LubbockOnline.com - The Gospel According to U2

I guess it's "Preach on U2 and Get Written up in Your Local Paper under the Headline "The Gospel According to U2" Week. (Registration required on this one, however. I'm a BugMeNot fan in such cases.) This preacher, ministry coordinator for Hockey Ministries International's Southwestern USA and chaplain for the Cotton Kings, is doing a 3-week U2 sermon series (with associated workshops) as a volunteer at Live Oak Community Church in Lubbock TX.


No secret at all, 3

Here is my "Fly" series' final post, in which we'll be going straight through the Vertigo Tour version as best I've been able to grasp it. As I said in #2, this presentation picks up on two repeated concepts in the lyrics: "secret" and "love." Any remaining lyrical connection is tenuous; there is clearly a narrative of resistance, which plays no part in the original text --although I could imagine someone arguing that the point here is about standing up, before it's too late, to the forces that want to take you to Hell (metaphorically and perhaps literally as well).

The opening (over the riff) introduces the theme of making the often costly choice to seek truth for yourself. I've become convinced it's a conversation:

In the first knockout moment, we're warned of the formational power of messages we take in uncritically:
As the first verse begins, the visuals offer statements missing a word or phrase so important that it determines the whole intent of the message. Your mind, of course, instinctively tries to supply what belongs in the blanks, e.g.:
I _____ my friend
she always _____
it never really _____
What is the _____
Why do you _____

And as we move into the first chorus, multicolored LOVE splashes across the side screens and we get an almost didactic explanation of what that all meant:
You fill in the gaps/ You are the difference
However, this gap-filling is not automatically benign; we learn that we have an adversary, here just called Them, and They've got an agenda for our thought-lives.
They are the givers/We are the acceptors/When will it end?

Over the second verse, the visuals drop hints about the answer to dealing with our adversary. There's a secret. What do we know about it?
The secret is BEHIND YOU
The secret is INVISIBLE NOW
The secret is LOUD ENOUGH
THE SECRET IS WHAT YOU never want to see/never want to hear/never want to believe

For the chorus there is a rain of letters with messages on the side screens, and then as the band go into the brief bridge, some of Their words get blown to bits in front of us: INEVITABLE, IMPOSSIBLE.

[update 2/2006: a video of a slightly earlier version than this post narrates, beginning at this point, is now available here]

And over the solo, still with the fill in the blank technique, we get to see some of the statements They'd like us to flesh out for Them:
under-estim te/ feed y ur shadow / bl w your mind / s ll your soul
... except the screens also start exposing what They're really trying to do:
p rsuade/ de-base/ coerce/ bully/ bludg on

Over the chorus (you can tell everyone senses this is the apex of the message because of the wide availability of photos of it), the truth comes out, revealing where real freedom is to be found; it's superimposed over big white words like HOPE:
[that would be giving in to the omega and the alpha, then?]
GIVING IN TO...[and as I said earlier, here I was really expecting at last to get the ironic turn, the way "it's your world you can change it" used to shift to "charge it," but, no, the 90s are well and truly gone:]


The main theological point made, we can imitate Paul and move into the exhortation section. I know fewer of these lines, but it's things like
Re laim your space/ Recla m your space/ Reclaim your space/ It belongs to you
You can do it
They own you/ You own them
It is there/ Down the block / In your face
Close your eyes
Close your ears/ Shut them out
You will win

And then, over the final guitar crescendo to the end, the thing stuns you by reversing itself, and plays the beginning backwards. (This immediately conjured up the redemptive reversal scheme of the HTDAAB deluxe book for me.) YOU/ BECOME LIES/ BECOME SENTENCES/ BECOME WORDS... until Their lies and our apathy and powerlessness disappear into nothing before your eyes, the final triumphant word being



It's not fantastic if you can't see it

A brief break in the Fly action here for a comment. I rarely visit U2.com for any number of reasons: there are inaccuracies, the updates arrive infrequently and late, the way they handle their members-only thing offends me, I find the breathless self-promoting "reviews" of the shows utterly cringeworthy, and so on. However, I just got an email from them touting a new feature, "Light Fantastic," a "specially commissioned!" [cringe] slide show of the Vertigo Tour's "most iconic images" with commentary from their creator Willie Williams. Willie Williams is brilliant and a great writer, so of course I wanted to see if there were anything from "The Fly" to add to post #3. Off I went on a rare visit to U2.com, and I pulled up the slideshow only to discover that typically, IT DOESN'T WORK.

