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"[O]ne of the reasons I'm interested in the principle of surrender, one of the reasons I'm interested in a man of peace like Martin Luther King, is that I'm the opposite."

-- Bono

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Like a Song: 40

@U2, September 16, 2016
By: Marylinn Maione

 

Like A Song[Ed. note: This is the 100th 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.]

When my grandfather Francesco was 23 years old, he left his new bride behind to conquer America with his band. They boarded a ship with steerage tickets, but they made the voyage in style. Che bella cosa è na jurnata ’e sole, n’aria serena doppo na tempesta! … O sole mio sta nfronte a te! The people on the top deck could hear them practicing and invited them up to play, and they spent the rest of the trip eating and drinking like kings, and even made a few dollars.

I will sing, sing a new song

They landed in New York on June 24,1923. The band broke up quickly after that, but my grandfather stayed because he had six months left on his work visa. He asked people where he could find steady work, and they said “Pittsburgh.” The steel industry was booming there. He wasn’t interested in working in the mills (“Too dangerous!”), but found a job as a laborer. I'll build a stairway to Paradise/With a new step ev'ry day!/I'm gonna get there at any price/Stand aside, I'm on my way!

He worked on the construction of the Washington Crossing Bridge, named for the incident that nearly killed our future first president 140 years prior, in 1793. Francesco stayed for two years until his expired work visa was discovered and he was shipped back to Italy. He didn’t know if he’d ever return.

I waited patiently for the Lord

He inclined and heard my cry

He brought me up out of the pit

Out of the miry clay

Francesco did return to Pittsburgh in 1957, this time with his daughter Giulia and son Domenic, carrying not much more than the clothes on their backs. The three of them lived with my grandfather’s brother Adam, and they immediately began working and sending money back to bring the rest of the family over from the old country. 

I will sing, sing a new song

Giulia was 19 and already engaged when she landed in America. One of her first jobs was as an usher in a theater where concerts were occasionally held. She was paid a whopping $1 per show and got to see some of the biggest stars of the time. Venus, if you will/Please send a little girl for me to thrill/A girl who wants my kisses and my arms/A girl with all the charms of you” She grew up with her father’s traditional Neapolitan songs, but loved American music. 

I will sing, sing a new song

In 1960 she became an American citizen and returned to Italy to marry her fiance. It's now or never, come hold me tight/Kiss me my darling, be mine tonight. Angelo stayed back to continue working until 1962, when he finally came over and they could begin their lives together. My brother was born in 1963, and I was born on June 24 of the following year, 41 years to the day that my grandfather first saw the shores of the United States. She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah, She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah.  My two younger brothers were born in 1967 and 1969, and our family was complete.

He set my feet upon a rock

And made my footsteps firm

Many will see

Many will see and hear

The rest of my mother’s family followed and settled in Pittsburgh, starting families of their own. The last of my 20 first cousins was born in 1974. We had joy, we had fun/We had seasons in the sun/But the hills that we climbed/Were just seasons out of time.  If the adults in my family had difficulty with the transition into their new lives, I didn’t notice it, but I struggled as a child. I never felt like I quite fit in, walking a thin line between the life outside my house as a first-generation American, and the life inside, as the daughter of Italian ex-patriots. I didn’t feel like I had a history in either place. 

How long, how long, how long

How long to sing this song

My childhood was hard, but I found comfort in the music that was always playing in our house, either on the console stereo upstairs in my grandparents’ apartment where my grandfather played his old 78 RPM opera records (La donna è mobile, qual piùma al vento, muta d'accento, e di pensiero.) or in our kitchen on a clock radio tuned to an AM station that played mostly soft-rock and pop songs, mixed with some disco and R&B thrown in for good measure. It kept my mother company while she did housework and she would often sing along, but she cried when Abba’s “Fernando” came on. There was something in the air that night, the stars were bright, Fernando. Her brother Fernando was killed in a car accident in 1971, and the song brought those awful memories back to the surface every time she heard it. 

I will sing, sing a new song.

In 1976, I was a shy 12-year-old, starting my first babysitting job. A teenage girl lived with her mom in the small apartment on the third floor of our house. I loved Sandy because she let me hang out in her room, which was painted lavender and plastered with posters. This was a huge deal because my strict father would never allow us to choose the color of our rooms or hang anything on the walls! She kept company with Donny Osmond, the Bay City Rollers, and a guy who called himself “Aladdin Sane.” Don't let me hear you say life's taking you nowhere, angel/Come get up my baby/Look at that sky, life's begun/Nights are warm and the days are young … I'll stick with you baby for a thousand years/Nothing's gonna touch you in these golden years …  In Dublin, Ireland, a bunch of teenagers gathered in Larry Mullen’s kitchen in response to a note he posted on a bulletin board, looking to start a band. 

I will sing, sing a new song.

