You know, there are days when I think that everything I see on TV isn’t real.
I’m sure that right now, you’re probably thinking about how dumb that is, stating the obvious. But the truth is that I’m letting you in on an inside joke. For every Friday night since I can remember (okay, *almost* every Friday), my little brother and I have spent the night at my grandfather’s house. How did that start, and why? Heck if I know. I don’t question these things! All I know is that, over the years, my pappaw’s love of mysteries and cop shows has gotten stuck to my brother and me like flypaper. But the funny thing about cop shows is that they are definitely not always true to life. Sometimes, they can get hilariously outrageous, and even willing suspension of disbelief can’t compensate for the disconnect from reality. And in these moments, it became a running gag between the three of us to say: “I don’t think this show is real!”
Well, ZooTV is just like every other television channel on the face of the planet. Sometimes, things get pushed just a little too far. They had me going until I saw the video of the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards. That’s right, folks. The time that Garth from Wayne’s World played drums for U2. … And asked Bono if he likes Lucky Charms. Actually, I could believe all of this right up until Bono said yes, he likes them! That’s when I lost my sanity and that’s when I stopped believing that ZooTV is real.
It was a heartbreaking moment, to realize that just maybe, The Fly isn’t actually a real person after all. But I also learned something else from that experience: sometimes things that aren’t real can still be a lot of fun.
Star Trek, for example! Every time I hear Bono sing, “We’re free to fly the crimson sky,” all I can think of is Spock and the red skies of Vulcan. Sometimes, I secretly like to pretend that Bono included that line as a Star Trek reference on purpose. Do I believe that that’s true? Nope. But is it a lot of fun to think about it? Yes, it is!
Even Better Than The Real Thing is one of the most “fun” songs on Achtung Baby. There are no plaintive vocals like there are in Ultraviolet (Light My Way). There are no (for lack of a better word) angry sounds like in Zoo Station and The Fly. Listening to this song, with the cool slippery guitar noises and slightly nonsensical lyrics, really does feel like “sliding down the surface of things.” And that’s part of what makes it great, because sometimes, the things that mean the least actually end up meaning the most.
When Bono wrote that line about how “the sun won’t melt our wings tonight,” I doubt that he was thinking about famous artwork (or Star Trek, I’m afraid), but that line and the rest of that verse brings to my mind a painting called “Landscape With the Fall of Icarus.” The the painting is just a landscape. In the background, one can see the sun, a blue sky with clouds, and the sea with few ships. In the foreground, there’s a farmer plowing a field on a cliff overlooking the ocean. At first glance, that’s all there is. But when you look closer, you can see in the bottom right corner a tiny figure in the water, struggling to reach the surface: Icarus, drowning and unnoticed. Icarus isn’t in the front of the painting, and he doesn’t even seem to be the focus, but he really is the most important part. The painting, even though he’s almost hidden in it, is his story.
Take a personal example from my life: I was five years old when my little brother was born, and the thing I remember most clearly about that day was that in the morning, I stood in the hallway of my grandparents’ house and looked at the silver square of daylight that was filtering down onto the carpet from their window. Why do I remember that? I honestly have no idea. It was a completely unimportant moment. But looking back on it, it does seem pretty cool to have such a vivid memory of that day when my life and my brother’s life intersected for the very first time.
One more example: take a look at The Real Thing. Coca-Cola. My grandfather loves Coke. He drinks at least six of them a day. For a lot of people, a Coke is a Coke. Instant gratification. Liquid calories. Commercialism. Meaningless. But for him, it isn’t meaningless. When he was a child, getting a Coke meant walking miles (literally) to the nearest general store and spending money that he earned by working on his parents’ farm, by milking cows or raising corn or stripping tobacco. It was something special, a treat. For him, that meaningless red can has a meaning.
It’s okay to slide down the surface and enjoy something easy and simple. It’s okay to not look for deeper meaning. But it’s also important to know that, hidden in the meaningless clutter of everyday life, there are significant moments to be found.
For me, this song has a significance because it reminds me of people that I love. For someone else, it has a different significance, or perhaps even no significance at all. So it goes with things in life; some things resonate, others don’t.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been wracking my brain trying to think of an explanation to fit this song. But the truth is that this song defies all explanation. I could deconstruct it like an English professor and bore everyone, but what would be the point? In the end, it’s just like what Bono said about this song in U2 By U2: “There is a moment when you want to read a magazine, not a novel.”
So what do I have to say about this song? Embrace it! Enjoy the surface! Everything you know is wrong!
And if you don’t think that everything you see on ZooTV (or in this column) is real, then you’re probably right.
But it’s a lot of fun when the silly moments are even better than the real thing, isn’t it?