“Watch out for this one. It’s one of the most extraordinary things we’ve ever had the good fortune of being a part of,” said Bono about Lights of Home on the recent U2 at the BBC TV show. Hs words fill me with excited anticipation as to what the band might do with the song on the Songs Of Experience Tour. Gigantic clues to what U2 songs mean are always found in their live context.
In the meantime, it seems to me that Lights Of Home is one of Bono’s most personal songs. It is a man looking down the barrel of his mortality and catching a glimpse of the immortality he believes in.
Bono goes straight to the heart of it in the very first line:
"Shouldn't be here 'cause I should be dead
I can see the lights in front of me"
Thankfully all seems immediately healthier:
“I believe my best days are ahead
I can see the lights in front of me.”
This health scare of Bono’s was not dealt with in the ease of the next rhyming couplet.
“Oh Jesus if I’m still your friend
What the hell
What the hell have you got for me”
… are a cry of prayer.
In the revealing liner notes with Songs Of Experience Bono writes about a crisis of faith: -
“I had to fight harder for that faith
To make out ‘the still small voice”
I had to pull down the blinds on the world
Shut out the background and foreground noises, the interference
Turn down the volume of my crowded mind to hear that still, soft voice that promises the peace that passes all understanding…”
This section of the liner notes are particularly spiritual. Bono moves to this theme of home:
“The time to return home, to discover it wasn’t a place, it was a face, it was more than a few faces but her heart was my home
The lights of home
In The Message, Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible, I read Psalm 100 - “Enter with the password ‘thank you’ and make yourself at home.”
What a line.”
It is not the first time Bono has quoted or stolen a poetic phrase from Eugene Peterson, his favourite spiritual writer and a man who he had gotten to know over recent years. Check out the revelatory short film Bono & Eugene Peterson: The Psalms. Sadly Eugene passed away this very week.
In Lights of Home Bono is again blending and blurring his wife Ali and God. Bono’s old mate T-Bone Burnett used have the women in his songs represent America as well. For Bono it is God and the love of his life. Both Ali and God entered his life in the same mid teens when he met the other guys in U2. His life in his depth of spirituality is wrapped up in them all. Ali is a conduit for God in his life. She is his pastor and spiritual mentor. He has very often found answers in that woman's eyes!
The home here is that refuge from the world he finds in his Killiney home where Ali and his four kids keep him sane and rooted. It is also that place where we meet God, in the end in all its fulness. Bono has certainly been considering the end.
“One more push and I’ll be born again
One more road you can’t travel with a friend
Saw a statue of a gold guitar
Bright lights right in front of me”
When I first heard the song I thought that the gold guitar was an image of the golden calf, an idol that the Children of Israel created in the wilderness. After more listening I wonder if it is the fulfilment of Bono’s vocation that will find its completeness in the golden streets of heaven. It may be either or both. For Bono the leaving of this life is to rebirth in the next. The journey we all travel alone. The lights of home.
The mantra at the songs end is…
“Free yourself to be yourself
If only you could see yourself.”
The entire Songs Of Experience dissertation is around the idea that if we start at the end, looking back from the afterlife we might be more honest with ourselves and everything else. We will have nothing to lose from there.