"I feel like it's always raining in our songs, that bittersweetness. . . . We surrender too easily to the blues. We, if we're not careful, are bleeding all over the world."
Like A Song: The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)
November 12, 2014
[Ed. note: This is the 89th 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.]
Getting to know a U2 album is an involved, lengthy process for me. It happens in stages and takes a minimum of several weeks. In the beginning, I take a very broad approach, listening to the record from start to finish for several days and focusing on the overall sound to determine if I like the collection of songs as a whole. Stage two consists of listening to particular tracks that stood out to me for whatever reason during the first stage. Then I listen to the remaining songs to confirm or change my initial opinions. In stage four, I dive deeper, adopting a more analytical perspective as I explore the musical, lyrical and sonic intricacies of each track. It is in this fourth stage that I form very personal connections to specific songs.
Songs Of Innocence appealed to me immediately and "The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)" was an early favorite. I liked the lyrics but didn't think too much about them at the start; it was Edge's distortion and the swing beat that initially drew me to the song. Now, after living with the record for more than two months and listening to it almost exclusively (my wife might say obsessively), I’ve started the fourth stage, listening more intently to the words. “The Miracle” is a reflection on how hearing punk rock for the first time was a revelatory experience for Bono. That got me thinking about my own life. I have a good job doing something I love. How did I get here? This is the story of my “miracle” moment.
I was chasing down the days of fear
The only professional aspiration I had as a child was to become the world's next great pediatrician. I made the choice in second grade and never wavered. Thoughts of becoming a cowboy, a firefighter, an astronaut or a professional athlete never entered my mind. My pediatricians -- four brothers who went into practice together -- were some of my real-life childhood heroes. They were very nice to me, and no matter how sick I felt, they always made me feel better. I wanted to be that kind of person for other children. I wanted to be a sick kid's hero.
I was young
Fast-forward to college. Music had been a consistent part of my life for as long as I could remember, so I didn't want to give it up altogether. In addition to a biology pre-med major, I declared a minor in music. As I slogged my way through many of the science courses (Oh, the horror of organic chemistry!), I cruised through the first semester of music theory without breaking a sweat. Midway through the second semester, I found myself enjoying the class much more than I anticipated, to the point where I was reading ahead and doing extra homework because I got a kick out of it. Yup, I was that guy.
I was aching to be somewhere near,
I wanted to continue taking music theory courses, but the third and fourth semesters of the curriculum were open only to music majors. A bit of research revealed that, at the time, music majors had some of the highest acceptance rates into medical school. This was wonderful news! It meant that majoring in a subject I really liked might increase my chances of getting into medical school. By this point in my college career (fall semester of my junior year), I had already taken enough biology courses to qualify for a minor, so I switched to a music pre-med major with a minor in biology.
I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred
Fast-forward to the fall semester of my senior year. I was gearing up for graduation in the spring and starting my preparation for the MCAT, which was required to get into medical school. At the same time, I was taking the fourth and final semester of music theory and loving every minute of it. As the topics and analytical techniques got more complex, my interest level in music theory only deepened. I didn't think I could like the subject any more than I already did. Then my "miracle" occurred.
I remember every detail about that moment. The date was Wed., Oct. 20, 1999. It was a beautiful autumn day in Chicago, with clear skies and a brisk breeze coming off Lake Michigan. I was wearing a ribbed crewneck charcoal gray merino wool sweater, stone-colored chinos, and black leather shoes. I sat in the back row, my friend Adrienne was to my right; no one sat in front of me or to my left. The topic was “enharmonic respelling of chords.” In a nutshell, that means spelling a chord a different way to give it a new harmonic function, thereby altering the direction of the music. It's a fundamentally simple concept that can have profound musical consequences -- an apparent paradox that completely blew my mind.
Suddenly, a flood of emotions washed over me. Before that moment, it did not occur to me that something was “off.” It was only afterwards that I realized I wasn’t pursuing my passion. An unexpected sense of relief crept in and lifted a weight off my shoulders that I didn’t even know was there until it was gone. I was so overwhelmed, in fact, that before I fully realized what was happening, my eyes had welled up. I couldn't believe that I was crying in class! Although they were tears of joy, I tried -- unsuccessfully, of course -- to hide the fact that I was breaking down. Adrienne noticed, however, and furtively (and with more than a bit of incredulity in her whisper) asked if I was OK. Yeah, I said. I was more than OK; I was great. I was amazed. I was inspired. It was at that exact moment I realized my calling was music theory, not medicine.
We got language so we can’t communicate
For the most part, I liked math and science classes, appreciated history and philosophy, and enjoyed poetry and literature. But I always loved my music classes; I particularly enjoyed the music theory courses. In addition to connecting with me on an intellectual level, they also connected with me on a deeply personal and visceral level, which was affirmed by my reaction that fateful fall day. There was no careful consideration or weighing of options. From that moment on, I knew in my mind and in my heart that music theory was the right path for me.
I get so many things I don't deserve
I can't help but think at least some part of Bono (and perhaps the rest of the band, as well) wants to be for this generation what The Ramones were for U2: an inspiration. Maybe someone who is unfamiliar with U2’s music will play Songs Of Innocence and suddenly realize their calling. Perhaps someone will hear U2 and be inspired to change the world for the better, either through music or medicine, art or science, writing or math. Or maybe U2’s music gives someone the motivation simply to keep working toward a better life. U2 has inspired me to think big, hope for a better future and work hard toward that goal.
For the record, I think I would have made a really good pediatrician. But no part of me regrets my choice to ditch medicine in favor of an academic music career because I get to do what I truly love. Discovering some of the intricacies of music and teaching others how to do it makes me happy in a way that nothing else does. And my job allows me to pass that happiness onto others. Everyone should be so fortunate. If I can be even just a tiny fraction of the inspiration to my students that The Ramones were to Bono, I will consider my career an unmitigated success.
Your voices will be heard
(c) @U2/Endrinal, 2014