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Bono: 60 Songs That Saved My Life

Bono celebrates his 60th birthday by writing 60 fan letters to his musical heroes, from the Beatles and the Ramones to Beyoncé and Billie Eilish

bono songs that saved my life


Bono turned 60 years old on Sunday, and he’s celebrating by writing 60 separate fan letters to his musical heroes, everyone from the Beatles and the Ramones to Beyoncé and Billie Eilish. “These are some of the songs that saved my life,” he wrote. “The ones I couldn’t have lived without… the ones that got me from there to here, zero to 60… through all the scrapes, all manner of nuisance, from the serious to the silly… and the joy, mostly joy.”

“I wanted to thank the artists and everyone who helped make them,” he continued. “They were doing the same for me… I am writing a fan letter to accompany each song to try and explain my fascination.”

U2 wrapped up their Joshua Tree 2019 tour on December 15th at Mumbai, India’s Patil Stadium, just a few months before COVID-19 shut down the entire concert industry. Bono has been locked down in Dublin, but in March he uploaded the new song “Let You Love Be Known” as a tribute to the people of Italy that were trapped in their homes. —RS Editors

Editor’s Note: Due to their unique nature, we retained Bono’s syntax, spelling, and grammar choices from his typewritten letters rather than change them to match Rolling Stone’s style guide.  


Andrew Medichini/AP/Shutterstock


Madonna, “Ray of Light”

Dearest M,
This song has propelled a few great nights out… and of course our days are better for such excursions. The thing that catches me consistently about your work is not the luminescence, the wild personas, the feminism, the sexual activism… it’s the song writing. And often the production. Here, the great William Orbit… but so many other great songs. Because the thing that persists is your EAR for a great melody… and your LIP… whether biting or kissing or cussing or laughing.
Laughs, let’s have more of those.

Your fan,

Alicia Keys Jay Z



Jay Z feat. Alicia Keys, “Empire State of Mind”

Dear Alicia & Jay,
Now, here we go… the masculine and the feminine… in such perfect opposition. And who would take on Sinatra, to write a better theme song for this great city? Only you.

Forget the Empire State Building, the braggadocio, the front, the attitude, the persona required to pull this off is as tall and defiant as the Freedom Tower.

The people that you, Jay, give permission to exist is the thing… the somebodies and the nobodies, the wannabies and the washed-up-me’s all feel welcome in your language. And then outside of the persona — or is it inside? — such a sweet soul. I guess that’s where the bitter fruit personas have to hang out and circle wagons around the old-school shyness and kindness.

Alicia, I chose this song because it soars and you are that soaring. There are no brighter lights than truth-tellers and people who just carry the luminosity of goodness and grace like you brighter than any neon, any LED, any megapixel projection in Times Square… not even your eyes, but the way you see through them. You’re the “big light that inspires” me.

Your fan,


Bill Wood/Shutterstock


Talking Heads, “Love Goes to Building on Fire”

Dear Talking Heads,
I think this came out on a compilation, NEW WAVE… it certainly never made it onto a Talking Heads original studio album. I borrowed the compilation from my friend, Gavin Friday, who said when I returned it that it had jam on it, and perhaps some breadcrumbs… as if someone had been eating toast whilst reading the track list. I told him it was a punk thing to do.

Truth is, you were never a punk-sounding band…. your mettle was much more rarefied. That said, I don’t think there’s anything more punk than witnessing your arrival in the UK to play the Old Grey Whistle Test dressed as American tourists in London for the first time. One of you might’ve been carrying a camera.

That’s when we start to understand that revolt – if it truly is that – probably doesn’t dress up as that.

David, your character development makes quite an arch… from the tremulous voice debuting here, to the biting irony and dancing joy of the gigantic meta-performer you became in the film STOP MAKING SENSE all those experiments later. Wow.

I could’ve chosen LIFE DURING WARTIME or ONCE IN A LIFETIME’s dueting with Brian Eno, but I chose this song because of its tender lack of clever.

Thank you all for letting U2 support you on our very first tour of the UK… that was a very big break for us.

