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The powerful lesson I learned from a new U2 song that benefits everyone

July 1, 2017 at FirstEnergy Stadium Cleveland, Ohio

On December 1, 2017 U2 released its 14th studio album Songs of Experience. This is a companion album to the previous 2014 release Songs of Innocence, known most notably for appearing on everyone’s iPhone free of charge.

There are many professional reviews of Songs of Experience, so my goal is not to provide an amateur one. My goal is to describe my favorite song from the album and the lesson I learned from it.

The Little Things That Give You Away

The song is called The Little Things That Give You Away and is track #9. Here is a superb live version of the song if you have not heard it: https://youtu.be/6xCIneBtyn8

Here are the official lyrics.

The song is separated into two parts.

The first half of the song begins with a slow beat of synthetic drums and a low hum of keyboards and ghostly guitar. The tone reminds me of those Lincoln commercials with Matthew McConaughey. He is driving at night, and the city lights can be seen in the distance. It is not a joyful picture but one of stark reality and revelation.

This is a conversation between a person and himself. The speaker experienced a tragedy, and he is talking to the version of himself that existed before the life-changing event. He describes the person he used to be. He was arrogant, someone to whom life came easily. He had a facade that fooled people, but he was not fooling himself. Maybe he knew this about himself at the time and refused to acknowledge it. Now that his life has changed, he sees “the little things that give you away.”

You can tell a lot about a person by the things he says or the actions he takes. The title The Little Things That Give You Away describes how we also reveal who we are by the things we do not say or when we take no action. Many people go through life without authenticity, i.e., “being true to oneself.” Social media make it easy to craft the appearance of a great life. You only show the world what you want it to see. The same is true of real life.

It is human nature to care what other people think about you. You want people to look at you favorably, to respect you and only see your best qualities. You hide your flaws but at the minimal cost of not showing your true self and the maximal cost of not living your true life.

Backed by keyboards, Adam’s bass signifies the transition to the second half of the song. Almost exactly at the midpoint (2:26) the second part begins with the word “sometimes.” The conversation with himself is over. We now hear Bono’s thoughts after an unspecified tragic event involving shattered glass. He sings, “I see myself from a distance…I can’t get back inside.” The tone of Bono’s voice represents a longing for wanting to be himself again but also not wanting to go back to the person he was.

May 20, 2017 Rose Bowl Pasadena, California

This point in the song also represents a shift in musical tone as the keyboards provide a bridge into drums and guitar that slowly increase in intensity and volume. There is a contrast between the words that are sung and the music that begins to take over. The words initially have all the power, expressing raw emotions. Without the music, the words suggest dark thoughts and hopelessness.

Bono sings about having reckless thoughts, losing innocence, being fearful, angry, and grieving. Most people have experienced tragedy in one form or another in their lives. It could be personal suffering or witnessing someone you care about endure a tragedy. As we get older we face the inevitability of loss and tremendous grief. It is natural to experience these emotions.

The most important word in the second half of the song (at least by frequency) is the word “sometimes.” This word appears fifteen times. Why is this word repeated so much in the second half of the song? Maybe Bono likes how it sounds and the different ways he can sing it. I think the word “sometimes” is significant because of what it represents. Sometimes is not always and not never. There are very few absolutes in the world. Sometimes you will experience tragedy. Sometimes you will have bad things happen to you. Sometimes is not always.

September 19, 2017 University of Phoenix Stadium Glendale, Arizona

As Bono sings one line after the other, Larry’s crashing cymbals add to the drums, and the guitar becomes louder and more urgent. The music builds and soon has equal footing with the vocals. At 3:50 the crescendo of The Edge’s shimmering guitar reaches its peak as it takes the lead from the vocals. Bono stops singing. This short 12 seconds of music is an exhilarating rush of optimism and hope. It is the arm around your shoulders. It is the hand reaching down to lift you up. It is the familiar, smiling face you see through teary eyes. Bono starts singing again, but his voice is nearly drowned out by the music. The uplifting energy overpowers the negative emotions and feelings of despair. Finally the music subsides at 4:31, and the vocals are showcased one last time supported only by the keyboards. The final refrain:

Sometimes

The end is not coming

It’s not coming

The end is here

Sometimes

Life is full of beginnings and endings. Hellos and goodbyes. Sometimes you can’t wait for the end of something. The end of the work day. The end of the week. The end of a long illness. Sometimes a negative event happens to you, and it seems like there is no hope, no end to how you are feeling. It feels like the end is not coming.

But sometimes, the end is here. There is always hope, even in the darkest times.

I have another interpretation of the last lines. There are some ends we do not want. The end of a valued relationship. The end of one’s good health. The end of someone’s life that you care deeply about. Sometimes, the end is not coming, the end is here. And that’s okay. It is part of life. Bono sings the last “sometimes” as a sigh of relief. No more dreading. No more waiting. The end is here.

Sometimes it takes a life-changing event for us to evaluate our lives and circumstances. But, we do not need to go through this experience to look at how we are living life and decide to make a change. This is easier said than done, but I am up for the challenge.

This song is the highlight of the album for me. It reminds me to take a step outside myself to hear what I am saying, see how I am behaving, and determine whether this is truly me. For some reason I have a tendency toward negative thoughts. One of the principles I list in my credo is the following: I will resist the negativity from others and from within and focus on positive thoughts and actions.

Sometimes things do not go as planned. Sometimes you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes life hits you hard.

Sometimes.

It’s the little things that give you away, but it’s how you react to your circumstances that will ultimately determine your life’s path.

Listen to Songs of Experience on Apple Music.

Thank you for your time. If you liked this article, click the hand to clap as many times as you want so other people will see it here on Medium.

Find more of my content at beyondyourcubicle.com.

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Brandon D. Wilson

Brandon D. Wilson

IT Consultant, teacher, trainer, Apple fanatic

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