“OH SUGAR, DON’T YOU CRY”: BOB HEWSON’S PRAYER

In the heading image: Bono performing “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” during ZooTV Tour [1992].

 “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
prevent the dog from barking a juicy bone. […]

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever, I was wrong
the stars are not wanted now, put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun. […]

[Auden’s poetry “Funeral Blues” used as intro for Ultraviolet (light my way) on the 27th July 2009 in Dublin]


Italian VERSION

I think this song still has a lot to say: it looks like a love song, but these days, reading its lyrics and analyzing the sentences, I have found many references to death in it. Death begins with the same letter of Wife and Mother [referred to the Italian words “Morte” (Death)- “Moglie” (Wife) – “Madre” (Mother)]. That same death which has torn apart the lives of an husband (Bob) and his two sons (Bono and his brother Norman).

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t know
Sometimes I feel like checkin’ out
I want to get it wrong
Can’t always be strong
And love it won’t be long…”

These verses are almost floating in the song. They are sung staggered, with a background of confused voices. It is the thought of a man who always goes towards the fundamental question: “Why are you not there anymore?“. And that answer that never comes, that voice or small sign of hope that does not show itself, throws him in the “non-being” (“Sometimes I feel like I don’t know“): a mental and physical status where terrible thoughts, actions and images are overlapped on a relentless pace.

What is the solution?” This is the other question that runs in his head. “Where is the solution to all this?“.

She is gone, we can not go back.

The mind refuses to believe, rejects the death of the woman who stood beside him ( “I want to get it wrong“) but the facts and reality take over and the body collapses ( “I can’t always be strong“). That love will not last long, the pain ius slowly destroying Bob.

Love comes to the rescue. Always.

I always imagine a scene in the songs by U2, a scene hidden among the words of Bono. In them we always see a glimpse of his life of which he makes verses, words, emotions and tears.

The scene that I have always seen in Ultraviolet is the following one: Bob crying alone, her son sees him, but he stays aside watching that father sometimes so rude, so tenacious and strong, just as he always wants to be seen by the eyes of his sons. But not now. Loneliness afflicts men, even the stronger ones. No one can be strong forever. The hands that build can also destroy. Only the hands of love can do that.

I began to see Ultraviolet as the final chapter of the story between Bob and Iris: where Walk to the water traced the beginnings – with their meeting so sweet and “from another time” – now we can see the tragedy of a love that still lives on, but that trembles.

The first part is the dialogue between Bob and Iris (just as it is in Walk to the water), where the latter comes to the aid of her lover and calls him by the nickname that in life she often used to refer to him: Sugar.

I would like to focus just a moment on this latter aspect: Bono cites an episode where Iris enjoyed to call Bob with this nickname because of the contrast between the sweetness of the name and the hardness of the person’s character. Moreover, if you take the CD of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, ONLY the Deluxe version, and turn it on the back (in the part where it is read by the CD player laser) you will notice that there is an inscription “Miss you Sugar.” This is precisely the dedication of Bono to his father because that was the first album after the death of Bob.

Ultraviolet - Miss You Sugar

Oh sugar
don’t you cry
oh child
wipe the tears from your eyes
you know I need you to be strong
and the day is as dark as the
night is long…

I believe that the words of Iris do not need much explanation. Her presence, both only mental and spiritual, is like a sweet embrace that is instantly recognizable. Her words come as a prayer, a reassurance that will never leave Bob alone, and that also makes of it a song of “absolute love.” The phrase “You know I need you to be strong” is the central theme of Ultraviolet since the whole song is crossed by the sense of surrender to the pain, but at the same time it is supported by the will to stand up with the power of love.

“Feel like trash
you make me feel clean
I’m in the black
can’t see or be seen”

Here Bob emphasizes oncew again the importance of his wife, she alone can purify him, he tells her that he has a great need of her attentions, of her presence and that no other person will be able to let him out of this black tunnel because it is invisible in the world. Everything has lost its value.