Your opening act,

Lou Reed

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Lou Reed, “Satellite of Love”

Dear Laurie,
We’ve lost a few greats in the last years and just a couple of weeks ago this vile virus took the genius and generosity of Hal Willner. It’s impossible to perceive Hal leaving the planet, a better image is him encircling us in these mad and maddening times… pure signal and still transmitting through all the music he made, and the laughs he made too. Humour black as a Lou Reed and Metallica album LULU “WOAH… this’ll sort the men from the lost boys.”

Lou loved him I know. I was just thinking again about Lou as an alchemist turning base metal into gold… he certainly knew how to turn noise into signal  and signal into noise.

I asked him about great lyricists and he said “I’m a formalist but sometimes I look to crime writers like Raymond Chandler,” …“give me an example,” I questioned. “That blonde is about as beautiful as a split lip…how’s that for a lyric?” I choked and he smiled that mischievous smile.

How happy you made him…love got airborne and it still is.

Satellite of love.

Your earthly fan,

The Verve

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The Verve, “Bitter Sweet Symphony”

Dear Nick, Simon J, Peter and Simon T, Richard,
Somehow I feel that we are connected.

When you dedicated this song to our group “a little beat combo from Dublin” at your gig in The Olympia last year, it meant everything. I didn’t get to meet you for a hello that night as the road was running away from us, but everyone in the theatre got to meet you – and each other – on a higher plane.

Years ago I remember someone using the word ‘mad’ to describe what you were on about. Well in a world of war, greed and suffering, all I could hear was a higher form of sanity. I was with some atheists that night at the Olympia who thanked God for you and your music – as I do.

Some songs change your life, some songs save your life, some songs are your life.

On my way home an angel-headed-hipster sitting on the curb drinking from a can sung a cappella

“All the lost who can’t be found

Who feel they’re dead and hanging around

It’s the broken hearts who are breaking ground

We can sure hear the truth in your sound”

Even the drunk can feel sober listening to you – and the other way around too.

Your fan,

P.S. One thing though… as is obvious… I don’t go in for this “group breaking up thing”… I trust it was the kind of thing even a pliant male ego cannot sort.

Joy Division

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Joy Division, “Love Will Tear Us Apart”

Dear Joy Division,
Thanks for letting us in that night. It was March and 1980 and U2 were being let into Strawberry Studios where you were recording and mixing this song.

We were there to meet Martin Hannett who produced your opus. We wanted him to produce our first song on Island Records, 11 O’CLOCK TICK TOCK, which he very kindly agreed to. Martin was very kind to us, as were all of you.

I remember thinking as my eyes scanned the vinyl albums scattered around the studio “these people are truly other worldly”…. Who would listen to Frank Sinatra and Kraftwerk and Bartók and Motown and the Stooges at the same time?

What sort of brains did this band contain?

And what do their brains contain?

And then the dark lord arrived with his hand out-stretched… the man, with the deepest voice on record since Jim Morrison lost his, opened his mouth and offered a simple “a’right lads” in a light lilting Manc moment. It was all too much… it still is.

Duality is the right word. Like all great art, this song/this band had at its very core a contradiction… LOVE WILL TEAR US APART.

Thank you for that,

New Order

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New Order, “True Faith”

Dear Orders, new or old,
And how is this possible… very unsettling if you’re a singer. Not only can the band continue with the guitar player on mic, you reinvent rock’n’roll with classic understatement and a rhythmic propulsion that will soon make Manchester’s dance inferno a global firestorm with its digital/analogue crossover… Balearic beats, a rave scene with a mad mix of Manc and Spanish accents… grooves that cross oceans and enter New York’s paradise garage and everywhere else courtesy of BLUE MONDAY.

But TRUE FAITH is the one for me…. it’s the belief that “You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on” – to quote Samuel Beckett. A mesmerizing melody. Such a light touch.

“When I was a very small boy
Very small boys talked to me
Now that we’ve grown up together
They’re afraid of what they see
That’s the price that we all pay
And the value of destiny comes to nothing
I can’t tell you where we’re going
I guess there was just no way of knowing.”
To change the world twice, now that’s really something…

A true fan,


Geoffrey Swaine/Shutterstock


R.E.M., “Nightswimming”

Dear Bill, Peter, Mike and Michael,
In the best songs it’s not just the band that dives in, the listener gets to dive in with you… so I have swam alongside the members of R.E.M. in their nakedness for quite some time now.

