U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher 9781501332395, 9781350032576, 9781350032552

U2 and the Religious Impulse examines indications in U2’s music and performances that the band work at conscious and sub

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Table of contents :
List of Figures
Foreword: Bono as the Religious Everyman
Introduction: U2’s Sacrament of Sound
Part I: Meet Me in the Sound
Chapter 1: “Edge, Ring Those Bells”: The Guitar and Its Spiritual Soundscapes in Early U2
Chapter 2: “Looking to Fill That God-Shaped Hole”: The Evolution of U2’s Spiritually Evocative Musical Gestures
Chapter 3: Divine Moves: Pneumatology as Passionate Participation in U2’s “Mysterious Ways”
Part II: Lift Me Out of These Blues
Chapter 4: “Hold on to Love”: U2’s Bespoke Exorcism of the 1960s
Chapter 5: Sarajevo and the Popmart Lemon: The Fractured Form and Function of U2’s Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death
Chapter 6: “You Carried the Cross of My Shame”: From Crippling Stigma to Infectious Joy in the Songs of U2
Part III: Escape Yourself, and Gravity
Chapter 7: The Technological Reach for the Sublime on U2’s 360° Tour
Chapter 8: The “Moment of Surrender”: Medieval Mysticism in the Music of U2
Chapter 9: “In God’s Country”: Spatial Sacredness in U2
Part IV: You Give Me Something I Can Feel
Chapter 10: “You Don’t See Me but You Will”: Jewish Thought and U2
Chapter 11: “Like Faith Needs a Doubt”: U2 and the Theist/Nontheist Dialogue
Chapter 12: Finding What They’re Looking For: Evangelical Teen Fans and Their Desire for U2 to Be a Christian Band
Chapter 13: U2 and the Art of Being Human
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Bloomsbury Studies in Religion and Popular Music Series editor: Christopher Partridge Religion’s relationship to popular music has ranged from opposition to “the Devil’s music” to an embracing of modern styles and subcultures in order to communicate its ideas and defend its values. Similarly, from jazz to reggae, gospel to heavy metal, and bhangra to qawwali, there are few genres of contemporary popular music that have not dealt with ideas and themes related to religion, spiritual and the paranormal. Whether we think of Satanism or Sufism, the liberal use of drugs or disciplined abstinence, the history of the quest for transcendence within popular music and its subcultures raises important issues for anyone interested in contemporary religion, culture and society. Bloomsbury Studies in Religion and Popular Music is a multi-disciplinary series that aims to contribute to a comprehensive understanding of these issues and the relationships between religion and popular music. Christian Metal, Marcus Moberg Mortality and Music, Christopher Partridge Mysticism, Ritual and Religion in Drone Metal, Owen Coggins Religion in Hip Hop, edited by Monica R. Miller, Anthony B. Pinn and Bernard “Bun B” Freeman Sacred and Secular Musics, Virinda Kalra


Take Me Higher

Edited by Scott Calhoun Foreword by W. David O. Taylor

BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 50 Bedford Square, London, WC1B 3DP, UK 1385 Broadway, New York, NY 10018, USA BLOOMSBURY, BLOOMSBURY ACADEMIC and the Diana logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published 2019 Paperback edition first published 2019 Copyright © Scott Calhoun and Contributors, 2018 Scott Calhoun has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act,1988, to be identified as Editor of this work. For legal purposes the Acknowledgements on p. xiv constitute an extension of this copyright page. Cover image © Debbie Hickey/Getty All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc does not have any control over, or responsibility for, any third-party websites referred to or in this book. All internet addresses given in this book were correct at the time of going to press. The author and publisher regret any inconvenience caused if addresses have changed or sites have ceased to exist, but can accept no responsibility for any such changes. A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Calhoun, Scott D., editor. Title: U2 and the religious impulse : take me higher / edited by Scott Calhoun. Description: New York : Bloomsbury Academic, 2018. | Series: Bloomsbury studies in religion and popular music | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2017036871| ISBN 9781501332395 (hardback) | ISBN 9781350032569 (epub) Subjects: LCSH: U2 (Musical group) | Rock music–Religious aspects. Classification: LCC ML421.U2 U14 2018 | DDC 782.42166092/2–dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017036871 ISBN: HB: 978-1-5013-3239-5 PB: 978-0-5676-9021-0 ePDF: 978-1-3500-3255-2 eBook: 978-1-3500-3256-9 Series: Bloomsbury Studies in Religion and Popular Music Typeset by Integra Software Services Pvt. Ltd. To find out more about our authors and books visit www.bloomsbury.com and sign up for our newsletters.

