Wednesday, January 27, 2010

U2's Beautiful Day: The Changing Masterpiece

In June 2001, my wife and I were lucky enough to have a four-day weekend in Paris, France. It was a magical trip that was great on almost every level. The hotel we stayed in was quaint, the meals we ate were spectacular and our touring around the City of Light was nearly perfect. Heck, even the Parisians were mostly well mannered. Upon my return, I managed to maintain those good feelings, at least once a day, by listening to U2's "Beautiful Day" off their All That You Can't Leave Behind album. Why did I use that song? Firstly, its hugely uplifting and yearningly romantic lyrics:

It was a beautiful day
Don't let it get away
Beautiful day.

Touch me
Take me to that other place
Reach me
I know I'm not a hopeless case.

Secondly, was the fact that before we went to Paris, I saw the video a few times on television. Large parts of it were shot at Charles DeGaulle Airport outside of Paris. I was not only remembering Paris through this song's heartfelt lyrics, but because it had been filmed at the airport my wife and I'd just travelled through to get to Paris. By playing it at some point every day (I must have driven my work colleagues nuts because I would often play it, quietly, on my work computer), I was able to successfully recall all the wonderful memories of that glorious trip.

Then came a Tuesday in early September. I arrived at work a touch late, about 9:10 AM, after being stuck, incommunicado, on the subway. I turned on my computer and decided to play the song to start my day off on a good note. And it was a beautiful late summer day with a perfect blue sky and shirt-sleeve temperatures. I played the song and was reading emails when one of my colleagues, Ron Bowering, came up to me and said

"Did you hear about the airplane that crashed into the World Trade Centre?"

"No," I said, thinking a two-passenger Cessna had hit it.

"And then another one hit it." I immediately thought terrorist attack and then asked, "What? What's that Bin guy's name?" My day, as with all of us, had just begun to go pear shaped. On that morning, the meaning of U2's "Beautiful Day" was changed for me. From that day forward, it was no longer just a romantic song used to bring back happy memories of a wonderful trip, but now it was a sad, mournful, grief-filled song that became the soundtrack of that awful day:

The heart is a bloom
Shoots up through the stony ground
There's no room
No space to rent in this town.

You're out of luck
And the reason that you had to care
The traffic is stuck
And you're not moving anywhere.

The truly disturbing part of the song was now that video. It had been shot at an airport and the final portion of the song featured U2 performing on the runway as passenger jets screamed overhead (in the video, you can clearly hear the sound of the screaming jets as they zoom over the band). It ends with Bono running with carefree abandon down a runway at Charles DeGaulle.

Happily, it still can remind me of that glorious extra-long weekend in Paris in June 2001, but it took on a much darker meaning three months later when those airplanes smashed into the World Trade Centre. Now when I play "Beautiful Day" I always lead into it, as a tribute to all those who died, with "C'mon C'mon" by the Von Bondies. It is the opening-credits song to Denis Leary's Rescue Me, his tragi-comic TV series about the firefighters in New York City suffering survivors guilt in the wake of 9/11:

And know this day these deepened wounds don't heal so fast
Can't hear me croon of a million lies that speak no truth
Of a time gone by that now is through.

The official video for U2's "Beautiful Day" can be seen here

The official video for Von Bondies "C'mon C'mon" can be seen here

--David Churchill is a film critic and author. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his first novel, The Empire of Death.

1 comment:

  1. I have to say they are one of the only bands that are better live than recorded. Not to say the CDs are not awesome...but these live performances grasp the energy and just blow it out! Great piece of music.