U2’s “One” – Still relevant? Relevant to China?

By Bryan • blog, china, entertainment • 8 May 2008

I’m probably the last person who should be writing about music. I haven’t followed any sort of artist since…well, I’ve never followed any artist. New music? Ha, I can’t remember any album releases since Matt Good’s Beautiful Midnight back in 1999. Actually, I don’t like writing about music as I feel that some of the worst writing (comparable to horrendous bus poetry) can be found trapped within the words of music reviews. Deep, meaningless adjectives laced in a sauce of drama and ‘feeling’ all crafted to give the writer a sense of cred while leaving the reader scratching his/her head.

So what I’m I doing dragging back a tune from 1992? I’ve always enjoyed this track, for whatever reason, but I used it recently as a listening exercise given it’s relatively simple lyrics and clarity of delivery. Given that I’m teaching a song, I decided it would be best to learn about it. It is fairly obvious it was written regarding a relationship, but I thought I’d fire up wikipedia and see what else has been placed in digital storage.

“One” has many debated meanings. The ambiguity is likely the main aspect that popularizes the song, allowing for many different interpretations. At its most basic level the song is about two people who love each other, yet cause each other great pain. This theme perhaps stems from Bono’s relationship with his father following the death of his mother when he was 14, which leads some fans to believe that One is a personal account of that time…………One of them suggests that One is about a gay son confessing to his father that he is HIV-positive—largely assumed because of the content of director ‘s video, in which the band dressed in drag and Bono sings the song to his own father.

Yeah, yeah, okay, that makes sense, but what really shot this song through the roof for me was the following…

Others interpret the song as achieving oneness in the spiritual sense, while yet another point of view suggests that it’s about the reunification of East and West Germany and the subsequent, slow healing of past wounds as the Berlin Wall collapses. This particular one is popular due to the time the band spent in Germany during the album’s creation.

Like many people, a good song to me is one that, <cliche> contains a meaning, but a better song is one that contains multiple meanings one of which is often connected to an actual historical event or situation.

Is it getting better
Or do you feel the same
Will it make it easier on you now
You got someone to blame
You say…

One love
One life
When it’s one need
In the night
One love
We get to share it
Leaves you baby if you
Don’t care for it

Did I disappoint you
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without
Well it’s…

Too late
Tonight
To drag the past out into the light
We’re one, but we’re not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other
One…

Have you come here for forgiveness
Have you come to raise the dead
Have you come here to play Jesus
To the lepers in your head

Did I ask too much
More than a lot
You gave me nothing
Now it’s all I got
We’re one
But we’re not the same
Well we
Hurt each other
Then we do it again
You say
Love is a temple
Love a higher law
Love is a temple
Love the higher law
You ask me to enter
But then you make me crawl
And I can’t be holding on
To what you got
When all you got is hurt

One love
One blood
One life
You got to do what you should
One life
With each other
Sisters
Brothers
One life
But we’re not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other

One…life

One

The knowledge that the relationship theme within this song could actually be interpreted not a relationship between to people, but rather a relationship between two peoples was something I had never considered before.

At first I considered it within the context of Tibetan-Han relations and it fits well, but not perfectly, given Bono’s lyric of “One Blood”. Tibetans are hardly Han, and Han are hardly Tibetans. They are definetly not the same, and it is highly debatable if they can (or even want to) be considered “One” despite the official policy of harmony.

“One” as a dialogue to the Mainland fromTaiwan could possibly represent a better position for the song There are a number of parallels between Taiwan – Mainland relations and East-West German relations. Two peoples seperated by two governments. Absence of Trust. The need to help oneanother. I debated about pushing this idea to my classes – I felt that the theme wasn’t advocating independence nor the notion that Taiwan was NOT part of China, but rather played very well the traditional Mainland feelings of unity while highlighting that it could be possible that not everyone shares their common held dreams.

The lyric “One love, one life” was met by cheers of “One World, One Dream – Beijing Jia You!!” followed by high-fives.

Sigh…I should have seen that coming, apparently this song is often played at weddings which garners responses from U2 members along the lines of “Have you actually listened to the lyrics?”

Check the gallery – photos from August 2007 adventures at Tiger Leaping Gorge, Shangrila and Deqin Mei Li Snow Mountains are up with comments.

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