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Like a Song: California
June 17, 2015
[Ed. note: This is the 92nd 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.]
Barbara, Santa Barbara … Repeat 10 times, in an unmistakable chant that pays homage to the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann."
Disclaimer: I live in Santa Barbara (about 95 miles north of Los Angeles on the coast) and grew up in California, so OF COURSE I’m going to like this song.
I’ve read some comments from fans who have suggested that writing a song about California is a cliché, or that this tune doesn’t fit on an album about the band’s beginnings in Dublin.
Actually, California is very much a part of U2’s innocence, as Bono writes in the liner notes for Songs Of Innocence:
“First journeys are exhilarating…geographically, spiritually, sexually…The first time you see an orchid or a freeway or a rock n roll band in full flight, it stays tattooed under your skin. Forever. For U2 - going to Los Angeles was like that. LA seemed like the polar opposite of Dublin. we love being somewhere between extremes. I remember Edge, Adam, Larry and me getting off a plane in California and looking at each other like ‘this is better than the movies’ and that was just the airport!"
But “California” didn’t work its way into my heart by being a joyful homage to a Golden State.
It’s full of brightness, beachiness and light, yet tinged by darkness, too. The interplay is what makes life interesting — and real.
First, the light:
Water sparkling in the sun, especially when it’s the massively blue Pacific Ocean on a dazzling day near Malibu’s Zuma Beach, is mesmerizing and always lifts my heart.
And then the first bit of dark (unless you count the sort-of-somber bells at the beginning):
Watching you cry like a baby
Whoa! I’m driving on Highway 1 along the coast, feeling all sparkly and bright, and now someone’s crying? And this sob is a baby’s wail, which always means something primal — hunger, pain, loneliness, discomfort, exhaustion. Well, at least dawn arrives. It’s still sort of dark at daybreak, though.
I didn’t call you
Once again, light leads. We’re all stars!
But then we’re all dimming. And crying again? The sunset is “blood” orange? And if I’m on my knees, I’m likely praying, begging and/or really uncomfortable.
So far though, I’ve left out the chorus:
All I know
The most important knowledge — light — is ordinary, endless love. Whatever geographical or emotional state you’re in, it’s all that matters.
There’s no end to grief
We wouldn’t know grief if we didn’t know love.
Bono saves the best for last in both “California” and his final words in the liner notes for the entire Songs Of Innocence album: “We can spend our whole lives searching for cohesion, and in not finding it, turn the world into the shape of our disappointment. Or not. there is no end to grief … that’s how I know there is no end to love.”
California, the state, and “California,” the song, are filled with sunshine, shadow … and the gray muddle in between, where most of us live, no matter where we live.
(c) @U2/Lindell, 2015. (Yes, that's my license plate.)