"John Lennon really did kind of write the rule book. As a tunesmith, as an irritant, as a willing taker of pratfalls. He was in the queue for the mud pies -- all of that stuff that I do, I got from his little red book."
@U2 Lists: 10 U2 Songs About Mental Illness
May 08, 2017
[Ed. note: This is the 73rd in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
Disclaimer: Mental illness is a serious and complex subject. The following article is not meant to trivialize mental illness but rather explore how U2 have acknowledged the subject during their career. Please consult your physician or mental health professional if you feel you might be struggling with a mental illness. This article should be used for informational purposes only and is not substitute for the care of a doctor or mental health professional.
Mental illness affects one in four Americans. Yet, so many are afraid to talk about it. The thought that we may not be in complete control of our own minds scares us too much. As a student of social work, I have been taught to be in tune with my emotions, along with the mental health of others. I’m not afraid to tell people when I’m feeling down anxious, and I’m certainly not afraid to reach out to others if I think I need help. Yet not everyone has that privilege. For many I know, music is how they communicate the pain they feel. U2 is one of those rare bands that takes a look at something that scares most people, mental health. Adam Clayton even supports the Walk in My Shoes Campaign, which focuses on mental health awareness in young adults. U2 have written many songs that people can use for expressing their mental illnesses.
1. "Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of”
And you are such a fool, to worry like you do
“Stuck In A Moment” is the first U2 song that comes to mind for many when they think of mental illness. The song is a fictional conversation between Bono and his friend Michael Hutchence, who suffered from depression and eventually committed suicide. This song reminds me, however, what it is like to have anxiety. Anxiety is the most common mental illness. It’s living in a constant state of nervousness. Did I turn off the stove? Are they laughing at me? Do my friends really love me? Thoughts like these run through your mind continuously. “Stuck In A Moment” is an anthem for many who live with this condition. Bono explores what is like to feel worried constantly, even though you know it’s foolish. The most powerful lines, however, are “I wasn't jumping, for me it was a fall / It's a long way down to nothing at all.” These lines nail exactly what it’s to have a mental illness. It’s a fall. It’s not something you seek and it’s definitely something you do not expect.
2. "Moment Of Surrender”
It's not if I believe in love / But if love believes in me
To me, this song paints the grittiest picture of mental illness. It’s about the moment everyone has felt, when you hit so low that you don’t know where to turn. It’s the moment of looking in a mirror and wondering who the reflection is, because you know it’s not you. It’s the moment when all you want is love, someone to come and make everything OK again. Some days, it’s the hardest U2 song to get through, and on others it brings me, and many others, so much comfort.
3. "A Day Without Me”
In a world I left behind / Shed a tear and let love go
Like “Moment Of Surrender,” “A Day Without Me” paints a grim picture of life with a mental illness. Bono has said many times this song is about suicidal thoughts, and I agree. The song addresses fantasizing about what would life would be like if you weren’t there. It’s an addicting thought for some with mental illness, imagining how much happier the world would be without them. For many, it’s a thought that cannot go away and can end in suicide. This song, though a rather upbeat song, captures this feeling perfectly.
4. "I Fall Down”
I'm falling down / I fall down / I broke myself
This song is overlooked by many U2 fans, but it has a number of good connections to mental health. I have always interpreted it as about two people who are living with depression trying to survive together. Julie tries to get better and John is desperate for her to succeed so he can pull himself up too. It shows that no matter how far you fall, you will find someone to lean on. Like “Stuck In A Moment,” this song expresses that mental illness is not a choice, but a fall, and Julie and John have both fallen. It’s a comforting message to someone with mental illness: This was not a choice and you are not alone.
You wanted to get somewhere so badly / You had to lose yourself along the way
“Gone” reminds me of the mental health problem that I see most often in people. You have everything you want -- a good job, a partner, all the material things you dream of -- but something is not right. You do not feel like you. You feel like a shell of yourself. You are not happy, even though you should be. There is a disconnect between how society thinks you should feel and how you actually feel. It’s a distressing feeling and should not be ignored. “Gone” expresses it well.
If you tear yourself in two again / If I could, yes I would/ If I could, I would let it go
“Bad” to me is not a song about someone who has mental illness, but rather someone who is watching their loved one suffer. The song was originally written about Guggi’s brother who was addicted to drugs and how his addiction affected others. As the song demonstrates, you have a desperate need to help the other person, but sometimes, you just can’t. Sometimes it’s not up to you to save them; they need to save themselves. It’s infuriating and heartbreaking, but it’s life. All you can do is be wide awake for them.
7. "Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own”
You don't have to put up a fight / You don't have to always be right / Let me take some of the punches / For you tonight
I know this song is about Bono’s grief for his father, but I have always interpreted it another way. Like “Bad” I viewed this as a song about someone trying to support a loved one with mental illness. The song is telling the listener that sometimes you need help. You need others to lean on, and it’s OK. To me, this song is about finding help in others, even if you really do not want any.
8. "The Troubles”
I have a will for survival / So you can hurt me / And then hurt me some more
This is easily the most defiant U2 mental illness song. This song basically says, “Bring it on” to illness, a perspective many struggle with. It tells the listener that they have survived before, and will survive again. It also offers a really interesting perspective on mental health. “And you think it’s easier / To know your own tricks / Well, it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do.” You will never understand everything about yourself right away, or maybe ever. What triggers your mental illness one day may change the next. “The Troubles” expresses that mental illness is frustrating while also defying that premise.
“You were alone / And now you’re not alone”
“Volcano” is all about looking into the past and being happy it’s gone. It takes you on a journey of starting out being bogged down by rage and eventually escaping into a much better life. Someone recovering from a mental illness can relate directly to this. Looking at and seeing how much you have grown and how much better you are is one of the most rewarding feelings for those in recovery. Looking at how far you have come makes you feel strong and powerful, much like this song. However, there is always a piece of you that may break, and “Volcano” acknowledges that. There is a feeling throughout the song that something just may blow, just like living with a mental illness.
10. “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)”
I was shaking from a storm in me / Haunted by the spectres that we had to see
U2 songs talk about mental illness and help many people identify and process their feelings. This song is exactly about that. It’s about a young Bono finding hope in The Ramones. Their music helped him make sense of his grief, just like U2 helps so many to make sense of their mental illness. Many with mental illness can relate to this song and young Bono, finding home in a sound.
© @U2/Saunders, 2017