I hold this song in such high regard because I’ve rarely felt the innocence it suggests with such intensity as when listening to it. On our e+i tour I used to say that “at the far end of experience with some wisdom and good company, it might just be possible to recover innocence….”

To believe that Eden is ahead of us and not behind us — that’s a nice thought, isn’t it?

God bless John Paul Jones for his arrangement and Deborah for her beautiful oboe.

Mike, piano playing is a perfect foil as your harmonies are to so many of these great R.E.M. songs.
Peter, you and Edge may be the greatest people in rock’n’roll for getting out of the singer’s way… I’m told that takes a lot of discipline and humility!

Bill, for drummers, timing is everything so who could question your timing for departure? That you are well and healthy is all that matters.

Michael, you could sing the mythical phonebook, but instead you sing us to addresses not recorded elsewhere…. sometimes the actual dreams that you have in your bed whilst asleep at night… your actual descriptions of what happens to you in your interior world… this is rapid eye movement. This is R.E.M.  After y’all broke up, I was kind of happy that you’d made peace with the world of expectation and ended on such a high tremulous note. Recently, I’m not so happy. I ache for the ache at the heart of your band. I long with the longing that is the mind of R.E.M. The wanderlust. The returning. And that baritone…. God help us all. That baritone might just fix the brokenness we all feel right now. Indeed, NO TIME FOR LOVE LIKE NOW.

“I’m not sure all these people understand
It’s not like years ago
The fear of getting caught
Of recklessness and water
They cannot see me naked
These things, they go away
Replaced by everyday”

Your fan,


Elma Okic/Shutterstock


Adele, “Chasing Pavements”

Dear Adele,
A lot of my favourite songs are conversations, but only some of them are written like that… this feels like a conversation with yourself.

Who isn’t interested after the first line “I’ve made up my mind, don’t need to think it over”?

This song brought me to you. I have no idea what it’s about, but here was/is an artist who’s going to ask a lot of hard questions to her herself and everyone else… that was and is enough for me.

Bless you,

Arcade Fire

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Arcade Fire, “Wake Up”

Dearest Arsonists,
Is it Pavlov’s dog or just the fear of failure anyone would feel walking onto a stage after this extraordinary composition? But every time I hear this song I want to take a piss.

U2 walked on to this song 131 times on the Vertigo Tour. But I have walked out of countless rooms where it was just on in the back ground and for the same reason, it’s like a siren beckoning me to be better than I am… telling the band they can go everywhere tonight… telling the world to WAKE UP.


“Children, wake up
Hold your mistake up
Before they turn the summer into dust”
Love from the Kanaval, off to take a piss….



Rob Verhorst/Redferns/Getty Images


Pixies, “Monkey Gone to Heaven”

Dear Kim, Joey, David and Black Francis,
America likes to be the first we hear again and again, and we were most delighted for you that Albert II became the first primate in space in 1949… and we understand how upset President Eisenhower was on hearing the Russians had Sputnik, the first spacecraft/satellite orbiting the Earth… and how it pushed him to decree that the US must not fall behind in space production and technology…. and so four academic institutions were funded to make sure America would get everywhere first: MIT, Stanford, Carnegie-Mellon, and Berkeley.

If you allow me to continue the rant… these government funded public projects propelled American science and research into the present moment… the personal computer, the internet and artificial intelligence. When everyone gets all excited by small government and how the private sector can sort most problems if the government would just get out of the way, I point to how America got to be first in tech… I also point to your song about a monkey heading off to break the Kármán line, cause this song is the first of its kind. Untouchable. And incomparable. The Big Bang of what some people call grunge.

Charles, excuse this fan running off the mouth with your song, but that’s what we fans do.

Kim, your vocals are central to its appeal.

Thank you, Joey, thank you, David. Thanks to the spirit of Black Francis…

We got a monkey in heaven and one of the greatest rock’n’roll bands of all times.

Your space cowboy,



Jeremy Sutton Hibbert/Shutterstock


Oasis, “Live Forever”

Dear Oasis,
“I think you’re the same as me
We see things they’ll never see’

I don’t know what this song is about… I don’t want to know. I know you wrote this song but it belongs to me… well, it doesn’t really, it belongs to us… or anyone who was ever in a band.

