“It’s the one with the guitar in it,” says Marvel Girl, a dreamy look on her face.
I burst out laughing.
“Well, that would be every last song of theirs,” I reply.
We’re talking about U2, a band whose songs have formed the soundtrack to my life. A band my elder daughter — a dedicated Swifty who also possesses an unexpected penchant for Guns N’ Roses era glam rock — is now discovering. And wanting to add to her playlists. Except she doesn’t know the names of the songs whose lyrics I can recite without even having to think.
Where the songs have no name?
Ironically, the tune Marvel Girl has stuck in her head is Where the Streets Have No Name.
It doesn’t surprise me that the opening track of the iconic Joshua Tree album has become her gateway into U2. I had the same experience myself, though at a much younger age, with their post-punk anthem I Will Follow.
That song came from U2’s debut album, Boy. But I also have very clear memories of seeing the words U2 I WILL FOLLOW in fading red spray paint on the wall of an overpass near my childhood home. We would drive past those words most days when I was small. I hadn’t been able to read for very long, so the words stayed with me. I felt a weird sense of satisfaction when I finally understood what they referred to, and what they really meant.
I’ve been reading Bono’s autobiography, Surrender, a journey through his life via forty different songs, so music and memories have been occupying a lot of my headspace. I’ve also had U2 songs playing as we go about our business, finding our way in the simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar space that is our new home. I now know that Bono connects I Will Follow with what they called the Yellow House, a rehearsal space they used in the early days of the band. Where the Streets Have No Name, on the other hand, takes him back to his first experiences in sub-Saharan Africa.
But I’m wondering what memory Marvel Girl might attach to this particular song, at this moment in her life.
Will she associate Where the Streets Have No Name with moving house? With us dusting off the old DVD player, getting it going, and then watching a battered copy of Rattle and Hum together? Of me struggling to explain the euphoric, visceral, all-consuming experience of going to a stadium rock concert featuring one of the biggest bands in the world to a teenager who — thanks to a global pandemic — has never had the opportunity to attend one?
I wonder whether the music I listened to, danced to, sang along to when I was pregnant with Marvel Girl (U2, REM, Radiohead, The Verve, alongside…ahem…Guns N’ Roses era glam rock) has somehow informed her own musical tastes? I wonder whether such a phenomenon exists, and whether it explains why I love the words of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Pasternak and Nabokov so much, given my mother spent time reading Russian literature when she was pregnant with me?
But I digress.
My own memory of Where the Streets Have No Name dates very specifically back to August 1997, of an early morning bus ride from the Greek resort town of Kavala to Istanbul, Turkey. The sun was rising as we entered the city limits of what was once known as Constantinople, a golden orb lighting up a skyline of square concrete dwellings, tangled electricity wires, TV antennas and satellite dishes, with muezzin-filled minarets rising above them all.
I could not hear their call to prayer.
My ears were already filled with words and music of a different kind:
I want to run, I want to hide
I wanna tear down the walls that hold me inside
I wanna reach out and touch the flame
Where the streets have no name, ha, ha, ha
I wanna feel sunlight on my face
I see that dust cloud disappear without a trace
I wanna take shelter from the poison rain
Where the streets have no name…
I’d already run about as far as I could from where I’d grown up, in the affluent northern suburbs of Sydney, all the way to the other side of the world. And I could already feel the sunlight on my face, as it began lighting up a city where I could literally stand with one foot in Europe and the other in Asia. A place which felt steeped in history and religion and conflict and renewal and mystery.
Searching for a picture that might capture that specific sunrise on the outskirts of Istanbul I stumble across one, on the page of another blogger who made the reverse journey — from Istanbul to Kavala — in 2014. More than fifteen years later, it seems the road has not changed so much, and their impressions of it were very similar to my own.
Those travellers also witnessed the many and various indications of deprivation and poverty. They saw what they described as the bleakness of the peripheries but, unlike me, they had not seen them tinged with golden light, accompanied by the crescendo that is Where the Streets Have No Name, by the music of U2.
I will be forever grateful that in the year I was born, Larry Mullen Jr stuck a notice on the wall at Mount Temple Comprehensive in Dublin. He was the drummer seeking musicians who have now been his band mates for over forty-five years, providing the music I have been playing all my life. I will always smile at Bono’s bluster, get caught up in the rock solid rhythms of Adam Clayton’s bass, and lose myself entirely in The Edge’s hypnotic guitar sounds and sparkling harmonics, all while knowing deep down it’s the drummer who is not just the foundation, but the true rock star in this band.
Larry Mullen Jr always has been — and always will be — perfectly, completely, and impossibly cool.
As I write this, Marvel Girl has U2’s Song for Someone from the Songs of Innocence album playing on repeat downstairs.
She says it’s her new favourite song.
I am filled with quiet pride, knowing I have raised a child who is not afraid to find something new (to her) and stake a claim to it.
If there is a light
You can’t always see
And there is a world
We can’t always be
If there is a dark
Now we shouldn’t doubt
And there is a light
Don’t let it go out
And this is a song
A song for someone
This is a song
A song for someone