Searching for U2 in Dublin

Temple Bar

I’ve always been a big U2 fan. I loved their early music of the 1980s, tuned out a bit in the 1990s, and reengaged with their uneven albums of the past 15 years. I’ve seen them in concert a few times. They always put on a great show, but the concerts earlier in their career were more spontaneous, energetic, and thrilling. They’re getting old now, and in my opinion the recent shows are too over-the-top huge and overly programmed down to the last millisecond.

early U2 photo
U2 in the early days…

Back in 1983, the Irish band U2 was on the War tour across the US.  On Sunday, May 22, they played Northrop Auditorium on the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. This was back in the day when the band played 5,000 seat venues and stadium tours were sometime in their future. I was a college student at the U of MN and months in advance I went with my best friend Laurance to the ticket office very early on the day tickets for the show went on sale. We were excited when we got tickets in the third row. I had finally atoned for my blunder the year before when I didn’t go early enough to buy tickets for the October tour date in Minneapolis. It sold out before I got there.

The show was fantastic, Bono climbed into the audience and sang part of song right in front of us, the Edge’s guitar work was amazing, and the crowd went crazy. When the show was over, Laurance suggested that we go outside to the back of Northrop Auditorium. He had heard that sometimes bands would go out the rear stage door when they left the building. So we hiked around the huge hall and found the stage door.

Irish pub
Traditional Irish pub in the Temple Bar neighborhood of Dublin, Ireland.

A small crowd of young people were standing by the stage door. We waited and waited. Nothing happened. The crowd thinned. People decided they had better things to do than wait any longer. After a long period of time we talked about leaving. But we were diehard U2 fans. This was our one chance to meet them. Only two girls remained with us.

The door opened and Bono, the Edge, and Adam Clayton, the bass player, emerged into the night air. They were friendly and talked with us for 10 or 15 minutes. We didn’t have a camera (smart phones weren’t invented yet), so the only image of the event I have is my memory. I remember that Edge was really short!

Me: “What does your Mom think of your success?”

Adam Clayton: “I dunno. She must like it.”

So much for my expert journalistic instincts in interviewing.

Girl #1 to Bono: “Do you know Mick Jagger?”

Bono, laughing: “Uh, no.”

Girl #2 to Edge: “Did you know Elvis Presley before he died?”

Meeting three of the members of U2 has been one of only three brief encounters with celebrities in my lifetime, along with seeing Wilt Chamberlain lean over a café counter (that dude was tall!), and urinating next to Walter Mondale in the Newark Airport men’s room.

Guinness sign
Yes, every day is a lovely day for a Guinness!

This summer I finally traveled to Dublin, home of Ireland’s favorite musical sons. I wondered if anything related to U2 existed in the city as an attraction. The only information I had was that they came from a North Dublin neighborhood.

In a tourist brochure I found a reference to a “U2 graffiti wall.” The wall was supposed to be on a street called Hanover Quay near the Grand Canal docks in the Dublin Docklands area. The Grand Canal was linked to the River Liffey, which runs through Dublin. It is one of the older parts of the city and quite run down.

Dublin graffiti
Thanks Dublin!

I navigated to the proper spot according to the map in the brochure but there was almost nothing left of the U2 graffiti wall. Many of the old buildings on the street were torn down and new condo towers were being constructed in their place. Only a couple of wall fragments were left. Across the street from this spot was a large anchor mounted in a concrete block. The anchor and the surrounding old brick had some U2 graffiti on them, perhaps as an afterthought when the wall was torn down…

Windmill Lane graffiti
The remnant of the Windmill Lane Studios.

A few blocks away from Hanover Quay is a small street called Windmill Lane. A recording studio was started there in 1978. U2’s early music was recorded at Windmill Lane Studios, culminating in the 1987 masterpiece that was The Joshua Tree. The studio moved to a different location in Dublin in 2006.

Windmill Lane RIP
Windmill Lane Studios former home is gone.

The site has been popular for music fans to visit and leave their creative mark. Because the area is being redeveloped, the building which housed the Windmill Lane Studios was demolished in April 2015, a few weeks before I visited. However, a section of one outer wall still stands, pending a decision on what to do with it. One idea is to preserve it and move it to another location.

Windmill Lane graffiti
More Windmill Lane graffiti.
Guinness barrels
Barrels of beer at the Guinness brewery.