Cause whatever you say, this song is about being in a band. And it’s us against the world…a very different feeling from me against the world. The last gang in town versus the man alone.

I love the singing and the playing and the lyric and Liam and Noel and Tony and the two Pauls… I love it all… and now I don’t need to live forever as much.

Your fan,

Iggy Pop

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Iggy Pop, “Lust for Life”

Dear Iggy,

The picture of health that you appear on the cover of the album, LUST FOR LIFE, was so inspirational to me and my friends. We thought to ourselves ‘if Iggy made it, we all can’… that turned out not to be true. But in and around the death cult that follows rock, it felt so bold and bracing to hear you sing…

“I’m through with sleeping on the
Sidewalk – no more beating my brains
No more beating my brains”
… And the set up was so perfect:
“Here comes Johnny Yen again
With the liquor and drugs
And the flesh machine
He’s gonna do another striptease”

That voice that carries those words carried so many of us. The intellect as sharp as flint fists… but if you were stupid enough to miss the intellectual Iggy Pop, the instinctual was there for you… part animal/part animus, it was an adrenaline rush to see you leap from the stage into us, smashing the fourth wall with your head. There’s something annoying about the safe distance that separates performers from their crowd, but no one brought such a violence to cross that moat like you.

The stage usually is an up-drawbridge situation that offers regency, a crown… rock is feudal. It appeared to us that you revolted against yourself, you threw away your own crown… or something like that.

There may be less than a dozen performers that I have felt are so unhappy with the hierarchy of the stage and its separateness, that they might leave the stage any minute and enter your life, follow you home… which is the desire of all dramaturges that the play sleeps beside you, and you will wake with it the next day.

I witnessed this with Steven Berkoff and Olwen Fouéré in Wilde’s SALOMÉ. I witnessed it with Mark Rylance in Jez Butterworth’s JERUSALEM. Daniel Day Lewis actually walked off stage during HAMLET. Sean Penn has it on film, Ben Mendelsohn too. Robert De Niro might’ve invented it.  In rock ’n’ roll Eddie Vedder would definitely share a taxi home. Patti Smith used to push through her own crowd to reach the stage.

But you, Iggy, may have jumped out of your own skin to get to us.

Thanks for the blood, the sweat, and the sparing of the tears.

Your fan,

Gavin Friday

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Gavin Friday, “Angel”

Dearest Gavin,
I know we both believe in angels… not just the seraphim and cherubim, but the ability for people to become them in a moment for a friend, or family, or even a stranger. Baz Luhrmann’s ROMEO + JULIET was one of the greatest readings of Shakespeare I ever saw… and there was your ANGEL’s soothing siren bringing the star crossed lovers of any time together… even the Capulets and the Montagues paused.

Your fan and friend from the other end of Cedarwood,


Mike Sewell/Shutterstock


Massive Attack, “Safe From Harm”

Dear Massives and Shara…
What a voice you have, what a song we have, what a picture you all paint, what a wicked world we sometimes walk through… and yes, we want to make it better for everyone but somewhere in that bargain we want a safe place to fall ourselves.

Our loved ones are all we have… please, please, please “You can free the world, you can free my mind, Just as long as my baby’s safe from harm tonight”

Thanks for giving me permission to not fully let go of the rage behind all vulnerability… it can propel.

Your fan,

Kendrick Lamar U2

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Kendrick Lamar feat. U2, “XXX”

I liked your crew when we did the opening of The GRAMMYs. They were shit hot and organised. It was a ballet, it was an opera, it was fusion between hip hop and rock ’n’ roll but it was not confusion.

The fun we had on AMERICAN SOUL was singing “You are rock and roll” to you…. because you are. And a whole lot more.

There’s a righteous anger that is hard to argue with. Oh yeah, there’s a righteous punch that could take down a much bigger man, oh yeah.

For a moment, any of us can be that fist. We don’t own it, it owns us. But I wouldn’t want to get in the way of it.

The fact that you’re playful, self-deprecating, as well as revelatory is a note to self. I asked you at the time if you’d rap about where America was at, and your reply was to rap about where America isn’t at. Smart.

I hope one day to get to know you better.

I hope when these years stop running away… maybe they’ll run toward us.

Love and pizza,


Steve Joester/Shutterstock


Bob Marley and the Wailers, “Redemption Song”

Oh how dear to me are the Marley family… thanks for sharing your father, your man.

