A U2 song that’s followed Barack Obama for a decade brings his political journey full circle

“The more you see, the less you know.”
“The more you see, the less you know.”
Image: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
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It is a U2 song, of all things, that has faithfully followed Barack Obama’s remarkable journey to the White House—and now, a decade later, out of it.

Last night, at his hour-long farewell address in Chicago, Obama walked on stage to “City of Blinding Lights.” He first used the song by the Irish rockers when he announced his campaign for the US presidency on a frosty morning in Springfield, Illinois in February 2007. It would continue to appear multiple times at events over the course of his campaign, and U2 even performed it live at the president’s 2009 inauguration.

And in Chicago, Obama walked out to it for the final time.

Odd a choice as the song may seem (it opens with the somewhat foreboding lines: “The more you see, the less you know / The less you find out as you grow / I knew much more than I do now”), “City of Blinding Lights” has a history that strangely fits with the outgoing president’s personal journey.

U2 singer Bono has described it as “a song about innocence and naïvete,” and about “discovering what a big city could offer you and what it could take away”—themes that Obama, an outsider from the start whose presidency has been characterized by a struggling, yet unrelenting, optimism, certainly can identify with. In 2008, Obama listed the song as one of his top 10 favorites. It was no small honor; the president is known for his quality music taste.

U2 tweaked the song’s opening lyrics for its 2009 inauguration performance, which took place before a crowd of thousands at the Lincoln Memorial: “America, let your road rise / Under Lincoln’s unblinking eyes.”

This week, the band announced they will delay the release of their upcoming album, which was completed last year but now may be partially rewritten. “We’ve given ourselves a little bit of breathing space,” guitarist The Edge told Rolling Stone, calling the world “a different place” after Donald Trump’s surprise presidential victory. “We just went, ‘Hold on a second—we’ve got to give ourselves a moment to think about this record and about how it relates to what’s going on in the world’.”