listening to music while pushing through a run this weekend my iPod Shuffle selected “Disappearing Act” by U2. Instantly, my heart soared. My runner’s aches vanished. I got a second wind. At that glorious moment, I knew I’d finish my workout strong. Such is the power of music.
I also realized that this particular U2 song might just be my favorite from the band’s entire, vast catalog. Given U2 is my favorite musical group (if a grown man can have a favorite musical group), choosing above all others a non-hit like “Disappearing Act” seems pretty random. Especially considering the following bit of history from U2’s guitarist, The Edge:
“‘Disappearing Act,’ formerly known as ‘White City,’ was recorded at the beginning of the Slane sessions (for The Unforgettable Fire)…but for whatever reason, it never inspired a compelling vocal…then, after 25 years, between shows on the 360 tour, ‘White City’ was completed and became ‘Disappearing Act.’”
Yikes. Perhaps my favorite U2 song almost never got made. Regardless, it’s an amazing number. Listen to it. “Disappearing Act” is both a soaring anthem and a deeply personal work, indicative of the very best U2 songs. It has all the elements: inspiring guitar hooks, beautiful chorus and Bono’s classically enigmatic lyrics that seem to be simultaneously about mysterious women and the eternal quest for truth, beauty and a higher power.
Say what you will about Bono yet the fact he rarely writes about sex, drugs and rock and roll (not that there’s anything wrong with that) is one of the band’s greatest virtues. Since Day 1 U2 has remained unabashedly spiritual, never forsaking their faith for rampant hedonism readily available to rock stars fractionally as famous as they are. I find that truly amazing.
But it’s the personal connection I make with this song that, for me, puts it above their many terrific others. As a lifelong introvert and someone who has never mastered social intercourse, I’ve done my share of disappearing acts. It’s painful. It’s regretful…
“Exile, it’s a small price to pay for bliss.” A haunting line, containing two seemingly disparate ideas (exile and bliss) and it nails me to a cross. For all my blessings of family and friends, I often find myself alone. Indeed, I put myself there, preferring it to the company of others…
“When there’s only one thing you need to own…hunger, hunger itself.”
I view “hunger” as a search for reconciliation as well as a description of the ambition and creativity that can restore me to sanity. Or at least get me out of the “graveyard before I turn to bones.”
With “all the lepers (I) let in my head” sometimes I wonder how I “can love” at all. The song keeps asking that question. And if I’m being honest so do I.
Even though Bono wrote “Disappearing Act” in the second person I obviously take it personally. I love this song even as I struggle liking myself. And isn’t that what true art (be it a novel or a pop song) truly does: point to our flawed humanity while providing eternal hope for its salvation?
Writer’s note: I may have crossed the line here, providing “too much information.” Forgive me that indulgence. Yet, finding meaning in popular culture is absolutely part of this blog’s modest legacy. Thank you for your patience. Below is “Disappearing Act”