“Old pirates, yes, they rob I
Sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I”

It’s a tangent and not one that intends to make any parallel between Irish oppression and slavery but I was reminded recently of Irish indentured servants who were sent to the West Indies involuntarily…. begun under Charles I, but done on a grander scale under Oliver Cromwell during the 1650s, initially to Barbados the leeward islands and later to Jamaica where Cromwell used forced migration as a means to repopulate the island.

There is, I’m told, still a community on Barbados referred to as the “Redlegs” that remembers their ancestors pale skin burning in the tropical sun…

The Irish do share a few things with Jamaica above our love of rum and our shared lilting accent (especially if you are from Cork and Kerry… one, two, tree…)

It is surely the mixing of religion and politics and the righteous indignation that seeds a spirit of revolt .The Wailers made rebel music that feels very familiar to Irish ears… and even to English ears like Chris Blackwell who signed Bob to Island Records. He could always feel the influence of original wailers like the militant Peter Tosh and the mountain mystic bunny wailer… and in the back ground the dub reverb of Lee Scratch Perry.

The Marleys did not grow up in Irish town but they hail from Trench Town….7 miles away, named after an Irish immigrant Daniel Power Trench. That lilt is a dead give away but this rebel music… these songs of freedom belong to anyone who wanted to lose chains of any kind

“Old pirates, yes, they rob I
Sold I to the merchant ships
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pits
But my hand was made strong
By the hand of the Almighty
We forward in this generation
Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever have
Redemption songs
Redemption songs”

Go home… nothing else to add.

Your Marley fan,


Gunter W Kienitz/Shutterstock


Echo and the Bunnymen, “Rescue”

Dearest Ian, Will et al. Bunnymen everywhere…
May 10th this year was a bit of a landmark for me. I turned 60 and from what I can tell I am alive and feeling very grateful to be so… I am also grateful to you and your songs for playing a role in getting me from there to here.

RESCUE is a great song/45/call for renewal and definitely made my life and times better.

I don’t think U2 would be as good as we are without Echo and the Bunnymen… You really raised the standard in what could be achieved by not ‘growing up’…

The guitars, bass and drum so unique, the production of the songs usually so deft and unobtrusive… The voice, the baritone, the bell canto, and the lips like sugar… and weedkiller when they had to be.

I remember the confidence of your early shows, in both production and stance… the giddiness, the giddy up-ness… I was so relieved to see you hadn’t lost any of that vocal/ lyrical power when I saw you on stage at Electric Picnic last year.

Stay safe in every other way.

Your fan,

Kurt Cobain Nirvana

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Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Dear Frances Bean Cobain,
Forgive my intrusion… you know all this stuff, but by addressing it to you I remind myself that before the internet a band could only be heard by having a record out, getting it on the radio, or blowing people away at their shows. Imagine that. You couldn’t hear them otherwise… but you might hear ABOUT them…

And around 30 years ago a wild rumour spread around Dublin about a band that had opened up for the great Sonic Youth in the Top Hat, Dun Laoghaire and torn the place apart. Everyone who was there was telling everybody who wasn’t there that they should have been there, to see this Seattle three piece incinerate the Dun Laoghaire ballroom where not that many years before we had seen The Clash and The Jam and The Stranglers. In fact, U2 had opened up for The Stranglers at the same venue.

The comparisons being made were to The Who, Hendrix, The Sex Pistols… the impossible rock greats with a punk soul and anger. Some were saying that they were the best band they’d ever seen or ever would see.

I didn’t immediately dismiss this as impossible, but I admit I found it unlikely…but people kept talking about this band Nirvana and how they were changing people’s lives and that this was happening every night everywhere they played.

When I heard SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT, it was like the hyperbole hadn’t even been half enough…it was insane, an instant classic that changed the world immediately.

What a band.
What a song.
What a sound.
What a voice.

The force that is in this music can never be extinguished, or covered up, or ignored or destroyed because it is too great.

For all its pain and anger, this is life force. Vitality. Hope.

This must be no compensation for you, but I just wanted to remember the flame that lit up so many lives.

