Whenever I think of the song “City of Blinding Lights”, I can’t help but think of the “surprise” concert that U2 put on beneath the Brooklyn Bridge back in 2004. To celebrate the North American release of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, U2 paraded through the city of New York on the back of a flat-bed truck (recording the video for “All Because of You”) then capped the day by holding a free concert in Empire Fulton Ferry State Park for several hundred excited fans. Bono has stated in the past that “City of Blinding Lights” is about New York City, and I believe that the day of that concert was a gift to the city saying “thanks” for the inspiration. In fact, Bono has stated in the past that when he was writing “City of Blinding Lights” he was thinking about coming over the bridge (presumably the Brooklyn Bridge) into the city for the first time and seeing the city laid out before him, all lit up.
“City of Blinding Lights” is all about U2’s first trip into New York and about the youthful innocence – some might say naivete – that the band members possessed at the time. After all, like the song says, “The more you see, the less you know” – instinctively, that is, meaning that in some ways, experience is the enemy of wisdom. Of course, we all learn and grow as we make mistakes and live our lives (or we’re supposed to anyway) but there’s a certain knowing that we all possess before the world knocks it out of us. This instinct is a powerful thing that we’re all born with, but unfortunately it often doesn’t survive long into adulthood and our learning the ways of the world. Only with this innocence can we remember to not “look before we laugh” because part of what we gain with experience is the knowledge that to be ourselves is to invite criticism. Only innocence allows to “look ugly in a photograph” and not care because we know that there’s more to things than how they look. Only when we’re young are most of us able to “walk unafraid” because one of the biggest lessons we learn, pretty quickly, too, is to be afraid. Sure, there are a lot of things out there that can and will hurt us, but isn’t life easier and more fun before we learn to worry about all that? Finally, Bono remembers himself at that tender age and asks “what happened to the beauty inside of me?” We could easily replace the word “beauty” with “wonder” or “carefree joy” or any one of a hundred other adjectives, but the point is that as powerful as it is to learn important life lessons, it’s just as powerful to not know, and that not knowing is what “City of Blinding Lights” is all about.
Since it made its debut in 2004, “City of Blinding Lights” has only missed two U2 concerts – both early in the Innocence + Experience tour when the encore started with “Miracle Drug”. It seems that the members of U2 know what a winner they’ve got in the song. Hopefully, “City of Blinding Lights” continues to dazzle us on a nightly basis for many years to come.