I’m going to start out this week’s article by retelling a story that many of you probably already know. I feel, however, that I would be remiss in discussing this song without relaying the information that I have, so forgive me if you’ve heard this one. Back in 2001 or 2002, just after Bono’s father, Bob, had died, Bono was discussing the older man’s passing with his friend Noel Gallagher. Bono imparted that he believed that Bob had lost his faith in a higher power prior to dying, and Noel surmised that Bob was “one step closer to knowing.” I feel that the above statement is probably a little more droll than what I would find helpful if I were in Bono’s shoes, but I can’t deny that there is a lot of truth in what Noel said. The fact is that none of us can know the truth about what awaits us on the other side of death until we experience it for ourselves. The song in question, “One Step Closer,” captures the essence of that difficult truth.
At first listen, the music to the song is deceptively simple. There’s lots of keyboard, some guitar, some throbbing bass, and, as we get to the end, some pounding drums. The keyboard and guitar are simply perfect to allow Bono’s thought-provoking lyrics to get their message across, while the drums just bring the message home as the song comes to a close. The greatest nugget of truth that I have found in these lyrics is the line “The heart that hurts is the heart that beats.” I’ve clung to that line during some difficult times in my life, and it has never steered me wrong. The fact is that there is no life without a little bit of pain, a little bit of sour to go along with the sweet, and the more deeply we allow ourselves to be immersed in our own lives, the greater the chance that that pain will catch up to us. I also find a big dose of wisdom in the first verse, where Bono is talking about the riptide taking away “everything [he) call[s] [his] own.” That point, where we have lost everything that we hold dear, is the place at which we are most open to learning important lessons about ourselves and life.
Because the members of U2 normally eschew performing slower, thoughtful numbers live in concert, it will probably come as no surprise that “One Step Closer” has never been played live. what does surprise me a little bit is that the song has never even been snippeted. I think it would be perfect to throw in a couple of lines from the song at the end of “Beautiful Day” or “Bad.” As I sit here writing this article, I can imagine lines from “One Step Closer” being performed over the closing guitar part of “Beautiful Day,” and in my head, it sounds like it was meant to be. Maybe it will never happen in real life, but I can and will hold out hope for as long as the band is around and performing shows.