14 May 2001
U2 Stays True To Its Activist roots
Robert K. Elder, of the Chicago Tribune, reports on how 'Varied causes forge bond among fans at U2's Chicago concert'
At U2's sold-out concert at the United Center Saturday night, some in the 22,100 capacity crowd had more than music on their mind. Though it was the Irish rockers' music that sold out four shows in Chicago, it may be the message behind their music that has helped the international rock sensations earn such loyal fans.
Together for 20 years, frontman Bono, guitarist The Edge, drummer Larry Mullen Jr. and bassist Adam Clayton have not only become perhaps the most famous band in the world, but they use that fame to support nonprofit humanitarian groups such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace.
On hand Saturday night were tables featuring petitions by Amnesty International for the release of "prisoners of conscience" and information from Jubilee Chicago, part of the international Drop the Debt campaign, a humanitarian initiative the band supports to forgive Third World countries' debts to the International Monetary Fund.
"Rock gives activism a little more style," said Renie Greenberg, 25, an elementary school music teacher. "Plus, having rock bands involved makes activism OK. Then it's cool to do it."
Young and old attended the concert, highlighting U2's appeal. Teens come for the music, while college students such as Nick Latus see a bigger picture.
"The world is a big place, and it's important for a band like U2, who've been around for so long and have such a wide influence, to bring these issues out," said Latus, 21, a marketing student at DePaul University.
Latus credits U2 with raising his awareness about Jubilee Chicago and the Drop the Debt campaign.
In addition to weaving political lyrics in songs like "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and "Mothers of the Disappeared," U2 has also used its fame to raise awareness about apartheid and the peace process in Northern Ireland.
"You have to respect them a lot for using their fame for good," said Jennifer Toner, 29, an account executive. "Drop the Debt... no one knew about that until Bono picked up the cause."
Gail Mancuso, 41, and her friend Sue Jiron, 41, traveled from Los Angeles and Colorado to attend the show. Because of U2, they say, they joined Amnesty International in the late 1980s. They waited six hours outside the United Center to get decent spots on the floor.
"For me, if you have an opportunity to support what you believe in, and it's a good cause, what better way to influence people than through music," Mancuso said.
There are dangers to voicing political beliefs in public, as Sinead O'Connor learned when she ripped up a photo of the pope on "Saturday Night Live." The Irish songstress' career never fully recovered. U2 has not been as confrontational, said Toner.
"You can turn people off if a group becomes too preachy, but they inject into their music and don't hit people over the head with it," she said.