Moments and characters

I talked in the last post about how NLOTH seems to have both a settled confidence in God's availability (as distinct from "certainty" about religious ideas) and a sense of being at mature peace with life. It interests me that while we've heard Bono speak from that kind of place in interviews over the past 7-8 years, U2's music has not reflected it as much. (I suppose it's sort of there on HTDAAB: you might name "A Man and A Woman," which was handicapped by sounding like a 60s toothpaste commercial, and we hear moments of it in other songs.) But I wonder if, in part, the use of 3rd party characters on NLOTH helps the outlook we've heard in interviews come into view: when Bono stops singing so directly about himself, we paradoxically get a clearer view of how he thinks the world works. What I mean is that we witness deliberate choices to set up situations that turn out to be (sorry to keep beating up on this reviewer's phrase) the kind many people "wouldn't bother to consider."

So let's look at a couple of those. "Moment of Surrender" and "Unknown Caller" are both songs in which the narrator began life as a 3rd party character -- the same character, in fact. (Incidentally I think this may explain a frequently-remarked error in the official lyrics, but I'll put that in a separate little post.) The situation examined in "Moment of Surrender" is exactly what its title says -- that precise moment at which someone reaches the point of giving up to God, in this case from the dregs of a life gone bad. And "Unknown Caller," which for my money is perhaps the most sublime spiritual document U2 have ever produced, pictures the Divine response to the previous song's surrender, although brilliantly choosing to focus just before the character has made meaning out of the liminal experience of his phone starting to talk to him. (A few minutes later in the story, and the title would have had to be "God Calling.") But U2 don't want to show us the certainties we humans make of religious experience after the fact; they want to show us actual religious experience in all its imperious, weird, transformative power. (PASSWORD: YOU.) The mere decision to identify and enshrine that moment makes the hair on my arms stand on end, as does Edge's attempt to play the ineffable after the Caller goes to work following his Psalm 46-esque last word: DON'T MOVE OR SAY A THING

"White As Snow" is another 3rd party song which situates us in a moment -- in this case the deathbed, with the narrator's life having come down to wondering if he can still recapture his early experience of "forgiveness" from and knowledge of "a love divine" through "the lamb as white as snow."

So three choices, three narrative situations: the moment someone surrenders to God, the moment God responds, and the moment of accounting before God's face at death. It's probably no wonder all that stuff would bore people like our straw-man "bother to consider" friend whom I keep quoting. But for me these choices reveal a distillation of life's true questions; they highlight which are the moments that really matter in the end.

Next full post: a few comments on the songs which seem to be less 3rd-party.

No comments: