#223: U2, "War" (1983)

I.

u2 war.jpg

—Martha Park

 

II.

The world!, it starts out all wild notion and varicolored ponderance, but soon enough down the line, even the questions seem to converge. You start out twentyfirsted, giddy, fresh-faced, and soon enough you're jamming a battered old Cadillac into the same hazardous non-space, having hit the phone pole with your right bumper every other week for the last forty years. On each of this life's singular and urgently glorious days (without fail), you'll drink until you've only got the next fifteen minutes to make the drive home or else you'll fall to the sticky sweet floor and it takes the bouncer to peel you off. From then to here, your notions take on a more beautiful aspect: Who was it set these divebars into motion? What hand placed each of us, our winding gears and ticktocking hearts, plodding steady closer and closer to the bars over the hill under the glory of a temperate fall?

One beautiful thing to a constant divebar is the slew of second chances to make amends with songs you first hated. For me: I watched the years soften my scowl about poppy ballads and all manner of concretions put to page and vinyl by sex offenders, murderers, monsters. A tune can hang in your ears long enough for the quiet sag of the walls and the slippery nature of time to impress upon you that we are not the work we will leave behind. No, we only count time, most of us. When watching the last strength of our days slip through our fingers, our mind can wander, and in the absence of posture or solid thought, we find ourselves merrily whistling a tune, forgetting to cast stones. That's got to count for something.

Still, like the way our strong knees will wither through and one day give, there's limits to the kindness or redemption that can hang around long in a place like this. For example, in here, I've found time and again that at no time does “New Year's Day” sound good to my ear, or in any right appropriate to the milieu. Makes a small fury come trembling up from the deep of my spine bones. The world is white and underway. Chords to “Bloody Sunday” don't sound too good either, to stick with the theme. But for one thing, I find (I think) that Bono himself would slide right into this world. This world would have beaten him into a quieter, humbler version of himself, I'm sure, but there are plenty of weirdos in this long, sad room with a good sliver of brilliance hid behind their dirty ears. The spark's not gone, not all the way, anyhow. Does that qualify for a shot of redemption? A second chance grasped, two-handed, whole-hearted.

This isn't the exact way Bono meant it when he said, “Compromise is not a dirty word.” Then again, fella's been seen mugging it next to George W. Bush. (No part of me is surprised. The man's a majesty of ADHD and Bible passages and the notion to make wildness. He'll party with anyone, I'd reckon.)

Still, though, we sit. And wait to feel the rage subside and a kind of inner peace begin to take root. A serene acceptance of the things we cannot change.

My friend Steven. Hair thinning, and more smug with each year that passes. Sits back in his booth, right next to the door where it reads nnI ytinummoC on this side of the street-lit door, and he posts up all fucking night (like he doesn't have a kid and a wife to be home with) drinking water-warm Yuengling and laughs about the churchfolk more than he does about the hipsters. In this of all places.

Hey man, you tell me: We're not angelbits or divinely inspired. We're all made of this shitty decaying carbon. Next time you cut yourself slicing onions, or you find yourself underneath the turning wheel of a bad hangover, or come up short counting out the month's bills, you say the words of Psalm 40 back out, then tell me they don't have grist in them. No true alcoholic ever spat on those words, anyhow. No half-rate boxer. No constant penny-shorter. Only the fat and haughty ever have cause to laugh about the psalms, anyhow.

Still, Steven prattles. Opiate of the masses blah blah, forever arguing with the rest of 1983, and that, I suppose, keeps him at home amongst many in this room. To be sure, there always kindles in here a haphazard kind of hate. Simmering contempt, reducing always, thicker and thicker until it sets. We are always at war with them, to keep this room near tolerable. The kind of people with no room for Psalms are the kind of people with no room for Elizabeth Bishop or Pablo Neruda or John Keats or Rakim and Eric B., and they can all fuck off, every one of them. You don't have to like the Psalms, but Jesus Fuck-my-tits Christ, if you only see a world in which they (or Mercy) got no place, you don't deserve poetry in any of its forms. Jesus fucking wept.

You can sit there with him in silence for hours, having no better company to turn to and shout, Fuck's sake: look at a flower. Fucking miracle of a flower, it stuns the eyes, and fills the nose, and then in a blink it falls apart dead. Everything everyone says they hate about Bono is true, and yet, the days of our lives still blink rapidly to their dim end, and somehowmiraculously somehowhere you sit, beer full and warming quickly, midst the shotgun narrows of the Community Inn's barside row of tables, spouting about how you don't fucking like any of that religion bullshit. Here in God's own hinterlands, in the backwater of civilized existence, you claim some notion of completion. Fool: should your life have had the heft and merit of the ancient heroes of philosophy, we should never have chanced to meet you here. On the mountain, or in the street preaching, perhaps. But such grim shit-talking in a one-horse dive bar such as this?

No order to the astrophysics in the claustrophobic smoketrap of the pool room, no calming center of near-chaos at the bar. No end to the decay who come and go, and here you sit, Steven, lord of all our perpetual hopelessness, snark and grim, and utterly forsaken, and somehow you can squelch down that hot beer, totally unwilling to give even an inch and hope, and sing, But I am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me: thou art my help and my deliverer; make no tarrying, O my God. Don't think twice.

—Aaron Fallon