CONTENTS List of Figures Contributors Foreword: Bono as the Religious Everyman W. David O. Taylor Acknowledgments INTRODUCTION: U2’S SACRAMENT OF SOUND

vii viii xi xiv 1










Richard S. Briggs










Brenda Gardenour Walter Chapter 9 “IN GOD’S COUNTRY”: SPATIAL SACREDNESS IN U2








Neil R. Coulter Chapter 13 U2 AND THE ART OF BEING HUMAN


Mark Peters Notes References Index

203 214 231

LIST OF FIGURES 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 6.1 6.2 7.1

Opening lyrics to “Gloria” First appearance of the Motive in “Scarlet” Second appearance of the Motive in “Scarlet” First appearance of the Motive in “Pride (In the Name of Love)” The Motive in the transition, just before the start of the third verse in “Pride” The first two instances of the Motive in “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” The Motive in the guitar solo of “Even Better than the Real Thing” Example of the Motive in “The Playboy Mansion” The last sentence of the Motive in “The Playboy Mansion” The Motive in “Beautiful Day” The opening guitar solo and Motive in “City of Blinding Lights” The M2m3 Motive, in the first chorus of “Magnificent” The m2M3 Motive, at the end of the second chorus of “Magnificent” The guitar solo and M2m3 Motive in “Magnificent” The m2M3 Motive, in the second verse of “Invisible” The m2M3 Motive, in the guitar solo of “Invisible” The M2m3 Motive, in the coda of “Invisible” Groupings on songs according to Motive type The complexities of shame and its remedies From shame to change song chart Production drawing of The Claw situating its groundbreaking design with stadium space

30 31 32 32 32 33 34 35 35 36 36 37 37 37 38 38 38 40 95 102 113

CONTRIBUTORS Nicola Allen teaches and researches in the field of twentieth-century fiction at The University of Wolverhampton. Her recent publications include a monograph and edited collection on twentieth-century fiction, as well as articles on the fiction of British politicians, and chapters on the work of Chuck Palahniuk, H. P Lovecraft, and Mark Haddon. She is a lifelong U2 fan. Richard S. Briggs is Lecturer in Old Testament and Director of Biblical Studies at Cranmer Hall, St. John’s College, Durham, UK. He has written widely on biblical studies, including Reading the Bible Wisely (Wipf and Stock 2011) and The Virtuous Reader (Baker Academic 2010), and is currently writing a book on The Waterboys’ Fisherman’s Blues album for a Wipf & Stock series entitled Popology. Scott Calhoun created and directs the U2 Conference and the U2 Studies Network (U2conference.com). He is a professor of English at Cedarville University and a staff writer for @U2 (atu2.com). He is a curator for U2: Made in Dublin at The Little Museum of Dublin and has edited two previous collections of essays: Exploring U2: Is This Rock “n” Roll? (Rowman & Littlefield 2011) and U2 Above, Across, and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Assessments (Lexington 2014). Gerry Carlin teaches and researches in the field of twentieth-century literature at The University of Wolverhampton. He has a special interest in modernism, the avant-garde, and the literature and culture of the 1960s. His most recent publications include chapters on Charles Manson and H. P Lovecraft, as well as a monograph on Jean Toomer. Neil R. Coulter has studied English literature, ethnomusicology, and music performance. For over twelve years he and his family lived in Papua New Guinea, where Neil worked as an ethnomusicologist for the preservation and revitalization of endangered artistic traditions. He also contributed to community development projects in remote regions of the country. In 2015, the family returned to the United States, and Neil is now Assistant Professor of World Arts at the Center for Excellence in World Arts, Dallas, Texas. Early in life he chose U2 as his favorite band, and he has felt affirmed in that decision ever since. Naomi Dinnen is an education and training consultant working with not-forprofit associations, schools, and employers to create meaningful jobs for young people. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Politics and Communications and a master’s degree in Professional Education and Training. Naomi was a journalist for major music publications in Australia including Rolling Stone, and founded



