Transform and Transcend: The U2 Conference Returns in 2013

In early autumn 2009, my life was changing significantly for the better in many beautiful ways. One October afternoon, I boarded a Greyhound bus to head east to meet a friend near Asheville, North Carolina, before heading on the next day to the Raleigh-Durham area for the inaugural U2 Conference and my third show (of six total) of the 360 tour.

What an honor to take my 25 year love affair with U2 and turn it into an intimate presentation about some of the more delicate aspects of my life, U2’s lives, and the message of their music for people struggling with addiction and recovery. But my talk titled “The Meme of Surrender” was only one of many windows into the intellectual, spiritual, and activist lenses with which we better understand the musical and societal contributions of our favorite band.

The 2009 conference changed lives and the forthcoming conference in spring 2013 will surely do the same. Never before had such wide and international collaboration of writers, professors, preachers, activists, and fans come together in such a unique fashion under an academic but inclusive big tent to offer sustained, in-depth meditations on the meanings of U2.

So many highlights soar in my memories three-years out, but some deserve more mention, in hopes that someone reading this might make the trek to Cleveland next April.

I will never forget hanging out after Saturday’s lunch, midway through the three-day conference, with a fellow presenter who had never seen U2 and didn’t have a ticket for Saturday’s show. A couple of us fans found this tragic. How could you have come this far, this close, and not be ready for liftoff with several thousand of your dearest friends? We convinced our colleague, who found a single seat online, and decided to come along for the party.

During a session called “Every Poet Is A Thief” and during a paper discussing “Lemon” in particular, when the presenter cued up the song for us to hear, a couple of us could not help but to get out of our classroom chairs, you know the kind that are desk and seat all in one, to start dancing to U2 at one of their most disco-soul moments.

In a weekend when the epiphanies wouldn’t stop coming, meeting African activist Agnes Nyamayarwo was more than amazing. We’ve thought in the abstract about how U2 and their fans have been involved in movements to save lives, but hearing this testimony from Agnes put face and place to such bold redemptive claims. Lots of ink has been spilled in recent years to criticize Bono’s approaches to African issues, but meeting Agnes offered a saving counterargument that supersedes the critics.

Agnes and her friends had brought some hand-made jewelry made by folks in Africa. My beaded, red, ONE bracelet is so beautiful and special and unique, that I will always treasure it as one of many mementos from that fall weekend. The weekend also prompted the publication of an anthology and a new online journal of U2 studies will soon lanch.

While I doubt U2 will show up to play a concert, and while I am not sure that Cleveland in April could ever be as beautiful as North Carolina in October, the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is a more than perfect venue and partner for a conference like this. I predict scholars and fans from all over the world will converge on America’s north coast for the second U2 studies conference. Everything you could want to learn about the 2009 conference along with all the breaking news about the 2013 conference as it becomes available are at http://u2conference.com. There’s plenty of time to draft a proposal or determine another way that you might get involved. See you next year in Cleveland!!!

–Andrew William Smith, Editor

(Image: Webzine editor Andrew William Smith meets up with hardcore U2 fan and author Cathal McCarron.)