While I give them a day to get it working, then, I'll mention something else I saw: Bono's description from a recent concert of both "Elevation" and "All I Want Is You" as "marrying songs."

[Update July 30: the slide show seems to be fixed now. No "Fly."]


No secret at all, 2

This is the second in three posts about "The Fly." We last left our anti-hero splatted against some Elevation screen, and I didn't think we'd ever see the Fly again, given the song's omission from the Best of 90-00. But he's back, thanks to the Vertigo Tour's inclusion of a ZooTV set, presented almost as a greatest-hits nostalgia bit with period imagery. But this time, unlike during Elevation, the band all but vanish for the entire song as they are dwarfed by the visuals, which deliver neither the Zoo era's unmanageable message-chaos nor the Elevation era's trenchant simplicity, but a dramatic metanarrative of spiritual warfare against the culture.

I say visuals, and I'll be linking several pictures. However, in reality it's all text, which someone will probably email me and point out is an awfully Protestant way to inculcate a dramatic metanarrative of spiritual warfare against the culture. The presentation is extremely visceral as an experience, yes, but it's still all text.

I think I'm the first person to write about this anywhere, so if you plan to steal the onscreen text or any of my ideas about it, I'd really appreciate being cited and linked.

Before I really launch into discussing the new treatment, a few caveats. I don't know when it began, and I don't know how much it is still changing. I am sure that it always picks up on the slogan-visuals of the 90s and on two repeated concepts in the lyrics: "secret" and "love." If we had a DVD already and the material were thus well known, I could just make some shorter analyses, but since we don't I'm going to go through some sections of the text in my next post and let it speak for itself (the amount of searches I'm getting just on the few phrases I posted the first time shows there's curiosity about what's going on.)

What I'll be working with, I want to emphasize, is not the complete text (in particular, I have not included the side-view sections of rapid-fire phrases mimicking the 90s version, and I haven't bothered to signal the various random-letters sections.) Also, parts seem to change from show to show. However, I feel fairly confident that I've figured out, as they say in homiletics, the moves. I'll write more about them in my next post.


No secret at all, 1

After seeing U2 in Glasgow I posted that the spiritual highlight of the show for me was "The Fly," mostly due to the astounding visual presentation, and I tried to talk about it from memory. Having now seen it again, and having now received a substantial portion of at least one night's text thanks to the skills of a French fan, I think my initial take was a little off. So I wanted to repost a reading of it, and have decided I want first to comment on how different presentations have highlighted or downplayed possible themes in the song. It's going to be best to do this in stages, of which there will be three; this is number one.

Textually, the song is essentially, in its lyricist's words, "a phone call from hell, except the guy likes it there." Or as I often call it in workshops, a rockin' little number about apostasy -- the fear of, and fascination with, "fall[ing] from the sheer face of love," set in a frame of apocalyptic music/language which reveal the violent consequences of personal betrayals. (And of course there's more than one "love" in the implications, but what else is new.) The text ends, as the underworld pay phone is about to cut the narrator off, with a wonderful pun: "I'm running out of change." We're left to imagine that through what the narrator thought were small, understandable choices but turned out to be cosmically significant ones, he's shocked to discover that he's already passed the point where repentance would have been possible -- although another song on Achtung Baby, Until the End of the World, treats the question of how late one can repent with a more hopeful answer. (It isn't hard to imagine why these questions fit with U2's Zoo era.)

