Bono: The unsettling question asker

Bono is a master question asker, peppering every U2 album with questions, rarely paired with answers.

Questions send us on quests. They pull us out of ourselves, requesting that we get up and move and see things from a different angle.

Questions are dangerous. They unsettle us. They remind and undermine. They don’t take things as they are.

Questions lodge themselves inside of us. They bounce around. They get underneath the settled layers of who we’ve become, where we’ve settled for less.

For well over three decades, Bono has asked me questions in his songs. Many of them passed over my head or under my gaze, but many others got stuck inside of me and have never worked themselves free. “How long? How long must we sing this song?” has been rattling around inside me since I was 15, from its fiery demand in “Sunday Bloody Sunday” to its hymnic prayer in “40.” Both versions gave me utterance, a vocabulary for both the angry and the beseeching in prayer.

So, I decided to do something strange: To gather all of Bono’s lyrical questions into one place so I could just soak in them for a bit. They’re a bit disjointed, by pulling them from their context like that. But as someone who knows and loves the songs they come from, I don’t mind that. I know the contexts. But I wanted to be immersed in them and them alone. So, here they are without any commentary, starting from the first U2 album and stretching to their most recent in chronological order.

Whether or not you like Bono or the music of U2, there’s a beautiful and mysterious thing going on here in these askings. May Bono’s questions get inside of you and upset your world as they have for me.

A boy tries hard to be a man
His mother takes him by his hand
If he stops to think he starts to cry
Oh why? (I will Follow, Boy)

Monday morning – eighteen years are dawning
I say how long? you say how long? (Out Of Control, Boy)

One day I’ll die
The choice will not be mine
Will it be too late? you can’t fight it  (Out Of Control, Boy)

I’m starting a landslide in my ego
Look from the outside to the world I left behind
I’m dreaming – you’re awake
If I were sleeping, what’s at stake? (A Day Without Me, Boy)

Whatever feelings I keep feeling
What are the feelings you left behind? (A Day Without Me, Boy)

Back to the cold restless streets at night
I talk to myself about tomorrow night
Walls of white protest – a gravestone in name
Who is it now? it’s always the same

Who is it now? who calls me inside?
Are the leaves on the trees just living disguise? (Shadows And Tall Trees, Boy)

Do you feel in me anything redeeming?
Any worthwhile feeling?
Is life like a tightrope hanging from the ceiling? (Shadows And Tall Trees, Boy)

It’s falling, it’s falling
And outside the buildings are tumbling down
And inside a child on the ground
Says he’d do it again
But what am I to do?
What in the world am I to say? (Rejoice, October)

This morning I fell out of bed
When I woke up to what he has said
Everyone’s crazy, but I’m too lazy to lie
What am I to do?
Just tell me what am I supposed to say? (Rejoice, October)

Won’t you come back tomorrow?
Won’t you come back tomorrow?
Won’t you come back tomorrow?
Can I sleep tonight? (Tomorrow, October)

Who broke the window?
Who broke down the door?
Who tore the curtain?
And who was it for?
Who healed the wounds?
Who heals the scars?
Open the door
Open the door (Tomorrow, October)

October
And the trees are stripped bare
Of all they wear
What do I care? (October, October)

Oh, and where do we go?
Where do we go from here?
Where to go? (With A Shout, October)

Singing this song makes me angry
I’m not angry with you
Is that all? is that all? is that all?

Singing this song makes me happy
I’m happy with you
Singing this song makes me dance
Is that all? is that all? is that all?

Is that all? is that all? is that all?
Is that all you want from me?

Is that all? is that all? (Is That All?, October)

I can’t believe the news today
I can’t close my eyes and make it go away
How long? how long must we sing this song?
How long? how long? (Sunday Bloody Sunday, War)

And the battle’s just begun
There’s many lost, but tell me who has won? (Sunday Bloody Sunday, War)

It takes a second to say goodbye, say goodbye,
Say bye bye – where are you going to now? (Seconds, War)

And they’re doing the atomic bomb
Do they know where the dance comes from? (Seconds, War)

I can see through this expression
And you know I don’t believe
I’m too old to be told
Exactly who are you? (Like A Song, War)

Too set in our ways to try to rearrange
Too right to be wrong, in this rebel song
Let the bells ring out
Let the bells ring out
Is there nothing left?
Is there nothing left?
Is honesty what you want? (Like A Song, War)

