A good subtitle for this week’s article might be “Everything I Really Need to Know, I’ve Learned From U2”. I’ve made the statement often in my private life that U2’s career has closely followed the life of a human being – that a listener can track what it means to be a human being, through all the various stages and developments that accompany an average person’s life, in miniature, by following U2’s career.
Their very early years, let’s say from their formation in 1976 up through the release of Boy in 1980, were filled with promise – all the same promise that a new-born baby holds. “She could be a great scientist someday” her parents think, or “he could be the next Babe Ruth.” “He could change the world”. Boy was like entering school, when the parent’s faith is rewarded and affirmed by the teachers. “See? I wasn’t imagining it! She really is gifted!”.
October is the child’s first awkward years of elementary school, when influences other than the parent begin to work on our young prodigy. War and Unforgettable Fire represent the child’s adolescence, when they’re trying out some new ideas, new fads, new schools of thought; when personalities can change faster than songs on a radio dial. By the time they graduate from high school, by the time Joshua Tree rolls around, they think that they know who they’re gonna be.
They embark on their real lives “Here I am, world. This is the best I’ve got.” but then Rattle and Hum happens, and they figure out that all their carefully laid plans aren’t going to work – that the real world isn’t anything at all like what they thought it might be. They go away and dream it all up again, and they start having some fun. During college, they’re learning to balance the good and the bad.
They’ve got some freedom now, and maybe sometimes they go a little bit too far, but all in all, they’re learning a lot, and one of the best lessons of this time is that life is awesome.
After college, it’s time to start (re)applying for the job. Maybe that job is “best band in the world”. Maybe it’s insurance agent. Maybe it’s managing editor of a web-site. This is a phase of life during which a lot of time can pass with very little change. They’ll have a few hits, a few misses, and then before they know it, it’s mid-life crisis time.
They start asking “who am I again? Does the world really need another album from me? Another architect? Another trash-man? You realize that one of the lessons you learned back during those experimental college years is more true now than ever before: Everything you know is wrong. The difference is that now, you realize that maybe you’re OK with that, because life is not about, never has been about, where you end up – it’s about the path you take to get there.
What happens along the way, and you learn that the best reason to get out of bed every morning isn’t that you’ve made it – that you’ve got the perfect spouse or the perfect job or the nicest house – the best reason to go on is that every day, every act of creation, every album, every breath, is it’s own reward, and you simply can’t wait to see what happens next.