Lost in Zooropa: In which a friendship develops through music

Vorsprung durch Technik
Be all that you can be

As we drove through the midnight streets of Chicago, his voice clear and beautiful next to me, I felt as though I really was in Zooropa, in whatever magical place that was supposed to be.

It was February and the cold air made the city lights look crisp as we drove out of the South Side. We were leaving a party Doug had let me host at his apartment for my friends since I no longer lived in Chicago. One of these friends, Robert, had flown in from Texas to ask me out after six years of friendship. I was still feeling a bit of the high from getting my nose pierced the night before. But the emotions of these events were crowded out by Doug’s even, sincere voice. If anyone knew what Bono was singing about, it was Doug.

“I like to sing this album for my friends when they’re going through a hard time,” he said. “I had wanted to sing it for you the last time you were here, after you broke up with Russell, but I didn’t get a chance.”

Actually, Russell had broken up with me. And in a few months I would break up with Robert. But Russell, Robert, and any other guy who came around were secondary; they were only ever there because Doug never saw me as primary.

Doug and I had become friends because of an argument about U2. I was the copy editor of our Christian college’s newspaper and Doug was a writer covering a book about U2’s spirituality.

Doug had had the audacity of comparing Bono to the biblical character King David in his article. I wasn’t having it. I loved U2 as much as the next guy – if the next guy was an overly-sentimental girl who had jumped on the U2 band-wagon when she discovered The Joshua Tree (though, to my credit, the first U2 album I bought was October) – but I was indignant over some random guy with an unhealthy obsession with U2 daring to compare a rock star to my favorite biblical character. David is described in the Bible as being “a man after God’s own heart” and I was not going to allow an insinuation that Bono measured up to that description nor an insinuation that being after God’s own heart meant indiscriminately shaking hands with U.S. presidents while refusing to take off one’s sunglasses.

Doug and I stood in the campus plaza arguing loudly over his comparison. Neither was going to back down, but it didn’t matter because I was the copy editor and I had the last say. After 20 minutes of cyclical arguments and stares from walkers-by (we were on a Christian campus; people weren’t used to arguments out in the open) we huffed off to our separate dorms.

An hour later my phone rang. It was Doug. He wanted to apologize for our argument and wondered if we could put it behind us. I was surprised at his apology but agreed. The article ran without the troublesome comparison, and Doug and I were now friends. Years later, the story of our argument in the plaza was still a favorite of ours to tell.

As we became friends, our time together was largely spent consuming, analyzing, and arguing (still) over music. No one else matched us in our obsession with music and we spent hours discussing U2 (his ultimate favorite), The Smashing Pumpkins (my ultimate favorite), The Cure, Brian Eno, The Killers, etc. I never understood why he liked INXS so much and he never understood why I liked The Smiths.

Naturally, all that time spent together on music was a catalyst to sharing other parts of our lives. I accompanied Doug to the hospital to get his healthy blood cells harvested, something he had to do because of his rare form of leukemia. He skipped class to listen to my nonsensical, depressive rants and then visited me in the psych ward when that depression led me close to suicide. I read over his movie script before he submitted it to Sundance. He took the ‘L’ at 1 a.m. to pick up my cousin when she visited from Guatemala. He became friends with my friends; I became friends with his. We honestly talked about our doubts and certainties about God (our second-biggest topic of discussion). We disagreed on various aspects of theology, but we agreed on Jesus and what that belief meant for us and possibly for our favorite musicians.

For seven years we were extremely close, which meant that Doug knew I was in love with him and I knew that he was not in love with me. We tried to manage the discrepancy of our feelings as best we could. A couple times that meant trying to take a break so I could get over him. Usually it meant just ignoring the issue altogether. One time it meant him coming this close to agreeing to date me because he didn’t want to lose me as a friend. But eventually he did have to. He was one of my closest friends, but I could no longer take him not feeling for me like I felt for him. I ended our friendship completely. A year later he got married and I moved to Central America.

But before that end, there was a moment in which I sat in his car and he sang to me as we drove through the night. And in that moment, as Numb transitioned into Lemon transitioned into Stay, it didn’t matter that Doug didn’t love me. It didn’t matter that in our seven-year relationship I would never know what it was like to kiss him. It didn’t matter that just a few months later he would be the reason for the deepest heartbreak I had known. In that moment, under the Chicago sky, all that mattered was that I was with Doug and he was singing to me Zooropa.

(Zooropa, album by U2)


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