and published Loop, an independent music magazine. As Dance Music Manager at EMI /Virgin Music and PolyGram Records, she championed Australian music and produced a range of compilation albums. Naomi is a lifelong U2 fan and volunteers with ONE and the Make Poverty History Campaign. She is also active in the Jewish community, completing the Florence Melton Course of Jewish Studies in 2005. Naomi is currently a member of the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia, an affiliate of the International Council of Jewish Women. Christopher Endrinal is Assistant Professor of Music in the Florida Gulf Coast University Bower School of Music and the Arts, where he teaches courses in music theory and analysis. He holds a doctorate in Music Theory from the Florida State University College of Music, where he published his dissertation “Form and Style in the Music of U2.” He is also a contributor to the fan website @U2 (atu2.com). Timothy Harvie is Associate Professor of Philosophy and Ethics at St. Mary’s University in Calgary, Canada. His research interests include political theology, animal and environmental theologies, philosophy and pop culture, and eschatological ideas of hope. He is the author of Jürgen Moltmann’s Ethics of Hope: Eschatological Possibilities for Moral Action (Ashgate) and is coeditor of the forthcoming Encountering Earth: Thinking Theologically With a More-ThanHuman World (Wipf & Stock). He has also published articles in several academic journals. Kimi Kärki is Research Fellow at the Department of Cultural History, University of Turku, Finland. He is a founding member of the International Institute for Popular Culture (IIPC), and the current secretary of European Popular Culture Association (EPCA). He has published mostly on stadium rock stardom and stage designing, and his current research project analyzes the relation of transhumanism and popular culture. He is also a practicing popular musician with more than thirty releases. At the time of writing his chapter, he was Fulbright Visiting Researcher at the CWRU Center for Popular Music Studies, Cleveland, USA. Michael R. MacLeod is Associate Professor of Political Science at St. Mary’s University in Calgary, Canada. His research interests include corporate social responsibility, environmental movements, religion and globalization, and the interaction of faith and popular culture. He is the author of The Power of the Responsible Investor: Shareholder Activist Networks in the Global Political Economy (Zed Books, forthcoming). He has also published several academic articles and chapters, including notably “Religion and Corporate Social Responsibility” in Religious Activism in the Global Economy (Rowman and Littlefield) and “Financial Activism and Global Climate Change” in the journal Global Environmental Politics. Henrik Marstal is a bass player, composer, and producer with a huge interest for sound as such. He works within the fields of rock, dreampop, and ambient electronica with his duo called marstal:lidell and his solo project called starchild #2. Moreover, he holds a Ph.D. in musicology and is Associate Professor at



Rytmisk Musikkonservatorium (Danish Institute of Popular Music/Rhythmic Music Conservatory) in Copenhagen, Denmark, as well as a current member of the Danish Arts Foundation. As a popular music scholar, he has published a number of articles on national identity, canonization, Nordicness, and organology. Mark Meynell lives near Windsor, UK, and is Associate Director (Europe and Caribbean) for Langham Partnership. He has written a number of articles and books, including Cross-Examined (IVP 2001), What Makes Us Human (Good Book 2014), and A Wilderness of Mirrors: Trusting again in a Cynical World (Zondervan 2014). When Darkness Seems My Closest Friend: Reflections on Ministry and Depression (IVP) is published in May 2017. Angela Pancella wrote about U2 for many years for the fan site @U2 (atu2.com). She is also the author of a biography of Canadian singer Marc Connors from The Nylons. When not engaged in music fan activities, she directs a non-profit in Norwood, Ohio, Woven Oak Initiatives, and helps out at a pay-as-you-can pizza parlor, Moriah Pie. Mark Peters is Professor of Music at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, IL. He is author of A Woman’s Voice in Baroque Music: Mariane von Ziegler and J. S. Bach (Ashgate 2008) and coeditor with Reginald Sanders of Compositional Choices and Meaning in the Vocal Music of J. S. Bach (Lexington 2018). Peters serves as book review coeditor for Christian Scholar’s Review and as vice president of the Society for Christian Scholarship in Music. His current research explores theological, liturgical, poetic, and musical perspectives on the Magnificat in eighteenth-century Germany. Steve Taylor is Principal, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Dunedin, New Zealand, and Senior Lecturer, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia. Steve is the author of Built for Change and The Out of Bounds Church. He speaks and writes widely on culture, theology, and leadership in times of change. He is married to Lynne and they enjoy their children Shannon and Kayli, and are exploring gardening and coffee. W. David O. Taylor is Assistant Professor of Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is the author The Theater of God’s Glory: Calvin, Creation and the Liturgical Arts (Eerdmans 2017) and co-editor of Contemporary Art and the Church: A Conversation Between Two Worlds (IVP Academic 2017). In 2016, he produced a short film on the psalms with Bono and Eugene Peterson. Brenda Gardenour Walter holds a PhD in medieval history from Boston University. Her research examines the role of Aristotelian discourse, learned medicine, and scholastic theology in the construction of alterity and the continued influence of medieval otherness on the horror genre. Her most recent publications examine the multivalent relationships between cultural constructions of the body, architectural theory, and the natural world. She is Associate Professor of History at the Saint Louis College of Pharmacy.


