This is the 23rd in a series of personal essays by the @U2 staff about songs and/or albums that have had great meaning or impact in our lives.]
"Tomorrow" is one of those songs that is special to me. Not so much for its melody, composition, or lyrics. I don't like it in the same way I love the energy of "Elevation" or the moving story told in "One." But I recognize the simple, yet urgent question the song revolves around:
Won't you come back tomorrow?
A question to which the answer will always remain a stunning blow from reality.
March 1, 1986. It was an early spring evening, just after dinner. My mother put a tape in the video recorder for me and my biovular twin sister. In all likelihood it was an episode of Nils Holgersson, a Swedish cartoon we adored.
My father wasn't feeling great, so he decided to go to bed for a while to see if he would feel any better. None of us could have imagined it would be the last time we saw him alive. But that evening, he died in his sleep. Without any warning, with no known illness. Only 36 years of age, leaving behind his wife and two 4-year-old girls.
Losing a parent at such an early age was an experience with great impact. Four-year-olds are just beginning to explore the world and become aware of other people and their relationship to them. Three to four years old is also the age at which we start to actively remember
significant events. The sad thing is, I don't have that many memories of my father. There's a handful of them, and everything else I know about him is through stories told by other people. So essentially, I miss someone I never really knew.
Somebody's knocking at the door
There's a black car parked
At the side of the road
Don't go to the door
Don't go to the door
After I became a U2 fan, I started reading up on the band's past to grasp some of its history. When I read about Bono's mother dying when Bono was 14, and then Larry's mother when he was 17, it gave me a sense of personal connection. Here were my newfound heroes, and they weren't sheltered from grief or misfortune. The death of their parents resembled my own experience: sudden and unannounced.
October was one of the last albums I bought, so it took a while until I heard "Tomorrow." But by then I already knew what the song was about. There was a palpable despair and fear in the song, fear of the awful truth that is inevitably revealed when "the door is opened." From the first time I heard it, it made me feel uncomfortable, because it gave me such a haunting sense of sadness. Although there are many differences -- Bono and Larry both lost their mothers instead of their fathers, and they were teenagers instead of young children -- the essence of the song remains the same: the longing of a child for a deceased parent. To me the song said: "I know how you feel, it's OK to be sad."
I'm going out
I'm going outside mother
I'm going out there
"Tomorrow" also became a symbol for the bond between the band members, emphasizing the remarkable relationship they have, especially the friendship between Bono and Larry. In a talk show interview in the '80s, Larry once said it was his favourite song.
In the book Bono on Bono: Conversations with Michka Assayas, Bono admits that he can't remember his mother anymore, that he no longer knows what she looked like and what she was like. In a way, it must be even worse for him to not remember her, because he did know her for 14 years.
Who healed the wounds
Who heals the scars
Open the door
Open the door
For my mother, it was of course a great shock, suddenly being a widow, left behind with two little girls. She did her best to provide us with the security we needed, materially as well as mentally. The three of us developed a stronger bond, a bond that enabled us to mutually support one another while coping with such loss.
But as a child, I was quite serious about life and always less carefree than other kids my age. There was an awareness in the back of my mind that life wasn't just fun and that things could actually go wrong. There isn't always a safety net to save you when you lose your balance. Yet it also made me more independent, not expecting others to take care of things for me. I learned to think for myself and listen to my own intuition.
Of course, one gets used to the situation, so having only one parent is not something I think about every day. But sometimes, when relatives tell stories about my father, or when friends have funny accounts of things their fathers do, it makes me angry that my dad had to die so young and that I never had a chance to get to know him. It's a sense of frustration, which once again I can feel in the song, when Bono sings near the end:
I want you to be back tomorrow
I want it, I need it, yet it is impossible.
"Tomorrow" is a reminder that, however unwelcome, however unfair it may seem, death is a part of life. It eloquently expresses the emotions surrounding the death of a loved one in a harrowing piece of music and lyrics. That's why it will always be precious to me, like a gem: beautiful, but also hard.