Modern Shakespearean Sonnet 40. U2, Youth and the Song Lyric, by Andrew Barker
How often did we listen to those great
Bombastic claims; those three chords and the truth;
The words they wound round drumbeats, as each night
They rattled out a soundtrack to our youth?
The Irish conflict? Martin Luther King?
It seemed they were addressing so much more.
Such force gets channelled in the way you sing:
I learnt that this was what the words were for.
The lyric was a bottleneck through which
The music’s theme was forced into the room
By those with the audacity and reach
To try to catch emotion in a tune.
The sound was more convincing than the sense.
But older now, I find I’m still impressed.
I was a massive U2 fan in youth. Still am. Partially this is because that music, those bands we like somewhat excessively in youth stay with us. I’m always going to like The Jam and early Marillion too. In youth I was very fond of song lyrics, I read very little poetry for the page and listening to lyrics was really as close as I got to enthusiasm for the poetic at all. As I got older I would look back and question how good those words I thought so important when young really were. And the answer, obviously and inevitably, was . . . “Not as good as I thought they were when they were the only poetry I exposed myself to.” And yet . . .
The description of the purpose of the song lyric, “a bottleneck through which/ The music’s theme was pushed into the room,” is Brian Eno’s from a conversation with John Waters in “Race of Angels: Ireland and the Genesis of U2.” It’s not only a great image but it sums up brilliantly what any song lyric’s greatest task really is, a task beyond being poetic in itself for the glorification of just the words themselves.
The other U2 references in the sonnet should be too easy for any U2 fan to get to be worth quoting. But . . .
“Three chords and the truth.” Bono’s inclusion to the live version of All Along the Watchtower.
“Rattled out a soundtrack.” Rattle and Hum.
“The Irish conflict?” Sunday Bloody Sunday.
“Martin Luther King?” Pride in the Name of Love.
My point is that when I was young I thought the lyrics far more specific in terms of what they were addressing.
I remember believing when young that far more of those early U2 song lyrics were inspired directly from the political than those words actually were, I remember thinking “God Part 2”, “A Sort of Home Coming,” and “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” great as poetry, mostly because they were slightly more obscure than the most famous of the tunes and I could be reasonably sure that the person I was making the claim to wouldn’t be able to quote them back to me and prove me wrong. I’ve read them recently, and this is then point of the sonnet’s couplet, they really aren’t bad at all.
And as any U2 fan would surmise, this was placed as Sonnet 40 for obvious reasons too.
If you enjoy this poem and would like to get the book in which it appears
“Joyce is Not Here: 101 Modern Shakespearean Sonnets,” is available for purchase from https://amzn.to/2UIfPeY;
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