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The origins of Songs Of Experience

D 19 January 2018     H 12:22     A Corine/Dead     C 0 messages

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by Corine/Dead

Before translating, I’d like to salute on behalf of team, for this awesome collection of the U2 fans’ interpretation. Awesome job guys, thumbs up!

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by Remy

The successor to Songs Of Innocence brings us 13 songs about Experience. Where Innocence brought us back to the young U2, Experience brings us a different U2 with a Bono that tries to leave something behind. Each of the Songs of Experience has its own story, musically and lyrically. In this article we unravel some of those stories.

Intimate letters to places and people

It was a "brush with mortality" around Christmas 2016 that got Bono to reconsider the direction of Songs Of Experience. Inspired by a quote from Irish poet Brendan Kennelly, Bono had to ask himself the question: "If I’m not around, what would I like to leave behind?", which resulted in a series of letters; intimate letters to places and people close to Bono’s heart: family, friends, fans, and even himself.
"If you really want to get to the place —the dark heart of the matter— write as if you’re dead. You won’t be worrying about what anyone is thinking, won’t have any ego." - Irish poet Brendan Kennelly

A lot of the songs are letters. Letters to Bono’s wife Ali, to his sons and daughters ("actually our sons and daughters"), a way for Bono to let the people around him know how he felt.
"Lots of us have a brush with mortality, it was an arresting experience. I won’t dwell in it or on it. I don’t want to name it. But these songs have that impetus behind them and it would feel dishonest not to admit the turbulence I was feeling at the time of writing." - Bono
The Songs Of Experience are however more than just a series of letters, and are more than just the 3 years of work since Songs Of Innocence. Some ideas for the songs date back as far as 11 years ago and some of the songs lyrics and themes are inspired by a set of poems from more than 200 years ago.

Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience

In the late 18th century English poet William Blake released an illustrated collection of poems titled Songs of Innocence and of Experience Showing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul. Bono is a known reader of Blake and has leaned on Blake as a Romanticist role model for at least 30 years. At that time U2 recorded a song titled Beautiful Ghost/Introduction To Songs Of Experience, where Bono recites Blake’s poem Introduction. Bono’s Zoo TV character/persona The Fly was also likely inspired by the poem of the same name in Blake’s work.

The idea of one (or a double) album called Songs of Innocence and Experience dates back to at least as far as 1992, when Bono mentioned to NME that he just wrote a song for U2’s "new record" : "I’ve just written a song for our new record called Songs Of Innocence and Experience, after reading Blake" - Bono (NME 1992)

Going back to Bono’s original inspiration, William Blake also envisioned for his collection of poems Songs of Innocence and Experience (written 5 years apart) to have recurrent themes and topics from the two different perspectives. Thus we can find poems about “lambs” or “children preserving their innocence” in Songs Of Innocence and then poems about “tygers”, “sick roses” and dark forces threatening to corrupt our world in Songs Of Experience.

What once referred to Innocence later appears as the voice of Experience warning Bono’s own children about the pitfalls in life

Blake positioned himself outside Innocence and Experience, often using a narrator that goes through both stages. What was important for Blake was to maintain the balance of Innocence and Experience in this world, with God as its center and all the creatures aspiring to please Him. Bono used a similar approach in these two albums by reusing the lyrics with minor variations, so what once referred to Innocence later appears as the voice of Experience warning Bono’s own children about the pitfalls in life.

In a promotional clip for Songs Of Experience, Bono talks about sometimes having a conversation with his conscience: "This conscience could be called your innocent self, but it’s certainly your younger self. On the tour for Songs Of Innocence, we setup this argument between the two selves, and I think it continues on Songs Of Experience."

The conversation Bono has with his younger self on the i+e tour version of Bullet The Blue Sky was a striking example of this in action, and it continues through into the songwriting process on Songs Of Experience with tracks such as Love Is All We Have Left, The Little Things That Give You Away and perhaps even Get Out Of Your Own Way to some degree.

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