“Baby, baby, baby light my way

You bury your treasure
where it can’t be found
But your love is like a secret
that’s been passed around
There is a silence that comes to a
house
where no one can sleep
I guess it’s the price of love
I know it’s not cheap…”

Well observing this verse we see that it is the thought of a kid, we can guess it by two things: the first is the strictly adolescent fear of silence. Imagine a teenager Paul Hewson who finds himself in a house that has become suddenly empty without his mother, immersed in that silence that has the flavor of death, so deafening as not to allow anyone to sleep. It is the most cold and shocking depiction of the loneliness felt after the loss of an important person; The second consideration is that he himself interrogates himself saying “I guess it’s the price of love / I know it’s not cheap.” This is a still innocent thought, made by a person who is only recently discovering love. It is heartbreaking to think that Bono has had his first meeting with love in such a shocking way, and everything that he has come to is that it is not “cheap”. To love a person has a very high price.

The first part, however, where she sings “You bury your treasure/Where it can not be found/But your love is like a secret/That’s been passed around“, is addressed to his father. Bob’s mindedness means that he becomes impenetrable, indecipherable, by enclosing his treasure – thoughts and feelings – in his heart, where no one can find it. But despite this instinctive attitude everyone knows the secret that he is guarding: the love that he still feels for Iris … and, therefore, the consequent pain for her loss.

Baby, baby, baby light my way

I remember
when we could sleep on stones
now we lie together
in whispers and in moans
when I was all messed up
and I heard opera in my head
your love was a light bulb
hanging over my bed…

The saddest and evocative part of the song comes on a bridge of Edge’s: the rhythm changes and also the words of Bono become desperate. Bob turns to his wife recalling past episodes, of the time she was alive, “I remember/When we could sleep on stones/Now we lie together/In whispers and moans,” he well remembers when, together with his wife, he managed to overcome adversities and pain (sleep on stones) but now they both have to struggle with something that’s too big, that can not be apparently defeated: death.

This bloody death that has divided them too early, making them lie together in whispers and moans of pain. Bob recalls, once again, how Iris could save him when everything was complicated and difficult: “When I was all messed up/And I heard opera in my head/Your love was a light bulb/Hanging over my bed.” Iris was salvation, the way to go, the person to make eye contact with, the purifying embrace. Bob was also a big opera fan and the phrase “And I heard the opera in my head” is a clear reference that Bono makes to his father: to the latter, Opera was freedom and hope – “I could see my dad grab the knitting needles and direct an hypothetical orchestra” Bono recalls – but, just like for us, the music would lose all its meaning if we wouldn’t find our soul and what we are in it.

This is what is happening inside Bob. The Opera has lost all its value since the love of Iris has gone, it is no longer able to watch over, he does not feel her protection: exactly as the child that leaves the light on in the room to feel safe, Bono recalls this tender figure to describe his father’s love toward Iris. Bob is no longer able to live, the light bulb that was left on continuously to brighten the room and get rid of every little form of fear, is now turned off. And right here you reconnect the bulb of the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour.

“Baby, baby, baby
baby, baby, baby
baby, baby, baby light my
way…”

This is a prayer. It’s not a song. It is the prayer of an husband and a father. A man who has lost everything and that has the most difficult task that God could assign him: go on living without her. The Hewsons, contrary to what one might imagine, leaned a lot on the figure of Iris. Bono in U2byU2 often speaks of this: after the death of his mother in the house of the Hewsons to remember Iris was almost forbidden, this is “typical” of the Irish culture. But this silence, that Bono names in the song as we have seen, is unbearable. The balance of the family is no longer stable.

“The Ultraviolet way” is the solution that Iris adopts to ensure that Bob sees her, that he feels the warmth of his wife and thus not feeling alone anymore. The ultraviolet light heats up but can not be seen by everyone. Only Bob knows where to look and how to feel that warmth. Only he knows that Iris will not leave him.
During the ZooTV Bono used to end the song with My Way recalling the famous song by Frank Sinatra – another great artist beloved by Bob – and direct reference to his father. But the way in which Bono sings “My Way” shows a strong will to scream to the world his grief, invoking and praying the deceased mother not to leave him without a way to follow.
That letter, the M, with which I began this reflection now takes on another meaning.

Never (“Mai” in Italian). The love of Iris will never leave her beloved ones alone.

THANKS TO BARBARA MARINELLO FOR THE TRASLATION.
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