In case you’ve wondered why you haven’t gotten very many fresh “Mysterious Ways” posts in the past few months (assuming that you noticed at all), the reason is basically student teaching. For the past six months or so, I’ve been living in a coffee-induced, zombie-like haze of lesson plans, copy machines, geography units, poetry slams, classroom management, and—the greatest challenge of them all—paperwork. Especially the dreaded Teacher Work Sample.
Thankfully, I have emerged from the haze with the gleaming lights of summer shining down on my hard-earned diploma…and the stack of job applications I’ve been working on.
But the dry spell was worth it, in my opinion, because everything that I did during those six months turned out to be full of rewarding experiences.
I found out that the teacher who had so graciously allowed me to basically take over his classroom for weeks on end was a U2 fan. He sang parts of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “New Year’s Day” while the kids were at lunch. I introduced him to Mr. MacPhisto’s “Live From Sydney” speech. We also encouraged each other to get concert tickets.
(Speaking of which, my sainted Moogie and I actually *did* end up getting U2 tickets at last, but that’s a story for a future post!)
Also during my student teaching, that same teacher allowed me to teach a unit on Ireland for his geography classes. Naturally, I had to throw Irish culture and U2 into the mix.
Being the avid collector that I am, I’m proud to say that I have copies of U2 CDs from places like Austria, Australia, and the United Kingdom. While that may not seem like such a big deal to those of us who live as adults in this import-export world of ours, you can trust me when I say that you haven’t lived until you’ve seen the wonder on the face of an eleven-year-old child when they realize that they’re holding onto something that came across an entire ocean. For the first time in their lives, they understood what globalization really means. Kids who had never even noticed the Euro or British pound symbols on their smartphone keyboards before were taking notice of the British price tag on my copy of The Fly and making connections to another culture. It was amazing to see.
And when they took a look at my Zooropa cassette tape?
Those memories of my kids (because I will forever think of them that way) are moments that I’ll treasure forever, even if the overall experience did send me into a state of vertigo.
(You see what I did there, right?)
Well, now that the easy introduction part of this post is done, let’s get down to the hard part: song lyrics! Since Pop turned 20 this year— —I’m actually going to do an overview of my second-favorite song on the album: “Do You Feel Loved.”
No question mark. Which is probably the thing that bothers me the most about this song. If you believe our good buddy Niall Stokes from Into The Heart, then apparently there is no question mark because “do you feel loved?” is too big of a question. I disagree, but what do I know? I’m not Bono.
Anyway. The first verse of the song starts us off with a very…eh…interesting scene. Even if you’re only half-listening to the song, it’s pretty obvious from the get-go that there’s a romantic interlude going on here. Or at least, it seems romantic. The song title is about love; the speaker doesn’t want to stray, or at least his boots don’t; and the person that the speaker is singing about has his head “filled with songs.” Things certainly sound like someone is in love. But then, the last two lines of the verse have a twist:
“Take my shirt, go on, take it off me
You can tear it up if you can tie me down.”
Kinda violent, isn’t it? Tearing up, tying down?
And then, so immediate that it seems like Bono didn’t even take a breath, those lines are chased by the simple question: “Do you feel loved?”
That’s all the chorus is. Do you feel loved?
It’s a simple question, but the answer can be complicated, especially when you take a moment to think of all the things—all the little things in life—that can build up and make a person feel either loved or unloved.
Things get even more interesting in the second verse, which keeps building on that twist from the first. Beautiful things, like “the colors of my imagination” and “your own prayer,” are thrown up against images like “nails under your hide” and “teeth at your back.” The verses are full of contrasts between images of love/romance and, well, images of sex. And to complicate things even further, in the last line of the second verse, our speaker adds, “And my tongue to tell you the sweetest lies.”
The speaker admits that he is a liar. As a language arts teacher, he’s what I would call an unreliable narrator. Nothing that he tells us can be fully trusted. Which makes the chorus even more poignant: Do you feel loved?
Because what would that sweetest lie be if not “I love you?” And if you’re with someone who doesn’t love you—or who lies about loving you—then do you feel loved? Or do you even know how you feel?
We never get an answer from the other person in the song, but for those of us who are listening, the question has a different answer for everyone.
The last choruses tack on an extra comparison: “And it looks like the sun, but it feels like the rain.”
It looks like love, and it looks like something positive. But it feels like something else; there’s a storm cloud hanging over it all. Which makes you wonder if love, or something that looks like it, is even worth the trouble in the first place.
The bridge of the song talks about love “pushing and shoving,” among other things, and it’s all too obvious what’s going on here. But what isn’t obvious is the answer to that question that keeps being repeated over and over: Do you feel loved?
This man and woman are being stuck together, but this question is never resolved. Not at the end of the song, and not in real life.
To be honest, Pop isn’t one of my favorite U2 albums, but one of the things that I truly love about Pop and about this song in particular is the way that U2 explores the difference between what love actually is and what people think it is. Love is defined by so many things: feelings, actions, words, cultural perceptions, social interactions… The way we define love, and the way we express it, is in many ways determined by the world around us, even though love itself is a universal concept. And because love is influenced so much by our culture and society, sometimes people get their wires crossed. Sometimes love leaves us with more questions than answers.
What is love? Is love a feeling, or an action, or a state of being? All of the above, or something different? How do you know if someone loves you, or if you love someone? Where is the line that exists between love, romance, and sex? Where does the line blur? Do we choose to love, or does love have a will of its own? How often do we lie about love, to ourselves and to others? How often do other people—and the media—tell sweet lies about love to us?
All questions that have no definite answers; all questions that lead to more questions.
All I can say is that, the next time you decide to slide Pop into your radio playlist, maybe you should take a second to really think about the question that’s too big of a question: do you feel loved today?