MM was beautiful, in the thin, tan, confident way that California beach towns brew. He was on the water polo team. And surfed. And was funny.
I was new at the high school that prom night, so while MM and my prom date excused themselves to go into a bedroom at the pre-prom party, I waited awkwardly for them to return. And when they came out a bit later, they were excitable and happy, which someone confirmed for me later was a result of the cocaine they’d been snorting. It was 1985; MM was seventeen.
Two years later, I saw MM at the Pacific Garden Mall in downtown Santa Cruz. And he wasn’t making sense, high on some psychedelic—acid? mushrooms?—but was still gorgeous. He recognized me too so wasn’t totally out there. But it worried me. With overprivilege like his, he should have been on his way to bigger and better; blazing a clear trail with money, charisma and good looks.
But that’s not what ended up happening.
I thought that U2’s "Bad" was a love song. Because that’s just where my brain naturally goes. Plus, it has always seemed too slow and beautiful to be a song about a heroin overdose.
If you twist and turn away,
If you tear yourself in two again.
If I could, yes I would,
If I could, I would,
Let it go.
But Bono had once lived in the shadows of Ballymun Flats, where social isolation and boredom drove people into grief and adrenaline, until they found themselves in a harsh world of self-loathing and addiction that—over time—could only be eased with even more heroin.
So when Bono gives “the Bono talk” to up-and-coming musicians, he does so using the dark backdrop of his own frustration at not being able to help his friend(s)--one who OD’d on his 21st birthday; another more slowly, inspiring the lyrics to “Running to Stand Still”--out of the hole of shame-filled addiction that they found themselves in.
Because most drug addicts were once just like you and me. Like sweet Cory Monteith. With promise. With family. And people who love them. And resources, of one form or another. They are (or were) gorgeous and beautiful, and charming, and full of life.
And they wanted something different for themselves too.
So when someone like Bono sees a junkie, he sees not just what they are but what they were and what they could be.
“If I could throw this
Lifeless lifeline to the wind
Leave this heart of clay
See you walk, walk away
Into the night
And through the rain
Into the half-light
And through the flame
If I could, you know I would
If I could, I would
Let it go...
Let it go”
And what he has so painfully learned, he shares. Through song. Through lectures. Through “the Bono talk.” And he keeps trying, even if only some will listen. Even if musical ears are too despondent or arrogant to hear him. Even if Kurt Cobain’s embarrassment means Bono is turned away.
He keeps trying--giving his fatherly advice, trying to prevent them from crashing over the edge of fame--because trying feels so much better than giving up. And, it seems like, for him, pushing people to love themselves as much as he loves them comes naturally, perhaps because he knows sorrow so well.
Which I guess means I was right all along.
It really is a love song.
About why he never got into heroin, Bono says that to survive in life, “You have to know when you’re dealing with something that’s bigger than you.”
And heroin is bigger than one person; it’s bigger than whole families. It’s bigger than schools and nations.
And the worst thing anyone—any person, any parent (including me)--can do is to believe that it can’t happen to them. Or ignore the hell of the family of an addict. Or the lyrics of a man who has changed the world with his philanthropy but couldn’t do a damn thing to save his friends.
The worst we can do is ignore the two mugshots on Google images of that gorgeous boy from high school: in the older mugshot, MM's hair is darker but he's still handsome, with trimmed goutee and bright eyes; in the newer one, he is gaunt, pale, with long stringy hair and a dead look in his eyes. The “before” and “after” of drug addiction: a chilling metamorphosis.
When I hear Bono’s lyrics—and U2’s song--I’m with Bono in hell. As MM’s parents. And Cory Monteith's parents. With them all in the hell of not being able to help someone you love out of the most suffocating of holes.
And I shed tears. And get that sick feeling in my gut that life sometimes feels like it’s cutting way too deeply with it’s razor’s edge. Because the agony of losing your child, over and over again—with each injection, and each relapse, and then, God-forbid, each overdose-- is almost too much for me to contemplate.
But I make myself go there. I make myself face it. I watch the specials, and I read the stories. I spend mornings Googling Ross McDonnell photoessays, and Youtube videos on Ballymun.
Because it is awful, but I don’t want to end up “high” myself on the false belief that--unlike MM's parents--it could never happen to my own children.
Because "the Bono talk" is for us all.
And, like him, we should be "wide awake," facing the harsh realities of the things that worry us, and soothed by vigilance and loving this world too much to let the sorrow of the past make us give up on the hope of "trying."