Back in the day, when U2 didn’t have enough songs to fill up an entire set-list, they would often play a couple of songs twice. “11 O’Clock Tick Tock,” “I Will Follow,” and occasionally, to both open and close a handful of shows, “The Ocean.” I honestly think that that was a brilliant decision. “The Ocean” is unlike anything else on Boy. It is surreal and amorphous, and it always makes me imagine going through a magical portal into another dimension. On the album, it serves to divide the recording into two halves, but live, it was the perfect gateway into and out of U2-land. There is a particular spot on the sonic landscape that is occupied by U2’s music, and that was true even back in 1980. A little bit rockin’, a little bit pop, provocative and heady, unique and adventurous but still easily accessible to the masses, “The Ocean” signaled to concert-goers that they were entering that landscape when it was time for the concert to begin, and when the show was over, it was a good come-down song to bring fans back to the real world.
The lyrics kind of follow Bono’s stream of thought, starting out with a reference to fellow Irishman and famed author Oscar Wilde before revealing the singer in a lonely and contemplative moment, “just me, by the sea.” It just occurred to me that a lot of Boy is about being alone. That makes sense to me, as a lot of it was written with Iris in mind following her death, an event which still haunts Bono today. The next line has always struck me as a bit curious…Bono sings that he “felt like a star.” I wonder when this was that he felt like a star. Was it following on from the big Harp Lager contest that U2 won? That would certainly give anyone a big head. Rather than that, though, Bono has often and openly joked about “Megalomania setting in at an early age,” and I think that that’s what he is singing about here. Bono apparently always had a feeling that he was meant for something great, that he was special, and who could argue with the results? He was absolutely right. That doesn’t make it any easier to bear, however, for other people who are around the megalomaniac, and I’m sure that Bono’s brother Norman and their dad, Bob, got sick of Bono’s ego pretty quick. It is amazing to me that Bono was able to maintain that sense of his destiny despite all of life’s efforts to beat it out of him.
As I mentioned above, “The Ocean” has been played live many times. Even after the early Boy and October tours, where it was a regular fixture, the song made a fair amount of appearances on the Vertigo Tour. Then most recently, it appeared at every show of the American leg of the e+i Tour, and several shows on the European leg. “The Ocean” isn’t exactly my favorite song, but I’m glad that the band recognizes the song’s unique power to take fans into and out of a moment, a mindset, and that U2 continues to utilize it for that special ability.