Keep safe in every other way,

Pearl Jam

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Pearl Jam, “Jeremy”

Dear Pearl Jammers,
Eddie, you told me that you once worked backstage as local crew at a U2 show, lumping our gear around. You are indeed someone I would turn to if I needed some heavy weight to be lifted.

This song is so, so heavy… but we feel lighter after we hear it. I asked you once how you took care of your voice, and you explained, not in a facetious way, that it took care of you and that you are happy in whatever condition it turns up because, sore or soft, it just puts a new spin on what you’re singing. I had two thoughts…. 1 this man is a masochist  2 this man is a mystic. I am now sure you are 3 a surfer… riding those waves that can smash your body to pieces… and still able to enjoy the stillness of the waiting game all surfers must love.

Real bands like this have to wait for magic, for the wave to break. It’s sometimes a painful painstaking business, but the pleasure of coming across a song like this is a holy thrill.

Your dudeness,

Bob Dylan

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Bob Dylan, “Most of the Time”

Dearest Bob,
Well, where to start?

It could be BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND… like I was in Slane Castle, making it up as I went along. You let me sing beside you.

You reminisced about Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem in the West Village, encouraging me “you’ve not just got to make your own song up, you got to make yourself up too”.

In the scriptures, the apostle John has his view on BLOWIN’ IN THE WIND….. John 3:8 “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

The biblical stuff continues…

It could be IT’S ALRIGHT, MA (I’M ONLY BLEEDING) even just for the epitaph “He not busy being born is busy dying”.

It could be SERIES OF DREAMS because I love the video by Charlie Whisker; the rolling drums and 50’s production from Daniel Lanois.

And yes, your fans love you rock-facing into the chilly winds. Mortality. Humbug.

It could be SEÑOR (TALES OF A YANKEE POWER) with the mute power of the landscape and the archangel riding beside you in silence too. Death has loads of dominion…

It could be RING THEM BELLS with their heralding of a higher power to fight those who are

“breaking down the distance; between right and wrong”.

It could be EVERY GRAIN OF SAND, which Steve Jobs wanted at his goodbye… One of the last things he said to me was a throw down “why can’t you write something like this for people my age?”… he meant my age. I brought him EVERY BREAKING WAVE… he waved.

It could be DIGNITY… I love that Mary Lou. But she’s back again with FALSE PROPHET, with its Beckett-like ways. More and more we need that unblinking eye of “the sun shone, having no alternative”…. and you have it, laughter as the first and last line of defense.

It could be VISIONS OF JOHANNA with the greatest opening couplet ever….

“Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet?
We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it”.

It could be BROWNSVILLE GIRL with Sam Shepard. A brand new song format as well as another song where the protagonist is not at the centre of the action… “Now I know she ain’t you but she’s here and she’s got that dark rhythm in her soul”.

It could be so many of your songs I turn to, but most of the time it’s MOST OF THE TIME.

Because we love the idea that you/we can still have our heart broken.

Can a life so full be capable of the emptiness love leaves behind?

We know the price of love is grief, so we make friends with the void and the consolation prize is of course beauty, and the fun you seem to have filling that hole…

AND the Daniel Lanois bass hook…

“I can survive,
And I can endure
And I don’t even think
About her
Most of the time”

Your Irish fan club,


Beyonce and rapper Kendrick Lamar

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Beyoncé feat. Kendrick Lamar, “Freedom”

Dear Beyoncé, Kendrick,
I mean this is going for broke. This is going for the break out.

Every prison that ever held a soul is going to feel the ground shake and the bars rattle here. Freedom is at the heart of why we make music, freedom from a toxic situation, from an oppressive nation, freedom from addiction or any self taught affliction, freedom from our own DNA. Spiritual and sexual liberation… that’s why we’re all here.

There is nowhere this song is not going to go. That freedom’s torch here is carried by you two standard bearers… I give thanks.

And the last line spoken by Hattie White

“I was served lemons but I made lemonade.”

Well in my 60 years, I was served many platters but rarely one like the Queen Bey’s album LEMONADE.

Your fan,

Depeche Mode



Depeche Mode, “Walking in My Shoes”

Dear Andy, Martin, Dave and Alan,
This is a deeply moving and profound record if you’ve ever had to walk a difficult mile or two down some dark and strange personal roads. There is no dichotomy here between Saturday night and Sunday morning coming down.

