Songs of Innocence theological roundup

Readers may already have seen many of these articles, but just to get them in one place, here are comments from several writers who regularly treat the topic of U2 from a theological perspective. I'm on record, below, as saying that I find Songs of Innocence to have a different kind of focus than much of U2's work; some of these folks note the same thing in one way or another, others don't agree and see the same set of Christian preoccupations here that we've had in other albums.

Greg Clarke, for example, reads the opening track as about Christian conversion and only tangentially related to Joey Ramone.  Steve Harmon offers a typically thoughtful and subtle piece with some interesting comments on "Sleep Like A Baby Tonight." The folks at Mockingbird artfully take the album's delivery method as a metaphor for their laser focus, one-way love (grace). After that earlier Wordle, Mark Meynell looks to be planning on blogging on some individual songs; here's "Song for Someone," memorably called "opaquely specific."

There may be others I have missed. Do chime in in the comments if so.


Nathan Hart said...

Beth, thank you for the link (I wrote the mockingbird piece). I am truly haunted by the power of Sleep Like A Baby, if Harmon is correct that is a righteous rebuke of pedophile priests. In fact, I would rank this song against their highest artistic peak of the 90s, mined from the same soul as Love Is Blindness and Wake Up Dead Man.

Steven R. Harmon said...

Beth, I was listening to "Every Breaking Wave" yesterday and suddenly remembered your Watchman Nee influence theory about "Drowning Man": "...and drowning is no sin...."

U2 Sermons said...

Thanks for speaking up Nathan - sorry for missing that attribution!

U2 Sermons said...

Also worth mentioning, perhaps, that in the Irish Times interview that came out today, Bono explicitly references clergy sexual abuse as one of the surrounding experiences of violence that they wanted to include in this album. https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/bono-s-dublin-a-long-way-from-where-i-live-1.1927184

Steven R. Harmon said...

Also referenced in the liner notes, FWIW.

Gorio said...

“California (There Is No End To Love)”

The funeral bell at the beginning is the key to understanding the lyrics; taken from John Lennon’s song “Mother”, I can imagine the impact that song had on Bono with their shared experience of losing a mother far too young. I would also suggest that the “There is No End To Love” is also a truism Bono lives with.

California is not a song about California, it is a song about the idea of California, music & escapism. This is no “majestic ode to the Sunset State” as some have suggested, it is the wish to escape life, pain & Dublin being able to for a few minutes in music.

The “Santa Barbara” chant is an obvious Beach Boys reference & the music in the track is the escapism from the pain of the lyrics.

“California, then we fell into the shining sea
The weight that drags your heart down
Well that's what took me where I need to be”

We all need to escape sometimes & music is a great escape, the Beach Boys joyous harmonies pure escapism from “the weight that drags your heart down”.

“In your bedroom
In a mirror
Watching yourself cry like a baby
California, blood orange sunset brings you to your knees
I've seen for myself
There's no end to grief
That's how I know”

Here it is easy to see the grief-stricken teenager hiding his tears alone in his room. However you also have theology, the obvious “brings you to your knees” is a place the young Bono collapsed to only to find that “There Is No End To Love”. Hope is a far better balm than escapism.

“And all I need to know is there is no end to love
We come and go
Stolen days you don't give back
Stolen days are just enough”

Our days are limited, grief steals time from us but all we need to know is “there is no end to love”.

Anonymous said...

Insightful review of California Craig though, if you were from Ireland, you'd recognise the "funeral bell" is in fact The Angelus, a 6pm call to prayer (YouTube "The Angelus on RTE")

Keep up the good work Beth.

U2 Sermons said...

OK, this is really arcane but: I'd be interested in knowing what makes this bell identifiable as the Angelus, since it's not rung in the standard 3 - 3 - 3 Angelus pattern (as on the RTE video and in my own parish's belltower at the usual hours.) Is it purely the tone of some recognizable Irish bell? Or are you saying what we hear in California is the last 2 bells of the "Angel of the Lord" clause to start, the pause, and then just the first bell of the "Behold the handmaid" clause?

Gorio said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gorio said...

Thank you for the suggestion, however quite often the music and lyrics have layers of meaning."The Angelus" could also fit although it does not sound like the Angelus we have in the Philippines which I am familiar with, that is why I thought it bore a stronger resemblance to the funeral bell of "Mother". Does anyone know what time of day Bono's mother died?As the Angelus is traditionally said three times a day, at 6 am, noon and 6 pm. Although I really do not think that fits as well as the funeral bell.

"Santa Barbara". St. Barbara is venerated by Catholics who face the danger of sudden death. This could be another reference to the sudden death of his mother.

I am just throwing out ideas for a review I am writing but am very interested in others interpretation. Thank you.

Gorio said...

A even bigger stretch. California is thought to be the myth of a fabled paradise of gold (heaven) populated by women (no men) who were ruled by Queen. Taken from the 16th-century romance novel Las Sergas de Esplandián (The Adventures of Esplandián) by Spanish author Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo.

Anonymous said...

Yes the opening clause followed by, if my hearing doesn't deceive me, a further three bells.

Picture the scene:
A teenage Bono in the front room of grey Cedarwood Road, gazing out the window at the rain (listen) as the Angelus (broadcast at 6pm on all Irish state TV and radio, the only media of that form available in 1970s Dublin) commences...time to escape via the Beach Boys to blood orange sunsets?

Gorio said...

Anyone have any idea about "Out of Zuma"?

Best I have found is: Zuma may be a variation of the Arabic name Zulema, a derivative of Salome -now where have we heard that name before :-) - meaning "peace."

Anonymous said...

The beach of that name in Malibu and another 1970s musical reference, Zuma by Neil Young?

Gorio said...

Good suggestion, again it could be both or something different.

Thank you for the ideas.

Camassia said...

The line in the booklet is "out ON Zuma," which is what it sounds like to me anyway. That would further support the beach interpretation.

Gorio said...

You are correct.

Anonymous said...

I'm a SoCal native from Santa Barbara. Zuma is a popular beach just north of Malibu. It is a Chumash word for "abundance."