I first saw Bono in the recorded U2 live performance of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” on MTV in the early 1980s. I was captured by his presence and power and the connection I felt to him, the band and the lyrics. I was a young teenager (as in search of meaning then, as I continue to be) and couldn’t get enough of U2’s music, or Bono himself.
In the late 80s U2 went on the ’Joshua Tree’ tour. In my senior year of high school I got to see U2 perform at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY where I grew up. Beyond the typical high school crushes that we get for rock stars, I found the lyrics of Bono and U2’s music to be electrifying and magnetic.
Songs like “I still haven’t found what I am looking for” would be played 100s of times on my cassette tapes, turned CDs turned Pandora and Spotify mediums for the tunes. “Yeah!” I thought, I can relate. That’s me. “I still haven’t found what I am looking for.”
Fast forward 30 years (yikes) U2’s music has continued to inspire me, console me and travel with me through the ups and downs of the last few decades. The piercing and deeply resonating words of U2 songs seemed to evolve and grow, as I was also evolving and growing. Lyrics like “The darkness just lets us see who we are” (from “Iris”) kept me company, when I sat in darkness, literally and figuratively.
The companionship of music that felt real to me literally gave me hope that there was something to find in the darkness. A suspicion I’d always had, hearing these lyrics again and again reminded me that I was not alone in my quest to uncover whatever was there to be found. It’s a journey, not destination but hey, why not travel with Bono and U2 along the way?
When Zach was a toddler I used to put him in the running stroller and play U2’s version of “Helter Skelter” again and again as I ran mile after mile (and subsequently moved into my marathon running years.) Bono’s comment in the beginning of the live version “Charles Manson stole this song from the Beatles, we are stealing it back” seemed to parallel my own attempts to take back my life, after losing my daughter and realizing my son would be on life support indefinitely. I was so grateful for a safe outlet to channel my commitment of ”never giving up.”
Most recently, another lyric has been powerful (I think this also comes from “Iris”) which is: “Free yourself to be yourself, only you can see yourself.” Right. One of the ah ha moments, and movements of middle age for me has been to stop looking side to side, ahead and behind, to find my identity from the reflections around me.
The “only you can see yourself” is the promise that we must turn inward to set our own essence free. What if U2 had looked side to side, or ahead and behind for their identity, or permission to unfold in their own unique, authentic way? We would have had another 80s band who peaked and then went on to grow older like the rest of us, with no time tested creative forces.
Instead, they saw themselves. The band allowed itself to evolve, with philanthropic ties, endless valuable contributions to humanity, the planet, political movements and yes, ongoing incredible lyrics that are time tested. Some of their songs are just pure poetry, and if I read them on paper without the music I could just as easily be reading the “Tao” or “Stillness Speaks.” Transformative.
I still haven’t found “what I am looking for” but I am a lot closer than I used to be. The more I turn inward, the closer I get to realizing there is so much more that I am capable of being. Which is, I for me, what I continue to seek.
Thank you Bono, U2 for freeing yourselves, to be yourselves and reminding us that we are not alone in our personal quests, whatever they may be.