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"Some people expect U2 to come on like a political band. . . . Other people see us as prophets. Some see us as pop stars. . . . And we're not any of those things. We're probably all of them. I don't know what we are."

-- Bono

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Like a Song: Surrender

@U2, April 16, 2007
By: Kelley Eskridge


[Ed. note: This is the second 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 SongWhen I was 24, I moved into an apartment in Chicago. It was the first lease I'd ever signed, the biggest city I'd ever lived in. I went with the goal of becoming a professional actor, with few belongings, some fears, many dreams. And with War.

Oh, the city is bright.

Those first nights I had the apartment to myself -- my roommate was moving in over the weekend -- and because I had no bed yet, I slept on the hardwood floor of the living room with the windows open. The trees outside rustled in the night breeze. Traffic rumbled. People laughed or argued or opened their hearts in snatches of conversation that drifted up to me three stories above. Music, always music, from cars and boom boxes and human voices humming as people walked. Everything smelled different. The city blew through the window right into me.

It's brighter than day tonight. Surrender, surrender.

And I did. I surrendered to the city. I rode the El to temp jobs in the Loop, walked crowded streets between tall buildings full of people living lives that were like a distant dream to me. City lives.

Oh, the city's a fire, A passionate flame It knows me by name.

Music has always fueled my inner life, like a soundtrack to movies in my head where I imagine what I want to do or be. War was my soundtrack of the city. The first half of the album was for daytime: songs of certainty and purpose whose martial rhythms and pulsing melody lines reminded me to square my shoulders and step out strong, be brave, get things done. But halfway through, the album changed into songs of relationship and longing that expressed perfectly for me the passion and potential and ambivalence of living in the city. Those were the songs I came back to. I came back to "Surrender."

For me, "Surrender" was how it felt to be in the city at night -- smooth and sensuous and a little mysterious, a little dreamy. What I heard in the song was the heartbeat of the city. And I wanted to stand in that heartbeat. I wanted a city on fire for me. I wanted one of those lives I imagined when I stood in a crowded train rolling past neighborhoods where people lived in brownstones: where I would live, sitting in the summer sun on a small deck with a cup of tea to learn lines. I would go from one challenging acting role to another. I'd go to shows, to clubs, to restaurants with friends or lovers who would find me as interesting, as accomplished, as fascinating, as passionately engaged as they were. And then come home to my beautiful apartment that framed the city skyline in its windows, so the city itself would be part of the times alone or the times with friends as music and conversation wafted up into the soft night sky.

It was a powerful dream, this City Life of mine.

Sadie said she couldn't Work out what it was all about. And so she let go.

Starting out somewhere new can be so hard. Finding one's way, literally and emotionally, in a foreign place where you don't know the streets, the rhythms, the unspoken social and cultural rules, or even where to get a decent haircut, is stressful even when it all works out well. And when it doesn't, it's like falling from the highest rooftop, falling endlessly as the Hard Landing comes up at you, as you try to find anything to grab, any place to stand, any way to stop the crash.

I got a talent agent who sent me out to audition for a 16-year-old character on a national soap opera. "Great reading," the casting agent said, "but why should I hire you when I can get a real 16-year-old?" My talent agent suggested I get my teeth whitened and straightened and maybe think about breast implants, and when I didn't do any of those things she didn't send me anywhere anymore.

I found an acting class that went well. I took another. I began to have hope. I auditioned and auditioned, and one day got a role in a decent play in a small theater. But it was a disaster: badly cast, badly directed, and certainly the worst acting I've ever done, so embarrassing that I can't remember a single second of any performance, just the dull throb of misery that people were seeing it.

Surrender. Surrender.

I got a real job. I made some friends. I stayed in classes. I auditioned. I did my best. And my City Life was always just out of reach, always just around the corner, and I was sure that if I only hung on long enough it would find me.

But I began to hear the song differently. Now I heard not just the siren call of the city in Edge's guitar, in Bono's voice: now I also heard the story of how the dream doesn't always work out.

She tried to be a good girl... Lead a good life. It's not good enough.

I wasn't Sadie in the song, but I knew how she felt. I expected things to work out, and they didn't, and I didn't know why or what to do. Neither did Sadie; she only knew that doing what other people expected wasn't going to get her where she wanted to be.

Got to find out, find out what she's living for.

I'm the same age as the members of U2. One reason I've stayed connected to the music for 25 years is that it so often speaks to me of my own life, as if my slightly older brothers had sat me down and said, listen, Kelley, here's the thing... The music reminds me who I am and who I want to be. So when I found myself wondering again whether I should give in to those braces and breasts -- surrender to the necessity -- I couldn't do it. My dream wasn't about twisting myself out of shape, it was about being the deepest, brightest, most passionate self I could be.

So there it was: the City wasn't really the dream. The dream was how I would feel about myself and my life. In fact, I might have to give up the City to get to the dream. Might have to realize, like the song says, the City isn't the buildings and the buzz: It's in the things I do and say/And if I want to live/I've got to die to myself someday.

So I stuffed my things into my tiny red Toyota, climbed in and drove to Atlanta. Put War in the car cassette player and let it play endlessly across the fields of Indiana, over the gentle mountains of Tennessee, until there was another skyline on my horizon. And it took more years and more searching, but here I am now in Seattle, happy in a life that is nothing, nothing like I imagined my City Life would be, except that it feels just like I thought it would. My Irish brothers were right: it's in the things I do and say, and if I want to live I have to be true to myself but always ready to change, because whatever "the City Life" is to me or you, it's always a moving target. That's what I've surrendered to.

© @U2/Eskridge, 2007.

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