It often strikes me how attached I become, to specific songs, and how hard it is sometimes to swing into an appreciation of another version, or cover, of a beloved song. I was recently listening to one of my USB sticks of songs that my little car, Scooter, let’s me play while I drive. The song, “Bad,” by U2 came on. It’s a great song, but the source I have on my USB stick is not my preferred version. The version I prefer is from the mini-album, Wide Awake in America, a four-song collection of live songs. I have put up with the copy on my USB because I had lost my cassette long ago (yes, tape cassette). Lack of fund-age and a tendency toward the practical dictated that I not run out and buy a replacement. I have a version…so I put up with the studio version – a good version – but not the same. With the USB stick ridiculously alphabetized, I hear the song when my USB rolls around again to the ‘Bs,’ and I sing along, loudly and badly, but in the back of my mind, I can’t shake the blah. Now, a hundred years later (hyperbole alert!), I finally did it. Like a demon possessed, I went looking online for that specific album (okay – CD – whatever), and I needed it. Like a junkie – I played it the moment it finished downloading. At the time, I didn’t bother listening to the rest of the three songs – “Bad” was all I needed. It made me happy. I smiled and I sighed and all is now right with my world. What is it about this version? Three things: Association, familiarity, and raw unfettered passion.

When I first heard this song, it was a rainy morning in Salem, Massachusetts, and I was sitting in my car in the parking lot while my friend was hosting her show. I had the radio on, of course, listening. It was fun because she kept making pop-culture references that – really – I’m pretty sure only I appreciated, and she talked to me. She made a copy of the radio show that morning. I miss that tape. It was the best collection of the music of the time and the music that she liked and I liked…I miss that tape. It has been a long time, and though I had years after to listen to the recording she made, I don’t recall everything she said or everything she played, but I remember “Bad.” The first notes, that beautiful echo-style of picking that The Edge creates with his guitar, came over the speakers.

“Bad” (intro) ~ U2 (lyrics by Bono)

The hairs on my arms, my neck stood up. Their sound – I thought as I listened – is reminiscent of electronic whale-song; you are welcome to think I’m nuts on this point, but it is what crossed my mind, and I still feel that way. Being a lyric-junkie I played close attention to the words:

If I could throw this lifeless lifeline to the wind /
Leave this heart of clay /
See you walk, walk away /
Into the night /

“Bad” (verse 2) ~ U2 (lyrics by Bono)

I heard a great deal of good music that morning and had a one-way-conversation with a good friend. One on which other listeners were eavesdropping, and likely thinking, what the hell is she talking about? It was a fun morning, but in truth, U2 was known to me.

I knew U2 and loved their music. In High School, I was bummed when I couldn’t go see The Joshua Tree concert when their tour came to town. The same friend from the radio show bought me a tee-shirt, which I wore until I couldn’t ignore the holes. After that morning at the College, I purchased the mini-album as a cassette and that is the version that I popped into my tape-deck in my car and played loudly, or in my stereo in my dorm and played loudly. I sang along with it – trying to match Bono’s style. I got to know that song, and the album, inside and out. Of course, I listened to the rest of the albums I had access to War, Under a Blood Red Sky, October, The Joshua Tree… all of it profound, impressive, moving – amazing – and yet, after all of these years, I don’t crave those songs, so much as fondly think of them. I smile when they come on the radio, sing along with gusto – but “Bad,” the live version – it’s like an old friend. You know, the kind you see after a long time apart, and you pick up where you left off – no awkwardness, no hesitation – friendship. Just the same, though, once in a while you need your old friend to cut loose with you.

To scream and rage and pound away at the abuses of life with a friend is essential to peace. U2, and especially, “Bad,” does this magnificently for me.

If you should ask then maybe they’d /
Tell you what I would say /
True colors fly in blue and black /
Bruised silken sky and burning flag /
Colors crash, collide in bloodshot eyes /

The pounding drive of this song and the build up of intensity as this song progresses makes it a perfect song for those times, those moments. The moments when you need to either shake your fist physically, mentally or just close your eyes and let Bono do it for you. Yesterday held a moment like that for me. Frustrated – and three hours past my lunch – I finally took a break. I put my ear-buds in and played my recently downloaded copy of that album. The day still sucked, but for an hour I got to rage in my head and forget for a while.

I’m wide awake /
I’m wide awake /
Wide awake /
I’m not sleeping /
Oh, no, no, no /

“Bad” ~ U2 (lyrics by Bono)

Not an uncommon theme for me growing up, that mantra. Sleep has always been an elusive luxury for me, and often – like the author of this song, I suspect – due to worry and frustration. This song, along with many U2 songs (especially in the early years) is great for venting that frustration and letting go.

Lyrics, good lyrics, have always been a focal point for my admiration of music. Genre does not matter. The social commentary and emotion that are rampant in U2’s lyrics and their melodies really appeal to me. Their sound has no equal. “Bad” has all of the qualities that I enjoy in a song, the melody is engaging, the music overall is amazing, the lyrics are the kind of lyrics I wish I could write. Without punching the listener in the face with its obviousness, the message, and there is one, is subtle and yet powerful. The tempo is intense and driving. Blend those, and you know what I love about “Bad.”

~ Linda

Bono. (Lyricist), & Clayton, A., Mullen, Larry Jr., The Edge (Composers). (1985). Bad [Recorded by U2]. On Wide Awake in America. [CD]. Location: Island. (1984-1985)

As always I welcome your thoughts and comments. Thank you for reading and indulging me in this rather-lengthy-post. 🙂