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"A game like chess suited me because I was able to put everything from my mind and work with something abstract."

-- Bono

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Like A Song: Love Is All We Have Left

@U2, March 21, 2018
By: Geoff Wilson

 

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[Ed. note: This is the 105th 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.]

“Why is Bono over there near the Pearly Gates? He isn’t dead yet.”

“Oh, that’s actually God . . . He just thinks He’s Bono.”

U2 fans, from the most casual to the most ardent, have likely heard a joke along those lines at some point. Yer Man is thought, especially by non-fans and critics, to have a massive Messiah complex. And of all the unfair criticisms that get leveled at him, this one may be the most valid. It seems Mr. Hewson has even copped to the criticism himself, as he not-so-slyly alluded to by telling us in “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me:” They want you to be Jesus, to go down on one knee/But they want their money back if you’re alive at 33. Much less approaching 58.

All of that may well be true. But what on Earth does that have to do with Songs Of Experience and the opening track, “Love Is All We Have Left”? For me personally, it has everything to do with the song, as well as my emotional access to this album. It’s not too hard to go into the atu2 archives to find my less-than-stellar first impressions of the record. I was having a rough go of things in the few weeks before SOE came out, and it obviously didn’t grab me immediately. I also couldn’t hear it without thinking about the ticketing access disaster for the upcoming tour. Some of that anger has now subsided — although this is still likely to be the first tour I’ve missed seeing in person since the ZooTV tour.

One of those first impressions was that the opener was a plodding, disembodied dirge that sounded a lot like Messianic Bono talking at us and not to us, to paraphrase a lyric later in the record. Still, something about the song started to stick in my head, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I won’t go into the many interviews that Bono has given about the mysterious event that he won’t actually name, but it seems clear he has developed a new perspective on what lies both behind and ahead of him. I began to see the song not in terms of his Messiah complex; rather, it seems to me now it’s a conversation with God, where the singer is humbled by what God shows him and determined to move forward after such a vision.

Nothing to stop this from being the best day ever, God tells the singer over that ethereal hum. Nothing to keep us from where we should be. Why do you think you’re limited in what you can do? What’s in your way? You know where you should be, and what you should be doing. Get on with it!

For his part, the singer admits that his ambitions have outrun his abilities: I wanted the world . . . but you knew better. And [you knew] that all we have . . . is immortality. Forget about all that I can’t leave behind . . . what will I leave behind? Love. And love is all we have left. A baby cries on a doorstep; love is all we have left. A doorstep, or a manger? Regardless, God chuckles to Himself about the singer’s propensity for confrontation: You argue ’cause you can’t accept . . . that love is all we have left.

Then comes the line that keeps repeating in my head, as an out-of-body (near-death?) experience takes the singer somewhere he’s never been before, looking back on “this crowded little planet,” as he was wont to say from stage during the 360 tour. He sees the entirety of the population twinkling — with the Earth cast familiarly as a female spirit. Now, you’re at the other end of the telescope, God explains as the landscape is revealed. Seven billion stars in Her eyes.

Finally, the singer can see how complicated (and overwhelming) it all is from a macro viewpoint. And how he’s not ready to go just yet. So many stars . . . so many ways of seeing. Hey, this is no time . . . not to be alive. As we exit the song – but continue the same theme in the first lines of “Lights of Home” – the properly awed singer isn’t arguing the point anymore. He’s on board with the sentiment: “The only thing that can be kept, Love is all we have left.

The Christian is often taught that his or her relationship with the Divine functions at least in part like a marriage. Using that motif, I would classify myself as spiritually separated at the moment. Such a station in life can make it considerably more difficult to access the yearnings of the heart and soul. But my soul seems to be stirring — and Songs Of Experience is at least one of the reasons why. In the end, love is all any of us have left.

© @U2/Wilson, 2018



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