Speaking in Tongues on New Year's Day

U2 released War at the height of Reagan’s 80’s.  For a high school kid like me, disaffected, disillusioned and disappointed with his prevailing social, political and religious culture, they were like a cool drink in the desert.  I was a Reagan baby looking for peers and parents and a big brother.  I found U2.

New Year’s Day wasn’t my favorite song on War.  I love 40, Two Hearts, Surrender, Seconds, but along with Sunday Bloody Sunday not only did it become an overplayed standard in the repertoire, it aged well.  And every year, due to it’s title and lyric (“Nothing changes on New Year’s Day”  and “I will be with you again”) it get trotted out like a Christmas Carol or Patriotic tune on the 4th of July.

And it works. It has staying power.  Maybe it’s the bass line, maybe it’s the piano changing into the signature shimmering Edge guitar, maybe it’s the speaking in tongues.  Bono talks about the stream of consciousness composition of the lyric that touches on winter and the Solidarity movement in Poland, in the book U2 by U2:

The lyric is all over the shop. I’m thinking about Lech Walesa, the Polish Solidarity leader. A picture of him standing in the snow, a sense that having given up the band for God, we wanted to start again. And we would begin anew, fresh, repeating a theme that would continue for the rest of of our lives. ‘I will begin again, I will begin again.’ Snow as an image of surrender and covering and these little glimpses of narrative, which are really just excuses for the overarching theme, which was Lech Welesa being put in prison and his wife not being able to see him. Then, when we had recorded the song, they announced that martial law would be lifted in Poland on New Year’s Day – incredible. I did five or six verses for that song without writing lyrics, different tracks filled up with different verses, and (producer) Steve Lillywhite chose the ones that are there. But they were made up completely on the mike. It was all about speaking in tongues, ‘Open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth thy praise.’ That’s where we were at. We were like the Quakers, sitting around until the spirit moved us. We were a bunch of lunatics – but we weren’t wrong.

Let the spirit move you this year to reflection and praxis; to prayer and action.

Video.

Lyric:

New Year’s Day by U2
All is quiet on New Year’s Day.
A world in white gets underway.
I want to be with you, be with you night and day.
Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.
On New Year’s Day.

I… will be with you again.
I… will be with you again.

Under a blood-red sky
A crowd has gathered in black and white
Arms entwined, the chosen few
The newspaper says, says
Say it’s true, it’s true…
And we can break through
Though torn in two
We can be one.

I… I will begin again
I… I will begin again.

Oh, oh. Oh, oh. Oh, oh.
Oh, maybe the time is right.
Oh, maybe tonight.
I will be with you again.
I will be with you again.

And so we are told this is the golden age
And gold is the reason for the wars we wage
Though I want to be with you
Be with you night and day
Nothing changes
On New Year’s Day
On New Year’s Day
On New Year’s Day

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