Did U2’s classic hit “New Year’s Day” make it onto your playlist this week?
It’s been in heavy rotation around this time of year since it debuted more than three and a half decades ago in 1983. It starts out as a classic love song: “All is quiet on New Year’s Day/A world in white gets underway/I want to be with you/Be with you night and day…I will be with you again…”
Then it takes an interesting lyrical turn: “Under a blood red sky/A crowd has gathered in black and white/Arms entwined, the chosen few/The newspapers say it’s true/It’s true/And we can break through/Though torn in two/We can be one.”
The lyrics came from the mouth of U2 front man Bono, and were long believed to be a love song inspired by his wife, Ali. But the real inspiration was Lech Walesa, the leader of the Polish Solidarity Movement, who was fighting for political change in his country at the time.
The song became U2’s first international hit, and put them on the road to international acclaim that continues to this day. “New Year’s Day” deftly fuses the personal and the political with a pulsing beat that manages to evoke 80s perfectly while still remaining relevant.
It takes moxie to write and perform music that matters, and Bono has it. Here’s my take:
Moxie lives up to its name.
Bono started out in life as Paul David Hewson. He was dubbed “Bono Vox,” a variation of the Latin phrase “bonavox”, which translates to “good voice,” by a childhood friend. It’s took some time for Bono to grow into the moniker.
He started out writing, playing guitar and singing for the band in its early days. He didn’t come to realize the full power of his voice and stage presence until other bandmates gently urged him to step away from him less than stellar attempts to play the guitar and focus on vocals.
His vocal style has evolved into the passionate wail that defines much of U2’s sound, but the real power of his voice is found in the lyrics of the band’s music. He’s the primary lyricist for the band, and his organic poetics give voice to the group’s personal and political message. You don’t have to listen for long to hear pleas for peace, justice, charity and equality.
Moxie is motivated by the personal and the political.
Bono is more than a good voice. He’s also a voice for good.
Few artists have fused their work and their charitable efforts as thoroughly and ambitiously as Bono. U2 has participated in the usual fundraising concert events like Live Aid and Band Aid, but Bono has gone far beyond simply raising money. He’s successfully lobbied governments around the world for debt relief for Africa, and help in combating AIDS and famine across the region.
Moxie is fueled by faith.
Bono is a native of Ireland, and grew up in a land haunted by religious themes intertwined with the political narrative. His father was Catholic, his mother was Protestant. He grew up attending mass and worship services in both traditions, and feeling that religion often got in the way of faith. Because of or perhaps in spite of those experiences, he embraces faith in Jesus Christ.
He talks openly and fluently about his own faith, revealing a deep, mature understanding of the Bible and a continuing contemplation and exploration of it. He often cites devotional works and passages in interviews with the media. He’s also very clear that his charitable work is motivated strongly by his desire to live out the message he sees in scripture: that God is Love.
If I had the chance to ring in the new year by interviewing Bono, what should I ask him?