Annie (canadanne) wrote in u2,
Annie
canadanne
u2

Song Of The Day

I know I haven't written one of these since 2014, and I'm not sure if anyone is even still reading this community, but this is something I feel the need to write...

California (There Is No End To Love)

I am so tired of seeing how underrated this song is. Songs Of Innocence is a terrific album and this is one of my very favourite tracks on it - certainly the standout song on the first half for me - but it somehow came LAST in U2.com's Side 1 poll soon after the album was released. I've seen a number of fans speak very dismissively about it, as if its crappy worthlessness is self-evident. And even when people *do* love the song, they tend to say things like "It's straight-up light-hearted fun!" and "It really captures the feel of California!", which doesn't do it justice at all. There's so much more to appreciate here.

While it's set against the backdrop of the band's first trip to Los Angeles, this is a song about life after loss. Bono explained it briefly in a 2014 radio interview that I've never been able to find again since (probably one of these that's no longer available). He said they were all really excited about their adventure, but someone in their party - he didn't specify who - had recently suffered a bereavement and it was totally dragging the mood down for everyone. The result is this amazing juxtaposition of grief and joy that I can't recall hearing in any other song.


Let's start at the beginning, with that wonderfully atmospheric intro. There's already a mournful tone to it, with the sounds of pouring rain and a church bell tolling. (This is also an awesome callback to the Video Confessionals on ZooTV, which opened with the same bell sound! TV viewers in Ireland will recognise it as a sample of The Angelus.) Once the music fades in over the top, it's one of those great intros that just keeps on building as a variety of layers are added. I love the way it opens with that shuddering tremolo effect, which is very cool and unusual, and contrasts beautifully with the smooth, high "ooh ooh ooh" vocal that comes in a few seconds later. Then we have the band's little tribute to the Beach Boys, with a lengthy chant of "Ba-Ba-Barbara, Santa Barbara" intended to evoke their classic cover of 'Barbara Ann'. (Bono has spoken about wanting to see Brian Wilson's house with its piano-in-a-sandpit while they were out there.) This is the only part I wasn't initially keen on - I found it a bit clunky and overdone, and not enough like the Beach Boys sound to really work as an homage - but I don't mind it now, and there's something quite soothing about it. Other instruments begin to creep in almost imperceptibly: little string flourishes (or fake strings, I can't tell), a crescendo of pounding drums, a nice piano riff. A loud drum burst then launches us into another phase of the intro complete with driving bassline. It all comes together to create this rich wall of sound that completely envelops you (especially if you're listening through headphones with the volume right up) and is bound to have at least one body part nodding or tapping along by the time we reach the first verse. So good, and it hasn't even properly started yet!

"California, then we fell into the shining sea. The weight that drags your heart down - well that's what took me where I need to be." The opening line sets the "fun holiday" scene, which is then immediately destroyed as we dive into the heavy stuff. They're all at the beach but someone can't stop crying. Bono seems to be trying to comfort the bereaved person by sharing his own experiences of grief (i.e. the loss of his mother) and how it sent him on this life-changing journey with U2; it's reminiscent of the line in Mofo, "Mother, you left and made me someone". This terrible event still led to good things. There's a light at the end of the tunnel. Don't let it go out.

"California, at the dawn you thought would never come. But it did. Like it always does." Light follows darkness, and life goes on. It's meant as a reassurance, but at the same time it illustrates the cold indifference of the universe that often makes a death feel even worse - the way the planet just carries on turning as if nothing has happened. There's a passage about this in Shalimar The Clown by Salman Rushdie: "The world does not stop but cruelly continues, the widows chorused in the hallways. At a time of tragedy you wonder at it, the world's capacity for continuing. When our husbands left us we expected the planet to cease its spinning so we could all float off into space, we expected silence, respect, but the traffic doesn't care what the heart needs, the billboards don't care, things move right along." I know exactly what he means. You feel like everything should pause for a while and acknowledge the depth of this loss ("Stop all the clocks..."), but of course it never happens, no matter how beloved the person was. I like how Bono pauses after every syllable of "Al. Ways. Does.", kind of emphasising the clockwork reliability of it. The whole song has a somewhat quirky melody that's so great to sing along with.

