Every month we put a U2 fan in the spotlights, the fan of the month June of 2022 is user Zbych. Read along for the interview we had with this U2 fan.
"My wife was not a music person, and thought Bono is a black person, but she had no option but to become a fan. In Berlin 2005 she was close to be picked up for dance with Bono, but he only went for her sunflower and marched with it on stage and gave her back. My mother and mother in law got to see U2 in Poland live too… so I must have been persuasive.."
Tell us something about yourself, who are you and what do you do for a living?
I’m old enough to call myself lucky to have consciously witnessed the 1991 avalanche of probably the greatest rock records ever from Queens Innuendo through Pearl Jams Ten to “ours” U2s Achtung Baby. But still bit too young to have experienced the shock of U2s transformation from “cowboys” image of JT/RH to AB (that got me with first seeing of Discotheque video). I was born in Poznan, Poland right between Berlin and Warsaw and have lived here ever since. Poznan may not get too many international rock shows but it is really nice midsize town located 2-3 hours drive to those two big cities.
I’ve been happily married since the end of 1st Leg of 360 tour. Our first weeding dance was soundtracked by When The Stars Go Blue by The Corrs & Bono. At the reception we had our friends rock band to entertain the guests (to the demise of some we even had U2-covers set), and for the first and probably last time ever I stepped in Bono’s shoes to sing All I Want Is You to my beloved wife (and have an utmost respect to singers ever since). Since then, we have had 2 kids (the older already made it to U2’s 2018 show, the younger prevented my wife from seeing Joshua Tree 30 shows).
For living I used to work at the only racetrack in Poland (Tor “Poznań”) and had a chance to meet Michael Schumacher, Marc Gene and of course Robert Kubica in person, but the greatest memory from that job must be the co-drive in Porsche 911 GT3 with Polish driver Teo Myszkowski. My duties included administrative checks of drivers at championship races but also handling the media. And even these days I’m often invited for a raceday to take a microphone and do small live commentary or conduct the rostrum ceremony. For last 11 years I’ve been working in publishing house, with wide array of activities from administration to writing, and call me lucky but I got the job because of U2.
How did you become a fan of U2, tell us how it happened?
Being a single child, with my parents rather not very music oriented, I was shaped by my close cousins. At the age of 6 I was introduced to heavy metal – Accept, Iron Maiden… but Metallica stole my heart for 2-3 years. I used to take cymbals sticks and play Battery and pretend to be Lars Urlich. Then (although at my cousins command only after my first communion in church) he introduced me to Slayer… so where is U2 in that?!… in November 1991 Freddie Mercury passed away and – like many - I got interested in Queen music. Queen has some really heavy songs in their catalogue (Dead On Time, Headlong, Prohpet Song etc.) … and thank God for their variety of musical genres as it open my mind and widened my interests. Not a radio guy, I started to listen a very famous in Poland – Chart list on National Radio Programme 3 (Trojka). The chart positions were not sale related (we didn’t have a proper records market in Poland back then) but voted by fans. The legendary Radio DJ – Marek Niedzwiecki – often played songs that have never been intended as singles… and there at the end of September 1992 I heard the organ intro to Love Is Blindness… one of the defining moments of my life. Soon I bought a pirate Achtung Baby cassette with completely different order of songs, and every day before school I was sinking in Until The End Of The World, The Fly and other classics… and in November 1992 I saw ZooTV special on Polish TV! Oh boy it blew me away! The live versions of the tracks were even stronger plus the overall visual experience… unfortunately my only taste of ZooTV tour came from this broadcast, but I remember begging my mother to buy me a TDK SA 100 tape to record Dublin’93 radio broadcast. Traveling to Berlin or Budapest for 14 year old was almost like flying to the moon then… not it’s so easy with travels in EU, highways, open boarders, cheap flights, internet ticket sales … it was not always like this.
Does anyone in your family or one of your friends like U2? If so, did they introduce you to U2, or did you "convert" them?
As I became a fan I started to introduce U2 music to my school friends, borrowing Pop CD to a lot of folks in high school, recording some mix-tapes for friends and girls I had a crush on. My closest friends got converted… but then my world got converted, as most of my friends for life are people I got to know because of U2! We barely speak about U2 now, but the common values, the common sensitivity got us close and keeps us close no matter if they live in Warsaw, Wroclaw, Gdansk or London.
My wife was not a music person, and thought Bono is a black person, but she had no option but to become a fan. In Berlin 2005 she was close to be picked up for dance with Bono, but he only went for her sunflower and marched with it on stage and gave her back. My mother and mother in law got to see U2 in Poland live too… so I must have been persuasive.
Your first U2 show took place in Warsaw, Poland. Tell us what that day and first experience was like.