On its ZooTV tour performances, however, "The Fly" didn't really exploit those lyrical themes apart from creating an apocalyptically stunning experience. The text's terror of falling was mostly sublimated to the goal of exalting the stereotypical rockstar image of someone who would of course "like it there." But it also had several other tasks in the set: it needed first to introduce the character Bono would be playing, second to build the theme of media's effect on us, and third to deliver a massive opening slap in the face to U2's audience -- visual input too overwhelming to process, full of messages whose meaning couldn't be harmonized even if you had had time to read them. Every performance of "The Fly" since has in some way echoed this presentation.

"The Fly" disappeared for Popmart, but was reinvented for Elevation with a bittersweet fall-from-heaven opening and simpler visuals that highlighted more of the lyrics' subtleties. While I didn't believe the guy liked it there in this version, I did believe that we were orbiting apocalypse, hell and fear (as we watched, for example, Bono being pursued around the heart by...?) And I suppose they figured they'd better have a slogan or two for the traditionalists: "Love Me," for one, which I found quite poignant whoever's voice it was supposed to be (several possibilities, of course).


Fizz from ConsumerPop: So That's What the Kids Today Are Into...

The marketing blog Fizz recently cited U2's not becoming a nostalgia act as an example for "established brands that want to continue bringing new generations of consumers into their franchise." "How do brands that are 25, 50, 100 years old stay relevant to new generations of consumers?" the piece asks. (What about brands that are 2000 years old?) One thing Fizz commends in U2 is this principle: "Extend your brand in ways consistent with the brand." Now there's good advice for the church.


Circle of acquaintance

One of the interesting things about working with Raewynne to put together Get Up Off Your Knees was how many of the contributors were completely unknown to us previously. Over the past year I've had the pleasure of meeting a few of them for the first time (Steve Garber and Henry VanderSpek) and yesterday added another by enjoying a lovely lunch with Derek Walmsley.


"Now, if you know me fairly well you may be thinking: 'Oh no! She is going to write about Bruce Springsteen!'"

Long overdue catch-up: In the Jan 3, 2005 issue of Devotions: Weighty Matters from John 21:17: Sustenance for Christian Leaders, Rebecca Copeland turned her attention to how "God has placed weighty matters of mercy and justice in each of our lives. We can ignore them, like the scribes and Pharisees did, and Jesus will say to us what he said to them. Or we can see them as opportunities to participate in what God considers to be some of his most important work...." Her lead, and a topic woven through the article, is an analysis of criticisms of Bono from the Christian right -- about which she has some sympathy, but also a fine sense of perspective.


Cross Rhythms takes the plunge

Since discovering over the last few years how easily available exhaustive resources on U2 are, both online and in print, I've started to wonder why the media (including blogs) don't seem to use them much when passing around material about the band. But along with wondering why things that are out of date or just obvious errors suddenly get picked up and spread like wildfire, I'm also intrigued by things writers don't choose to pick up. And so I've posed in a few different contexts this question: given the number of other tidbits in the book that got picked up, and given the almost iconic role he has fulfilled as the band's token nonbeliever, why did the confirmation in Bono: In Conversation (=Bono on Bono; we all know this now, right?) that Adam Clayton now shares the same faith as the other three members of the band get no press at all? I've heard some clever theories about that, but now I stand corrected. I know it will be in the new edition of Steve's book, but this is the first place I've seen it online.


Taking suggestions for titles

I normally don't link this kind of stuff, but I dunno, maybe there's some kind of exception clause when it's Bono and a Gallagher brother, and I did link to episode one upon request, so what the hey. The saga continues. Warning to readers with pristine ears: contains lots of Gallagher language with asterisks (and is funnier for that reason).


G-8 leaders agree on $50B in African aid

"An alternative to the hatred."

[edit: here are quotes from Bono and Geldof.]

I'll leave it to those more skilled than I to do a real analysis of this as the days pass (how much is actually new money, how much is actually development aid, and so on), but it's something at least. Good to hear the whole EU is committed to the 0.7%, and that export subsidies were included in the discussion. Now we can all take a breath, celebrate a step in the right direction, and start our ora et labora again for September...