Angry words won’t stop the fight
Two wrongs won’t make it right
A new heart is what I need
Oh God, make it bleed
Is there nothing left? (Like A Song, War)

Help me – how can you help me? (The Refugee, War)

Is this love out of fashion?
Or is it the time of year?
Are these words distraction
To the words you wanna hear?
Two hearts beat as one (Two Hearts Beat As One, War)

It’s your own late show
As you jump to the street below
But where can you go
To leave yourself behind? (Red Light, War)

How long to sing this song?
How long to sing this song?
How long? how long? how long?
How long to sing this song? (40, War)

Why must I hide from myself, when I need a crowd?
bring on the crowd – I love the crowd (Cry/The Electric Co., Under A Blood Red Sky)

In the name of love
What more in the name of love? (Pride (In the Name Of Love), The Unforgettable Fire)

In I come and out you go, you get
Here we are again – now place your bet
Is this the time – time to win or lose?
Is this the time – the time to choose? (Wire, The Unforgettable Fire)

In cracked streets, trampled under foot
Sidestep, sidewalk
I see you stare into space
Have I got closer now, behind the face? (Promenade, The Unforgettable Fire)

Keep my voice up – don’t push too far
You are going to join to God
Give my voice some energy – why? (Elvis Presley and America, The Unforgettable Fire)

So how does it feel to see the sky ripped open?
To see the rain through a gaping wound?
Pelting the women and children
Who run into the arms of America (Bullet The Blue Sky, The Joshua Tree)

Am I buggin’ you? I don’t mean to bug ya. (Silver And God, Rattle & Hum)

Is it getting better?
Or do you feel the same?
Will it make it easier on you now?
You got someone to blame (One, Achtung Baby)

Did I disappoint you?
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth? (One, Achtung Baby)

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 (One, Achtung Baby)

Who’s gonna ride your wild horses?
Who’s gonna drown in your blue sea?
Who’s gonna ride your wild horses?
Who’s gonna fall at the foot of thee? (Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?, Achtung Baby)

Who’s gonna ride your wild horses?
Who’s gonna drown in your blue sea?
Who’s gonna taste your salt water kisses?
Who’s gonna take the place of me?
Who’s gonna ride your wild horses? (Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?, Achtung Baby)

We crossed the line – who pushed who over? (So Cruel, Achtung Baby)

How far are you gonna go
Before you lose your way back home?
You’ve been trying to throw your arms around the world (Trying To Throw Your Arms Around The World, Achtung Baby)

When I first met you, girl, you had fire in your soul
What happened? your face of melting snow
Now it looks like this (Acrobat, Achtung Baby)

Oh, it hurts, baby
What will we do now it’s all been said?
No new ideas in the house and every book has been read (Acrobat, Achtung Baby)

Love is blindness – I don’t want to see
Won’t you wrap the night around me? (Love Is Blindness, Achtung Baby)

What do you want? what do you want? (Zooropa, Zooropa)

How could beauty be so kind to an ordinary guy? (Babyface, Zooropa)

Bitter sweet girl, won’t you give me a taste?
How could beauty be so kind to an ordinary guy? (Babyface, Zooropa)

You say when he hits you, you don’t mind
Because when he hurts you, you feel alive
Is that what it is? (Stay (Faraway, So Close), Zooropa)

Do you feel loved? Do you feel loved?
Do you feel loved? Do you feel loved? (Do You Feel Loved, Pop)

Mother, am I still your son?
You know I’ve waited for so long to hear you say so (Mofo, Pop)

And if God will send a sign
And if God will send his angels
Would everything be alright? (If God Will Send His Angels, Pop)

It’s the blind leading the blonde
It’s the cops collecting for the cons
So where is the hope and where is the faith and the love?
What’s that you say to me?
Does love light up your Christmas tree? (If God Will Send His Angels, Pop)

And if God will send his angels
Where do we go? Where do we go? (If God Will Send His Angels, Pop)

There’s an insect in your ear
If you scratch it won’t disappear
It’s going to itch and burn and sting
Do you want to see what the scratching brings? (Staring At The Sun, Pop)

God is good, but will he listen? (Staring At The Sun, Pop)

I’ll be up with the sun – are you still holding on? (Gone, Pop)

What am I to do? 
Have I got the gift to get me through 
The gates of that mansion? (The Playboy Mansion, Pop)

If perfume is an obsession 
And talk shows confession 
What have we got to lose? (The Playboy Mansion, Pop)

