Everyone has a different way of creating environments which cater to their current state of mind. Ways to amplify a good feeling or dissolve a bad one. And music is no exception. There’s something to be said about seeking refuge in someone else’s thoughts to help deal with your own. But what happens when music you have been listening to for years, music you can count on in all kinds of situations stops being effective? When it no longer does for you what it did at one time?  Relationships with music are a lot like relationships with people, but does that mean they all have an expiry date?                                                                                                                                                                                                                          There are a lot of bands that have come and gone throughout my life, some lasting longer than others. As far back as I can remember, U2 has always been a part of my life. They’re one of the first bands I ever started listening to (quite obsessively might I add), and I could never get enough. I once made a mixed tape of their songs (featuring songs from 1980’s Boy all the way to 1991’s Achtung Baby) which I insisted on playing during art class in elementary school (as our teacher was kind enough to allow us to choose the background music while we worked). I have seen them in concert 5 times (once being as front row as you can get, definitely a candidate for Top 5 Best Moments in Life). I had an instant connection with their music and knew it would be a relationship that would last forever, one of those constants in life that would never change. No matter what stage I was at in life, or where I was, I could always count on U2 to lend a hand. Certain songs of theirs struck a chord with me when I first heard them, and to this day still evoke that same initial reaction. I was at an 80’s themed night in a bar in Montreal and as soon as I heard “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, I felt like I was at home and loved every lyric as much then as I did when I first heard it years earlier. I even quoted “Where the Streets Have no Name” in my grad comments section in my high school yearbook. I was lucky enough to have the privilege of (sort of) meeting Bono at a neighbourhood restaurant a few years back (also a candidate for Top 5 Best Moments in Life). It’s like the infamous ‘honeymoon’ stage of relationships where the other person can do no wrong, and everything is perfect all the time. If only things stayed that way.

As we all know, the ‘honeymoon’ stage is often followed by the not-so-popular ‘welcome to reality’ stage. With everything U2 and I have been through, it makes it quite difficult to admit that their last few albums have not really been all that impressive, especially in comparison to their older ones. I realize this can be said about plenty of musicians (how often have we heard someone saying “they’re a great band, but their older stuff was way better”), who throughout the years experiment with different sounds or who become mainstream and lose the essence of their music (cough cough Coldplay) or just don’t reach you on the same level as they used to. So it shouldn’t have shocked me that this could happen to U2 also, but it did. Maybe it was Bono’s political ambitions that affected the relationship. Maybe they’re running out of steam. Maybe they’re too famous to care anymore. Who knows. But I couldn’t help wondering: what happened to the way they used to be? Why don’t they make songs like “Bad” anymore? Is it an it’s-not-you-it’s-me thing? Did they change or did I? Where did it all go wrong? Now just as in relationships, all this confusion was followed by trying to figure out when exactly things changed. But it’s never just one specific incident that turns everything around – it’s usually been building up for a while. That feeling you get when you hear them as they are now, and know it’s not the same. You’ve been denying it for some time because all you can think about is what you had, everything you’ve been through and you refuse to accept that that could ever change. Except that it has.

Then out of nowhere, you’re thinking about breaking up. You love them and all, and will hold them in a special place in your heart, but you just don’t see things going anywhere, you don’t want the same things anymore. You’ve chosen different paths and gone in different directions. And you start to notice things and that maybe they aren’t completely flawless. Their most recent 360 Tour was a visual masterpiece no doubt, but I was much less impressed by them compared to their other tours. It’s because the theatrics and ostentatiousness of their production completely took away from their performance and even moreso from their music. The whole claw-shaped stage was totally distracting and I kept finding myself wondering how it worked instead of listening to them. They never used to be into all that stuff, but I guess times have changed. To top it all off, their most recent album No Line on the Horizon, is average at best. I can’t even remember the last time I listened to it, or even wanted to listen to it. I’ve even started to fall for newer bands, younger bands, more interesting bands. Is it just because they’re new and exciting? Will I get bored of them too? Only time will tell I guess.

Having had such a long history with U2, I will still buy all their albums, see them in concert and continue to do so until they stop making music. It’s like a bad habit, like I’m holding on to what used to be. Maybe I’m hoping one day they’ll change back, that they’ll remember the way things were and show glimpses of it. Maybe they’ll write another “Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World”, just maybe. In relationships with music, just as in relationships with people, the hardest part is letting go. Accepting things the way they are and moving on. But when you’ve been through so much together, ups, downs and all arounds, there’s always that lingering hope: can we still be friends?

  1. […] many of my regular readers know, my relationship with U2 is a complicated and tumultuous one. They were my first “favourite band of all time”; I quoted them in my high school […]

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