Missing ZooTV will always be painful, so I had high hopes for the PopMart. I love Pop, it is such an underestimated record, so the joy was there. There were lot of complications with this show in Poland. At first it was set to be at Slaski Stadium in Chorzow (were U2 played in 2005 and 2009) but there were some issues and the show got canceled. Beautiful “collector” tickets had to be returned, but then came a change and the show was announced again in Warsaw – with ugly – system tickets, but it didn’t matter U2 was coming to Poland! Unfortunately, 6 days before the show my father had a stroke… life-threatening one… his condition even on the day before the show was critical. My mother knowing how much this U2 show meant to me, ordered me to go, while she stayed at the hospital bed next to my father. Going to Warsaw I wasn’t sure if my father will survive so it was really a tough and emotional rollercoaster. I don’t remember much from the show … I arrived quite late, but the two things that stayed forever are New Year’s Day and Please. Please – personally – as for me that was a plea for my fathers life, a prayer for him to survive (he did! and had 10+ more quite qood years)… Bono’s yells were my yells, my prayers and screams for my father to be okay! It's so heavy yet so emotionally cathartic song. The New Year’s Day was special because of Polish connection. Images of Solidarity movement and Lech Walesa on giant Popmart screen were touching and left big impression on the crowd, the band and myself.
Many more shows and tours followed. What was the one that stood out the most and why?
Since my first experience was not a an easy one, I often say Cologne 2001 was my first proper U2 show…. and the band was on fire! Since Poland was omitted on Elevation tour I made a flag with “WHY NOT IN POLAND” sign… and they in last minute changed setlist to play New Year’s Day instead of Discotheque… I was holding the flag and bouncing up-down… Bono took notice, took my flag and posed for a picture… did I mention the Desire – Hawkmoon 269 – Running To Stand Still medley? Can you top that? The best came in 2005. The 2nd U2 show in Poland will forever be my greatest U2 live experience. For the first time with a proper U2-community of close friends… in fact 70000 of them. I told this story few times already, I’m - not so humble - mind behind the polish-flag flashmob. One day I had this crazy idea that it would look awesome if everyone on the GA-floor was red and the seats were white… and should they play “our” New Years’ Day (which we knew from tour start they will) we would turn Slaski stadium to large Polish flag. I would have never succeeded if other fans wouldn’t join and help in spreading the news, giving away the white and red stuff before the show etc., I still have plans and box to be ticket for my life… but I doubt I will come with something more defining then the flag. Band’s reaction was phenomenal (Bono and Larry mentioned it as one of the best moments of U2’s history) not many of you know that during his recent visit in Ukraine, when local fan started to share his memory of Slaski Stadium Bono wasn’t just politely nodding but vividly sharing memories from that white-red experience. Band also paid tribute to late John Paul II so it was all very emotional and moving and the boys rocked! The flashmob opened a lot of doors for me, in 2009 it was so much easier to orchestrate the 360 even more spectacular flag edition… shame the band let us a bit down and treated it just like another 360 show (setlists wise, no Party Girl for Edge birthday, no special encore like in some cites… well you can’t have it all can you?
I saw quite a few great shows since then (with special mention of 2nd Wembley 2009, 2nd Colgone 2015, 4th Paris 2015, Berlin JT30 2017 and 4th Milan 2018) few one-off performances (11 O’Clock in Vienna 2001, Boy Fall From The Sky Coimbra 2010, Landlady in Milan 2018) but none of them come close to that Vertigo Chorzow show where emotions and sense of community brought the show to other level.
What are your expectations and hopes for U2's upcoming albums? The reworked songs and new songs ones?
There is always level of anxiety before next U2 record, but let’s make it straight, no band in their age ever topped earlier works, we just have to be happy that they carry on touring and releasing new music (tunes like Little Things). I wised they would open the vaults more (but probably the perfectionism prevents them from that)… In 10-20 years time the interest in U2 back catalogue (ZooTV, LoveTown, UnFire live shows will diminish even more than now). I’m not sure U2 will have a cult status of Stones or The Beatels. They will be one of the greatest but never in that league…
I would love the reworked songs to be in style of Bono’s and Jools Holland take of Velvet Dress. Bono’s current voice is great for crooner songs. The great U2 Swing-Sintara record! I would also like them to be less “corporate” when it comes to touring. There are so few non-tour shows. Imagine the Bono&Edge storytellers evening, acoustic, with intermissions for Bono to set his tongue loose. Royal Albert Hall 4 nigh residency, Carnagie Hall 8 night residency… things like that to shake off the tour-notour approach which to my mind is not working anymore. There are not too many new fans since 2009… and for fans sake… just make a straight rock record without purse for Radio hit… U2 will not get one anymore… just ask Mick Jagger or Steven Tyler… U2 is old-men’s act now. Radio will play current single for 2-3 weeks and then they will go back to Pride-One’s-B.Days… no need to chase that.
What does your U2 collection look like? What kind of stuff do you have and how is it organised?
As Polish market got civilized, I started to buy U2 CD records (Achtung Baby being the first of course). I have plenty of items – all CD singles, few oddities like Japanese 3” Fly longbox single or French Stuck In A Moment wallet edition, Spanish Kiosk Albums Collection. Though I’m not “promo” collector guy, probably the most valuable item I have is Polish CD promo for Beautiful Day - ugly as it is it - quite rare. I lately got into vinyl, but trying not to be too crazy about it, I’m going for the RSD releases and color editions, and been lucky to have scored them all (Wide Awake in Europe and Songs Of Innocence white cover). I have a couple of cool promo gadgets – Pop cube, Paris DVD lightbulb and No Line camera, but apart from nice record shelf no place to put it on display.
