The song gets its name and story from the street Bono grew up on, but it began — like many U2 tracks — with a guitar riff the Edge came up with at home. In speaking about these initial steps, the Edge noted he sketches songs on GarageBand and works with drum loops Larry Mullen Jr. recorded for the demo process.
“My job is to find a way to inspire Adam and Larry and Bono, so I don’t often care to finish out a piece fully,” the Edge said. “I just want to get something down that I think is a great starting point and then I know that whatever I come up with, they’ll come up with something better. So I just need to get it going where its identity is clear and it’s got some kind of vitality and point of view that’s interesting.”
“Cedarwood Road,” however, took some time to reach its final form. While the Edge’s demo sparked a new intro, chorus and crescendo, the band recorded it with lyrics everyone agreed were ultimately lacking. Bono began toying with different ideas, hitting upon his tumultuous boyhood home, which changed drastically in the Seventies when the Seven Towers housing project went up and was filled with many families that had been forcibly relocated.
“They were very unhappy, they were angry, they were annoyed — these were the people we would meet as young teenagers,” Bono said. “A lot of my early memories of teenage years were of violence, and the sheer fear of leaving the house, going to catch the bus.” That external violence, he added, was compounded by the kind his neighbor and best friend, the visual artist Guggi, experienced at home under the strict hand of his tough, religious father.
The revised lyrics, the Edge noted, completely changed the meaning and context of the musical motifs, while Bono added that his favorite part of the song is the guitar solo: “That has all the dignity of that neighborhood. Some dark characters indeed, but the general decency of people, the goodness, is in [the Edge’s] guitar solo. I couldn’t have achieved that.”
“Bono loved the solo idea, and later on in the process of recording,” the Edge added, “he couldn’t help himself: He started singing over it.”
“Cedarwood Road,” Bono said, is ultimately not about exhuming the past, but understanding how it becomes a part of you. “My self and my friends dealt with the kind of skinhead, boot boy culture of the time by creating our own reality, and eventually our own rock and roll band,” he said. “That’s how we dealt with the fear that we felt. When I was writing about Cedarwood, the big revelation for me was that you can’t really leave these things behind because they are who you are, you can never escape your upbringing.”
U2 are currently in the midst of their Innocence + Experience world tour. The band’s North American leg wraps up at the end of July with an eight-night stand at Madison Square Garden in New York before the group heads to Europe in September.