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"They printed out the lyrics 'Monday morning, eighteen years of dawning/I said how long' as 'Monday morning, knitting years of gold' — which is much better!" — Bono, describing a foreign translation of his "Out Of Control" lyrics

Like a Song: Walk On


[Ed. note: This is the 38th 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 SongIn the fall of 2000, I was a student at Oregon State University, living at one of the co-ops on campus. Think a fraternity without the Greek. I was living with 55 other young guys and, while I loved most of them and tolerated the rest, many of them were Christians. I was young, gay, and trying to figure out a way to come out to these people, many of whom I considered good friends.

My close, long-term friends and some of my family already knew, and their responses had all been very positive, barring one. My housemates liked me. I liked them. Logic suggested that it shouldn’t be an issue, that if I accepted them, with their many facets, they should be willing to extend to me the same courtesy. Unfortunately, the fact that they were all young and many of them were conservative Christians turned that expectation on its head.

All That You Can't Leave Behind seemed to end up being a salve for many troubled people. It was embraced after the 9/11 tragedy, as the album's soul is about the ideas of death and moving on. Personally, it sticks with me as one of the most valuable helpers I had in my coming out process. Songs like "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of," "Kite" and "When I Look at the World" all addressed issues I was wrestling with: moving on through a testing moment, accepting change and working with it, and the discrepancy between how life works and how we want it to work. Even the three most maligned songs on the album, "Wild Honey," "Peace on Earth" and "Grace," helped me immensely. "Wild Honey" was the upbeat, sing-along tune when I needed it; "Peace on Earth" helped reflect the frustration and confusion I felt at even being in such a situation; and "Grace" helped me relax if I had started to worry myself too much.  

"Walk On" was the song that really lifted me up, though. This song held my hand when I had trouble finding the support I was looking for. It seemed like every single line was tailor-made to walk me through my situation.

And if the darkness is to keep us apart
And if the daylight feels like it's a long way off
And if your glass heart should crack
And for a second you turn back
Oh no, be strong

The song begins perfectly because it doesn't start with some sort of pacification. It acknowledges the troubles. It doesn't start off with an "it'll get better" sort of statement. It admits that there are tribulations and frustrations. It's hard to deal with a problem if you just tackle the recommended solution, rather than looking at the cause first. It was so fantastic, so supportive to hear my favorite band saying the very words I needed to hear.

Walk on, walk on
What you got they can't steal it
No, they can't even feel it
Walk on, walk on
Stay safe tonight

That chorus ... the beauty of that chorus still baffles me to this day. What you've got, they can't steal it. No, they can't even feel it. When I listen to it, it sounds like Bono is shouting every word, every syllable to me. It didn't matter, in the end, if they accepted me or not. It didn't matter if the world at large accepted me or not. The people who were incapable couldn't know me, couldn't even see that there were life experiences other than their own. They couldn't even feel it.

You're packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been
A place that has to be believed to be seen
You could have flown away
A singing bird in an open cage
Who will only fly, only fly for freedom

Again, this verse just reaffirms how potent a lyricist Bono is. He could have gone into the cliché for this verse, just as he could have for the first verse. He could have devolved into platitudes and "don't worrys," but he doesn't. He addresses the preparation for the walk. He recognizes that life-changing growth isn't spontaneous. It takes time, it takes effort, and it needs to be built.  

He also addresses how easy it would be to run away. Staying in the closet is one of the most damaging aspects of gay life today, but it's also one of the most understandable aspects. Who wants to deal with the uncertainty of telling the people in one's life something that puts a relationship in jeopardy? More deeply, who wants to do it when it concerns an intrinsic part of the person, rather than a choice or some outside factor? It's so easy to understand why people don't want to come out. It's so difficult to see how much it has hurt acceptance of gays. Knowing a gay person makes it just that much harder for a hater to hate. If they have to look at a human face attached to, what was before, a concept, it messes up the whole hatred. Bono validates the decision to stick with the path, even though it may be the harder choice.  

Walk on, walk on
What you've got they can't deny it
Can't sell it or buy it
Walk on, walk on
You stay safe tonight

And I know it aches, how your heart it breaks
You can only take so much
Walk on, walk on

Bono reinforces the idea that you can't back down, you can't give it up, because the people who make you feel that way do not know what they're talking about. It's beyond anything they can handle. It's a concept they can't work with.

As I started to come out, I realized a lot of my worries were unfounded. Yeah, there were a few rough spots. All in all, though, my housemates responded incredibly well. I spent many months fielding questions they had about gay rights legislation, how being gay "works," and so on. What mattered to me was that they didn't shut down or shut me out. They exceeded my expectations in wanting to learn and being respectful. Our friendships were more important to them than any initial prejudices or fears they may have had. Some said they disagreed with it but that I had lessened their views or made them question their views. Others actually came around from disagreeing with homosexuality to being comfortable with it. The housemates who were already OK with it said they found something new and interesting about me to strengthen the relationships.  

Just because it turned out better than I thought doesn't devalue what All That You Can’t Leave Behind and “Walk On” did for me. They gave me so much strength to confront the situation, reassured me on an emotional level that no standard pep talk could have achieved. To this day, if I'm feeling uncertain, there are still a couple of lines I repeat to myself as a mantra. I still call on them to help me out, and they've never let me down. Stay safe tonight.

© @U2/Ryan, 2009.