In conversation with... Aaron Sams
Today we would like to debut a new feature article series that will run in the break between tour legs. In this series, In conversation with..., we will talk with various members of the U2 fan community and ask them about their history with the band. What made you a fan? What moment did you realize that this was THE song, THE band for you? What has your highlight following U2 been, and when did you realize you were part of something special?
Every fan has their story, and we are happy to share these stories with you all. Our debut interview is with Aaron Sams, creator of the well-known and respected fansite U2wanderer.org, now at its new home U2songs.com. We spoke with him about becoming a fan, collecting memorabilia, and his favourite moments following the band.
Tell us about how you became a U2 fan. What song or album did you hear that sparked it and why?
I remember the first time I took note of U2. I was at a friend’s house in 1983 and his older sister was listening to an album she had gotten for Christmas. It was Under a Blood Red Sky. I was just starting to get into music, and it probably was the first live album that I heard. And it was the sound of the crowd echoing at the end of “40” that really hooked me. The next appearance in my life was Live Aid. I sat on my grandmother’s couch all day long, glued to the television. Once again it was just the incredible interaction between artist and crowd that drew me in. The Unforgettable Fire and Under a Blood Red Sky were my first two purchases, on cassette on the same day.
Does that piece of music still resonate with you now? What song and album are your current favourites?
Well when you are talking about “40” and “Bad” as your first experiences they are two very epic songs. Hearing “Bad” performed like it had been performed at Live Aid last summer in Boston was an incredible moment that brought me to tears. And any night they close with “40” is a good one, although my favorite version had to be the one they performed at Magnetic Hill at the end of the U2360 Tour. After waiting the entire tour to hear it I was more than ready that night, and belted it out at top volume.
My favorite song these days? “Running to Stand Still” has been my favorite since I first heard it I think. Somewhere at home I have an old mix tape with just that song on both sides. I used to take it when I would go walking, and would end up sitting and staring off at the ocean.
Favorite albums? I used to have an answer for this that stood for many years. The Unforgettable Fire was my favorite winter album, and Zooropa was my favorite summer album. But No Line on the Horizon fits in there too. I haven’t figured if it’s overtaken the top spot, or some part of the mix, or where it fits, but I do love that album, and still find myself going back to it weekly.
You are renowned as a collector of U2's music. What is the item you are proudest to have in your collection? What item was most difficult to obtain?
I like odd things. Failed formats. Laser discs, cassettes, and the like. So my favorite releases are probably the 8-tracks, The Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum... People don’t even know what those are anymore. And they are not easy to come by. I've been collecting since the late 80s now, so a lot of the stuff that would be exceptionally hard to come by these days I found when it first came out, making all of this a little easier.
Is there any item you still haven't found but you're looking for?
I don’t have the Holy Grail. I don’t have the numbered copy of “Three”. I have 18 copies of “Three” in different formats, but not that specific one. There's a lot of things I'm looking for. It always seems like I'm looking at something new.
Some people have particularly crazy or funny (in hindsight) stories about what they experienced to buy a particular album or single. What is the strangest thing you had to do to get something?
I remember in 1991 having to hitchhike to Moncton to buy a copy of Achtung Baby. It was ridiculously cold. And I think I got a bit of frostbite from not being well dressed for the elements. That to me comes to mind when thinking about the stupidest thing I ever did. By the time I got back with it I didn’t even care to listen to it.
u2songs.com is known for having the most extensive U2 discography on the internet, but you're still best known under the old website U2wanderer. Where did that name come from?
Zooropa came out during one of my last summers at home. Usually my dad and I were at odds over music (I played it too loud) but when he heard Johnny Cash singing he actually came down and sat down and listened. It was a good moment. When I started the site I was moving around quite a bit as I finished school, a lot of the site was built in 1997 and 1998 when I was living in Alberta. The wandering combined with some good memories left me with a great name, one that I stuck with for years. And the old site isn’t dead, I’ll likely resurrect it down the road with some more personal content, while we build the U2 site up at u2songs.com.
A few years after getting started on u2wanderer.org a friend of mine actually got to spend some time with Johnny Cash, and she told him about the site and the name choice. He was happy and sent his thanks as well as an autograph. One of my most prized pieces in my U2 collection and it has little to do with U2 themselves.
You were involved in the release of the iTunes exclusive The Complete U2 back in 2004. What exactly did you do for that, and how did it come about?
The project seemed to come about very quickly. Less than a month before it was released I had a phone call from Steve Averill asking if I’d consider helping him out on a project. They needed to pull together a massive amount of scans and had to research a number of singles, and wanted to know if I’d be willing to help. I happily agreed, and sat in on some of the organizational meetings including Principle Management, Averill and the design team, and Apple. Some of the scans of covers that appeared in the digital booklet with that release came from my own collection. Really wish we had more time to rescan some of that material, something we are now diligently working on for the new site.
As U2wanderer, you also maintained sections on cover songs, the so-called "fruitboots", and strange U2 tie-ins/promotional items such as the "Bubble and Gum" CD and Sweetest Thing chocolate bar. Do you have a particular favourite cover, fruitboot, and/or promo item? Will these sections be integrated into U2Songs as more of the website comes online?
All of the old content will be moved over to the new site, refreshed and new research incorporated as we get the chance. The promotional items will be one of the next things incorporated and I had my How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb lyric magnets out the other night working on some layout ideas. I’ve collected a number of items over the time since we first built that section, and I know Harry and Aaron who work with me have some fun stuff to share as well.
