"The last one had a kind of poet's head on him. This guy looks more like a bouncer."
-- Bono, on the birth of his second son, 2001
Like A Song: Soul Seeking - Do You Feel Loved & Yahweh
May 11, 2016
[Ed. note: This is the 98th 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.]
Midlife crises seem to pop up when least expected. Seeking seems to be part of our DNA. I remember as a teenager innocently wondering, “Why am I here?” and other existential big-picture questions without the benefit of life experience. Thirty or so years later, those same questions pop up with a bit more urgency because of the realization that you’ve lived about half of your life with less than you thought to show for it. I’m finding myself at the crossroads of innocence and experience at a time in my life where it’s easy to be angry and frustrated by so much, but knowing it needs to be tactfully channeled into something more productive. It’s all part of the journey. The day we stop seeking is the day we stop breathing.
I’m about a decade younger than the members of U2. I find it quite beneficial to use the band’s music to preview my next stage of life. The stuff I’m living through right now was what they were writing about 10 years ago, and the music they’re releasing now can help guide me over the course of my next 10 years. While the band is not my only GPS guidance system, it does influence a great deal of where I devote myself because Bono’s lyrics are rooted in the scriptures. The more I dig into the music, the more it demands I dig deeper into the inspiration behind that music. It may not give me an answer I wanted, but it does provide an answer I needed at times when my soul needs it.
I had my U2 collection on random shuffle a while back when “Do You Feel Loved” and “Yahweh” played back-to-back. I was struck by the similarities in both of the songs. It’s a riff on the same age-old question of where do you find comfort for your soul. Lyrically, the songs both have an anaphoric demand to take something and commanding your will upon it:
Take these hands, they’re good for nothing, you know these hands never worked a day
Take the colours of my imagination
Take these shoes, click clacking down some dead end street
Take these hands, teach them how to carry
“Do You Feel Loved” was written for the band’s 1997 Pop album. The band were in their mid-to-late 30s and not afraid to tackle subjects like love and lust. Bono even said in U2 By U2 it was designed to be a “sexy, groovy song.” The lyrics resemble a conversation between lovers who are seeking answers to what it takes to stick together. The duality of the bridge, “Love’s a bully, pushing and shoving in the belly of a woman, heavy rhythm taking over to stick together a man and a woman,” could mean the actual act between the two lovers or the byproduct of said act.
In my 20s and 30s, I thought that my soulmate and I could make it through life as a dynamic duo team who could take on the world, one crisis at a time. As long as we had each other, we could come up with a game plan and go forth. We knew enough that we’d still need a little help from the big Dude upstairs, but our youthful idealism would take us far. We were old enough to have a slightly informed world view, but young enough that our life experiences weren't impacting major decisions.
Once I hit my 40s, a lot has shifted. Only now am I realizing that I’m not in as much control as I thought I was. My soulmate and I have seen the fruits of our labor and the wasted opportunities from things that weren’t meant to be. We have a much more informed world view and have a maturity shaped as a result of our experiences. This is where “Yahweh” really strikes a chord, so to speak. We have realized that we cannot rely solely on ourselves, and are seeking answers to why all this pain, all this hurt and struggle in life. This is where my midlife crisis has brought me to: Despite all my best efforts, my soul still is restless and not finding fulfillment.
There’s a shift with “Yahweh.” Written for the band’s 2004 How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb release, the conversation has changed from taking direction from a lover to taking direction from a higher being. “Yahweh” is the most personal of all of the names God has (others being Adonai, Jehovah, Elohim) and is considered too sacred to be uttered by some. The deeply personal nature of this conversation where the singer is on a personal, first-name basis with his creator and asking for direction shows a maturity that comes with age and experience. This is where I’m finding myself now. Those same shoes, shirt and hands used for lustful purposes in younger days are now no longer mine, free to do with as I want – that purpose didn’t fulfill me in a way I thought it would. Instead, tell me what to do with them so my soul can feel more fulfilled.
It is interesting that both songs touch on childbirth. As much as I love my kids, I’m at a point in my life where my body is suffering because of the nature of the births. The lyrics in both songs, “Love’s a bully pushing and shoving in the belly of a woman” and “Always pain before a child is born,” deal with the physical toll a woman has to bear children. It makes me wonder who is the bully causing the pain. If you think about the role of the psalmist being angry at God at times, is it right for me to be angry at the way my body has been ravaged due to the nature of giving birth twice? Is it right for me to look at my kids and feel a bit of resentment for all of the pain they’ve put me through? Is that a selfish thought?
Both songs also reference darkness and light. “And it looks like the sun, but it feels like the rain, and there’s heat in the sun to see us through the rain” in “Do You Feel Loved” alludes to how a rainstorm can have dark patches, even if there is sun on the other side, and how the sun’s heat evaporates the rain in the same way you can lift up your troubles to a higher power and He’ll see you through it. In “Yahweh,” the line is “Why the dark before the dawn?” Similarly, it asks the higher power why we have to go through the dark patches, or trouble, in the first place. We cannot control the weather or time, and both songs are trying to reconcile the things that we cannot control either through reasoning or by questioning.
The more seeking I do, the more questions I have. Although my kids haven’t hit the teenage years yet, I know they’ll have all the answers but it’ll be the questions they’ll have wrong. (Thank you, “11 O’Clock Tick Tock.”) The innocence and experience phase of U2 couldn’t have come at a better time for me. As I continue to stand at the crossroads of them both at this midpoint of my life, I still have a youthful idealism that the path I’m on is the right one for me. My soulmate and I still make a pretty unstoppable team, and we still believe we can conquer the world. We will do it by asking more questions, however, than by offering answers. While I still have those bigger, existential questions lingering in the back of my mind, I have found a purpose in my day-to-day that hints to the answers of “why am I here.” I didn’t have the luxury of perspective and experience at age 15 to help me through it. Time is funny like that. The lyric “Time won’t leave me as I am, but time won’t take the boy out of this man” in “City of Blinding Lights” is quite fitting. The soul will continue to seek, and as long as I continue to do so with the eye of a child and retain my idealism, I can use my experience to shape the questions I ask. Hopefully there will be more fulfillment as a result.