The above video is at the center of my spiritual awakening in the early 1990s. Typical of me at that time, I was not aware of the song even three or four years after its release nor had I heard of the band called U2. I was busy working and being a dad to five kids, and growing away from my wife. In fact, I had already left her mentally, or as Kramer famously said in a Seinfeld episode, “George, in my mind I am already gone.” George’s look at Kramer after that remark was a classic deadpan. I still laugh.
By the way, I have not been kind to people who put up their favorite videos here, just out of the blue, as if saying “You must like what I like.” Music is personal. I am writing about this particular video because it represented an awakening, a turning point, a point in my life when I had a future that was going to be very different from my past. I will write first about my experience, and then about the song, the instrumentation, the video and the lyrics after. Rolling Stone places it at number 93 in its list of 500 best rock songs.
I invite others to use this post to recount similar experiences. Please limit yourself to one song or video.
We had a house full of kids, four girls and a boy. I am going to place the date that I heard the video as 1990, when my oldest would have been 14, and my youngest two perhaps seven. I would work at my office all day, and then come home and take them to the park or perhaps out for an ice cream treat. I tried to be active in their lives. I would also walk the dog, tend to chores, and maybe even read.
Each night the house would settle down, and I would lay back in my chair and watch TV. I am not clear if I stayed up until 11:30 to watch David Letterman, or if he was in his 10:30 slot, but I was a big Letterman fan, and would have stayed up very late to watch him no matter the time. We, us, my family, had no means of recording TV shows. My big treat for the day was a dish of ice cream and a glass of cherry cola. I looked forward to those every night after quiet settled in. Then I would settle in and fall asleep, not in a bed, but in my chair or on the couch.
The song opens with an arpeggio, that is, a fingering of a chord on a guitar, with the bass strings E and A left out. It creates a nice effect that is repeated throughout the song. At a certain point the bass kicks in, and repeats throughout. And then Bono begins to sing.
I do not care for Bono’s voice, as it is just trained projection. Since it was 1987 there was no Autotune, he had to learn to sing on key, but he has no vibrato to speak of, that is, the better singers will hit a note and then vary the pitch at during and at the end of a sequence. A perfect example of this would be Karen Carpenter in this Wings of Pegasus video. Bono, who has obviously had extensive vocal training, merely sings on key and very loud, but the overall quality is not great. (In my mind. Remember, music is personal.)
Since we are talking about a rock band, let’s stipulate that we don’t really know authorship of the song (it is credited to the four band members of U2) and we really don’t know that the instrumentation is the band or studio musicians. But however it was assembled, it is a very good piece of music. I will stipulate that The Edge in the video had to be, in my mind that night, the coolest guy on the planet.
There must have been a music video show after Letterman in those days, as I was sound asleep on our couch when the arpeggio entered my brain. I woke up to see Bono and The Edge on Fremont Street in Las Vegas (I later found out), an appropriate location for a song of this nature. I listened through it in a somewhat groggy state, and was moved by the sound and the words. The next day I set out on a quest to remember the name of the song, find out who the band was, and get hold of the tape.
I did finally find the information, and bought the Joshua Tree album. I must have played it (the entire cassette) a thousand times, usually while driving. (See the full lyrics at this page.)
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you
I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you
It haunted me. The song has a gospel quality about it, and spiritual depth. “Only to be with you”. Who are “you”? It certainly was not my wife. I was quite lonely in those days, and longed for what I would later find in July of 1995 on a hike in the Castle Mountains of Montana – a life partner.
I had not heard the song in years, and last night watched the video again. I’m a little more savvy now than then, and realize that in the video, the studio version of the song is probably playing on a loudspeaker so that the band members can lip sync. After filming was done, what the producers had was a silent movie. The actual song had to be synced into the video along with splicing and God only knows how many retakes. I would imagine they kept Fremont street alive and active for several days filming this video.
I don’t recall being so moved by a piece of music as I was by that one, before or since. There’s lots of good music out there – Creep by Radiohead has a fuzz guitar chorus that blows me away. The drum beat in One Headlight by the Wallflowers is riveting. I was always moved by Old Flame by Alabama. Beethoven’s Ninth is said by some to be the greatest piece of music ever written. (I’ll take their word for it.) The Ode to Joy chorus is stunning. I love all of those and many more, but that night I was riveted in place and becoming aware that it was time for a change in my life. I did not know that night that I was awakening spiritually, and would, in short order, have a divorce and a new sense of freedom and optimism about the future. I still have that inside me. U2 got it done for me.