W. David O. Taylor On May 23, 2017, late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel hosted U2 on his eponymous show. This, as it turned out, would represent the band’s only TV appearance to promote The Joshua Tree 2017 anniversary tour. At one point, early in the conversation, Kimmel remarked to the band, “I described your show earlier as feeling like a religious experience, and I felt like that every time I have seen you guys.” In his opening monologue, at the top of the hour, Kimmel had joked about U2’s concert, which he had seen, two days prior, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California. “Bono fed the whole stadium,” Kimmel quipped, “with a single loaf of bread.” The audience laughed. Later in the show, U2 performed the second track from their 1987 album, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” Bono introduced the song this way: “We want to play for you now a gospel song.” After a pause, he clarified, “A gospel song with a restless spirit!” The audience applauded enthusiastically. At the end of the first verse, Bono shouted, “Take it to church now: Selah!” As the band kept playing, individuals in the crowd, members of the Selah Gospel Choir, stood to sing portions of the song. A man sang: “He will lift you higher and higher.” A woman belted out: “He will lift you up when you fall.” Together they cried: “He will bring you shelter from the storm.” Bono resumed the role of soloist, the choir now singing back up: You broke the bonds And you loosed the chains Carried the cross of my shame Of my shame You know I believe it But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for If one were unfamiliar with Bono’s modus operandi, one might well find this display of religious enthusiasm, at best, odd, at worst, especially for the irreligious, off-putting and terribly embarrassing. What accounts for this churchiness on late-night television? What does Kimmel—an Emmy Award–winning nominal Catholic—stand to gain by ceding the floor to a pious rock star? And how is it that both theists and atheists, in Selah’s choir, come to sing gospel music on primetime television?1 Surely, at least for the sophisticated eye, all of this amounts to a rich irony.



At first glance, the whole thing might well appear to be a clever ploy by the producers of Jimmy Kimmel Live! to generate big ratings. It may seem like another savvy tactic by U2 to exploit the sacred (feel-good music) for the sake of the secular (ticket sales). I would like to suggest a different interpretation of the episode. Far from representing a series of problematic binaries—sacred/secular, theist/ atheist, pious/pagan, etc.—what took place on that set, at the erstwhile Hollywood Masonic Temple, was simply another instance of Bono taking up the role of the Everyman: the emissary of higher things for the sake of things below. Like Christian in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, Bono speaks for the masses. Like Leopold Bloom, the Jewish-born Dubliner in Joyce’s Ulysses, Bono is a religious hybrid, the son of a Protestant mother and a Catholic father, giving voice to humanity’s everyday concerns. Like the psalmist, Bono asks, “How long?” Like Saint Peter, he interrogates the Messiah; and like Saint Peter again, he says aloud what others may be afraid or ashamed to say. Like Jesus, he prays for heaven on earth, and he does so with an obstinate commitment to the one virtue that remains paramount in his life: honesty. Sitting across from him, on July 29, 2015, in a gallery space in mid-Manhattan, Bono showed me his iPad. He pointed to a list on the screen. “This morning as an exercise,” he said, “I went into the Psalms.” Like a meticulous biblical scholar, he identified particular themes that appear in the fifteen so-called Psalms of Ascent, Psalms 120–134. He proceeded to tell me about each one, tediousness be damned: mercy, thanks, security, peace, protection, laughter, rage, tears, humility, searching, unity, wine, fun, hubris, blessing. “Psalm 129,” he said, looking up at me, “that’s a psalm of rage. That’s a big one for me, because I have a bit of rage still in me. I’m working on it.” And just there, in that small disclosure, on camera, in a room full of assistants and artists, folks on either side of the religious divide, Bono inhabits the Everyman. Like the character from the fifteenth-century English morality play, he was the ordinary individual, under extraordinary circumstances, with whom the audience easily identifies. Unabashed, he confessed his faith in the assembly of the faithless. Without hesitation, he professed his doubt in the congregation of the faithful. He hid nothing. He shared all. And he did so for the sake of the poor and needy, who happened to be both the wealthy and the destitute. Bono is the peripatetic prophet, preaching the good news to anyone who cares to listen. He claims no parish so that all the earth can become his parish. As he said to me, not without a sharpness in his voice, “I have a church that I’m a part of and it has road crew in it, and when U2 goes on tour, it’s like a whole city moves around the whole world. It’s a big parish.” In 1992, Bono told David Fricke, of Rolling Stone, that the song, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” is “an anthem of doubt more than faith.”2 Paul Walker, a Church of England minister, published in 2006 a book with the title I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. His subtitle? God for Agnostics.3 For Walker, it is the searching, rather than the finding, that matters. Bono might agree with this—to a point. For Debra Dean Murphy, in an article for the academic journal



