The following article represents the personal opinion of one member and not an official TalkU2 position
It was not front page news in Ireland in 1986 when Greg Carroll died in a motorcycle accident. Bastard motorcycle couriers were the bane of our existence, popping around traffic at ridiculous speeds, serving the whims of the powerful. We pedestrians were their sworn enemies as we competed over the spaces between cars, buses and trucks in downtown Dublin. I’m sure a teenage me would have had little sympathy for one of the speed demons meeting his comeuppance had I known. I’d have turned away to face the cold enduring chill of Dublin’s windswept thoroughfares.
It takes a song to teach a kid a lesson in empathy. A truly great song.
Greg Carroll first met the band when he worked as a member of their road crew on their 1984 Unforgettable Fire tour. Unable to adjust to the time difference, Bono wanted someone to show him around Auckland in the wee hours, and Greg enthusiastically volunteered. Greg took him to the spiritual home of the Maori people, a dormant volcanic mountain called Maungakiekie. The English settlers couldn’t pronounce the local name, and instead called it ‘One Tree Hill.’ The older me now recognizes the agony in this song. I can see Bono appreciating the spirituality of the summit, as the moon came up over One Tree Hill. I can see Paul McGuinness whispering to the band after the shows the following week that he wanted Greg to come work for them in Ireland. I can see the agony as the realization dawned on the band members that this fateful move led to Greg’s death. His eager-beaver desire to please on some mundane errand as the band recorded in Deansmoate Studio, bringing him to his end. Had he not been so eager to please his heroes, he might be alive today, a 60 year old man with children, an ex wife, stories and regrets.
Like most U2 fans in Ireland at the time, I was waiting for the Joshua Tree. Their anthems were better known than our National Anthem. Every person in Ireland could name the four members of U2 faster than they could name the gospel writers and with greater aplomb. In July 1986, the month Greg met his demise, I was just back from a trip to London. I watched QPR beat Nottingham Forrest in the Premier League. I saw an opera on the west end. Middle class bullshit. I couldn’t relate to the unemployment frenzy sweeping Ireland at the time, and the useless self-aid concert the previous month. U2 headlined – of course – and were suitably brilliant and suitably awed by the plight of the young men and women of Ireland who were unemployed in record numbers at the time. The unheralded victims of the war in Northern Ireland. No foreign investment could come to a country associated with bloodshed.
In this environment, I doubt too many people would have had sympathy in life for Greg Carroll. Bastard had the job anyone would have killed for. He ran errands for U2. In the summer of 1986, Ireland said an emphatic NO to Divorce in a national referendum opposed by the Catholic Church. Knock Airport – a Catholic pet project to support two nearby religious pilgrimages at Knock shrine and Croach Patrick Mountain – was opened. The Bishop who championed it died. Six nuns were killed in a fire in Dublin. Yet the most spiritual thing that happened in Ireland in 1986 was that U2 got the inspiration for one of their greatest songs from a routine motorcycle accident. In a sign of how much the death meant to the band, Bono, Ali, Larry and some crew personally accompanied the body back to New Zealand, where Carroll was given a traditional Maori funeral. Bono sang ‘Let it be’ and ‘Knocking on heavens door’ at the graveside. He quoted from a poem written by the wife of Chilean poet Victor Jara. Una Canción Truncada – the unfinished song. Carroll’s life as unfinished as Jara’s. Contrary to fan legend, neither the funeral nor Carroll’s grave were on One Tree Hill. The site itself is sacred. Carroll is buried in the valley below.
The Maori believe that there is a harmony between humans and the land around them, and especially the relationship between mountains and water. Perhaps it’s fitting that this emotive benediction is about a hill, a tree and rivers running to seas. Is each person born a stream, and then runs like a river to the sea? Did Carroll’s river take an express route to the ocean? In 1986, I appreciated neither the awesome majesty of the lake nestled in the Wicklow mountains where I grew up, nor the amazing heather of the mountains themselves. Instead, I wrestled with damn motorcycle couriers along Dublin’s hallowed corridors, always seeking the next dank second-hand record store. Today, give the older me the mountains and rivers any day.
I don’t believe in God.
I can only hope that there is some universal majesty that I am missing, and a creator who has hidden himself from me but who is revealed in the majesty of his greatest poets. Victor Jara. Bono. And that such poets can meet their minions again when the stars fall from the sky and the moon has turned red. I can only hope that the God they meet is worthy of their greatness.