Favorite cover? I’m loving what the Scottish band December have been doing with “A Sort of Homecoming” and it sounds great I think it's being released later this month. Also a huge fan of Johnny Cash's version of "One". Favorite odd item? Probably my Elevation tour belt buckle. It’s got the heart in a suitcase making up the buckle itself. Not often you find a collectible you can wear every day and get away with it. Favorite fruitboot? I don’t have any. Never bought them and never downloaded them. I am not a big fan of most of the third party remixes, and I think I have all the official ones on real releases, so I just never bothered. But if you want a favorite remix, it's got to be the Perfecto Mix of "Even Better Than the Real Thing" - during university I used to turn that up and bounce around the dorms to psych myself up before writing any exams.
As a live concert website, we're very interested in hearing about the fans live experiences. What live moment do you find particularly memorable?
I have one live moment that I like to thank my friend Prarit for. Early on he tapped me on the shoulder during “Where the Streets Have No Name” and told me to turn around. The crowd is all lit up and you can really see the enjoyment and joy on people’s faces during that song. Every time since that first time, I’ve always turned around and looked to the furthest corner of the venue to see people having that much fun.
One of my favorite shows was the second U2360 show in Zurich. It had been a beautiful day, and we were totally unprepared for rain. But as U2 took the stage, the skies opened up and the rain started. It was cold. It was wet. We were in the inside of the claw, but we were getting no protection from the structure overhead. And as the rain continued, more and more people left that area to head for coverage. But down in the waterlogged pit was where to be. It was a dance party as people tried to stay warm. The band was having a great time and getting just as wet as we were. I had to fly home the next morning, and my shoes were still sploshing out water with every step as I went through security. But it was an incredible show.
I think you were at one of my final moments that I’ll bring up, for the second Montreal show on the U2360 tour, when Bono was doing band introductions he was using a circus theme. And when it came to Adam Clayton he stopped and didn’t have an intro. Until I shouted out “Bearded lady” off the top of my head which he heard and Bono discussed on stage. It was a fun moment. Sorry Adam!
I remember meeting you at Montreal 1 back on the 360 Tour. It was the first time I had ever met other fans from the online fan community. When was the first time you met someone you first knew online, and what was the experience like?
The first experience was 1997 -- showing up to the first day at a new job in a strange city on the other side of the country. I walked in and was introduced to one of the other students who was working in Edmonton on a work term with me. The name sounded familiar and the next day I asked if he had a U2 website. Sure enough, it was the same David. Total fluke.
But I think my first real experience taking the plunge full force into the online fan community was in 2001 when my friend Lisa from “ReWired” had talked me into driving to Boston to go to the shows there. And as the tour edged ever closer, she eventually talked me into doing something even crazier. A mutual friend, who we had never met, had offered us a hotel room and to share his rental car for the opening shows. We managed to get to tickets and before I even really had a chance to think about it I had bought a flight and was on my way to Miami where I met them both at the airport. Good thing we all got along incredibly, and we had an incredible week in Florida for the first two shows of that tour. It must have gone well as we’re all still in touch, and Lisa even visited a few years back and I got to show her and her mom around Halifax.
No fan gets to see every concert. What concert do you most wish you could have experienced?
I’m pretty lucky in that I’ve gotten to see some of the concerts I would have picked out. “Mercy” has been a favorite of mine for years, so being present the first night it was played really made me happy, even in the cold wet rain, I was a smile from ear to ear that night. And I don’t know if another show has ever come close for me personally to that experience.
But if you made me pick some shows I’d say February 1980, the show at Dublin Stadium. I love the material from Boy and the earlier demo songs which have never been released, so I wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to see “Cartoon World” on stage. It’s probably the cliché but I’d go back to the “Dream it all up again” shows at the Point Depot in Dublin as well. Finally, I’d love to make it to a show on my birthday some year. I share a birthday with Bono, so I know the chances are high I’d get to hear a crowd sing it – someday I’ll get there. Closest I have gotten was a few days later in Chicago in 2001, and Bono did drop in a little snippet of the Beatles “Birthday” so that’s the closest I’ve gotten so far.
What songs would you love to see the band play? What songs will you never get tired of hearing live?
I’ve been quite lucky along the way to see some songs that don’t get played that often. “Window in the Skies,” “Slow Dancing,” “Electrical Storm”, “11 O’Clock Tick Tock”, “Your Blue Room,” “Party Girl,” as well as some unique performances like the album version of “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight,” and “Love will Tear Us Apart” with Arcade Fire. Even off the new album, I’ve managed to hear every song that they performed live this tour. So my bucket list is pretty full. I’ve seen my favorite, “Running to Stand Still” three times during the Vertigo tour, in Dublin of all places, which was really the perfect spot to hear that song. I'm usually content with whatever they play, and try not to complain about the set lists. Every song is someone's favorite.
What tour is your favourite? Why?
U2360. But only up until the end of 2010. The shows I saw in 2011 weren’t the same in comparison.
Those early shows just had an atmosphere of joy to me. Loved the new album, loved the stage arrangement, loved the screens. I saw the tour from inside the claw, and from the back row on the floor, and I was happy everywhere. The shows in 2010 with the new songs creeping in were really special as well. Those had an air of unpredictability. And I got to see the bulk of my shows on that tour in Europe which meant more exotic locales to explore. I’m not sure I would have made it to Istanbul otherwise, but it turns out to have been one of my favorite cities I’ve ever visited.
Once they became more focused on Achtung Baby and less focused on No Line on the Horizon I lost interest a bit. And although I saw some solid shows in 2011, they did not hold the joy for me that those earlier ones did. But overall the whole 360 experience was incredible for me, and one I doubt will be matched again.
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