Liturgy, the song gives voice to those who “still haven’t found” the essentials for thriving: food, shelter, medicine.4 Bono might, again, concur. But perhaps I may suggest another interpretation, as a Christian theologian. If the song is about doubt rather than about faith, then I would like to propose that it belongs to a particular species of doubt: the faith-full doubt. It is like the kind of doubt that describes the man who comes to Jesus, in Mark 9:24, with the plea, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” Such a doubt rests not in the uncertainty about whom one believes. It rests, rather, in the whats, the whys, the whens of belief in God. Such a doubt belongs within, rather than on the margins of, the circle of Jesus’ followers. Such a doubt makes sense, if we are perfectly honest, to the theists among us, not just the atheists. Like the entire oeuvre of U2, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” bears the mark of Christ-like hospitality, where sinner and saint find themselves at home with both sincere faith and persistent doubt. It is for this reason that a book like this, which attempts to make sense of the religious impulse in U2’s fans, matters so much. It is not that the world needs one more book about U2. It is that the world, with its increasing number of “nones” and “spiritual but not religious,” needs a way to make good sense of U2’s capacity to evoke a religious experience, as perhaps the taste of “heaven on earth,” for both believer and skeptic alike. If a book like this forges friendship between the religious and the irreligious among U2’s fans, then it will have achieved an admirable good. Such a good, I can imagine, would please Bono, too, the spokesman for every man, every woman, every one.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS With great thanks for my family’s patience and flexibility as I worked on this project. With my appreciation for all the thought and work each contributor put into furthering the field of U2 Studies. With my respect for Christopher Partridge and my gratitude for his invitation to create this book. And, with my indebtedness to Nicole J. Terrell for her help with preparing the manuscript.

I N T R O DU C T IO N : U 2 ’ S S AC R A M E N T O F S O U N D

Scott Calhoun

When listening to U2 fans talk about being U2 fans and what their fandom means to them, when I hear them express their reasons, their expectations and their experiences with U2’s music, what I hear from all fans, no matter their disagreements, is that the music moves them. I hear responses which, upon inspection, are foremost about experiencing music as music. The line running through all the individualistic statements of appreciation for U2’s music is much less about lyrics, or guitar solos or Bono’s performances than it is about the total quality of encountering music. U2’s music subdues us. We are overcome. We are cleansed, healed, and empowered. We are lifted up and persuaded to do what we could not do before. We become what we could not have become otherwise apart from the music—we feel we are certain about this. We come to and receive U2’s music for its ability to connect the ordinary to the extraordinary. Some songs are better for a scourging, others cleanse, heal, and fortify one for what’s next. U2 has more songs that do all of the above—such as “One,” “With or Without You,” and “Moment of Surrender”—than perhaps all other rock bands, which helps explain how U2 became U2 and why this book exists. Fans approach U2’s music prepared for transcendence, to receive the music and the grace it provides, Bono’s long been a fan of the English hymn “Amazing Grace,” by Issac Newton, and after once telling Steve Turner he thought it was the greatest contribution to music the English have made, Turner was prompted to research and then write the biography of the song Amazing Grace: The Story of America’s Most Beloved Song. It seems Bono can’t get over the opening lines of the first verse especially: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” He’s often revealed his affection and gratitude for grace and its sound in interviews and song lyrics since, but for a short film called A Grand Madness (1997) he said “Amazing Grace” would be his pick for the last song he’d want U2 to play for its last concert ever. Why? “It’s a sound. How sweet the sound. I’ve never been able to figure that one out” (Evans 1997, 10:50-). In 2010, while convalescing from back surgery but anticipating U2’s appearance at the famed Glastonbury Festival, Bono told Rolling Stone’s David Fricke that “music is a sacrament for us.” In that interview, Bono explained U2’s new song, “Glastonbury,” was informed by the Christian


U2 and the Religious Impulse

legends surrounding the flowering white rose of Glastonbury, England, and that for Bono, a pilgrimage to Glastonbury was a more compelling reason to keep U2’s upcoming gig than the typical fun a music festival afforded. And in 2014, Bono reiterated his belief in the sacredness of music by implying it is worth a price and therefore Apple had to pay U2 for Songs of Innocence before Apple gave the album away for free: “I don’t believe in free music. Music is a sacrament” (Mayer 2014). U2 fans with deep attachments to the music tend to respect it as a sacrament too, often ritualizing their listening and concertgoing experiences and finding they receive a kind of blessing befitting a pilgrimage. A recurring tale over decades of U2 fan writing testifies to the “uplift,” either by a song coming into one’s life just when they felt they needed it most or from the healing a concert experience gave them. A. J. Hartnett, a lifelong U2 fan who died late in 2017 after multiple bouts with cancer over several years, attended nine concerts in six weeks on U2’s The Joshua Tree Tour 2017, seeing it as part of his treatment regimen. His writing is a good example of what many U2 fans typically say about how U2 affects their spirits: I have just spent six weeks with the music of U2, U2 fans, and a cross section of America. It has been like a six-week spiritual retreat … My internal systems have been re-wired in a good way by the music and its message. The U2 community you meet along the way is incredible. And hanging with the ministers of the music, night in and night out—Bono, Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr. … there are no words for that … The body might be failing, but the spirit rises to the occasion and conquers whatever the physical malady might be. All of this has been my sanctuary the last six weeks. (2017a)

