Explaining New York

While driving around on some errands today, the boys and I were listening to U2. Liam listens to the All That You Can’t Leave Behind album on the iPod often and knows most of the words to those songs. During the song “New York,” Liam asked about the lines:

In New York I lost it all to you and your vices
Still I’m staying on to figure out my mid life crisis
I hit an iceberg in my life
You know I’m still afloat
You lose your balance, lose your wife
In the queue for the lifeboat
Gotta put the women and children first
But you’ve got an unquenchable thirst for New York

He understood that the iceberg bit was a metaphor of some sort but wasn’t sure what it meant. I explained that the entire song was a metaphor for the things that lure us away from what’s important in life (see 1 John 2.15-17). Any kind of addiction–money, work, drugs, video games, relationships, etc.–will draw us away from the life God intends for us. In the song, New York represents those things.

It’s interesting to set U2’s “New York” alongside Frank Sinatra’s well-known “New York, New York.” To Sinatra, the City represents limitless opportunity and possibilities for fame and success. It is modern and hopeful. By contrast, U2’s New York is dark, sinister, seductive, and dangerous–a place to be feared, where one’s soul is at risk. While Sinatra’s New York offers the naive outsider a chance to make it big, U2’s New York will entice you then take your life.

I was grateful for the chance to talk this over with Liam today. I’m reminded that nine-year-old boys pay attention to significant things.

Here are the lyrics to the U2 song and a video to a live performance of it. The song is one of my favorites on that album, musically and lyrically. The arrangement consistently points to the disorienting and seductive nature of the City revealed in the lyrics–really well done.

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