Rebirth, New Birth

The whole video of U2 and Green Day doing "The Saints Are Coming" (along with "Wake Me Up When September Ends" and some of "Beautiful Day") is now available on YouTube. I applaud lots of sites for trying to discourage MP3s and make very sure people support Music Rising by purchasing a copy of the audio track, but for those who couldn't see either the ESPN broadcast or the USA-only, RealMedia proprietary stream, it's nice to watch and listen to U2 and Green Day and know what all the fuss was about (at least in low-quality.)

I've seen a fair amount of discussion on the lyric changes in "Beautiful Day," which appeared to me to be typical of the way bands often add local references; but oddly no one seems interested in the changes in "The Saints Are Coming," which I found much more thoughtful. For example:

A drowning sorrow floods the deepest grief/ How long now
Til a weather change condemns belief?/ The stone says
This paternal guide once had his day/ Once had his day.

U2/Green Day;
A drowning sorrow floods the deepest grief/ How long now
Til a weather change condemns belief?/ How long now?
The night watchman let in the thief/ What's wrong now?

In the original, the belief that's being condemned seems to be belief in "this paternal guide," the "Daddy" who's got his phone off the hook in verse one. In the new version I think, read in context, the narrator is losing faith instead in leaders whose duty was to protect citizens in the event of natural disasters but who dropped the ball -- "letting in the thief" instead of upholding the trust they were given. ("What's wrong" with that picture?) This line also strengthens the eschatological tone of the song and evokes Biblical "last day" passages like this (from Jesus) and this (from Paul, perhaps more directly related). It's also an image U2 have already used back in a day when we all thought the world was going to really end in a nuclear war any month now.

And then there was the new topical verse:
We're living like birds in the magnolia trees
Child on the rooftop, mother on her knees.
Her sign reads "Please -- I Am An American!"

While much of the media I've seen has been full of excitement about the event, some commentators were voicing criticism of the fact that whole neighborhoods are still in ruins yet there seems to be money and energy for a festive reopening of the Superdome (here's one example.) While I understand the importance of joyous public celebrations, these lyrics also make clear that you really can't claim U2/Green Day were mindlessly cheerleading about rebirth in New Orleans without asking any deeper political questions.

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