In another instance, Hartnett wrote: I had spent most of my life working on my spirit, and all that effort was starting to pay some dividends as I fought to raise myself from the ashes. Faith, hope, prayer, meditation and the like. Along with my own practices, U2’s music was there to drag me away from the darkness and back into the light—to give me purpose. At its core, listening to U2 is a spiritual experience. It seems clear to me they were spiritually inclined and anointed at a very young age, and that influence has continued to evolve and grow. (2017b)

Hartnett’s impression of U2's inclination to make the spiritual elements of life a distinction of its music and its career in rock ‘n’ roll matches the views shared in many biographies and critical studies of the band. Steve Stockman’s Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 (2001) was the first book-length biography to focus exclusively on both the Christian influences on U2 in its formative years and Christian themes in the U2 songbook. Short books interested in the Christian theology of the band’s music followed, notably Robert Vagacs’s Religious Nuts, Political Fanatics: U2 in Theological Perspective (2005), Christian Scharen’s One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God (2006), Stephen Catanzarite’s Achtung Baby: Meditations On Love in the Shadow of the Fall (2007), and Greg

U2’s Sacrament of Sound


Garrett’s We Get to Carry Each Other: The Gospel According to U2 (2009). A unique book of sermons developed from U2 lyrics mixes theological analysis with devotional writing and practical application in Raewynne J. Whiteley and Beth Maynard’s Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog (2003). My previous edited collections, Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll? (2011) and U2 Above, Across, and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Assessments (2014), still show some attention to spiritual topics, but also indicate there is a wider, and still growing, interest in critical inquiries into U2’s music, work, and influence. Based on reading band interviews that now span more than thirty years, Bono’s statements in solo interviews and projects, U2’s autobiography U2 by U2, and drawing from my own analysis and the now-robust bibliography of academic and popular articles and books that supports the field of U2 studies,1 I find ample evidence for concluding U2 has intended for quite some time—perhaps from its first live performances in the late 1970s—to be more Bach than Bacchus, composing for a pattern and beauty found in a higher realm, wanting to draw listeners into a grandeur no wine, dance, or earthly sensuality can achieve. As sound, U2’s songs are transformative, as are the vibrations of Orpheus’s plucked lyre, pulsing through us, enchanting even the stones and the stoniest of hearts. We enact our feelings of loss and love with more courage because of this music, and we find that unseen powers seem more inclined in our direction. In return, devoted fans give U2 a high and holy place in their lives, a place typically reserved for an oracle or priest. Many fans listen to U2 and attend concerts as they would include a spiritual discipline in their lives like fasting, prayer or yoga, thinking it will help their inner and outer life, as A. J. Hartnett did. One gets the sense from listening to the more devoted fans that U2 acts as a kind of supplement for spiritual growth or religious performance, if not as a religion itself. For example, Beth Nabi, a similarly longtime fan with a strong personal attachment to the music, wrote on her blog: It’s no stretch to liken music fanhood to religious worship. My denomination happens to be U2. Some people get it, some people mock it, some people begrudgingly indulge it. At times I’m a little embarrassed at my own fervor for this band. Other times I’m grateful I’ve found something that makes my life more meaningful. And then I realize that most everyone has some sort of religion, everyone’s looking for to fill that God-shaped hole—whether it’s with actual religion, their children, their job, their spouse, sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll, food, travel … In the absence of an actual religion, I’ve still managed to foster a great sense of spirituality and faith with the help of U2. (2012)

It would seem all of U2’s fans come with some degree of a religious expectation, as Nabi does, for U2 to do that trick again of making the music that moves them in a mysterious way, lifting their spirits higher and higher. In thinking of U2’s music sacramentally, or as a pulse listeners seek as a means to an end that body alone cannot achieve, we wish to emphasize in this book the variability U2 offers its listeners who come for this pulse. The dial, whether turned down or turned up,


