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March 5, 2012

An early glimpse at U2's soul

One thing was clear, back in the winter of 1982. No one at the famous Record Service store near the University of Illinois campus could figure out the hot new Irish band that was about to hit town.

The guy behind the front desk cranked up the group's new single so that everyone could ponder the lyrics.

"I try to sing this song," sang the young singer called Bono Vox. "I, I try to stand up, but I can't find my feet. I, I try to speak up, but only in you I'm complete. Gloria, in te domine. Gloria, exultate."

That was Latin, but what did it mean? A Newman Center priest told me that the first phrase, perhaps a Mass fragment or drawn from chant, meant, "Glory in you, Lord." The next meant, "Exalt Him." Then again, it was hard to hear the second Latin phrase.

The priest apologized and said he wasn't used to parsing rock lyrics.

Yes, the band 30 years ago was U2 and its mysterious second album was called "October." Both were surrounded by clouds of rumors, which I explored in a News-Gazette column on Feb. 19, 1982. What I needed to do was meet the band before its Feb. 23 concert in Champaign-Urbana.

Luckily, the 20-year-old Bono was willing to discuss "Gloria" and "October." Describing that interview, the reference book "U2: A Diary" notes: "Although the band have gone out of their way to avoid talking about their faith up to this point, they speak candidly now."

That column ran on March 5 of that year, and it apparently was the first mainstream news piece in which Bono and company discussed their faith. I immediately pitched the story to Rolling Stone, where editors decided that U2 wasn't all that important or that it was bizarre for a guy like Bono to talk about God -- or both.

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