Noreena Hertz

Wow. @U2 actually interviews Noreena Hertz. A must-read, especially if you haven't had time to pick up her book on debt, or if you've been reading all the people who began expressing opinions about Live8 and the G8 before having learned what the campaign is asking for.


More book excerpts

I'm a bit late to the game here, but... as a lead-up to attending the Cardiff concert last week, Andy & Shona's Blog was posting several days of excerpts from Bono on Bono (or Bono In Conversation for American readers) This is only one; the first was about potatoes and there are some others I've not seen online elsewhere.


Group of Eight Nations

If you signed the Live8 list, you should take a look at this picture from the G-8.

For sale north of the Liffey, at least

I forgot to mention that I was pleased to see Get Up Off Your Knees at a large Christian bookstore in Dublin. I know this is a bit Anne Lamott of me, but I admit I did help out our book's display location a little, it being a big U2 weekend and all...


"Could we have a real sheep come in when the Gospel is read?" "Sure! What can go wrong?"

Willie's Diary, the online journal of U2's show designer, has been one of the fun parts of following any U2 tour since the Internet era began. Willie Williams is very smart and funny, and I especially enjoy reading him from the perspective of a liturgist (just as I enjoy critiquing Bono from the perspective of a presider.) In a way, I know the drill, just in a different setting and with -- well, maybe not all that different an aim. Anyway, this excerpt is for any clergy readers who have ever put on a big outdoor liturgy in which someone in the altar party suggested a "creative symbol" late in the game:

My second task was to co-ordinate the dove release. On Monday, Bono had asked if we could release doves in the middle of "Beautiful Day," so we put "Dove Release, UK" into Google and, amazingly, came up with a list of companies that do just that. Weeding out the less likely candidates was important and in order to find enough doves we ended up having to go with two rival dove release companies. We put them in the photographers' pit at the front, one on stage right, the other on stage left, but I couldn't help but wonder about the potential for Dove Wars....
...during ["Beautiful Day"] came the dove cue. I had imagined a gentle flock rising into the sky, circling over the crowd and heading off into the sunset, but as soon as the baskets were opened the birds shot out of there and would have had your eye out if you'd been standing in the way. Large security guys dived for cover as the jet stream roared past, straight over to stage right and were gone, leaving behind only a few tail feathers fluttering in the breeze. Somewhat less spectacular than I'd envisaged.


The Spirit of Live 8

This is a local article so it quotes several local religious leaders whom most readers won't have heard of, but The Spirit of Live 8 covers how religious leaders of all persuasions are reacting to , what an important role faith has had as a motivating factor in participation, and how political and theological differences are getting set aside by clergy in order to promote Make Poverty History (that's ONE in the USA). Thanks to D. for sending me this link.

Live8 to G8: a letter from concert organisers to world leaders

If you haven't read the open letter from "Bob Geldof, Bono, Richard Curtis and everyone at " to the G8, it's worth a read. Excerpt:
...you must treat the situation as what it is - a desperate crisis, a rolling tragedy totally unacceptable at the start of the 21st century. A child dies every three seconds. Millions are dying of preventable and curable diseases every year. There are countries in Africa where life expectancy is now below 40.... For God's sake, take this seriously. Don't behave normally. Don't look for compromises. Be great. Do more than expected, not the least you can get away with. ...Do it. Please, do it. The world is watching.


What concertgoers know about Africa, and Africans know about Live 8

I stumbled on this fascinating post while exploring Technorati's Live8 tag system.

"He moved. Any man can move one hundred and eighty degrees."

A big bravo to @U2 for getting permission, on the occasion of , which will focus on consciousness raising about debt, trade, and aid for Africa, to post the whole first chapter of Noreena Hertz' The Debt Threat: here are parts one and two. This is the chapter that recounts Bono's role in brokering the initial round of $435 million in Jubilee debt cancellations. I own The Debt Threat, and reading the whole thing is a great way to learn the real story on debt -- which is very different from the ridiculous myths one usually hears about how developing countries accumulated debt and why they spent loans as they did. A big step was made by the G8 finance ministers recently, but it's people like Hertz who can help you understand why more, and what more, is needed and how.