U2 and the Religious Impulse

emits good vibrations for its fans, who willingly place their seeking spirits to lesser or greater degrees in the way of the sound. U2 is not a religion, of course, just as Jesus and Brahma, or the Torah and Quran, are not religions. U2 is the name of a rock band that makes art – specifically music – which it then presents with accompanying recording, performing, and visual arts created by a team of about a dozen more artists. It is worth making the fine point here about U2 as a quantity: just as U2 is not a religion, U2 is not a plurality per se. It is one rock band, formed by four people in 1976 who would go on to employ hundreds more, at times, to create the “U2 experience” that is a live show. Academics and grammatical purists will insist that one rock band takes the singular pronoun and singular verb forms, but, of course, as one’s fandom increases one gains more knowledge about the lives of the people who make up U2 and one develops more personally meaningful responses to U2, thus making it more difficult to talk about U2 as a singular collective. And so, U2 become a “they” to devoted fans. Students and scholars of U2, as well as many of its fans, also learn about the intentionally democratic organizational culture U2 has nurtured and protected among the four band members for making artistic and business decisions, and of the effort the band has put into preserving friendships, above even commercial and corporate success, among themselves and their families. Because of the collaborative working process within the band and its approach of not distributing music and not staging tours without consent from the whole group (which is not to say each band member is equally enthusiastic about the results), it is not without supporting evidence, therefore, for fans and scholars to receive and critique the art U2 makes as coming from a singular artist. Bono, due to his significant cultural status and public activism, complicates matters for many when trying to distinguish between what U2 is, thinks, and intends and what is Bono’s singularly held convictions. But with regard to the influences on U2’s art and the statements U2 hopes it makes by the time it is released to the public, it is logical to understand a U2 effort as wanting to mean what U2 means and as the product of a group’s discussions, debates, and decisions. More pertinent to this book’s topics, it is reasonable to think whatever is affecting a listener along a spiritual or religious line is, to the extent that U2 can produce and control the effect, not what just Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen, Jr., or any of the other individual artists who work for U2 was hoping for, but what U2 was hoping for. This is not to suggest that all of the band members agree in the particulars of their religious beliefs, and so the chapters in this book do not suggest that either. This book is not an attempt to reconcile the individual band member’s beliefs where they differ, nor is it especially interested in ascertaining their individual beliefs. Furthermore, arguing for whether or not a theological statement or interpretation derived from U2’s music is more or less in agreement with the orthodoxy of a particular religion was not a motivation for this project. Reading across all of the chapters, one might detect there are disagreements between contributors as to what is the more important spiritual quotient in U2’s art and how one should best receive U2’s art. As art, or as texts, U2’s creations have taken on lives of their own, appearing in homes, cars, offices, grocery stores, churches, movies, weddings,

U2’s Sacrament of Sound


funerals, and the personal spaces each listener brings them in to. How one receives art versus how one uses art is itself a fascinating and revealing study of human behavior, which I suspect is similar to the abiding interest the anthropologist has in religion. But the art U2 creates is intentional in its aim at the things of the spirit, and U2 attempts to voice the human experience in all its moods as it lives in bodily space and time. Bono sings laments and yearnings as willingly as he sings resolve, peace, and joy, and the band plays complementary tunings, chords, structures, and tempos with equal integrity and artistry. U2’s “goal” for the soul “is elevation,” welcoming all who wish to journey to a higher place, but U2 will not rush the course or take shortcuts along the way. There is ample time on each album, and in each live show, to sing of an inability to transcend in times one feels it needs to most. The intentional inclusiveness in the lyrics of metaphysical truths, if you like, matched by a distinct but not-too-angular music gives U2 enough contrast in the field while also enlarging its presence. As with religions or artists that have found an enduring cultural permanence in this regard, so it is with U2’s music. Popularity and accessibility have never been U2’s foes, nor have they been too gauche for U2 as artists. U2 takes the literal definition of popularity and simply wants people to like what they do; it takes a literal interest in the populous too, wanting its lyrics to sing out the band’s conclusions that a person likes to be heard, included, and regarded as more than a machine. What a person wants is to exist and flourish as body and soul, U2 believes, both here, now, and forever. How an Anglo-Irish rock band that four men formed in 1976 has been afforded a place of speaking for an international fan group of millions of men and women over two generations has much to do with what Bono describes as simply wanting his lyrics to be honest, about his feelings, his friends’ feelings, and the events we all must live through on earth as we wait for immortality. U2 will often rely on a rhetoric of coming from a different place, as aliens or strangers, which paradoxically increases fans’ feelings of intimacy when they experience that despite U2 being something other, something strange, it speaks their same soul language. Fans feel U2 “gets it” and “gets them,” and thus forge a tight bond through this identification, syncing pulse to pulse. Fans then entrust U2 to carry their most delicate feelings to a place they cannot reach on their own to be affirmed and validated, and then returned with a blessing. This interest of the fan approaching U2 in a way similar to how a seeker comes to a sacred text and then, perhaps, attends gatherings organized for inculcating the values and practices developed from that text with a desire to accomplish something the seeker feels unable to accomplish on her own is what we in this book examine as the religious impulse in U2 fans. U2 functions for these fans in a way that perhaps is best described as a totem, in the sense of Emile Durkheim’s conclusion of how an object or person functions in totemic religions, provoking an energy that loops back through it as and amplified by its followers (1964, 210). It’s worth emphasizing again, here, that although Bono is typically regarded by fans and the general public as the totem, it should be U2, the band of four plus many more, who are in this role. Studies of U2 and religion thus far, as those noted above, have looked straight ahead at what U2 offers the religiously inclined fan, and though some studies are richly nuanced, they have all reached these same