By 1978, I had saved enough babysitting money to buy myself a record player. The first vinyl album I bought was The Stranger, by Billy Joel. They say there's a heaven for those who will wait/Some say it's better but I say it ain't/I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints/The sinners are much more fun/You know that only the good die young. I finished my religious training as a Catholic and after my confirmation that year, I immediately left the church. I could tell early on that it was not for me.

I started high school in the fall and was surrounded by people who had older siblings and knew about music I had never heard of. The more bands I discovered, the more I discovered myself. I'm out of control/You say/ Out of control/I'm out of control. I rebelled against my strict upbringing and dared to go out to rock concerts, where I found my true religion: live music. I’d always had some version of live music in my life, as my grandfather sang to us at the kitchen table when we had dinner together. But this was different. This was my music.

How long, how long, how long

How long to sing this song

In 1986, I was working full time, unable to finish college due to financial difficulties and years of untreated depression. Oh mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head/And as I climb into an empty bed/Oh well, enough said. My self-prescribed therapy was the music I listened to. Musically, the ‘80’s were my decade! I had so many favorite bands, most of whom I saw live in concert: The Who, The Police, REM, The Smiths (and later, just Morrissey), Elvis Costello, INXS, Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, Crowded House, The Replacements, Squeeze, Husker Du, Miracle Legion, just to name a few. Small clubs, huge arenas, dance halls, it didn’t matter. I saw shows at the venue where my mom had worked before I was born. I lived for the music, any way I could get it. It's in the street getting under my feet/It's in the air, it's everywhere I look for you. 

And of course, there was U2. In 10 short years, they already had four studio albums and one live EP under their belts. I was under the spell of their most recent record, The Unforgettable Fire, which I listened to late at night when I couldn’t sleep. And you hunger for the time/Time to heal, desire, time/And your earth moves beneath /Your own dream landscape. I saw them live for the first time during the tour to support this record, and I was hooked. All roads lead to where you are.

I admired them for their music, but even more so because they seemed like decent human beings. It was good for me to watch as they forged a path to success on their own terms, which was unusual back then. In 1987, the band’s popularity would, like a firework, explode, and I’d have to share my band with millions of new fans who fell in love with The Joshua Tree

Around this time, my grandfather picked up his mandolin after at least 30 years of not playing any instrument. O sole mio sta nfronte a te! With just a little practice, it all came back to him as if he’d never left it. 

How long to sing this song

How long to sing this song

In 1996, I had been married for six years and was a new homeowner. I spent our first Halloween in the house alone, scared out of my mind, while my husband was working as an extra in the movie Sudden Death. In the silence of my lonely room/I think of you, night and day. The woods next to the house creeped me out! 

In those years before children, my husband and I would spend a week at the Outer Banks, North Carolina, every summer. We’d pack up our tiny car with beach gear and as soon as we hit the first highway, I’d pop Achtung Baby into the tape deck and crank it up. I'm ready, ready for the gridlock/I'm ready to take it to the street/I'm ready for the shuffle, ready for the deal/Ready to let go of the steering wheel/I'm ready, ready for the crush. I thought this was U2’s best album to date. We put a ton of miles on that tape.

He brought me up out of the pit

Out of the miry clay

Is something wrong she said /Of course there is/ You're still alive she said /Oh do I deserve to be? My depression was getting worse, keeping me from doing the things I wanted, like finding better work and finishing school. While the rest of the world was listening to grunge, I was immersed in Caribbean music: soca, calypso, dancehall, salsa, but mostly reggae. My mind was dark but my music was light, airy and full of life. Singing don’t worry about a thing/’cause every little thing, gonna be alright. I started real therapy and slowly began to feel better. I was sorry I had waited so long.

Both of my grandparents passed away at the ages of 90 and 92 years old, but we still have the old 78s and the mandolin in the family. 

How long to sing this song

How long to sing this song

In 2006, I had two small children and had been separated from my husband for a few years. He had demons of his own that he wasn’t dealing with, and I couldn’t handle it anymore. Love is a temple/Love the higher law/You ask me to enter but then you make me crawl/And I can't be holding on to what you got/When all you got is hurt. 

The years of decline wore on me, but now I had a reason to keep my spirits up. 

It's alright, it's alright, it's alright/She moves in mysterious ways/It's alright, it's alright, it's alright/Lift my days, light up my nights, love. My daughter was born on a sunny day in February 1999. My son went to his first U2 concert in utero and was born two weeks later in June 2001. I used to tell them that they were born a decade, a century and a millennium apart. I’d sing, Sleep, sleep tonight/And may your dreams be realised/If the thunder cloud passes rain/So let it rain, let it rain/Rain down on he, to soothe myself as well as my two little ones. 

