Thursday, April 10, 2014

No. 56 – Bullet the Blue Sky

Performer: U2
Songwriters: Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr.
Original Release: The Joshua Tree
Year: 1987
Definitive Version: Rattle and Hum, 1988, although the one from Vertigo 2005: Live in Chicago is outstanding.

Within two weeks after moving to Chicago, I went to my first concert in the Chicago area in 22 years. Laurie wanted to see U2, so she bought scalper tickets. Lord knows how much she paid—she said it was more than any concert she’d ever seen before.

It wasn’t the actual performance noted above. That performance was in March 2005, but it was essentially the same show. The first part of the concert was solid up to a spectacular pairing of Sunday Bloody Sunday and a version of Bullet the Blue Sky that exploded out of nowhere, which was the highlight.

The rest of the concert was a more-sincere-than-thou snoozefest that wasn’t helped by all the drunk chotches around us singing every word to every song … poorly. Laurie was so turned off that she said she never wanted to see U2 again and still refers to that show negatively.

I didn’t hate it, but the time I saw them in 1992 was much better, for reasons that weren’t entirely related to the actual performance (good ol’ Nos. 851 and 530). I was just glad they played Bullet the Blue Sky, which at the time was my favorite U2 song, since usurped (SPOILER ALERT).

At the 1997 show I saw with Debbie at Ohio Stadium, U2 played Bullet (also in 1992), and it was another nice segue that went from the funky beat of Miami off Pop into the cannonade that introduces this song. When the Edge hit that huge first chord, a ring of spotlights around the football field shot up into the sky.

Later, when we talked with Sharon and Roger, they said they could see Ohio Stadium in the distance from their home and noted the lights over it when all of a sudden the lights got really bright. I knew precisely when that took place.

My third (and until further notice, final) U2 show was a nice distraction from my immediate task at hand—finding a job. At my interview at Chicago Home & Garden, Susan said she’d get back to me soon with a freelance assignment. It was a long wait into October, but I heard back from her.

She said she gave first-timers, essentially, a tryout—a small feature, about 750 words. My task was to write about a gigantic antiques show in Palm Beach, Fla., with the story due in two weeks. The pay: $150, or about 20 cents a word. Well, beggars can’t be choosers. Besides, I needed to build my writing and freelance chops. I took the assignment.

I overreported the heck out of it, having way more information than I needed for 750 words. It had been a while since I had written a news story of any kind, but my experience in writing regularly for BBT kept my writing chops rock solid. It didn’t take long. I turned the item in early and awaited feedback. I heard none except that Susan loved it. In fact, I was stunned when she sent me a proof—she didn’t change a word. OK, I’m not THAT good.

Susan thought I was, though, and went beyond mere effusiveness with her praise. Instead, she gave me another assignment if I wanted it—a feature. This would be 1,200 words for $350. The assignment was an impressive mansion in Downers Grove. I did the interviewing in December, submitted the story on time, and again, nary a word was changed.

From there, I became Chicago Home & Garden’s lead writer. The next issue I did another feature and a second department. The following issue I did three pieces. The pay rate wasn’t any better, but I was building a portfolio, which was more important than the pay at this stage.

That isn’t to say that pay wasn’t important. It helped, but Chicago Home & Garden was a bimonthly, so, at best, I made $1,000 every other month. That wasn’t enough to stop the outflow from my rapidly dwindling savings account.

Fortunately, another connection came through. A friend of Laurie’s was married to an editor at AM News, which is a weekly news magazine sent to every member of the American Medical Association. From time to time, they needed part-time copy editors to cover for absences and vacations, so the friend’s wife finagled an interview.

In December 2005, I met with and did a brief test for Pam, who was AM News’ copy editing chief. I must have done OK, because at the end of it, she signed me to a freelance contract. The job would pay $25 per hour, which was a solid rate, but she didn’t know how many hours I’d get after a training day that month. Pam promised I’d get some in January when she went on vacation. Again, beggars can’t be choosers. I was available as needed.

The office was at the AMA building, which was in the River North area downtown. It felt great to take the L downtown to work. It had been 18 years since I’d done that, and I’d always wanted to get back to that at some point in my life.

However, I had one problem: All the work was on a Windows computer. I’m a Mac guy, and the last time I’d worked on a PC was in 1994 when DOS was the operating system on my old Zenith beige box PC. I’d never worked on Windows itself. I hadn’t made this deficiency clear during the interview.

Well, I’m a Mac guy. My experience made me comfortable with using trial and error to figure things out, and that’s what I spent my time doing when I didn’t have a story to read—figuring out how everything worked. I’d at least converted from MacWorks to Word on my home computer, so I was a bit familiar with the word-processing program AM News used. Before long, I had no problems performing the responsibilities of the job.

Even more fortunately, Pam’s vacation in January 2006 turned into a leave of absence for a variety of personal reasons. That made me, essentially, a full-time worker at AM News for the next two months. My finances desperately needed 36-hour workweeks at $25 per hour, which had been my rate back in Flint.

As you know, my stint with AM News wrapped up just as I landed my full-time job, my work with Chicago Home & Garden soon after. Everyone at AM News was sure I’d succeed at my new job, which was a nice compliment. Susan felt the same way and was really sorry to hear that I no longer had time to write on the side—and I didn’t.

In addition to being good timing, those two experiences were invaluable, as it turned out. Chicago Home & Garden retrained my reporting and writing skills, and AM News got me reacclimated to a regular workweek schedule. When I landed my full-time gig, I was fully ready to get back into the game, if not necessarily ready for the job itself.

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