In those days I had a habit of listening to one cassette over and over again. One month I listened to Paul Westerburg’s 13 Songs non stop. I had the Doors soundtrack completely memorized, beat for beat, Morrison wail for Morrison wail. There was a several week period that I listened to U2’s 4 song EP Wide Awake in America and nothing else. Since it is so short it contained the same music on side B as side A. I didn’t care, I loved every moment of it. It was also just long enough to listen to the entire EP in one drive to school.
During this same period I began driving one of my sister’s friends, Amy, to school with us. She was a pleasant girl, and lived close enough by me that I didn’t mind picking her up. Two or three weeks went by like this: driving Amy to and from school, me listening to the same four songs over and over again. One afternoon we loaded into the car after school ready to head home. At that very moment I decided I was tired of listening to U2 and ejected the tape after half a verse of Bad.
“That was a tape?” Amy asked.
“Of course it’s a tape. We’ve been listening to it repeatedly for the last several weeks.” I replied.
“Well, I thought the radio was playing that song a lot.”
“Yeah, and playing it at the exact same moment in the afternoon that we left off in the morning. That’s nice of the radio station to do that for us,” I joked.
I think she was a little more than embarrassed.
That particular song, Bad, is a particular favorite of mine. It’s got a cool, elevating jam in it on the live version. It sparkles like the stars in the sky. Truth be told, it is the main reason I listened to the EP over and over again. It’s got some great, mysterious lyrics. Anathematic is the word.
There’s a great story about the band playing some awards show way back when, and Bono spends their entire slotted time trying to get a fan on stage with him. The band keeps playing the riffs, security keeps trying to stop the fan from climbing the stairs. And there is Bono, world savior, persuading the fan to come up with him. Meanwhile everyone else is begging him to come back and sing the song. Minutes roll by, the band’s time slot is almost up, and they haven’t even finished this one song yet. Something like 8 minutes roll by, their entire time slot, and Bono is still trying to get this one fan on stage. Finally security let’s up and the girl runs onto the stage, into Bono’s arms. There he is, one of the biggest rock stars around and he’s hugging a fan. Bam! Superstardom forever.
The song doesn’t have a proper chorus. There is a repeated refrain, but it’s lyrics are obscure. I listened to that song a hundred times and I could never figure out what he was saying.
I’m Wide Awake
I’m Wide Awake
But after that, it was just a mumble. I was sure it was a powerful, amazing lyric, but I could never penetrate its meaning.
One day, months after keeping the tape in my deck for weeks on end, I threw the tape back in my player. Cruising the Oklahoma back roads I cranked it up.
If I could, yes I would
If I could, I would
Let it go
Bono sang. The Edge jangling his guitar, the music crescendo’s higher and higher.
If I could through myself
Set your spirit free
I'd lead your heart away
See you break, break away
Into the light
And to the day
To let it go
And so to fade away
To let it go
And so fade away
I’m loving it. It’s a perfect summer day. My windows are down, left arm soaring out the window. The road is untrafficked by other drivers, unwatched by the cops. There are a series of hills we used to call “the Rollercoaster” because they dipped and rose like the amusement park ride. I used to take them real fast and try to get some air between the road and my tires. Life was good.
I'm wide awake
I'm wide awake
And then it hit me. Out of the clear, blue sky I suddenly knew what he was singing. It made perfect sense, fit perfectly with the previous couplet. There it is again, this time I can’t help but understand. How could I have not heard those lyrics before? A smile crept to my lips as I sang along:
I’m wide awake
I’m not sleeping
Oh, no, no, no