Song for someone: Did we get it wrong?

Mob hitman Charles Harrison was tried in 1970 for the murder-for-hire killing of Texan Sam Degelia. A deadlocked jury forced a mistrial, but on the retrial three years later he was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was released after only five years for good behavior, but what what happened next was truly bizarre.

On May 29, 1979, U.S. District Judge John H. Wood Jr. was shot dead in the parking lot outside his San Antonio, Texas, townhouse. Harrelson was convicted of killing Judge Wood after being hired by drug dealer Jamiel Chagra of El Paso, Texas. Wood—nicknamed “Maximum John” because of his reputation for handing down long sentences for drug offenses—was originally scheduled to have Chagra appear before him on the day of his murder, but the trial had been delayed.

Harrelson was arrested when calls were made to the police as he was randomly firing a gun at imaginary FBI agents while high on drugs. With the aid of an anonymous tip and a tape recording of a conversation that occurred during a visit from Joe Chagra to his brother Jamiel Chagra in prison, Harrelson was charged with Judge Wood’s murder without any direct evidence. Harrelson claimed at trial that he did not kill Judge Wood, but merely took credit for it so he could claim a large payment from Chagra. Harrelson was convicted to two life sentences, for the judge and his wife.
In 2003, Chagra recanted his previous statements, stating that someone other than Harrelson had shot Judge Wood, but he refused to name the murderer.

Family attempted to use this new information to get the case reopened and a new trial started, but it was too late. Chagra died soon afterwards, and with his death, there would be no retrial. In 2008 Harrelson died in prison, a known hitman, who may nevertheless have spent his final decades in prison for a crime he did not commit.

That may be the end of the story except for a small fact. Before he had killed anyone, Harrelson gave birth to a son. Woodrow Tracy Harrelson (born July 23, 1961), became a television and film actor, known as Woody Harrelson. Woody Harrelson once wrote about his father:

my father is one of the most articulate, well-read, charming people I’ve ever known. Still, I’m just now gauging whether he merits my loyalty or friendship. I look at him as someone who could be a friend more than someone who was a father’

Not long after his father’s death, U2 wrote song for someone. While the song itself divided fan opinion, the masterpiece video that accompanied it was barely noticed in the main stream media, despite a brilliant performance by Woody Harrelson. In the video, Harrelson slowly collects belongings to leave his prison cell, has an emotional breakdown, and eventually meets his estranged daughter outside the prison gates, played by his real life daughter, Zoe Harrelson.

Is this the fantasy ending that Woody Harrelson would have envisioned for his father? A moment of forgiveness? A moment of regret from an evil person? An explanation?

I was told I’d feel nothing the first time.

Sex? Or murder? Maybe both. Bono and Harrelson previously knew each other so the possibilities are endless. We are allowed to assume that someone is Bono‘s long-suffering wife Allison Jewson, or Ali, who has faithfully shared her husband with us for the last 38 years. What if it’s also Woody Harrelson? What if his father, on his deathbed, is a long way from the hill of Calvary, where sins are forgiven, and  sings this song to his estranged son, hoping that if there is a light, he won’t let it go out?

Bono is famous for writing songs that have two or more themes intermingled. With or without you is known to be about religion, Bono’s  love for his wife, and his bipolar relationship with U2 fans. Could this song have two themes? Did the lyrics intermingle, leaving us not quite sure where we stand? Like the video, the song ends with unease, an uncomfortable void that will be filled in only by an uncertain future.

In all the faux outrage about U2 downloading the album to peoples Iphones, there was no way there was going to be a debate on the merits or complexity of this song or video, and regardless of your opinion of this song, the video is a masterpiece and it might just have provided another great twist in Bono’s lyrical bag of tricks.