How an Irish Band Makes Us Feel Patriotic

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I’m not a real patriotic guy in the traditional sense. I don’t really care much for flag waving and pledges of allegiance. As comedian Bill Maher once said about “Support Our Troops” bumper stickers on cars, “It is literally the LEAST you can do.” But…

Tonight, I was watching VH1. God bless VH1 for providing us with enough vapid and totally entertaining television to make us all forget about reality tv, network programming and Fox News. But, I digress…

I was watching some VH1 show about the top 100 something or another and it included U2’s performance at the 2002 Super Bowl. Just recently, I had been talking to my wife about how moving and great that performance was.

Now, to preface this, we are talking about a halftime show that has included everything from Up With People to a near-nipple encounter. We all know the nipple part, but Up With People? I remember seeing it on tv and, even as a child, thinking what the hell is that?

The Simpsons (God bless them too!) once parodied the Up With People concept with their own “Hooray for Everything Singers.” Totally appropriate.

But, back to U2. It was a tough Super Bowl for everyone because of 9/11. The wound was still fresh and nerves were still frayed. And, U2 came out and reminded us not only why we love this country but who we are.

What was so amazing about the performance began with the fact that this was one of the seminal live performances ever shown on television. This was like Elvis or the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. U2, a band at the pinnacle of its career, was flawless. They were the definition of rock music. Singer Bono was and still is an anthemic rock and roller with a tremendous understanding of wit and timing in the greatest sense of that tradition – like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger all rolled into one. Best of all, no lip-synching. The band played live and reminded us all what great rock and roll is supposed to sound like.

Coming from a long-time musician, you have no idea what a breath of fresh air it was to hear a real band playing real instruments live and without a net. Rock and roll is America’s music and U2 epitomized the heart and soul of that music with their performance as artists.

But, that wasn’t all. Even more important was that this was a band that had routinely spoken out against American agression, war and the need for peace and freedom among all people. The result wasn’t some flag-waving, saber-rattling moment of definance. It was, in essence, the anti-Toby Keith. Rather than a middle finger to terrorism, it was a heartfelt tribute to the lives lost in a great tragedy.

Finally, it was a group of foreigners from a county with its own bloody history holding our hand and letting us all know that we weren’t alone. What seemed like a replay of the spontaneous tributes all over the world the day after September 11, all it took was a simply-projected scrolling list of names and an American flag sewn into the lining of an Irish singer’s jacket to help remind us what a leading French newspaper declared on September 12, 2001, “Today, We are All Amerians.”

I don’t like to talk politics. National politics in particular seems really boring. But, I think seeing those images again brought back the uneasy feeling that we had a moment in time to get things right and didn’t. All at once in the fall of 2001, the world held its breath and moved in slow motion. Sure, some were happy and some sneered with indifference, but the majority of the world knew that this was a pivotal time for humanity.

Some days, I can’t help wondering if we missed a chance to unite ourselves in a way rarely possible by responding more out of anger than out of a sense of justice.

But, mainly, I miss the feeling that all of us, if only for a moment, really understood what it meant to be united. I guess even if we just get that for one second, it is better than never having it at all. The seed has to be planted somewhere, by someone.

Hopefully, there will be other moments that the world can stop and see that a flag in the lining of a jacket is such a small thing that can make such a big difference.

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