Tell us something about the popularity and fanbase of U2 in Poland and how U2 fits into its current musical landscape
As an Achtung Baby era fan, I’m in what one would call a 2nd wave. U2 was quite popular in Poland in the 80’s, here were fan gathering etc. but I believe it died a bit in the 90’s… and I wanted to do something about it. When I attended my first club meeting of fans in Wroclaw right after ATUCLB release I was blown away by the common experience with other U2 maniacs. A discotheque but with U2 music. I decided to make something similar in my hometown. With the aid of Internet we succeeded and Boston DVD release party was first of about 20 U2 events I organized. With the booming of internet groups and forums the community started to grow with Vertigo tour being the peak of it. Ever since No Line Of The Horizon release party I noticed that there were less and less people coming (demographic pays its toll – families, work and other duties) and what is more worrying fewer and fewer new faces (and younger faces). Of course, both flag-fashmobs of 2005-2009 showed how strong the community was, but I have a feeling that today’s 35-50 year olds do not have enough time for U2 community, or with the boom of Polish alternative scene in recent years switched main interests to local bands…
Between 2003-2009 we managed to organize few spectacular fan gatherings – in 2003 what I believe was European premiere of Slane DVD (I begged Universal Music Poland for the DVD, but never believed they will get it… and few days before London official screening I got the advanced plain DVDR and to a great surprise of people who came to see Boston DVD on large screen we played Slane instead – bare you in mind in 2003 it was not so common to show DVD-concert in theaters), other highlights include ZooTV tribute party with 5 1:4 scale Trabants, made by my late father hanging from the roof, belly dancer, few MacPhistos in the audience and ZooTV Syndey shown on few large screens (including the TV feed with different angles), the last great one included It Might Get Loud film screening and local band U2 cover concert with about 700 fans in attendance… ever since it diminished and the last pre-covid party was just about 100 people…
With that in mind, it’s great we still have international community like U2start, to share our thoughts, experiences, bootlegs and other stuff. I’ve been lucky enough to met a lot of international fans on my U2 touring trips (photobombing U2start post-show video in Berlin 2018 with Elmo puppet) and staying in touch with them on FB or Forum ever since.
How different is U2 compared to other artists that you like?
My musical taste – thanks to Freddie Mercury – is quite wide, but rocks genre is my thing. Pearl Jam is my 2nd most beloved band, and though many musical differences I believe both share and treasure same values. I wish U2 was more Pearl Jam’ish or Metallic’ish in their musical endeavors (official bootlegs, live footage shows on YT, one-off gigs in clubs for fans outside NY, LA and London), we know they will never vary setlists the way Eddie & Co do… but Elevation tour “2 night stand” comes as close as it gets with sometimes 8 songs in rotation.
I admire Muse for musicianship perfectionism and live production, Coldplay for being U2 of modern days (and probably last “pop-rock” band popular enough to fill stadiums in all corners of the world. Garbage and Simple Minds (the later being alternative U2 that never chopped the Joshua Tree… still being popular enough to fill some larger venues but just enjoying themselves with live greatest hits shows and records released with no pressure or pursuit for radio hit). T.Love from Polish scene is the band that reminds me a bit of U2 – often reinvented themselves from punk/newage beginigs too pop-phase (year before u2) to return to more Rolling Stones vibe, I’ve seen them 50 times live and always go to see them if there is a chance.
What are your hobbies and interests away from U2, musical or otherwise?
Aside from music and concerts (boy this year’s June and July is so heavy with rescheduled and new shows) I love travels. Being lucky to have traveled almost all across the World as part of my journalist job. Visiting many U2 related locations (Zabriskie Point, The fallen JTree, One Tree Hill in New Zealand, Dublin and Berlin) but also many wonders of nature like Great Canyon, Denali National Park or Millford Sounds. I enjoy taking some phots on concerts I attend, but try to have as much dancing-jumping fun as possible. I should invest in new pocket camera, but have been lucky to had press-accreditation on some local events too – being at the stage taking phots and hearing the crowd sing like artist hears it – magical experience. I love cycling, but had not enough time in recent years for major trips, I used to start in local MTB competitions and even cycled 280km in one day 20 years ago…. Spending time with my family no matter if its fun-park, family-paced bike ride, Paris Museum or local band rock show is what I cherish the most! I hope one day to see U2 with my wife and 2 daughters.
Hope you enjoyed my humble storytelling… can’t wait to see you on the road folks, till then to next u2start post!
Thanks for this interview Zbych!
Note: Our crew members randomly pick fans of the month, you can't sign up for it.
Great interview @Zbych! Seeing your first show without knowing if your dad would make it through that night must have been horrific, what a sad, sad experience, but I'm glad he made it and you could compensate it with that fantastic 2001 and 2005 shows So surprising to see you were the orchestrator of the Polish flag flashmob I take my (virtual) hat off