By Stanley Abell

We turn away to face the cold, enduring chill
As the day begs the night for mercy 

“One Tree Hill” ~U2

Just Tuesday I was able to complete one of the Five Pillars of being a U2 fan by completing the Hajj… if possible, all able-bodied fans are to make the pilgrimage to a live U2 show once in their lifetime.

Where, in the past, I may have lapsed on the other four (confession of faith, prayer, fasting and alms-giving), I have surely made up for those lapses through the Hajj. After all, last summer I made the Hajj to Mecca (Dublin). Shouldn’t that count for something?

So, to be clear, I am not poking fun at Islam… I am poking fun at me. Many of you are aware that my affinity for U2 goes far beyond what the word “fan” connotes. Maybe fanatical? Obsessed? Fixated? I’d prefer something spun a little more positively; how about… devoted? Nonetheless, I have made more than my fair share of Hajjs… lost count in fact.

Why? Why the devotion? I do actually have my own five pillars that one day I’ll share with you, but one of the most tangible reasons I am drawn to U2 was on display Tuesday night in Chicago… their imperfection.

Several years ago in an interview Wynonna Judd was asked what she liked about U2’s lead singer, Bono. Her response was, and I paraphrase, that Bono’s voice is far from perfect, far from polished, but that is precisely what makes it work. He is authentic and passionate with his voice, which far exceeds note perfection.

As Bono said in lyric, “I was born to sing for you, I didn’t have a choice.” Now, this alone would be reason 1b I am devoted. To whom do you think “you” refers in the above lyric? He could hit you over the head and capitalize the “Y.” Instead he leaves an open invitation for you to experience it in your own way. Or, as Bono said it in an interview when asked about their music’s foundation in faith… “It’s there for people who are looking for it, and it’s not for people who aren’t.”

I digress, back to imperfection. In the timeframe of the Joshua Tree record (1987), the band was working in New Zealand and a local Maori, Greg Carroll, had made himself indispensible to the seamless execution of their shows. He so impressed Bono that he was hired as his personal assistant. To make a long story short, Greg Carroll was killed in a motorcycle accident and the song “One Tree Hill” was dedicated to his memory. They had not played the song live in probably 20 years.

On Tuesday night just before U2 launched into its last song of the evening, the beautifully melodic “Moment of Surrender,” Bono asked the band if they wanted to try another song. The other three band members sheepishly shrugged and fidgeted. Bono leaned in and privately counseled with The Edge. “Well, we’ll go ahead and play this song, and they’ll see if they can get if figured out downstairs (technicians below the stage).

After “Moment of Surrender” ended sporadic calls of “do it… play it, come on” erupted and grew into a chorus. Finally Bono responded, “Here’s the deal. If we screw up really badly, you don’t put it on the Internet.” With the crowd’s raucous approval, The Edge began trying to find his way toward the song on his guitar. Bono bellowed a lyric or two, Larry struggled to catch up on the drums, and Adam fumbled on the bass. After the fits and spurts start, they finally kind of skidded into the groove of the song.

It never got right. Bono messed up lyrics, and for those of us who have listened to that song a zillion times, it never got close to approaching…perfect. However, in that moment, it wasn’t about perfection. It was the power of the arguably the world’s biggest band willing to be perfectly imperfect. The power and meaning of that song was vividly conveyed as a direct result of their imperfection.

No doubt, they could have rehearsed that song and performed it note perfect. I dare say though, to borrow another lyric, the power of their imperfection made it “Even better than the real thing.”

This is really, really bad news for those of us who are perfectionists. Imperfect is better than perfect? So… you want me to strive for imperfection? Is it possible to teach an old dog new tricks? Is it possible to reprogram what seems to be so hard-wired? What do you say? Do you guys want to try another song together?

“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” ~Anna Quindlen