U2's Adam Clayton: 'Music saved my life'

The bassist appeared on Absolute Radio's Time To Listen

U2's Adam Clayton
Author: Scott ColothanPublished 21st Oct 2019
Last updated 28th Oct 2019

Appearing on Absolute Radio’s new series Time To Listen, U2 bassist Adam Clayton has revealed how music saved his life.

Time To Listen explores music’s positive impact on our mental health and, during Danielle Perry’s evening show from 7pm on Monday to Thursday, a guest musician picks a song each day that has made a difference to their lives.

A special omnibus half hour show with all of their choices from throughout the week, plus an extra fifth choice, airs each week in The Sunday Night Music Club from 8pm.

Choosing the tracks that have soundtracked his mental health journey, last week’s guest Adam Clayton said that Slade’s 1973 chart-smashing anthem ‘Cum On Feel the Noize’ provided escapism when he had depression in his teenage years.

“When I was starting out in a band around 14 and 15, music saved my life,” Adam explained. “At the time I was closed down. I didn’t feel like I fitted in anywhere. I had a low-level depression but in some way music used to lift me. There was something in music that was maybe on a spiritual and an emotional dimension seemed to shift the DNA in me, it seemed to change my mood.

“As a teenager with hormones kind of racing through me and it seemed to be rock music that had that effect on me. And at the time Slade were very big in the mid-seventies, they had this track called ‘Cum On Feel the Noize’ and it just seemed to be a way of calling the tribespeople together. It didn’t seem to matter how you were feeling, what was going on, but you could just get into the music and get into the sound. For me that carried me for a long, long time, songs like that… just kind of papering over the cracks.”

Opening up about his alcoholism, Adam continued: “Eventually that low-level depression becomes a full depression and you find it difficult to fight it. The hair of the dog. And for me I had to face that I had addiction issues and I had to eventually roll over, put my hands up and go into counselling and go into treatment and do all the things you get advised to do for addition – whether it be alcohol, whether it be cutting, whether it be food addiction, drug addiction, whatever it is. And I learnt a new way of living and I haven’t looked back ever since.”

Listen to the full episode below.

The other four songs Adam Clayton picked for Time To Listen are as follows:

The Who ‘Substitute’ (1966)

Adam Clayton: “The first track that I guess I really related to is The Who’s ‘Substitute’. When I was growing up and around that age of 14 where you get that sort of a mixture of consciousness and a slight depression; a sort of haze of being locked in and closed down. For me aggressive music – rock and roll music – seemed to kind of touch me and unlock me. I think that’s what Pete Townshend was always getting at in his writing. The Who always had this visceral energy that spoke to me. I identified with them; they were misfits, they were outsiders and maybe I was drawn to that amazing bass sound they had.

“Substitute is really one of those songs about not quite measuring up and comparing yourself to other people and other things. I suppose that as a 14-year-old that’s what I was doing.”

Skids ‘Into The Valley’ (1979)

Adam Clayton: “When we first got together in our band, U2, there was so much that we couldn’t play that we didn’t know how to play, but we knew what we wanted to sound like, or more definitely what we didn’t want to sound like. At the time there was this Scottish punk band called the Skids with Richard Jobson and Stuart Adamson playing guitar and they made this sound that was mighty and Celtic and primitive. It was music that you could conquer the world with. With that on your Walkman you could go anywhere.”

The Beatles ‘Helter Skelter’ (1968)

Adam Clayton: “The Beatles were my absolute go to band growing up. My earliest memories of music were listening to Beatles records and seeing The Beatles on an old black-and-white TV. They conjured up this spirit of innocence but also being worldly and, to an extent, otherworldly. One of my early favourite songs was ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ with all the possibilities and latent sexuality which was so innocent at the time. I understand it very differently now.

“But ‘Helter Skelter’ when I first heard that it was a real stonking kind of rock and roll tune. Of course, the thing about the Manson murders was very, very dark, but there were times in my head where it was very dark and the thing that used to shift the mood for me – the emotion for me – was always music and ‘Helter Skelter’ was like a release listening to it. Years later in fact in my own band in U2 we actually performed a version of it, which was kind of full circle for me.”

The Sex Pistols ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’ (1977)

Adam Clayton: “When I got to about 16 I had been listening to a lot of west coast American music. Something inside me was saying ‘this doesn’t relate to me, it doesn’t relate to my experience of living in the suburbs, it doesn’t relate to what’s going on in my world which is a three-day week, a petrol crisis, no chance of getting a decent job.’ But I heard The Sex Pistols and suddenly at 16 I knew that was the army of people I wanted to join. I wasn’t sure about the safety pins, I wasn’t sure about the spitting but I knew the attitude was where I wanted to be. ‘Anarchy In The UK’ changed my world and it changed the music world forever. I’m forever grateful to Steve Jones for that guitar sound and to Johnny Rotten for that attitude.”

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