The TRL Experience
Matthew Anderson for Interference.com
7 November 2000
"Forget about the past, start again," Bono said in his brief interview with Carson Daly on Total Request Live. "That's really what this record is about. We want to introduce us to you one more time. End of the old U2, start of the new U2."
Those were not the words of the mullet-sporting Bono of the War era.
Nor were they from the hippie, "heart on the sleeve" Bono of The Joshua Tree.
They didn't come from the fantastic Fly or devil-horned Macphisto of ZOO-TV.
And they weren't spoken by the body-glove wearing Bonoman of PopMart.
Those words came from Bono the Soul Brother, in a simply stated black leather jacket and white t-shirt with tiny eyeglass frames holding tinted lenses.
But first, let's back up. Just how did I, a kid on vacation from Denver, Colorado, manage to get up to the seventh floor of MTV's studios to hang out with "my band" and witness that interview?
It was quite the concerted effort just to make it in from the Bronx, where I was staying under the gracious shelter of a friend, and be at the Viacom building in Times Square at 8 a.m.. But this achievement was lost on the guardians of the "Vital Personnel Only" gate on the first floor.
A constant refrain from the security guards and the girls with the access badges was, "Do you want us to lose our jobs?"
For me, that was a loaded question. Did they really expect me to weigh my happiness against their well-being?
They invited me to call the TRL hot line. Been there, done that several times, I explained. They apologized for the lack of a call back, but that was not their department.
To their credit, the girls of MTV were friendly enough. The guys, however, were pretentious jerks desperately trying to wear the look of the tragically hip, but failing heinously. In New York, that should be a crime.
At least one of them pointed me to a diner for food.
My return an hour later found myself still out of luck and apparently my enthusiasm was not welcome. As one of the boys explained to me, MTV has to conduct things in a certain fashion. This is a business.
My knee-jerk reply was to let the kid know that this was no business. This was MTV! The sarcasm was a lost cause and an attempt to sit down on one of the planters for a moment of thought was abruptly squashed by a suit that quickly came over and told me, "You can't sit there."
Then I moved toward the escalator and leaned against the wall. Another suit, a short guy with a Napoleon complex, asked me what I was doing.
Then I made another boo-boo. I pulled out my cell phone to call the TRL hot line one more time. According to Napoleon, you can't call TRL from inside the building.
I asked him why. "You just can't" was the response.
I asked for a little more clarification, since I got the number on a tiny little bit of paper from a security guard right around the corner. He simply said again, "You just can't."
I flashed him my favorite U2 T-shirt and explained to him I wasn't there to cause problems; I just came from Denver and I wanted to see "my band" perform.
He merely glared up at me and asked how old I was.
I told him I'm 25 (a slight understatement) and with another glare he said I looked older. Under any other circumstances, except for maybe a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese's, age is not so much an issue in today's society. But MTV bends those rules all out of whack. The TRL voice message even requires all attendees appear to be between the ages of 16 and 22.
Anyway, I glared back, which earned me an invitation to leave the building.
As I rode the escalator down, Napoleon thumped on the railing and reiterated the show was full. No more spots. No more tickets. Go home.
I explained to him I'm fine with that - and I'll be back. After all, kicking somebody out of MTV is like inviting them to rock the anti-anti-establishment that MTV has become under the boring corporate reigns of Viacom. Questioning authority was what MTV used to be about, back when it played music and rocked the vote.
Ahhh… In New York you can forget how to sit still. A cool-off walk to Grand Central allowed some time to regroup. Yankees mania was all over the place, and Times Square was becoming an overflow area for all the fans denied access to the already packed parade route celebrating the Bronx Bombers' World Series threepeat.
In light of the unexpected drop in temperature, I complemented my limited wardrobe with a hooded Yankees sweatshirt and ran the risk of appearing too "local".
I decided to haunt 1515 Broadway one more time and found a handful of genuine U2 fans waiting outside for standby tickets.
Within minutes, a hot blonde came around in black leather pants and a red leather overcoat (or was it pleather? sometimes it's hard to tell the difference). She's the "audience picker" and we all impressed her with our U2 knowledge and regalia. As I told her, we are the "diehardest" of fans.