Speaking of which - what a chorus it's got! Those soaring vocals... I'm not a huge fan of Bono overusing whoa-oh-oh's in a lot of recent songs, but they are *perfect* here. My enjoyment of music is mainly tied to my love of singing, and this is a sheer delight to belt out at the top of your lungs. I adore that warm, uplifting synth sound, and I'm so thrilled to hear Bono nailing the high note each time he sings "need"!

Back to the grieving process... "It's just your light gets dimmer if you have to stay in your bedroom, in a mirror, watching yourself cry like a baby." That line really gets to me because I have seen myself crying in a mirror many times, when I'm alone and feeling at my worst. (The only time I don't mind crying in front of other people is at U2 concerts...)

"California, blood orange sunset brings you to your knees." Aside from the slightly weird description there (blood isn't orange... is he comparing the sun to a fruit??), the way he follows up this scene of hopeless misery with the image of a gorgeous sunset, and its overwhelming effect on the sufferer, is what makes this song resonate so strongly with me. The unbearable heartbreak that can make life so hard to deal with, right alongside the beauty and goodness in the world that makes you glad to still be alive... that contradictory blend of emotions is so familiar and so difficult to express, but this song gets it spot on. It's all in there.

The conclusion Bono comes to is also very relatable: "I've seen for myself, there's no end to grief... that's how I know, and why I need to know, that there is no end to love." How refreshing to hear someone admit "there is no end to grief", a whole 40 years after his bereavement. We are so often told that time is a great healer, and viewed as having a problem if we don't move on within an acceptable period of time. But I've never understood the concept of "getting over" the loss of someone you love. You might get used to it, find you don't think about it quite so much, and manage to smile at the happy memories, but the passing of time doesn't make their death any less sad. Indeed, it shouldn't, because they meant something to you and they'll always be a part of you. Bono does a fine job of summing that up in a single sentence. (It's probably one of those things where he's also singing about God, but does it cleverly so it appeals just as much to the non-religious among us!) How anyone can listen to these incredibly poignant lyrics and call it "straight-up fun" or write it off as cheesy pop, I will never know.

For me, the very best moment comes after the second chorus. The music falls quiet for a few seconds and you start to hear distorted fragments of the intro again, almost like the song itself is struggling to move forward. But the band come to the rescue, with Edge's gentle reminder "There is no end..." completed passionately by Bono ("...ennnnd to lo-ove!"), and there's a momentary halt before we plunge into the guitar solo. That vocal fills my heart with utter euphoria every time I listen to it, making me want to cry happy tears instead of sad ones.

I really wish this had been the lead single (or released as a single at all - I'm so disappointed with the songs they chose to promote that album). It would have sounded fantastic on the radio, and must be an excellent driving song, it has so much energy and momentum. I'm also gutted they only played it live a handful of times so I didn't get to see it! (My other favourites from SOI, The Troubles and Volcano, weren't played at my shows either. Still can't believe they deprived me of all three!!)

In short, California is absolutely brilliant and doesn't get the credit it deserves.


LYRICS

Ba-Ba-Barbara, Santa Barbara (x 10)

California
Then we fell into the shining sea
The weight that drags your heart down
Well that's what took me where I need to be
Which is here
Out on Zuma
Watching you cry like a baby
California
At the dawn you thought would never come
But it did
Like it always does

Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh
All I know
And all I need to know is there is no
Yeah there is no end to love

I didn't call you
Words can scare a thought away
Everyone's a star in our town
It's just your light gets dimmer if you have to stay
In your bedroom
In a mirror
Watching yourself cry like a baby
California
Blood orange sunset brings you to your knees
I've seen for myself, there's no end to grief
That's how I know

Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh
That's how I know
And why I need to know that there is no
Yeah there is no end to love
Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh
All I know
And all I need to know is there is no
Yeah there is no end to love

There is no end
End to love


(Guitar solo)

Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh
All I know
And all I need to know is there is no
Yeah there is no end to love
Whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh
We come and go
But stolen days you don't give back
Stolen days are just enough



(Further reading: Karen Lindell's analysis of the song on @U2.com, which I just came across while looking for something else and found she had many of the same thoughts. I'm glad someone else recognises what's so special about it!)
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