[Ed. note: This is the 39th in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
In celebration of Father's Day, it's not hard to imagine that the members of U2 have done some heavy reflecting on the theme. It's well known that Bono lost his mother at the age of 14, and, as a result, he and his father had what he called a "combative relationship." He has referred to the How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb album as "How to dismantle an atomic Bob," a not-so-veiled reference to an often turbulent relationship. Larry lost his mother when he was 17 years old, forever altering his perspective of fatherhood. Adam became a father for the first time in 2010, and Edge has felt the heartbreak of watching his young daughter suffer with a chronic disease (sadly, Edge also lost his mother this last week). Through 30 years of performing, writing, touring and living life together, the quartet has had many opportunities to reflect on the idea of fatherhood.
Here is my Father's Day playlist broken into three sections: "Speaking Of Fathers," "On Being A Father" and "Father As Metaphor."
Speaking Of Fathers
1. "Dirty Day"
The father/son relationship can often be conflicted -- both endearing and alienating at the same time. "Dirty Day” is a "father and son song" that examines this struggle, says Bono in U2 by U2. " It's a dirty day' was an expression my dad would use. ... The song is about a character who walked out on his family and, years later, meets the son he's abandoned. So it's not about my father but I used some of my dad's attitude" (Rolling Stone interview, 2005).
From father to son / In one life has begun
A work that's never done / Father to son
"One" is also, in part, about a father and son who face conflict and then consider the hard path of reconciliation. "It's a father-and-son story. I tried to write about someone I knew who was coming out and was afraid to tell his father. It's a religious father and son." Though the song has become an anthem for the ONE Campaign, Bono primarily wrote it as a plea from an ostracized son who isn't accepted by his dad. The song has universal appeal for anyone facing rejection in the midst of a difficult circumstance.
You say love is a temple / Love a higher law
Love is a temple / Love the higher law
You ask me to enter but then you make me crawl
And I can't be holding on to what you got
When all you got is hurt
3. "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own"
On a more positive note, "Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own" is a song written for Bob Hewson, Bono's father, and was sung at his funeral in 2001. In the music video, Bono states that his father "worked in the post office by day and sang opera by night. ...He had a lot of attitude. He gave some to me -- and a voice. I wish I'd known him better." In an act of reverence, Bono took off his sunglasses (his father hated them) while singing the song on the Vertigo tour.
Can you hear me when I sing / You're the reason I sing
You're the reason why the opera is in me
4. "Out Of Control"
Though an unlikely candidate for a U2 list of Father's Day songs, "Out Of Control" is one of my favorites for a rather odd reason. In a 2002 concert, on their home turf at Slane Castle (U2 Go Home: Live From Slane Castle), Bono paid tribute to each of the band members' fathers and offered a heartfelt thank you as he recalled the earliest days of the band. And thankful we are to those supportive fathers!
There's some big ideas. Father, I need a lend of 500 pounds 'cause we're gonna go over to London. We're gonna score ourselves a record deal. What do you say, my old man? I want to thank my old man for that 500 pounds. I want to thank Larry Mullen's father for 500 pounds. The Edge's mother and father for 500 pounds. Adam Clayton's family for 500 pounds.
On Being A Father
5. "Original Of The Species"
"Original Of The Species" has moved more than a few parents to think about the young children they're raising. This warm, passionate lullaby paints a portrait of all that's best about being a dad. Edge comments in a 2004 Q interview, "The last time I cried was listening to that song. It was a song Bono started on the last record about my daughter Holly. He's her godfather." I was at the San Jose, Calif., concert in 2005 when Bono spontaneously called Edge to the keyboard and debuted it live. He said it was a song for the band members' children. Recently, Bono and Edge released an acoustic version of the song on Every Mother Counts Vol. 2.
And you feel like no one before / You steal right under my door
I kneel 'cause I want you some more
I want the lot of what you got / And I want nothing that you're not
Bono has said he doesn't always know what a song is about when he is writing it. Often, only later does he come to understand the true purpose of some of U2's compositions. "Kite" is such a song. Written about a random experience of flying kites with his kids, it forced him to think about his relationship with his own father who lay in a hospital dying of cancer. At a concert in London, the same day his father passed away, Bono said, "I wrote this for my kids, but now I think my old man wrote it for me" (The Sun, August 22, 2001).
Who's to say where the wind will take you / Who's to say what it is will break you
I don't know which way the wind will blow
Who's to know when the time has come around
Don't wanna see you cry / I know this is not goodbye
Father As Metaphor
7. "Daddy's Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car"
Looking back to the Zoo TV era, Bono's MacPhisto promised to give us everything our hearts desired. Is this what a good dad would do? That's what this decrepit has-been father figure suggests in "Daddy’s Gonna Pay For Your Crashed Car." The irony of this Mephistopheles-like persona showering an audience with money and granting every wish of his spoiled children can't be missed. Glibly the old Devil reassures, "Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday's alright."
Daddy won't let you weep / Daddy won't let you ache
Daddy'll give you as much as you can take
8. "In The Name Of The Father"
U2 are not shy about drawing on biblical imagery for material. Though not technically a U2 song, "In The Name Of The Father" is a relatively unknown gem that Bono wrote with Gavin Friday for the soundtrack of a movie by the same name. This song, from 1993, typifies the way Bono has come to mix earthy and profane images with those that are sacred. Though the metaphor of a heavenly Father is held in high regard, this song points out that the divine name is often abused for political gain.
In the name of the father / And his wife, the spirit
You said you did not / They said you did it
In the name of justice / In the name of fun
In the name of the father / In the name of the son
9. "The First Time"
Perhaps my favorite reference to fatherhood, and the most inspiring, is from the song “The First Time.” Each of three verses reflects on a part of the Holy Trinity. Verse one speaks of the Spirit as lover and soul, verse two of the Son as unwavering brother and verse three of the Father who waits faithfully for an unfaithful son. This Father, who holds the keys to the coming kingdom, paraphrases John 14:2, "I have many mansions, and there are many rooms to see." Bono says in U2 by U2, "It's the story of the prodigal son but in it the prodigal son decides he doesn't want to return." In the final show of the Vertigo tour, in Honolulu, I was mesmerized by the drama that played out only a few feet in front of me, as Bono took the part of the prodigal alongside Edge's gentle guitar accompaniment. After confessing "I threw away the key," he added a line I hadn't heard before. It was a petition to the Father, "God, help us, give it back to me."
For the first time, I feel love
© @U2/Neufeld, 2012.