
b. all the girls in my elementary school seemed to like them.

This changed when I acquired my own copy of Actung, Baby. From the album’s first two jarring guitar chords and accompanying percussion combination on “Zoo Station” to the gentle, haunting delivery of “Love is Blindness”, it played as a sonic atmosphere suited for teenage discovery and experience. In 15 minutes, you could go from gleeful dancing (“Even Better Than The Real Thing”) to painful yearning (“One”) to strumming air guitar—while simultaneously cursing the sins of Judas (“Until The End Of The World”). While staring at all the abstract pictures on the album cover, I absorbed the echoes of Edge’s signature guitar chords while determining which song lyrics I’d ignore en route to the latest misguided mix tape I was cobbling together for some unsuspecting female. And, when any of the band’s Actung videos graced MTV, Bono came across like the slickest dude who’d ever strapped on a pair of sun-repellent goggles.

By now, everyone who knows or who’s cared to look into U2’s shtick knows Bono’s whole “Fly” persona was an orchestrated amalgamation of the styles employed by Lou Reed, Jim Morrison and Elvis Presley. But, even knowing this now, I couldn’t care less; the character worked for the time it was fashioned. It was the early nineties, a pre-entrance period into Clinton-inspired excess and socially inspired brooding, so Bono’s darkly cool and ironically devilish persona connected with what we were looking for. Besides, when the songs danced out of car stereo speakers and against bedroom walls, his vocals gave him the credibility to plug the holes his disingenuous persona presented. He could have been dressed like a goddamn carnival barker while crooning “So Cruel” and it still would’ve influenced young men and women to hold each other between contemplative drags of their cigarettes.

For the power of Bono’s persona during U2’s Actung term, one look only to the Anton Corbjin-directed music video for “One”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftjEcrrf7r0 . I’ve discussed this video at length with some of Buffalo, NY's finest U2 experts, and we've agreed there are a few things (even as Bono stashes his Fly-period sunglasses to reveal his Eire blues) that are interpreted through the film:

1. Clove cigarettes are great for contemplative loners.
2. Heineken looks delicious once it’s gone.
3. Bono is the most earnest and ruggedly emotional guy Anton Corbjin has ever filmed.

If you deny these three preceding facts, then you’re lying to yourself and anyone you’ve ever talked with. Sure, the song’s deeper meaning or understanding can be lost through the video's symplistic, confessional-style focus on Bono. (The song's actually about the relationship between a gay man and his father. Or, is it about the band at a crossroads? Or, is it about you and your ex-girlfriend?) Still, the video itself is a masterpiece and serves as a forefather to bands and artists who wanted to simply stash the theatrics and get to the meat of the message. The Corbjin effort is a simple, poignant film to deliver a truth about human beings, a problem, and a statement about that problem. “We’re one, but we’re not the same. Well, we hurt each other, then we do it again.” If one wants to deliver such inconvenient truths amid whiskey tumblers, empty Heineken bottles, and a loaded ashtray, even better.

In the four minutes and thirty nine seconds of that video, you see why a sect of Generation X will never let go of Bono or U2. No matter how many times they announce a tour at K-Mart, let Edge sing, or perform on an airport runway, they’ll always be able to claim a portion of our puberty and upbringing. With Actung, Baby, they’ll always be able to say they recorded one song that elicited fantasies featuring a belly dancer (“Mysterious Ways”), one that helped combat oppression (“Acrobat”), or one nonsensical number that helped us relate to the bat-shit crazy girl we wanted to date (“Trying To Throw Your Arms Around The World”). The album will forever be cherished, and will forever remain a transformational effort for those listeners who once viewed Bono as a leather-clad Celtic god masked in dark shades.

But, if you haven’t heard him navigate through all of Actung, Baby’s twelve tracks, I understand if you want to get on your boots, go crazy tonight, and stomp his magnificent face in.

Author's note: This blog post was typed inside Elmwood Avenue's Spot Coffee while listening to U2's Actung, Baby.