A uniquely European electronic fusion between blues and gospel, where the contradiction is embraced with honesty and the bare facts of the case laid out before….who?




The singer himself?

To me it feels like a psalm… something like one of Richard Ashcroft’s urban hymns…

A metallic K.O. of a sung prayer.

A blunt and beautiful declaration of a need for healing and of the need for fellow feeling. I can feel Flood, I can feel Spike, what glorious compatriots you had on this supersonic flight.

Your fan,

Nick Cave

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Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, “Into My Arms”

Dearest Nick,
I always thought of this song as a lullaby, a somnambulant prayer for a peaceful sleep… in the singer’s arms of course. It’s so hard to let go of a lover, a child, an age. Time slows when this black beauty of a tune turns, and as I listen right now time is hardly breathing. I’m thinking for a moment I’m the darling that does believe in an interventionist God… and I’m looking for an intervention.

This lullaby eases people into deeper sleeps. You played it at Michael Hutchence’s funeral with the lights and the camera turned off. It doesn’t have to be dark to pray but the darkness can bring you there quicker. I know you know that.

Many years from this song’s source you let us into your own family’s grief. Presently it feels like the whole world grieves because there are the lives being lost so unnecessarily to this covid-catastrophe, bringing the world to its knees. But there is another kind of death going on… The death of our innocence, and I’m personally fine with that. If innocence is the naivety that whispers everything is going to be ok and shields us from taking responsibility for our actions or inactions, then let’s replace that whisper with a shout of ‘Don’t agonise, organise!”

Richard Rohr is a Franciscan friar I’ve been reading… he runs a place out in the desert of New Mexico, it’s called the Centre for Action and Contemplation. I love that order of events.

Anyway…Thank you to your whole family for sharing whatever scraps of insights

or rare earth discoveries you find on your daily dig for meaning after Arthur’s passing.

Red Hand Files is a fount for so many of us.

All I discovered is… there is no end to grief, that’s how we know there is no end to love.

Your fellow pilgrim,


Jon Lyons/Shutterstock


Simon and Garfunkel, “The Sounds of Silence”

Dear Paul and Art,
The poet Allen Ginsberg told me once that more than a few of the poets, songwriters and artists he admired had seen visions… and that was before they experimented with psychoactive drugs. He described a vision as an experience “bigger than the eyes or rational mind”… I nodded as if I knew what he meant and I still think I do.

When I heard you guys singing this song I was 12 or 13 and at my most porous to music. Puberty was expanding my mind, as well as my libido, and I remember thinking this song is not just about prayer, it is a  prayer… it speaks to the silence and at the end of the song the silence answers back saying…

“The words of the prophet are
Written on the subway walls
And tenement hall
And whispered in the sound of silence.”

…And I thought, any day now I’m going to meet Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kendrick Lamar… ok, THAT’S not true… but later in my life I wondered to myself is all art prophesy? Do even the crap songs and sculptures and poems and paintings tell us something about who we are and why? And of course they do, but the great ones are just about tolerable so we listen again and again and again and they become meditations…

I read in the Book of Kings how Elijah the prophet is told to go up on the mountain where there would be a cave, where if he listened, he would hear the voice of God.

Elijah did what he was told and felt sure he was right when the earth began to shake… he walked to the opening of the cave but no word from his creator.

Then a mighty wind, indeed a hurricane… he stepped forward but still nothing.

Then a lightening wild fire, and again nothing.

After a while he just set back down and was likely questioning even being there when a light breeze brushed over him… the most gentle aeration…a whisper from the sound of silence.

These songs come from a place we need to visit more.

Your fan,




Coldplay, “Clocks”

Dear Coldplay
You’re unspeakably great here.

I could have chosen YELLOW as I like the folky roots of your first album PARACHUTES.  I could have chosen VIVA LA VIDA which is a great lyric about why England never had a revolution like France or wherever (I’d say it was the tea drinking… coffee would have done it.)

I chose CLOCKS because I can hold onto it tighter than time… I think it might hold onto me. CLOCKS arrived in the nick of time with it’s Phillip Glass-type arpeggiation and ecstatic exhortation… I just punched the air in a manly, but not aggressive way…. “They are not a rock band” I thought out loud to my self, “there is something much more interesting going on… they’re like The Isley Brothers or something.”