She seemed relatively pleasant, but the shadows behind her eyes were telling - she's no 22-year-old either.
To the shellshock of us all, we're all put on the guest list! Timing is everything!
When we returned at 1 p.m., somebody had let Napoleon out of the building and he was barking at just about everybody on line, warning us not to block the movie theatre and not to stand more than three people deep. He's a terror in his own mind, but the subject of jokes to everybody else.
After more waiting, we were each given wristbands. The color designated your location during the show. Green went to the juvenile TRL junkies that just wanted to be in the same room as Carson Daly.
The gold went to those lucky enough to share the same space as U2 on the sixth floor, while silver went to those of us relegated to looking down from one floor above.
"Demographics" was a popular word up on the seventh floor. Another female MTV employee, who appeared to be no younger than mid-20s, spoke to another of same description about how they needed to make sure the young people were up in front. It struck me that she was speaking the words foreshadowing her own obsolescence.
Before we could go outside, we were all subjected to a security check. No bags, cameras, cell phones, or even keys were allowed outside. One of the first on the terrace, I found myself standing just a few feet away from U2's Persian rug collection when a girl next to me screamed out, "All I want is to meet Carson Daly!"
Apparently she hadn't yet heard that he's now engaged to Tara Reid.
And she was also oblivious to what the band one floor below represented. We're talking about U2! It's fronted by Bono, the man who has traveled the world and along the way railed against apartheid, addressed the United Nations in efforts to get wealthy nations to drop Third World debt, met with world leaders, and even swapped sunglasses for rosary beads with the Pope. He wants to make the world a better place and while he talks the talk, he also walks the walk - and rocks the town.
With that in mind, it was disturbing to see MTV play its behind-the-scenes games.
No sooner had U2 entered the stage than I was told to move down. Purple wristbands trump silver and they were the ones to receive TV face time.
After a pan across the seventh floor, the audience picker was back at work shuffling the deck. Two Indian girls standing in front of me were escorted off the floor in order to make way for a demographic shift. Their colors of the rainbow were replaced by two more slices of white bread!
The move seemed so inappropriate in front of a band that truly has global appeal and who sings of all the colors bleeding into one… but I guess MTV still hasn't found that time and place.
Regardless, U2's performance was straight forward rock and roll. "Elevation" and "Beautiful Day" were belted out with no outrageous antics and no baggy pants revealing sewed-on boxers. All their clothes fit in a classic fashion.
Across the street, NASDAQ's billboard displayed clips from the "Beautiful Day" video; there was also coverage on the ABC jumbotron next door.
Welcome to "U2opia"!
The band performed a fantastic rendition of "New York" (including - shudder - a gentlemanly gesture on MTV as Bono sang the verse "women and children first"). Bono altered the lyrics for the change in seasons and even made a rousing reference to Frank Sinatra's standard as he sang out over Times Square. A truly marvelous New York minute!
Down below, a sizable crowd stood in the cold taking in what little they could. The only way to see anything from ground level, aside from the neon simulcasts, was when Bono moved to the railing and waved to the crowd. U2's music was heating up the square, nonetheless.
After TRL concluded, U2 cranked it up for a second round of "Elevation."
The crowd then dispersed, under the heavy-handed presence of MTV security, a group of stuffed uniforms seemingly intent on taking the fun out of having fun.
Regardless, I shouted out "Bono!" at the top of my lungs as he made his exit. He almost seemed stunned. After all, he was only a few feet down from me. It was a truly transcendental moment, our eyes locked and waves were exchanged. It was a moment I'll never forget.
I then said the only thing I could think of, the only thing that made sense at the time, "Thanks for coming!"
Bono's response was equally simple and sincere, "Thanks, Man."
This band has made the album of their lives and it's already being played as background music on television from CNN to the local news in Denver.
Yeah, MTV is a business - but if being young and pretty is your business, your product life cycle is short. Hopefully U2 left MTV having taught the youngsters (both real and pretend) a valuable lesson: Durability comes only with age. Perseverance counts. U2 and I can vouch for that.
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