Presbyterian war and peace

Someone has pointed out that the 2008 Christmas message from the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand drew on U2's "Peace on Earth." Would our favorite Zen Presbyterian, or perhaps his dad, be pleased?



Pursuing God With U2 - Spiritual Formation Series

I got an email the other day from someone looking for a copy of the 6-session Bible study in dialogue with U2 songs that I wrote for Get Up Off Your Knees, "Pursuing God with U2." My correspondent said he had learned of it from "the advertisement on YouTube," which brought me up short: was this some unauthorized something or other that I was going to have to tell the publisher about? Nope, just an effective piece of video from a local church, and here it is: YouTube - Pursuing God With U2 - Spiritual Formation Series. Thanks, my Lutheran sisters and brothers, for your good efforts!


In a comment on the "Get On Your Boots" post a few posts down, theologian Steve Harmon, author of U2: Unexpected Prophets, makes some points about the cover of No Line that I think deserve to be pulled out for everyone to see. I was completely delighted, for exactly the reasoning Harmon articulates so well here, that the Sugimoto image with no line (the photo rumored to be the album cover) turned out to be passed over for an image with a line:

The equals sign, with one bar in the "heaven" portion and one bar in the "earth" portion, suggests something like "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." But in this particular Sugimoto image, there IS still a line on the horizon. Earth is not yet heaven, yet we pray and work for the day when things will fully be on earth as they are in heaven -- when heaven and earth will be indistinguishable, and there will be no line on the horizon. Once again, an "already"/"not yet" eschatology, with the emphasis on the "not yet."

I understood the attraction of the image of the sea blurring into the sky, because I know so much of U2's work is about the longing for and celebration of foretastes of that experience of transcendence. (One of the earliest articles I read about U2 in the 80s, which I have never been able to trace, characterized them with the phrase "blood lust for the infinite," which has always stuck with me.) But it struck me as lacking complete honesty for a U2 image to represent the blending of already/not yet as accomplished. Upon seeing the real cover, I immediately found the image we've ended up with far preferable, and more faithful to the band's consistently eschatologically-shaped vision of reality, and I'm grateful for Steve's putting the reasons why into words here.


Steve Turner on music and the arts

One of the things I'm looking forward to at the U2 Academic Conference is hearing Steve Turner's address. Here's a recent interview with him where he discusses the integration of a Christian worldview with one's art, the Beatles, and how "Christ didn’t die to make us religious, but to make us human." Don't skip the article, but here's the U2 content:

As to [understanding the Christian gospel well enough to present it fairly], the best example is what U2 has done. I think the gospel impinges on all that Bono writes. I think he presents us with a picture of the whole of life as he experiences it and because he is a believer we get to see life in the 21st century [in the] West as experienced by a believer.


Perhaps we'll need a new tag called "Daniel Lanois Biblical references" after the hat-tip to Colossians 3:16 in the first installment of Alan Cross' interview with Lanois. (Cross has been doing an interesting experiment throughout the run-up to the new single/album by blogging and twittering his initial reactions.) But anyway, here's the image I'm referring to: One of my first conversations with Bono was one about future hymns — spiritual songs for the future — and he was of the opinion that Morocco would be a great crossroads for a universal feeling for the album.

I am wondering for what percentage of the global listening audience connecting a track like "Get On Your Boots" with the idea of "spiritual songs for the future" is just beyond incomprehensibly weird.

"Are you joking?"

As the "love it/hate it/it'll grow on you" commentary on "Boots" continues, kudos to whoever on U2Start had the idea to go way back in Usenet archives and dig up some fan reactions from 1991 to "The Fly." My fave: "If 'The Fly' is any indication of the rest of Achtung Baby and U2's musical direction, I think we can fashion 4 caskets, and label them: Bono, Edge, Adam, and Larry. U2 is dead. What an unimaginative piece of garbage."


We're into growing up

I've had some emails asking me when I'm going to post about "Get On Your Boots." I have to tell you I'm not that sure what to say; my first reaction was that it completely lacked musical cohesion and was very derivative, although I'm more sold on it after additional listens on better speakers. It reminds me a bit of my first hearing of "Discotheque": What? So here are a few random reflections. Feel free to jump in!

While the song comes off as lighter and weirder than "Vertigo," I'm not so sure (well, it's weirder, yes.) Certainly the sense carries over from "Vertigo" of seeking some kind of sanity amidst the world's reeling ("night falling" as "rockets hit the Fun Fair" -- was that line written before the global economic meltdown?), and that reeling is linked to the same source (isn't this the first U2 song with the name Satan in it? Anybody? I know we've had "devil" and appearances by evil voices, but that's less in your face.)

I'm struck by the references to havoc being wreaked by unwarranted fear (Satan's "bomb scare" and "kids... screaming" at "ghosts" who "aren't real") and at how completely that contrasts with the "eternity"-flavored and joyous place of "love and community" -- finding your grounding in an (uncool) private covenant space with its subtler demands ("we're into growing up"), as opposed to the public political space. However, let me add that the latter section comes off a bit 1970s-youth-Mass to me.