I never made it to North Dublin to see the neighborhoods where the band members grew up. Instead, like everyone else I visited the Guinness brewery, took the touristy factory tour, and drank Guinness from the seventh floor bar (overlooking the unimpressive city skyline of Dublin).  Each night I made the touristic pub crawl through the Temple Bar area. Drinking Guinness beer and listening to live music in a series of small Irish pubs is a most excellent way to spend an evening in Dublin.

The band in every pub played U2 music at least once or twice in every set. That was OK with me, because I still haven’t found what I am looking for.

Temple Bar
The Temple Bar in Dublin.

Venice Jazz Club – part 2

Grand Canal at night, Venice, Italy

After walking for twenty minutes we came to the Rialto Bridge.  The view was spectacular on a late summer evening.  The gondolas were cruising the Grand Canal.  The fancy restaurants and cafes were full of beautiful diners.  This was why people came here from all over the world.

Rialto Bridge in Venice
A gondola ride by the Rialto Bridge

After zig-zagging down the narrow, crooked lanes, and over countless small bridges, ignoring questions about the severity levels of foot blisters, and asking for directions only three times, we found the Venice Jazz Club.  It had a small door in an ancient low building and a neon sign in the window.  Muffled sax squeals emanated through the stone walls.

Inside it was like a scene from an old movie.  The cool kind, film noir, made back in the 1940s where the men had slicked back hair and wore tuxedos over the bulges of their revolvers in their armpit holsters and the women were glamorous in their evening gowns waving their long cancer-causing cigarette holders in the face of the maitre’d.  The band wore blue shirts with bow ties and grooved on a huge stage with a piano player who wore spats, and a top hat and tails.  A fight would break out, shots would be fired, and the band would play on.

Ok, it wasn’t quite like that.  It was however, a very cool scene.  The club was tiny, fitting no more than 25 people around tiny tables in front of a tiny stage.  The 15 foot bar was manned by a punkish-looking but attractive young woman. The ceiling was low as were the lights. The walls were covered with old posters of jazz greats and advertisements for shows from days gone by.  An intimate setting.  The place was packed and we took the only remaining seats, stuck in a corner of the room that was piled with various junk that reminded me of somebody’s basement back in the Midwest.

I could tell the girls were a little disappointed at the crowd.  No hot young Italian men, just middle-aged American and European tourists.

The band was a four piece – piano, stand-up bass, drums, and sax.  They were jamming away to some tune I didn’t recognize.  Between songs the piano player, who was the band leader, told us a little bit in English about each piece.  They were usually old classic jazz tunes.  The band was good.  They took their turns on solos and breaks.

Relaxing in a small club hearing live jazz music is a great way to spend a Saturday night, wherever you are.  After three sets, the concert was over.  It was time to find our way back to the hotel.

Grand Canal at night, Venice, Italy
The view of the Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge

By this time it was quite late.  The wet streets of Venice were deserted.  I thought we had taken the long way to get to the club.  After looking at the map, I thought there was a shorter way to go.  This would allow the girls to actually walk through the airport in the morning instead of being transported in a cart.

“Let’s take a short cut back,” I said.  “Let’s go this way.”

We happily walked on the empty pathways next to the canals.  It had been a nice night out.

Soon, however, I didn’t recognize any street names.  It appeared we were off the edge of my map.  I don’t know how, but sometime walking down the twisty lanes and in crossing the multitude of bridges we ended up on a different island.  I kept looking for the signs to the train station and our way home, but couldn’t find any.

Using my heightened sense of navigation, I steered us in the direction I thought was home.  We walked and walked.  At least an hour went by.  The girls were getting tired.  It seemed that we were no closer to the hotel than when we started. I had to admit defeat.  We were lost.  Now if we could only find someone to ask for directions.

But there was no one out on the streets except us lost tourists.  Everyone else was home asleep.

Eventually we came to the end of the island.  Up ahead I saw a vaporetto stop.  A boat was at the dock idling.  It looked like it was about to leave.

“Look! A boat,” I yelled. “I’ll run ahead and see where it’s going.”

I ran 50 yards to catch the boat.  It was just about to leave. I could see from the timetable that it did indeed go to the train station and this was the last boat of the night.

The girls were hobbling on their stiletto heels as fast as they could go.  Which was as fast as an old tortoise goes in lots of sand. The deck hand took the rope off the dock post and threw it on board.

“Take off those silly shoes and run for it!”

