What does City of Blinding Lights mean?

U2: City of Blinding Lights Meaning

Tagged: Cities [suggest]
Album cover for City of Blinding Lights album cover

Song Released: 2005

City of Blinding Lights Lyrics

The more you see the less you know
The less you find out as you grow
I knew much more then than I do now

Neon heart, day-glow eyes
The city lit by fireflies
They're advertising in the skies
For people like us

And I miss you when you're...


    #1 top rated interpretation:
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    May 6th 2008 !⃝

    Bono said in the Rolling Stone interview that the theme of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb is a return to naivete--like being a boy all over again. How we all go out into the world to slough off our innocence but that we realize, around the age of 40, that we are most happy when we live like little kids. One must come to the spirit like little children. "The more you see the less you know, the less you find out as you go, I knew much more then than I do now." "Time won't leave me as I am but time won't take the boy out of this man." I'm 40 so I'm having that experience. I'm also a bit of a neophyte coming to terms with my Christianity. I love how they opened the tour with this gem.


    #2 top rated interpretation:
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    Aug 2nd 2009 !⃝

    Although I would certainly agree with the interpretation of the song being about New York, but I think there is a very personal meaning for Bono, as is often the case in his songs. I've always interpreted the song being about Bono saying that he is ready to die and hoping he will be with God and with his mother.

    In the first lines Bono looks back about his teenage days, after his mother's death (he was 12) and he was starting the band, trying to deliver a strong message to the world (early 80s), and then realizing after all those years and his experience, that he does not have all the answers.
    "The more you see the less you know
    The less you find out as you go
    I knew much more then than I do now"

    The following lines, always sounded to me like he is looking at the stars in the sky, where we, mortals will end up. The sky is after all where Christians believe is the realm of God, heaven.
    "A city lit by fireflies",
    "They're advertising in the skies
    For people like us"

    The following lines express his sadness. Both at the world and of the loss of his mother. In this case the lines can be interpreted as Bono missing his mother (who he would hope is in heaven), and him being ready to be with her again. By the same token, he may want to be with God again, and asking him to take him away.
    "And I miss you when you're not around
    I'm getting ready to leave the ground"

    The few lines after that may be Bono, looking at a casual photograph taken of his mother. Maybe a simple moment of daily life, captured for posterity and now making Bono think of her.
    "Don't look before you laugh
    Look ugly in a photograph
    Flash bulbs purple irises
    The camera can't see"

    The following paragraph, is about self doubt. Having seen his mother walk towards death (after being sick) unafraid, possibly because of her faith and a life without regrets (the clothes you made) And then he compares his own life, and wonders what happened to his own faith, and losing hope (the beauty inside of him).
    "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?"

    The next few lines connect the present to the past
    Won't leave me as I am
    But time won't take the boy out of this man"

    Again, asking his mother not the leave him (which is also a theme in other songs), and how after all those years, he is still a boy, needing her. The boy could also symbolize his innocence, sense of hope and faith, which he questioned in earlier verses.

    The song closes with Bono looking at the photograph, and missing his mother, and asking God to one day let him be with her (and in His presence) again. So he realizes that as he learned more about life (on earth), he also lost his faith and sense of hope. He then compares the faithful from the sinners (stealing) and is thankful that despite his loss of faith, he may still be blessed by God and go the "city of blinding lights" with his mother and God.

    "The more you know the less you feel
    Some pray for others steal
    Blessings are not just for the ones who kneel... luckily"


    #3 top rated interpretation:
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    Nov 11th 2006 !⃝

    Bono is very romantic about new york and he has refered to ny as "the city of blinding lights" if anyone has been to ny, you would know that it is filled with lights so bright that when the sun goes down it still feels like day and it's overwhelmingly beautiful. Also, ny is filled with false advertisments and people who lose themselves "can you see the beauty inside of me" I think he also states that people in ny are strong and not afraid to be who they are because in a city like that, you have to be strong "i've seen you walk unafraid, I've seen you in the clothes you've made..." although, I do believe it has to do something with 9/11 and perhaps a higher power. This song could mean so many different things. I like all of the interpations on this song.

  4. almeras
    click a star to vote
    Dec 14th 2021 !⃝

    great song, a lot of different meanings.
    It could be interpreted in several ways, it's interesting.

  5. anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Sep 2nd 2013 !⃝

    Bono speaks about new york city . Thats the real one meaning check it out see u

  6. anonymous
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    Jul 6th 2012 !⃝

    For me, this song is about heaven. The place of light, where the blinding light of God's glory makes the night as day. Getting ready to leave the ground, to be taken up from this earth as described in scripture. All are beautiful, made in the image of God, in spite of our brokenness. Heaven is calling, advertising for the rejected, the lost, those forgotten by the world: people like us. The longer you live, the more you're aware of the vastness of what you don't know, the infinite. How beautiful we look in the perfection of salvation, the fulfillment in the first moment after the end, which is tonight, if you accept it.

  7. anonymous
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    Jun 7th 2011 !⃝

    When he sang it this weekend in Seattle my impression at the time was that it became a mutual love song back and forth between Bono and the audience. "Oh you look so beautiful tonight!"

