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"I was reading about Jack Kerouac smoking a bag of grass and praying, literally, for a vision of a language or a way of writing that would be both precious and trashy. That's what I'm aiming for." — Bono

Like a Song: City of Blinding Lights

[Ed. note: This is the 37th 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.]

Like A SongI have a confession to make. Until two weeks ago, I had never been to New York City. In my 34 years of life, I've been all over the Western United States, Hawaii, Canada and Mexico. I've even been to Miami, but never NYC. I'm embarrassed to even admit that. I have friends who traveled there as children, to witness American history and their roots; friends who moved there as college grads looking for their bite of the Big Apple; friends who stopped through on their way across the pond to England and Europe; friends who grew up and still live there and couldn't really fathom being anywhere else...and then there's me.

I've read several articles about Bono's great love for NYC, and I know that the chorus of "City of Blinding Lights" is based around seeing the crowds at Madison Square Garden during the Elevation tour. COBL has always touched me deeply. It never fails to get under my skin, light me up from the inside and bring tears to my eyes, but I never experienced that song and that city in the same manner that Bono did until I went there myself. Then everything changed.

Oh you look so beautiful tonight In the city of blinding lights

The four days that I was in NYC were as blurry and active as the LED lights that surrounded U2 during the Vertigo tour. I happily strolled through Central Park in the rain, wandered the impressive collections at the Met and MoMA, waved at Madison Square Garden, Bryant Park and the Statue of Liberty, had one of the best meals of my life at Les Halles, visited Rockefeller Center and Times Square, resisted the urge to do a kickline down 42nd Street, braved my fear of heights at the top of the Empire State Building, walked the Brooklyn Bridge, had a pastrami sandwich at Katz's, lit a candle for my father in St. Patrick's Cathedral and had coffee outside Tiffany's (I couldn't wait to eat my danish, so it wasn't really breakfast) in the early morning sunlight. I got dressed up to go to a wedding, dressed down to go urban exploring and always felt myself wrapped up in the beauty that is New York. I was up until 4 a.m. every day that I was there, visiting with friends who talked about religion, life, music and why my glass was empty. I've never felt so tired in all my life, but I've rarely been happier or felt more alive.

And I miss you when you're not around

At its heart, COBL is a song of yearning, wonderment, elation and nostalgia, and I feel all of these things when I think about NYC. Although I waited well into adulthood to visit, there's a part of me that is happy my first trip happened now. I appreciated the sites, sounds, food and culture in a way that I would not have been capable of had I not studied literature, art, film, history and architecture, or developed a deep love for and appreciation of food. I have a deep yearning for more. One trip wasn't enough.

Shortly after I returned, I started talking to friends about planning the next trip out, visiting when U2 was in town, or staying during the holidays. I even started looking at job postings to see if returning on a more permanent basis would even be viable. My friends met this news with an interesting mix of enthusiasm, confusion, laughter and "wait until you're there in August or January and see if you still love it." I understand their concern and humor. It's no easy feat to uproot a life and move across the country, or scrape up the money for plane tickets; however, I now feel as Bono does: I just can't get over New York.

Blessings are not just for the ones who kneel

New York City has a special place in my heart because I understand that there are places we go to in life that touch us deeply and speak to our souls. They shake us up, remind us of what we should be moving towards and show us a glimpse of what our very best selves could be if we only decided to let go, take the leap and enjoy our fears. I feel Bono reminding me of this in COBL. It is a potent reminder that I have been deeply inspired by a city and I only need to visit a song to remind myself of that.


I (heart) NY

© @U2/Tomooka, 2009.