Happy St. Patrick’s Day! In his honor, a song by some Irishmen.
I need to begin by explaining that I am a born again U2 fan. They came to be when I was a teenager. When I was in high school, Joshua Tree was released, and they went supernova. You could not throw a rock at my high school without hitting someone in a U2 t-shirt (I never tried this, but the thought crossed my mind more than once). They were more popular than Jesus (but because they are men of faith, they never would’ve said this). And I’ve always had an instant antipathy to anything that popular (except The Beatles). So for a very long time, I hated U2. And then I listened to their music. Really listened. When I realized that I liked the music, I became fanatical. Everything they put out was magnificent; every word they uttered was meaningful. I was a little nuts, to be honest.
But that does not negate the fact that they are one of the most talented and influential bands of my generation. And their influence carries social and cultural weight, thanks to Bono and his messiah complex (which he seems to use only for good, so I can’t complain about it too much). They put their money where their mouths are, which is something I greatly respect in celebrities. And even though they are still wildly successful, they continue to evolve as artists. They embrace a level of emotion in their music that would come off as hokey if they weren’t so clearly sincere. Edge, especially, creates a rarefied atmosphere with the music. It almost feels like church music sometimes, which I’m sure is the intention. They’ve come a very long way from their beginning as a bunch of Dublin punks who could barely play their instruments.
One of the regular themes of U2’s music, especially in the last decade or so, is the psychic burden of living. As they’ve grown in fame and fortune, they’ve had to reconcile their lives as people with their lives as Rock Stars. It is a testament to their own strength that none of them are dead and that they live relatively quiet, stable family lives. But this discontent and disconnect informs the songs. “Walk On” is one of the best examples of this. On the surface it is about precisely how the soul copes in an increasingly hopeless world. The opening is spoken, “Love is not the easy thing, the only baggage you can bring is all that you can’t leave behind,” reminding you very concisely that love is difficult and that you cannot escape who you are. The singer is clearly entreating someone to keep going in the face of an unnamed trouble: “And I know it aches, and your heart it breaks, you can only take so much. Walk on.”
There’s many undercurrents to “Walk On.” The unnamed trouble can be read as the troubles of the world. It could be an older person reminding a younger generation to stay engaged. It could be a father begging his children to stay true to their hearts. It could be a middle-aged rock star trying to remember why he’s still singing for his supper this late in the game. Most of the time, life is a wonderful thing. Sometimes, it is a rock around your neck dragging you to the bottom of the sea. Sometimes taking that next step might seem impossible, but you can keep walking. “All that you measure, all that you feel, all this you can leave behind.” Burdens can be set down, baggage can be unpacked (or better yet, left at the airport). Hearts and minds can be changed. It’s just a matter of doing it. Which can be the hardest step to take. Lao Tzu said “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
So walk on.