  8. anonymous
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    May 30th 2011 !⃝

    Actually, what Bono said was "Blessings not just for the ones who kneel. Luckily...luckily we don't believe in luck. Grace abounds. Grace abounds." God is grace :)

  9. anonymous
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    May 31st 2010 !⃝

    He also says during the show in LA at the rose bowl at the end of this song " Luckily, Luckily we don't believe in God any more. he has been more "vocal" about his dark side beliefs lately.

    U2.com. watch the video

  10. anonymous
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    Dec 5th 2009 !⃝

    I read somewhere in an interview with Bono that the lyrics refer to seeing an old photo of himself, early in the band's career. The song is about him reflecting on all the changes he's gone through in his life across all those years.

  11. anonymous
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    Feb 15th 2009 !⃝

    I think this song is about Bono's wife, Ali. He says in the song, "I've seen you in the clothes you make"-I think that might be referring to his wives clothing line, "Edun." He also says, "And I miss you when you're not around
    I'm getting ready to leave the ground"- Bono's gone for months and months at a time, so he probably really misses Ali, and when he says "I'm getting ready to leave the ground,"I think hes saying that hes on his way home, on a plane getting ready for take-off, The last two lines of the song are, "Some pray for others steal
    Blessings are not just for the ones who kneel... luckily"- Bono started dating Ali, shortly after his mother died, when he was only 15 years old. Ali must of been a pretty big blessing for a time like that. This might be a long shot, but this has always been what I think of when I hear this song.

  12. anonymous
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    Jan 10th 2007 !⃝

    Bono performed this in Brooklyn, and it is most definitely about New York City. Millions of people, in and out of NYC, look at the city and fail to see the beauty. Often it takes the objectivity of an outsider to see how lovely NYC can be, how beautiful the people and how charming the culture really is.

    In "Angel of Harlam" he sings the line, "New York, like a Christmas tree", refering to the lights and sparkle and variety of NYC. "City of Blinding Lights" echoes that line, siting the lights of the great city as what he feels is the most noticable feature.

    In the song he looks back on how, as a very young man, he came to NYC and fell in love with the place. He may not be that young any more, but the young spirit remains alive in his wonder and adoration of New York.

    Many people come to NYC to start over, to lose themselves, reinvent themselves, to give themselves time to heal and forgive themselves. You can always feel like a kid, with everything new and the world to take in, there. I think this is part of what he meant in the final lines of the song:

    "In the city of blinding lights,
    The more you know, the less you feel
    Some pray for, others steal
    Blessings not just for the ones who kneel, luckily"

  13. anonymous
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    Sep 6th 2006 !⃝

    In an interview on itv over here in the uk bono said that this was about a us gig (san fransisco?) where he walked on stage in front of 30,000 people and the lights came up illuminating the audience. He now always remembers that venue as the city of blinding lights.

  14. anonymous
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    Aug 9th 2006 !⃝

    Bono has always stated that a spiritual message lies beneath the surface of every u2 song. I believe the surface message is possibly talking about new york or being overwhelmed by the "magic" of a magnificent place/city similar to that. However, the spiritual message on this song is deeper. The "city of blinding lights" represents this world, there's so many mixed messages, so much confusion that we become "blind" when they sing "oh, you look so beautiful tonight..." bono is referring to god or jesus and saying that faith in him and his salvation is the only beautiful thing in this world. It is similar to "vertigo". As someone posted on it's meaning, bono has stated that "vertigo" was a club he dreampt about and wondered what it meant. He soon realized that it represents temptation and sin in the world, for this reason he states "it's everything I wish I didn't know". He wishes he could escape all this. He sees the "girl w/crimson nails (the same color as the blood of jesus) w/jesus (the cross) around her neck" he realizes that he must focus on that in order to escape these temptations and is lead to rely on god. "your love is teaching me how..To kneel." hope this helps!!!

  15. anonymous
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    Apr 16th 2006 !⃝

    This song is about New York City after September 11th. In U2's first concert after 9/11, after the lights when on and Bono walked on stage, he saw the tears in the eyes of thier fans and the words that came out of his mouth were "You look so beautiful tonight."

  16. anonymous
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    Nov 28th 2005 !⃝

    I think it's a song that can be taken as happy or sad. On one hand, it's about being in a place so bright it hurts--I read this as a state of mind, i.e., being in love, being idealistic, etc. On the other hand, we see lines like "they're advertising in the skies for people like us" and "what happened to the beauty I had inside of me?" which, I believe, refer to a loss of innocence and childlike reverence in that which we once thought so pure, i.e., being in love, being idealistic, etc. Is it a statement about the government or a particular issue? Maybe, but I feel it's meant to examine the complexities of human emotions. Sadness rarely stems from pure desolation, and happiness is very nearly never not tinged with something less than desirable.

  17. anonymous
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    Nov 20th 2005 !⃝

    I think it's very clear that the City of Blinding Lights is talking about the US government saying "Look! Shiny things!", and most everybody looking away. When they say "They're advertising in the skys for people like us", they mean the people who don't look away only see the world being taken over by corporations.

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway

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