ONE: What’s is it all about Bono?

As I sit here drinking a cup of coffee…listening to U2’s ONE, I can’t help but ponder it’s meaning and preparing a message for next Sunday…. is ONE about love, a lack of love…something way bigger?  World poverty, hunger, peace, religion, spirituality? I think back to the first time I listened to the track in 1991 (Sundie and I were dating) and it meant something very different to what it does now 21 years later (with 20 years of marriage), but isn’t that the making of a truly great piece of art?  Something that continues to grow as you grow?

ONE is the third track from their 1991 album Achtung Baby, and it was released as the record’s third single in March 1992. During the album’s recording sessions at Hansa Studios in Berlin, conflict arose between the band members over the direction of U2’s sound and the quality of their material. Tensions almost prompted the band to break up until they achieved a breakthrough by improvising “One”; the song was written after the band members found inspiration from a chord progression that guitarist The Edge composed. The lyrics, written by lead singer Bono, were informed by the band members’ fractured relationships and the German reunification. Although the lyrics ostensibly describe “disunity”, they have been interpreted in many other ways.
The mood was bleak during the recording session, and conflict arose within the band over their musical direction and the quality of their material. While bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. preferred a sound similar to U2’s previous work, vocalist Bono and guitarist The Edge were inspired by European industrial and electronic dance music of the time and were advocating a change.  The band also had difficulty in developing demos and ideas into completed songs. Bono and The Edge believed the lack of progress was the fault of the band, while Clayton and Mullen Jr. believed the problem was the song ideas.  Mullen said he “thought this might be the end” of the band.

“At the instant we were recording it, I got a very strong sense of its power. We were all playing together in the big recording room, a huge, eerie ballroom full of ghosts of the war, and everything fell into place. It was a reassuring moment, when everyone finally went, ‘oh great, this album has started.’ It’s the reason you’re in a band – when the spirit descends upon you and you create something truly affecting. ‘One’ is an incredibly moving piece. It hits straight into the heart.”

The Edge, on the recording of “One”

Bono described the song’s theme as such: “It is a song about coming together, but it’s not the old hippie idea of ‘Let’s all live together.’ It is, in fact, the opposite. It’s saying, We are one, but we’re not the same. It’s not saying we even want to get along, but that we have to get along together in this world if it is to survive. It’s a reminder that we have no choice”. The Edge described it on one level as a “bitter, twisted, vitriolic conversation between two people who’ve been through some nasty, heavy stuff”. On another level, he suggested that the line “we get to carry each other” introduces “grace” to the song and that the wording “get to” (instead of “got to”) is essential, as it suggests that it is a privilege to help one another, not an obligation. The band have been told by many fans that they played the song at their weddings, prompting Bono to respond, “Are you mad? It’s about splitting up!” There was some speculation that the song described a conversation between a father and his HIV-positive gay son, based on the connection of the song to David Wojnarowicz, a gay artist who died of AIDS.

In the Neo-DeMarconian mind… ONE is about all of those things…but on a different level it is a song about two people coming together–after being married 20 years next month, it resonates on a deeply personal level.  The song is about a married couple and yes–it is about coming together, it is about splitting apart, and indeed and Bono sings…”we are not the same.”  It is about a couple that has been through some nasty, heavy stuff (as The Edge puts it)… it is about blame, and they know…love will indeed leave you if you don’t care for it, it is about disappointment, forgiveness, grace, going without love when you needed it, the past is drug out into the light and it hurts, carrying each other, asking too much–more than a lot and at times not getting it, they hurt each other because in the end–these two are only broken humans…but they are in the strongest of marriages because of their oneness, a oneness between the two of them and their Creator… indeed it is as if Bono wrote a song for Sundie and Bill.

 Is it getting better

Or do you feel the same
Will it make it easier on you now
You got someone to blame
You say…

One love
One life
When it’s one need
In the night
One love
We get to share it
Leaves you baby if you
Don’t care for it

Did I disappoint you
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without
Well it’s…

Too late
Tonight
To drag the past out into the light
We’re one, but we’re not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other
One…
Have you come here for forgiveness
Have you come to raise the dead
Have you come here to play Jesus
To the lepers in your head

Did I ask too much
More than a lot
You gave me nothing
Now it’s all I got
We’re one
But we’re not the same
Well we
Hurt each other
Then we do it again
You say
Love is a temple
Love a higher law
Love is a temple
Love the higher law
You ask me to enter
But then you make me crawl
And I can’t be holding on
To what you got
When all you got is hurt
One love
One blood
One life
You got to do what you should
One life
With each other
Sisters
Brothers
One life
But we’re not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other

One…life

One

NOTE: There are three versions of the ONE video.  “One” made its live debut on 29 February 1992 in Lakeland, Florida on the opening night of the Zoo TV Tour, and it has since been played at every subsequent show on U2’s concert tours. 
Entertainment Weekly
 called the song “biting and unprecedentedly emotional” and opined that its “extravagant stylings and wild emotings […] put it among Bono’s most dramatic moments on record”.  In its review of the album, Rolling Stone called the song a “radiant ballad”, noting that “Few bands can marshal such sublime power, but it’s just one of the many moments on Achtung Baby when we’re reminded why, before these guys were the butt of cynical jokes, they were rock & roll heroes—as they still are.”
The Third version is the “Berlin” version which has more or less been banned and removed from many places…Bono explained that the idea to crossdress “had been based on the idea that if U2 can’t do this, we’ve got to do it!”, and it was fostered by the group’s experiences dressing in drag for the Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. However, the band pulled the video, fearing the single’s status as an AIDS benefit would result in critics finding AIDS-related interpretations of the video. The Edge explained, “We didn’t want to be involved in putting back the AIDS issue into the realm of sexuality… It wasn’t worth the risk of people imagining we were saying something about the AIDS issue through the drag footage, which was totally not what we were trying to say.”
And no ONE blog would ever be complete with out mentioning the incredible version by Johnny Cash

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s