I’ve been good, ’cause I know you don’t want me to 
Do you really want me to be blue as you? (If You Wear That Velvet Dress, Pop)

Tonight the moon is a mirrorball 
Light flickers from across the hall 
Who’ll catch the star when it falls? (If You Wear That Velvet Dress, Pop)

Your father, he made the world in seven 
He’s in charge of heaven 
Will you put a word in for me? (Wake Up Dead Man, Pop)

Jesus, were you just around the corner? 
Did you think to try and warn her? 
Or were you working on something new? 
If there’s an order in all of this disorder 
Is it like a tape recorder? 
Can we rewind it just once more? (Wake Up Dead Man, Pop)

Love, lift me out of these blues
Won’t you tell me something true?
I believe in you (Elevation, All That You Can’t Leave Behind)

Did I waste it?
Not so much I couldn’t taste it (Kite, All That You Can’t Leave Behind)

Did I know you – did I know you even then?
Before the clocks kept time
Before the world was made (Wild Honey, All That You Can’t Leave Behind)

Are you still growing wild
With everything tame around you? (Wild Honey, All That You Can’t Leave Behind)

I send you flowers – cut flowers for your hall
I know your garden is full
But is there sweetness at all? (Wild Honey, All That You Can’t Leave Behind)

And it’s already gone too far
Who said that if you go in hard
You won’t get hurt? (Peace On Earth, All That You Can’t Leave Behind)

Jesus can you take the time
To throw a drowning man a line?
Peace on Earth

To tell the ones who hear no sound
Whose sons are living in the ground
Peace on Earth? (Peace On Earth, All That You Can’t Leave Behind)

You don’t even blink now, do you? (When I Look At The World, All That You Can’t Leave Behind)

Tell me, tell me – what do you see?
Tell me, tell me – what’s wrong with me? (When I Look At The World, All That You Can’t Leave Behind)

Of all of the promises, is this one we could keep?
Of all of the dreams, is this one still out of reach? (The Hands That Built America, Best of 1990 – 2000)

Donde esta? (Vertigo, How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb)

Can you hear me when I am singing? (Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own, How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb)

The TV is still on
But the sound is turned down
And the troops on the ground
Are about to dig in
I wonder where is the love?
Where is the love?
Love and peace? (Love And Peace Or Else, How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb)

I’ve seen you walk unafraid
I’ve seen you in the clothes you made
Can you see the beauty inside of me?
What happened to the beauty I had inside of me? (City Of Blinding Lights, How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb)

The only pain is to feel nothing at all
How could I hurt when I’m holding you? (A Man And A Woman, How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb)

From the brightest star
Comes the blackest hole
You had so much to offer
Why did you offer your soul?
I was there for you baby
When you needed my help
Would you deny for others
What you demand for yourself? (Crumbs From Your Table, How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb)

Should I come on?
Show you so?
You’ve been keeping your love under control (Original Of The Species, How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb)

Yahweh
Tell me now
Why the dark before the dawn? (Yahweh, How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb)

I cried to my daddy on the telephone 
How long now? (The Saints Are Coming, U218 Singles)

A drowning sorrow floods the deepest grief 
How long now
Until a weather change condemns belief? (The Saints Are Coming, U218 Singles)

Oh can’t you see what our love has done?
What it’s doing to me? (Window In The Sky, U218 Singles)

Oh can’t you see what love has done 
To every broken heart?
Oh can’t you see what love has done 
For every heart that cries?

Oh can’t you see what love has done?
Love left a window in the skies (Window In The Sky, U218 Singles)

Never seen a moon like this
Can you see it too? (Get On Your Boots, No Line On The Horizon)

You don’t know how beautiful you are
You don’t know, and you don’t get it, do you? (Get On Your Boots, No Line On The Horizon)

You’re so high above me, higher than everyone
Where are you in the Cedars of Lebanon? (Cedars Of Lebanon, No Line On The Horizon)

If you go your way and I go mine
Are we so
Are we so helpless against the tide?
Baby, every dog on the street
Knows that we’re in love with defeat
Are we ready to be swept off our feet
And start chasing every breaking wave? (Every Breaking Wave, Songs Of Innocence)

Do you live here or is this a vacation? (Volcano, Songs Of Innocence)

Go through the day like knife through butter
Why don’t you? (Sleep Like A Baby Tonight, Songs Of Innocence)

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