"[A] lot of my best friends are atheists. It's lukewarm believers that drive me out of the church."
Like A Song: Heartland
August 14, 2013
[Ed. note: This is the 79th 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.]
Anyone who has had the chance to know me probably knows I love to travel. I live for it. In between each trip, I daydream or plan the next one. Sometimes I do so before I've even returned home from the last one.
With that said, I feel I should preface this with saying I'm not some extensive world traveler who forgoes the hot spots for a destination off the beaten path. I've never hitchhiked or backpacked across Europe. In fact, I've never been further than the North American continent. I hit up gift shops, stop at fast-food chains, and am guilty of once sacrificing style for comfort by wearing socks with sandals. To my credit they were nude colored, but even so, I could still feel everyone shaming my feet with their eyes. Oh, the shame!
My traveling style may sound horrible to some, but I promise you I am not the typical obnoxious tourist. Nevertheless, my time on the road is important to me. It breathes new life into my spirit and gives me a chance to break away from the familiar and mundane. And when it's all over, I miss it.
That's why I love listening to "Heartland." It instantly transports me to moments on trips where my senses were heightened, my heart was full, and my mind was just in awe of the land around me.
It's an easy association to make as "Heartland" is Bono's own celebration of the American landscape. You don't need to read the lyrics to know this song was written for it. You can feel it in his voice and in the music.
When I hear "Heartland," the sights and sounds of America spring to life from my memories. I think of a hot Kansas summer's day cutting across Interstate 70, surrounded by fields of grain, deep blue storm clouds with flashes of light building to the north and south while the evening sun shines over. I think of walking across the glistening salt flats of Death Valley. I'm reminded of the tired west-bound journey across the plains, which always rewards us with the site of the Rocky Mountains growing more massive as we get closer. I think of the crashing waves of Lake Michigan, the shining lights of Las Vegas, and the rolling hills of Pennsylvania.
However, before my mind arrives at any of these destinations, "Heartland" always returns me to an early winter's morning aboard a train in the middle of nowhere.
"Heartland" quietly opens with the subtle rumble of Adam's bass which, in my mind, becomes the low humming sound of the Amtrak diesel engines moving us faster than highway speeds. It hasn't stopped all night long, only briefly to bring aboard more travelers.
See the sun rise over her skin
The slow twinkle of Edge's guitar notes become the morning light filling my room. It is about the size of a small walk-in closet, and I lie there in bed. It's six in the morning and I am trying to slowly bring myself awake by blinking my eyes to each pluck of the guitar string. Then I reach for my glasses to bring this day into focus.
Heaven knows this is a heartland
I feel the rocking motion and pull of the train, so I sit up with my arms wrapped around my tucked in knees and I look outside the window. Everything is moving. I see a grey filled sky with cracks of light breaking through. Beneath it lies a cold, foreign terrain that is all too familiar to my Midwestern eyes. Golden prairie grass peeks through a gentle blanket of snow where the wind has brushed it aside. The low rumble of the train stays constant and is only interrupted by the distant blow of the whistle.
Occasionally a car races alongside us as it travels down a dirt road running parallel with the train tracks. I wonder where it's going. Does it always take this road? A cloud of dust fills the air behind it; maybe it's trying to race us. It's no use, the train always wins.
Further out, I see old barns resting dormant in the winter. Some look abandoned on "ghost-ranch hills," as if they have been waiting decades for the next harvest season.
Heartland, heaven knows this is a heartland
It's North Dakota. Where in North Dakota is anyone's guess but it doesn't matter. I'm looking out into a barren, plain terrain; some might even say it's ugly. There's nothing special about it, there are hardly any trees, yet all I know is this is where I want to be at this moment in time. You can keep your beaches, your mountain peaks and your golden-lit cities. This morning and this music are taking my breath away.
In this heartland In this heartland soil
Life is all around, not just in the train, but out there. I can hear it in the passionate tone of Bono's voice as he sings those last eight lines on this day for this heartland. Leave it to an Irishman to fill my heart with American pride and bring a tear to my eye.
The increased tempo in the song mimics the speed of the train as it runs "like a river cuts through this land," and it pulls me away on my journey. That is what this song does for me, it pulls me away from wherever I am and whatever I'm doing, and brings me right back to that moment on a winter's morning in the middle of nowhere.
Dawn changes everything
Looking back at it now, I can't help but feel that watching and experiencing the morning dawn aboard a train somehow changed me. Even then, I could feel it. On this day, it was the beginning of something new for me, a realization that the best is yet to come. I will find moments of opportunity and risk along the way, but there are no more reasons not to attempt to seize them. Yes, dawn does change everything.
Belief goes on and on
The train will always go on in my memory and so will I on life's continual journey into my heartland.
(c) @U2/Guadiana, 2013.