Kevin Cullen

Time to say we love U2

By Kevin Cullen
Globe Columnist / March 5, 2009
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Leave it to a bunch of New Yorkers to do something we should have done years ago.

On Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg renamed a block of West 53d Street in Manhattan "U2 Way" after the great rock band.

Now, it's only a temporary thing, and in the grand scheme of things, it's not a big deal.

But it's also an object lesson in the difference between New York, where they love a winner, and Boston, where we fetishize failure.

It is true that U2's first American gig was at The Ritz in New York on Dec. 6, 1980. But a week later, the band played the Paradise on Commonwealth Avenue, launching a romance between a city and a band that has lasted more than 28 years.

Bono, U2's lead singer, and the rest of the band say Boston was the first city to embrace them outside their native Dublin.

Speaking to Maureen Forry of the Boston Irish Reporter in 2004, Bono was unequivocal: "I love New York. I do, I love New York. But the truth of it is, our band broke out through this city, Boston . . . I have a very special feeling about this city."

Carter Alan remembers it all. Now a DJ at WZLX, Alan was working for WBCN in 1980 and had been playing an import copy of U2's first album, "Boy," on 'BCN when the scruffy Irish rockers, most of them in their teens, showed up to play the Paradise the first time. They opened for a Detroit band called Barooga Bandit, which was promoted by Capitol Records.

"There were about 150 people in the audience when U2 went on," Alan recalls. "They did their set, did an encore, then they left, and so did most of the audience. The Capitol guy was mortified and drank Scotch the rest of the night."

That night at the Paradise has become the rock 'n' roll equivalent of Game 6 of the 1975 World Series: The same 2 million people who claim they saw Carlton Fisk's walk-off home run clang off the foul pole in left claim they were at U2's first gig at the Paradise.

Two months after opening for the late, lamented Barooga Bandit, U2 were back at the Paradise, this time as headliners.

"They came back that May and did Citi, where the new House of Blues is," Alan said. "And that was it. They never played a club in Boston again."

A good thing, says Steve Morse, the Globe's longtime, estimable rock critic who, like Alan, was at the first Paradise show and went on to chart U2's meteoric rise.

"Bono always said they were a lousy club band, and I agreed," Morse said. "When they hit the Orpheum, with Bono climbing up the balcony and waving a flag, they hit their stride."

The band's first live album consisted of the 1981 Paradise shows; their first arena tour was opening for Boston's own J. Geils Band, whose lead singer, Peter Wolf, was at the Paradise for those baptismal shows.

The Worcester Centrum was the first arena U2 played. They were the first and only band to play any incarnation of the Garden seven times in a year.

Bono would like to forget the mullet and thigh-high suede boots he wore in the 1980s, but he doesn't forget his friends. When Morse retired from the Globe a few years ago, Bono walked into J.J. Foley's on Kingston Street after the band's seventh Garden gig and toasted Morse.

Next week, when U2 comes back to its second home to promote its new album, it might be nice if they were greeted with at least as much hospitality as those bounders in New York were able to muster.

Steve Morse isn't holding his breath. He says it took the city nearly 40 years to put up a plaque recognizing the Boston Tea Party, the city's seminal rock 'n' roll club, now a condo complex in the South End.

"This is Boston," Morse said. "Nothing happens when it should."

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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