"It's the most un-rock 'n' roll thing you could do, so I never ever talked about it, but that was actually my obsession before rock-and-roll."
-- Bono, on playing chess
Like a Song: Bad
March 14, 2012
[Ed. note: This is the 65th in a series of personal essays by the @U2 staff about songs and/or albums that have had great meaning or impact in our lives.]
I distinctly remember the first time I heard a live version of "Bad," after it was released on the Wide Awake In America album in 1985. I was instantly captivated by that song, and it has represented many things to me over the years: helplessness, sadness, understanding, strength and, finally, hope.
It's common knowledge that the band wrote the song about a friend who was a heroin addict, and it reflected their desire to see this friend emerge from his addiction. It was not known until recently that this friend survived his addiction, when Bono acknowledged he was in attendance at the Pittsburgh show at the end of the 360 tour.
I have heard "Bad" played at a number of concerts and it truly is one of U2's most powerful live songs. It always brings me to my knees and to tears that often just can't be helped. I especially like the live version of “Bad” recorded in East Rutherford, N.J., in June 1985 on the Conspiracy of Hope tour because Bono's voice is so beautiful and moving – and he sings all of the lyrics, which doesn't happen in later renditions. I also like the live versions because he includes, often in very animated, passionate form, a section about not fading away after the musical break toward the end of the song.
I loved an alcoholic/drug addict for many years, and spent a lot of time and energy trying to rescue him from his disease. He recently succumbed to his illness, dying at the age of 49. My heart broke as I watched him disappear and leave his family and friends despite repeated pleas to get help.
At times I became so frustrated, scared, sad and tired, and I turned to "Bad" for validation, strength and hope. I watched in profound sadness as my loved one tore himself in two, turning away from those who cared about him and wanted to see him get well.
If you twist and turn away
He retreated from us little by little over the years and I saw the pain in his eyes and the conflict in his heart as he slowly gave up on himself. I began to understand that I had to let him go on his own journey without me and that I had to set down my own path as well.
If you should ask, then maybe
Alcoholism is an insidious disease that affects everyone in the alcoholic's orbit. It took me a long time to realize I was helpless over the disease and the alcoholic's choices. "Bad" gave me the strength I needed at times to continue, to hope, and to begin to make my own journey away from the addiction. "Bad" helped me escape that helplessness as I watched my loved one fade away. I became the one to surrender and dislocate.
If I could throw this lifeless life-line to the wind
If you've ever loved an addict, then you know your heart also can turn to clay, and that it takes a walk through the night, the rain and the flame to break away from the addict. It is a difficult but necessary journey for survival.
Then, at the end of 2010, when I was emerging from the disease and tending to my own well-being, my loved one descended further into his addiction and began slipping away for the last time. Again, I turned to "Bad" to try to make sense of a situation that made no sense. "Bad" became a song of hope for my own recovery. As it turned out, I was throwing that lifeless life-line to the wind to myself, and I was walking away, into the light. I was setting my own spirit free.
If I could, through myself, set your spirit free
"Bad" has helped me process the grief I feel about loving and then losing someone overcome by addiction. Hearing Bono's voice go down-octave in the" whoo hoo" sections is spine-tingling to me, and I hear fervent hope and pleading in his voice, as if he were begging his friend to take a helping hand and choose life. I am glad to know the band's muse for this song is alive. It gives me hope to know that some people do survive and even thrive after overcoming their addictions.
My loved one faded away in life, but will never fade away in our memories.
I am grateful that "Bad" has been around all these years to help me through a long and difficult, but valuable journey. I have NOT faded away, and I am wide awake, indeed.
I'm wide awake, I'm wide awake, wide awake
(c) @U2/Myers, 2012.