Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Sometimes you can make it--together

Below, on the audio file link, I have done an audio adaptation of the song "Sometimes you can't make it on your own". My adaptation includes contextualizing it within other musical and lyrical messages along the same themes. The following paragraphs give a basic scope for these themes and the audio adaptation near the end.

(This opening paragraph is perhaps too analytic and informative for the non-U2 enthusiast.) The grammy-winning song of the year, "Sometimes you can't make it on your own" is one of my favorite songs from U2's recent grammy winning album of the year "How to dismantle an atomic bomb". Bono clarified the shared theme of the song and album when he accepted the grammy for song of the year. He explained that his mother died when he was young, and he (Bono) was raised by his father, Bob Hewson. Bob Hewson (who recently passed away), is the "atomic bomb" that this whole album attempts to "dismantle". (Appropriately, U2 sang "Sometimes" at Bob's funeral.)As Bono explained, the album in many ways was his attempt to wrestle with who this man (Bob Hewson) was, and how they (Bob and Bono) related. "Sometimes" is somewhat of a micro version of the album as a whole. The song crystallizes key issues in this "atomic bomb" and gestures to how it might be dismantled. I think the term 'dismantle' is provocatively appropriate; it resonates with literary criticism terms such as 'deconstruction' and 'contextual analysis' as well as more plain language senses like 'to take off a mantle' as well as the notions typically accompanying talk of dealing with explosives, e.g. 'disarm' or 'make non-threatening'. Through lyric, music, tone, theme, and general feeling, I see the song and album compellingly addressing the "atomic bomb" in all of these kinds of ways.

I think "Sometimes you can't make it on your own" is among the most personal and poignant songs the band has ever put together. The song doesn't attempt to resolve this complicated relationship, but rather make a portrait that captures some of the tensions, struggles, appreciation, frustration, anger and respect that are at once deeply personal and universal in relations; especially between fathers and sons. The treatment of these themes through this song have helped me reflect on images and portraits of other fathers and sons in literature, TV and cinema. The Godfather movies, for example, do a compelling job of portraying some of these same tensions, for example, when (at the beginning) Michael returns from the army to get away from the family, but inevitably finds himself defending his father's life and ultimately lifestyle.

As my interpretation hopefully shows, other media attempts have likewise wrestled with these same themes. Though I find "Sometimes" perhaps the best recent crystallization, by interpreting it as I do within the context of other contemporary efforts (including my bridge between the two), I think a more hopeful and perhaps even more redeeming tone can emerge and sustain our outlook on fathers and sons. Perhaps it is impossible to understand a son without reference to his father, or vice versa.

In my interpretation, as should be evident by the end, I have considered other powerful portraits of fathers and sons struggling to find their way, and learning about each other by embarking on this journey "together", especially elegant and telling for this are those fathers and sons without a wife or mother. I believe that such portraits can be especially useful to help us draw out some of the universal tones about which "Sometimes" aims to say something. I see basic issues at the core: an attempt to see the son through the lens of the father, and vice versa. Perhaps most vital is an attempt to communicate to an audience the need to give an account of the father in order to better understand the son. Whether rich enough to have a home arcade alley, or as poor as a slave on a desert planet like Tatooine*, these father and son themes are constant.

Fathers and Sons: Here's to hoping we can find our way together.

this is an audio post - click to play

*Though I don't address it in my audio interpretation, I think the Star Wars saga is just such an attempt to give an account of a father in order to better understand the son. Indeed Anakin is the Adam character as he is the lone son with no father, we have no recourse to justify or explain his story with reference to his father. A New Hope seems to be a story about a young boy (Luke) without a father, who becomes a hero. The next 5 movies attempt to communicate to the audience the need to give an account of Luke's father in order to better understand this son.


  1. boom, boomboom.

    boom, boomboom.

    nice one, very inspiring.

  2. The father/son connection/relationship is especially poignant and powerful and has its roots throughout much of Irish narrative from Joyce to the the Brothers McMullen. I would add that the absence of the mother not only underscores the tension between father son but often defines it (as in Bono's case).

    It migh be fruitful to explore/contrast mother/daughter relationships--not characterized by the absence of a father which nowadays is, to be sure, commonplace--but in rare cases where motherloss has ocurred as with Madonna's Ray of light album or in the Harry Potter series/films. Such an examination might highlight key issues you discuss in your post.

    All of this, of course, is to say nothing about the suggestion in The Phantom Menace that Anakin is immaculately conceived.

  3. Kacy: As I think is fairly clear, I hadn't considered "Sometimes" and by extension "Dismantle" as an Irish phenomenon. Though your insightful analysis clearly demonstrates a wealth of hermeneutic goldmines in such an endeavor. Instead, I focused my analysis on the universal--especially poignant in "Sometimes" and other media such as TV shows. Was this like your thesis? It sounds like it. I am very intrigued by your suggestion to examine motherloss, are there particular key issues you have in mind that would be highlighted, or clarified in light of this investigation? (For example, are there themes that you have written on this subject that seem particularly pertinent?)

    I am also interested in the role of economic wealth in the father/son relationship. If a father is wealthy enough to have, for example, a miniature train track in his house, different issues arise than would in a relation involving an impoverished father.

  4. Thanks, Ben, for inquiring about my current projects. I am keen on investigating a link or bridge (if you will) between Silver Spoons (home train) and Rocky III (home race car). I'm not sure what the significance is but I am sure that if we employ the hermeneutic set forth in your original post (see above)we will (at the very least) be asking the right questions.

  5. "Tomorrow" has always been one of my favorite U2 songs. Written for Bono's mother.

  6. "Questioning builds a way...For questioning is the piety of thought."

    --M. Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology

  7. "So many times, it happens too fast. You trade your passion for glory. Don't lose your grip on the dreams of the past. You must fight just to keep them alive."

    --Survivor, The Eye of The Tiger

  8. jordan1:30 PM

    Ben, I know how much you love the Godfather.

  9. Slick editing. I'm impressed.

  10. So wait, I don't get it. Is that Bono singing the whole time? I swear that is a different ending than I have heard before, although there is something uncomfortably familiar to this ending.

  11. The Executive runs one mean vaccuum. thanks

    The Backwards Fiesta Attraction Crew