Finally, practicality trumped fashion sense.  They pulled off the stiletto heels and sprinted for the boat.  As the boat drifted away from the dock, they jumped the 18 inch gap onto the deck.

“Next time, wear cross-trainers,” I said.

“Next time, get a better map,” they replied.

Touché.

Venice Jazz Club – part 1

The Clock Tower in St. Mark's Square

The girls were bored. We had been in the hotel most of the day because of the rain and general touring exhaustion. My wife, 18 year old daughter, and her 18 year old friend, had been chasing around Italy for two weeks with glorious sunny weather every day. Rome, Pompeii, Siena, Florence, Cinque Terre. We were having a great time. Today was the last day of our trip. We were in Venice.

The Clock Tower in St. Mark's Square
The Clock Tower in St. Mark's Square, Venice

We had walked in the rain that morning to St. Mark’s Square. It was raining so hard that the city had set up risers for sidewalks in the square, since it was six inches under water. This didn’t deter the crowds of tourists. We were attempting to stay dry with umbrellas borrowed from the hotel, to no avail. My shoes and pants were soaked because somebody I know and love just had to go back to that little shop near the square where they sold the exquisite party masks that Venice is famous for. Navigating the risers and the narrow streets full of umbrellas was difficult for me. I kept dodging my head away from shorter tourists who were determined to poke me in the eye with one of the tips of their umbrella spines.

A gondola on the Grand Canal
Getting around on the Grand Canal in Venice

Back at the hotel to change clothes and take a hair drier to my shoes so I wouldn’t get jungle rot in my toes and squeak all the way home, we planned a nighttime strategy from the Rick Steves Italy guidebook and hotel lobby brochures.

“Here are your choices” I said. “Number one. We stay in our hotel rooms and watch Italian TV.” (I think commercials in Italian are hilarious).

“Option Two. We take the vaporetto again down the Grand Canal and actually listen to the Ricks Steves’ commentary I have on my iPod about all the buildings we see. There will be a quiz at the end, when we get to St. Mark’s Square.”

They groaned.

“Plan C. We try to find a small out-of-the-way family restaurant on my master list of recommended Venetian restaurants.”

“We’re sooooo tired of Italian food,” said my daughter.

I was flipping through the brochures and my eye caught the image of a shiny saxophone. It was advertising the Venice Jazz Club. It scheduled live concerts on Saturday nights. Today was a Saturday. I’m not a huge fan of jazz, but I like to hear live music. Perfect. This would be a nice change from touring museums, monuments, and waiting in lines.

The girls had been waiting for a chance to get dressed up and go out on the town on this trip. Against our better judgment as parents, we had let them go unescorted to a late night disco in Florence. They thought they were going to meet hot young Italian men. Instead the disco was filled with unattractive American servicemen with short haircuts and Texas drawls. Not quite what they had hoped for. It turned out fine in my opinion.

“How would you like to eat at the Chinese restaurant across the street and then go to hear live music at the Venice Jazz Club?”

The voting was unanimous. Pork fried rice and jazz it was to be.

At dinner time we met in the lobby. The girls were dressed in cocktail dresses. On their feet were shoes with four inch stiletto heels.

“You do know that we are in Venice where there are no cars. There are water taxis, but they’re expensive. We’re going to walk everywhere tonight,” I said, dispensing parental wisdom.

“Dad, we can’t get dressed up and wear athletic shoes or flats, what fun would that be?” said my daughter. “We’d look like dorks! How can we meet any hot Italian guys that way?”

“As you can see, I am wearing sensible loafers like the middle-aged man that I am. If you lag behind, I am abandoning you to the paparazzi.”

After a surprisingly decent Chinese dinner served to us by an old Chinese woman who spoke no English or Italian, we began our quest to find the Venice Jazz Club. Luckily the rain had stopped. I had my trusty maps, the address of the club, and my innate sense of direction.

According to my spiritual advisor Rick, one need never get lost in the maze of Venice because there are signs everywhere pointing to either the Venezia Santa Lucia train station or St. Mark’s Square. If you’re staying in a hotel nearby one of those two sites, which many tourists do, just follow the appropriate sign home. It’s as easy as following the yellow brick road. Unless you haven’t got a brain.

We were staying just around the corner from the train station. I was supremely confident of my navigational abilities.

We set off on our quest. The night was warm, some of the clouds had cleared, and the moon was out. It was a fabulous night for strolling the romantic by-ways of Venice. To be continued…

Venice canal
Where is the Venice Jazz Club?