"Maybe that is the step forward on this record, to be able to have the freedom to have humour sitting alongside songs that are deadly earnest, and the two actually balance out each other."
-- Edge, on All That You Can't Leave Behind
Like A Video: Original Of The Species
October 12, 2012
[Ed. note: This is the 12th in a series of essays by the @U2 staff about U2-related visuals and videos. Some essays may be informational and educational, while others may be more personal.]
U2's recent release of the acoustic version of "Original Of The Species" (on the Every Mother Counts CD) reminds me of the sheer beauty of the song, and of the stunning video directed by the band's longtime friend and artistic collaborator Catherine Owens. Bono originally penned the song for Edge's daughter, Hollie, so I see the animated child in the video as a girl. While this song and video can be interpreted in many ways, I will focus on the meaning it has for me as a parent in general.
When I watch this video, I can't help but smile and want to float away, leaving my cares behind. I think of the pure joy and wonder that fills the life of a child, and that the bond between a parent and a child is one of the most special bonds we share as humans. It celebrates the uniqueness of each individual, and of children and teenagers in particular.
Owens directed the video using CG motion-capture technology, tracking facial and head movements of a woman and the band members – mostly Bono and Larry – to create exquisite imagery and intimacy. The evolution of the song through the video is beautiful, taking the viewer through a visual and emotional journey. The beginning keyboard notes are accompanied by an ethereal Etch A Sketch-style drawing of a child in the womb, and then the mother is drawn around that child and cradles it. It's a simple yet timeless image that reflects the song's theme of innocence.
As the first notes sound, the tone is playful. Bono's voice comes in as he appeals to the child. "Baby slow down. The end is not as fun as the start. Please stay a child somewhere in your heart."
The initial images of the child are flat and empty, without color or emotion. The three-dimensional character-generated heads, including Larry's, are motionless. As the song progresses, those images come alive. The child develops a personality and begins to see and hear and grow curious.
"You are the first one of your kind," Bono sings as the child comes to resemble a mannequin and awakens, opening an eye to reveal a pool of blue color. A vine with pink flowers grows out of the child's mouth to envelop it in beauty. "And you feel like no one before. You steal right under my door. And I kneel cos I want you some more. I want the lot of what you got. And I want nothing that you're not."
As the video evolves, she child becomes more aware. "Everywhere you go you shout it. You don't have to be shy about it," Bono proclaims, encouraging the child to embrace herself and her uniqueness.
There is so much emotion in a single teardrop shed by the child as Bono sings, "Some things you shouldn't get too good at. Like smiling, crying and celebrity. Some people got way too much confidence baby, baby. "
Bono lets go of his emotions as he sings into the ear of the child as if to prepare her for what's to come. The child smiles and tilts her head as if she is reassured and feeling safe. "I'll give you everything you want, except the thing that you want." Written phrases appear on the child's head to represent development of parts of the brain and personality: "Always Free." "Stay True." "Ask." "Heal." "Let Go." "Love."
At this point, the music's intensity builds and Bono removes his sunglasses, singing playfully, "do-do, do-do, do-do, do-do, do-do, do-do, do-do. Sugar, come on show your soul. You've been keeping your love under control." As the music builds, images of Bono are intertwined with those of a pregnant woman to honor the life of the soon-to-arrive child.
The child displays surprise and wonder as brightly colored butterflies with beautiful patterns emerge from her mouth and flutter around her, landing on her. She smiles. "I want you some more, I want you some more. I want you some more."
One by one, pictures of Larry, Adam, Edge and Bono (now all are fathers) appear as the video concludes.
When I interviewed Catherine Owens a year ago about this video, this is what she said:
"They were a little unsure about the ending. But I said, 'No, your fans are going to love it.' Three of them were fathers and they are all gorgeous. That's really a special video for all of us. It was our first attempt at motion capture. To me their songs are so divine and I think they're divine. That hasn't changed in all the years I've been working with them. I think that song captures that."
I agree with Owens' opinion that the song is divine. As a parent, I love this video. It's a beautiful tribute to mothers and an urgent, heartfelt plea to children to embrace who they are and who they will become. Watching a child grow, whether you're a parent or not, is one of the most magical experiences we can have. I remember talking to my children as they drifted off to sleep, similar to Bono speaking in the child's ear. It was one of many ways I planted seeds of strength and wisdom they would need to get them through life.
It is so much fun to watch children learn, explore, develop self-awareness and become their own person. Adolescence is intense, and I wanted to protect my children from the pain of that time, but I knew I couldn't. It's a race to shed innocence, and then the child is gone. I completely agree with Bono -- I will always want my children some more. And I will always want all of what they've got.
(c) @U2/Myers, 2012.