What’s That Song About?

Sunday Bloody Sunday
Sunday Bloody Sunday (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ryan is an old soul when it comes to music. Sure, he likes plenty of current pop, but he’s far more agreeable about classic rock than his sister. And, like his old man, he’s a big fan of U2.

Ryan doesn’t just listen to music, though. He absorbs it.

“Dad, what’s this song about?” is as frequent a question as “Can you change the station?”

I love that he wants to know more about the music he likes. He’s a kid after my own heart. I remember being his age and going to the public library in the pre-Internet days when to learn about the “troubles” in Northern Ireland, because I wanted to understand what U2 was signing about on “Sunday Bloody Sunday.”

When I know something about the songs, I try to explain to him their meaning, but always with the caveat that a song is really about what it means to you, not the person who wrote it. As an example, I remind him of our conversation about the U2 classic “Bad.”

I was even able to talk him into watching Rattle and Hum, U2’s highly pretentious late-1980s concert film, with me a few weeks ago. I told him that in it Bono explains the meaning of some of his songs and Ryan was sold. I’m not sure how much he took out of it — let’s be honest, the movie isn’t exactly intellectually deep — but he did come away with a better understanding of “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Oh, and he loved when Bono yelled, “(bleep) the revolution!”

I’m waiting for the day when Ryan tells me, “here’s what this song means to me.” It hasn’t happened yet, which is not really a surprise given his typically concrete thinking. To apply his own meaning to a song would be to straighten a curve, to soften something rigid. The closest he’s come is to occasionally speculate about what the songwriter intended to mean, and I have to say he’s often right on the mark.

Mostly, I just love those times when I recognize traits in Ryan. They are the moments that remind me that we’re not so different after all.


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