Of the many references, both subtle and overt, to Songs of Innocence that can be found on Songs of Experience, the one that I think I enjoy the most is probably found in “13 (There is a Light).” It’s not that this song simply reuses or rehashes the chorus from “Song For Someone,” it actually kind of reinterprets it, making it more focused and more compelling than it was previously. It accomplishes this transformation despite the fact that “13 (There is a Light)” even uses the same melody behind those words as that found in the earlier song.
“Song For Someone” is another Bono and Ali love song, and the light that is referenced in that song’s chorus refers to the love-light that exists between those individuals. This is a very personal thing, a peek that Bono gives us into the inner workings of his relationship with his wife. The titular light in “13 (There is a Light)” is much broader and universal, and even political. As I have written in the past, particularly in my break down of “Love is Bigger Than Anything in its Way,” it can be easy to lose hope right now. The world is in trouble, and that seems to be as true in American as it is anywhere else in the world. True, we don’t have to deal with daily bombings or genocide, but the forces that have taken control of our government are ignoring the rules that have served the country for hundreds of years and are following a plan of action that seems written just for their own benefit. The phrase “By the people, for the people,” which has always described how America’s government has worked, seems empty and hollow just now. The forces of democracy have been hi-jacked and it is frightening to watch the news every night. Still, there is a light. There are still good people out there, people who are doing good things and pushing the human race forward. We, the holders of the light, must fight back (nonviolently, of course) and force the world back into a benevolent, peaceful shape. We must not let the light — of liberty, of kindness, of acceptance — go out.
The music to “13 (There is a Light)” starts out solemn and thoughtful, as Bono sings about the “terrors of the night” creeping “into your day” in a melody as pure and beautiful as anything I’ve ever heard. Then the chorus comes in, and, out of nowhere, there are some strings that almost sound Eastern, and some subdued percussion that gives the song a restrained feeling, but at the same time which echoes a human heartbeat, making the song sound like the soundtrack to a life. In the second verse, there’s a sequence that is, frankly, as good as it gets. “When all you’ve left is leaving, and all you got is grieving, and all you know is needing.” Then, as if Bono knows that nothing further needs to be said, some simple “La da da’s” to finish the thought. It is extremely powerful to consider what could complete that unfinished statement.
“13 (There is a Light)” was performed as part of U2’s set at the BBC back in November of last year, and it was absolutely perfect, backed by that orchestra. It was dignified and majestic and just that little bit funky. It is hard for me to imagine that any future performances could reach the heights of that one unless similarly backed by another orchestra. Still, it will be interesting to hear and see what U2 decide to do with “13 (There is a Light)” on the upcoming tour, if they decide to play it. I really hope they do, as I think it will be quite an experience to share the emotions that this song brings out with a crowd of fellow true-believers.