You see, rage is the river running under most rock formations. This music has a different source and it is revealed on this song.

When I discover what it is I will write another fan letter.

Whatever it is, it is definitely the cure and not the disease.


Michael Hutchence in Montreux, Switzerland - May 1988VARIOUS

Andre Csillag/Shutterstock


INXS, “Never Tear Us Apart”

Dear Tiger Lily,
Nobody ever had a better time than Michael Hutchence and nobody else ever had a better time than when they were with him.

Light on his feet and light on the head, he always appeared to be where he was meant to be. Whoever Michael was with was his current assignment and he took it on with the impish charm of a golden age Hollywood sophisticate.
Like all great charmers, he had absolutely no agenda apart from the desperate need to charm every single human-being he met. He was adored and adorable, a dancer who made others dance, a down to earth aesthete with a rock’n’roll smile, a mile wide… and A LOT of hair in the video.

Yes, Tiger, your Da was someone that everybody was happy to see… and happiness is the ultimate form of genius as we all know.

A fan once said to Cary Grant “When i see you in a movie, i wish i was you.”

Grant famously replied “so do i…”

A lot of singers know what he meant.

But the bigger the front, the bigger the back and all of that. So that’s why my favourite is this one. Another great production from Chris Thomas. On a ballad like this, Chris lets us listen to the thief steal hearts…his own. His voice and heart break at the same time. They are soulful lyrics but Andrew Faris’s melody appears from another age and leaves the whole affair timeless. And yes, what a great band the singer was in.

Bless you,

Singer and songwriter Gregg Alexander of American rock group the New Radicals, 1999. (Photo by Mick Hutson/Redferns)

Mick Hutson/Redferns/Getty Images


New Radicals, “You Get What You Give”

Dear Gregg,

Glorious spirit, guileless man, there you are singing yourself out of your skin and there I was with my broken body after some bruising encounter… a New Year’s Eve with my daughter of the same name asking me to fix things as the stereo had frozen at 12 bells… silence following screaming as she and her sister Jordan waited with their friends for the funky clutch that is Sister Sledge’s WE ARE FAMILY… waiting for lift off into a seventies themed post midnight melee with big hair and big bass lines.

Then sound system meltdown… then nothing… less than nothing… the ground opened up to eat the rock star who has long longed for the moment his daughters might ask for his help but they are so accomplished it hasn’t happened until now… “can you fix this?” they implore, “of course I can” replies Daddy Uncool who thinks he can talk, kick or kiss the technology into the next year… but he can’t…

And so I swaggered on the outside, up to the decks and the vinyl, but inside I was kneeling and praying to the God who turns signal from noise for a rescue… for a mirror ball from heaven.

But no I did not receive the disco benediction or get the familial answer I was looking for, but Gregg I got your song randomly selected… a song that is so transcendent it could breathe life into any dead air…

“Don’t let go… you’ve got the music in you
One dance left, this world is going to pull through
Don’t give up… you’ve got a reason to live
Can’t forget… We only get what we give”

Your fan,

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - 27th FEBRUARY: Angelique Kidjo performs at de Melkweg in Amsterdam, Netherlands on 27th February 1994. (photo by Frans Schellekens/Redferns)

Frans Schellekens/Redferns/Getty Images


Angélique Kidjo, “Agolo”

Dear Angelique,
It’s late at night and the party is growing tired.. there has been food and drink and dancing…people have moved to couches, starting to talk earnestly if slightly erratically, about feelings or work or politics… engaging for the ones talking (yes, me), tedious for the listeners…  my wife Ali takes a strong view that parties are for partying and that people should not NOT be having fun while there is still fun to be had.  She has a plan that works every time.  It’s called AGOLO.
Your voice cuts through the torpor like a laser beam ray of sheer joy…like a pizza cutter through the box of boring and all. Immediately all earnestness is vanquished and languished bodies become taut and vertical again, dancing their socks off.  It’s as if you are here, your irresistible magnetism pulling people to the dance floor.

Your music has taught me its OK for an Irishman to try and dance with his whole body not just his feet.
Your activism has taught me that it’s OK to be full of rage and still smile and dance with joy.  In fact it’s the only way to get anything done.

Thank you, Angelique.

Your fan,

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