I don't know what to do lyrically with "let me in the sound," although it's one of the more striking parts of the song, and will go over great live as I'm sure U2 consciously designed it to. And the fear of drowning that suddenly appears seems to give the lie to the narrator's distancing himself from others' fears earlier. Any insights, anybody?

And of course, the usual U2 question: who is the "you" and is it the same "you" throughout? Of course, on one level there's the beloved with the boots and the, uh, "gasoline." I've had a couple correspondents suggest the church is being addressed at some points: "you don't know how beautiful you are." My first reaction was to hear the "you don't get it" chorus addressing those who are caught up in the lies of the ghosts and bomb scares, and some other lines addressing the beloved. There are probably many more possibilities.

Enjoying the close psuedo-Moroccan harmonies. Enjoying the complex drums. Enjoying the sonic evidence that the Edge met Jack White and Robert Plant recently.

And by the way, FWIW, the one time the adjective shifts, I don't think it's either of the currently circulating "bossy" or "foxy" boots, but "saucy" ones.

[Edit: perhaps the best critique so far, from the LA Times, which points out that perhaps they're more like work boots (which ties in with a lot of Bono's ONE campaign rhetoric about needing to make justice sexy... I'm sure someone can find him talking about the church and soccor moms putting on their boots and getting to work, somewhere. HT Angela.]

One man to overthrow

A thoughtful essay for MLK Day: CADRE Comments: Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus, Jonah and U2’s 'Pride in the Name of Love'. I agree that trying to identify specific individuals with specific lines in the song is missing the point, but I also think the temptation to ask what analogues to Jesus or MLK those lines evoke is irresistible.


Baptist Bookworm and Andrew Davies

Baptist Bookworm, the author of a book on Revelation, points us to an SBL forum piece about U2's use of scripture in The Joshua Tree which was posted earlier this week (Baptist Bookworm: Biblical Imagery in the Music of U2). The SBL piece by Andrew Davies looks at how U2 "[redeployed Biblical traditions] to work towards their original affect, but in the quite different context of 1980s America." I also want to highlight this sentence from Davies which I think is quite insightful on a wider scale than just Joshua Tree: "[U2] want us, if you like, to find faith in the wilderness, but need us to recognize just how much of a desert the global community finds itself in before they can offer their pillar of fire for us to follow."

Having just read Neil McCormick's gushing appraisal of No Line on the Horizon this morning, that sentence reminded me of McCormick's claim that the album "makes love like it's making war." Well, have U2 ever done anything else? Don't they time after time demonstrate the conviction that real love in a fallen world entails recognizing the reality of the desert first? Staring love's absence in the face and then taking up the sword of the Spirit to do battle? "Making love like you're making war" goes all the way back to those early tapes of Bono and Edge at the retreat for Christian musicians, if not further.

While I'm linking, a later post on the same Baptist Bookworm blog gathers some U2 citations of Revelation itself (from the @U2 archive of Biblical references).


@U2's question of the month for January is "what song that U2 have not covered would you like to hear them cover?" While I don't want to discourage people from participating there, I'm interested in thinking about this from the point of view specifically of theologically literate songs, or songs that (like "Father Christmas," or arguably their covers of "Dancing Barefoot" and "Everlasting Love") it would be interesting to hear U2 tweak into theological literacy. There is of course the negative point that U2 pretty much wreck most songs they cover, but let's pretend we don't know that.

There are rumors of U2 once having taken a shot at Bruce Cockburn's "If I Had A Rocket Launcher." If they're true, or even if they aren't, I'd like to hear that. Same thing with Oasis' "Wonderwall." Also, because of Bono's remarks about John Lennon's "Oh my love" being a text that can properly only be sung as a prayer, it would be interesting to hear him demonstrate.

However, although it would be a big musical stretch for them unless completely reworked, the top theologically literate song I'd like to hear U2 cover for its take on life is Over The Rhine's "I Radio Heaven." (OK, I'm not sure a male vocalist could pull off the infamous "slut with a mission" line, but the theme is near-perfect.)



New Year's Day

HT to Doug for sending along this piece on U2's "New Year's Day" from America. Quite thoughtful, including even some comments on an extended dance mix and a nice look at the progression of thought in the lyrics. People often identify an allusion to Revelation in the text, thus giving the song an eschatological framework, but Mark Stricherz here focuses much more directly on the situation in Poland (for example, taking the "red sky" part as having to do with violence as opposed to its usual U2 meaning of end-times). A plausible layer of meaning, no? The piece is marred a bit near the end by the author's framing his goal as attempting to decide whether the song is lyrically definite enough to be labeled Roman Catholic (he claims "Gloria" for example, can be so labeled), and the oft-repeated assumption that being Irish, everyone in U2 except Bono would have been raised in that denomination (which is, as readers here will be well aware, completely inaccurate.) But definitely worth a read, especially if you are one of those who plays the song every January first, as Stricherz says he does.

Walesa and his fellow anti-Communist union members suffered the fate alluded to in the traditional version of the song – repression (“All is quiet on New Year’s Day”) and violence (“Under a blood red sky”). The song’s protagonist is not naively optimistic about his situation. “Nothing changes on New Year’s Day” is his refrain. Yet he’s also not in despair. Against the backdrop of a bloody military crackdown, the singer pines for communion.