My baby was 3 months old and I was still at home nursing him when the events of 9/11 unfolded. I couldn’t bear to think that I’d brought them into such a terrible world. When I was all messed up and I heard opera in my head/Your love was a lightbulb hanging over my bed/Baby baby baby light my way/Oh come on/Baby baby baby light my way/Ultraviolet love/Ultraviolet love. We all had to do better for our children.

I will sing, sing a new song

Love rescue me/Come forth and speak to me/Raise me up and don't let me fall/No man is my enemy/My own hands imprison me/Love rescue me. As with so many other people, I felt like U2 rescued me in the aftermath of that disaster and I became wholly obsessed with the band. I had barely kept up with them after Achtung Baby, other than catching their concerts when they came to town or seeing them on the Grammys.

I completely missed Pop when it was first released,but when it found its way to me, it became my favorite U2 album, edging slightly ahead of Zooropa, which I had also just discovered in the early 2000s. I had started running for exercise and these two albums were perfect for that. Lookin' for to save my, save my soul/Lookin' in the places where no flowers grow/Lookin' for to fill that God shaped hole/Mother, mother sucking rock and roll. I listened to Pop every day for two years and it embedded itself in my DNA. I have become that crazy person who will never stop trying to convince you how great this album is. Because it is really that good.

When you stop taking chances you'll stay where you sit/You won't live any longer but it'll feel like it. My therapy had been going well and it was time to branch out. I took a chance and submitted a story to this website in 2004, and I was accepted as a contributing writer. It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and a bright spot in the darkness. And there was so much darkness.

How long to sing this song

How long to sing this song

My family dealt with five solid years of cancer from 2005 to 2010. My young cousin, who loved music and U2 as much as I did, died of the disease in 2007, leaving behind two little boys. She tried to be a good girl and a good wife/Raise a good family, lead a good life/It's not good enough. She wouldn’t have wanted us to cry for her, but I still do. And I know it aches, how your heart it breaks/You can only take so much/Walk on, walk on. 

My mother was diagnosed in 2006, and passed in 2010. My children lost their beloved Nonni, who loved them more than she loved herself. My daughter wailed at her funeral, a low, guttural noise that came from deepest recesses of her body. I still can’t think about it without weeping. Dici che il fiume trova la via al mare /E come il fiume giungerai a me /Oltre i confini e le terre assetate /Dici che come fiume /Come fiume l'amore giungera /L'amore e non so piu pregare /E nell'amore non so piu sperare /E quell'amore non so piu aspettare. 

I might have rejected my religion at a young age, but there couldn’t be a god who would allow our family to be decimated this way. If I wasn’t an atheist before, I certainly was now. My mother would be pissed. Midnight is where the day begins.

I will sing, sing a new song

In 2009, U2 played at Heinz field here in Pittsburgh. How often do you get the chance to gather with people from every different facet of your life? My kids and their dad were there; two of my brothers, their families, and friends they had grown up with who had hung out at our house as kids; my friends growing up and their kids; newer friends; co-workers from several different jobs I had over the years; my atU2.com friends; kids (now adults) who I babysat as a teenager; cousins, one of my aunts who had discovered U2 because she bought a Luciano Pavarotti CD and Bono and The Edge were on it; people I’d met at previous shows; local celebrities, politicians and sports stars I had only ever seen on TV; the guy who “Bad” was written about, come all the way from Dublin, Ireland; astronauts! 

It's a beautiful day/The sky falls and you feel like/It's a beautiful day/Don't let it get away. Everyone was there in the same space, with the same purpose: To push aside the darkness for a few hours by celebrating life, love and music with a few thousand of our closest friends. It was one of the most remarkable experiences of my entire life and I doubt it I will ever see it happen again.

It’s 2016, and my children are now 15 and 17 years old. Everywhere you go you shout it/You don’t have to be shy about it. They are discovering themselves through music of their own choosing, which to my delight, includes U2. Muse is probably their favorite band, which is an excellent choice! They’ve been digging through my CD collection, and my daughter wants me to pull my vinyl records down from the attic so she can listen to my old Smiths albums. She’s mesmerized by Morrissey, just like I was at her age. She’s going to start driving soon, over the same bridge her great-grandfather helped build in the 1920s.

Who's to say where the wind will take you/Who's to say what it is will break you/I don’t know which way the wind will blow. Maybe my life didn’t turn out the way I’d imagined it as a child, and yes, there are experiences I wish that my kids and I didn’t have to live through, but so much of our existence is given to fate and the actions of others. Where would we be if my grandfather had never boarded that boat? What if my Uncle Dominic, who came to America with my mother, became an opera singer like he had planned, rather than a chef? What will happen to my son, who is choosing to pursue music as a career? Where in the world will it take him? 

I will sing, sing a new song

I will sing, sing a new song

How long to sing this song
How long to sing this song
How long, how long, how long

How long to sing this song

(c) @U2/Maione, 2016 



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