U2 and the Religious Impulse

conclusions: that U2’s spiritual energy comes from Christianity (with which I agree); its performance of this energy is unequaled in the history of popular music (with which I also agree); and most Christian fans are satisfied with most of U2’s music. (This last point, while generally true, is more interesting in its particulars and in the nuanced ways Christian fans receive and use U2’s music. In the fandom of U2’s Christian fans, there can be strong preferences for certain albums or eras over others, and among U2’s Christian fans are robust discussions over the theological import of a song or the appropriate life-contexts in which to play certain songs.) Previous studies of U2 and its fans are replete with statements along theological or apologetic lines suggesting why fans who either believe in or are seeking the God of Christianity are drawn to U2, and nearly all of those studies are rooted in analyzing U2’s lyrics. This book, in contrast to the previous studies on U2 and religion, furthers the field of U2 studies by suggesting reasons based on more than theological analyses of lyrics for why the religious impulse in fans is so satisfyingly met by U2. Additionally, and uniquely in contrast to previous studies, this book also examines why a broader group of religiously inclined fans are interested in U2. Two sections of chapters examine matters of sound and space, respectively, while two other sections explore the affective domains in fans who receive U2 and identify with religious elements found in its songs and performances. I have chosen to present these sections in an alternating pattern tied to the larger themes of the book, partly for variety’s sake but also to offer, if one were to read through all the chapters sequentially, reprisals in the second half of the book that broaden and deepen the concepts introduced in the first half. The chapters in Part I: Meet Me In The Sound analyze the architecture of sound, while the chapters in Part III: Escape Yourself, And Gravity analyze the architecture of space. Both sections enrich and extend previous studies along new lines built on arguments that are musicological, phenomenological, or spatial-sacral. In Part I: Meet Me In The Sound, Henrik Marstal argues that the early sound of The Edge’s guitar draws upon harmonics connoting spiritual pursuits which are related to the bell-ringing music found in religious and cultural contexts. Christopher Endrinal examines crucial repeated constructions in U2’s music and finds that a repeated gesture, or motive, indicates a consistent interest in communicating the band’s spiritual interests throughout its career. Steve Taylor concludes this first section with an argument tracing how U2’s interest in Morocco’s spiritual climate moved from a visual interest to a sonic interest in the performance of “Mysterious Ways,” thereby suggesting an evolving awareness in U2 of the role sound has in bringing fans into a participative relationship with the Divine. Part III: Escape Yourself, And Gravity offers chapters investigating the role space plays in constructing sacred contexts. U2’s spectacular feat of playing in-the-round on its 360° tour (2009–2011) illustrates under Kimi Kärki’s analysis how an unprecedentedly sophisticated use of technology by U2’s show designers put concertgoers in the way of the sublime amid stadium rock rituals. Following on this study, Brenda Gardenour Walter also takes an interest in the hyper-modern space created on the 360° tour to achieve a medievally meaningful moment of ecstatic union with the Divine. Michael R. MacLeod and Timothy Harvie find a religious impulse in U2

U2’s Sacrament of Sound


itself to meld with the spaces it inhabits and allow for the flow between band and space to inform its songs and albums, suggesting to fans a process for discovering the sacred in the spaces of our lives. The chapters in Part II: Lift Me Out of These Blues and Part IV: You Give Me Something I Can Feel add to previous studies of U2’s effect on its fans a more complete picture via a necessary accounting for why fans of differing religious practices find U2 takes their spirits higher. By and large, these sections’ arguments demonstrate a nonsectarian presumption in U2 that music is for counterbalancing a heaviness in this world. The weight, or burden, though universal to humanity, is particular to each listener and thus is not something U2 wishes to identify any more narrowly than with music expressing feelings of being lost, afraid, alone, excluded, different, invisible, regretful, or ashamed, and with words matching that music which are synonymous with those feelings. What U2 seems most interested in offering is a power to break whatever holds the spirit of a person down at a lower plane. Even if U2 draws from Judeo-Christian definitions of what causes the burden and the liberation, its genius is, again, to express it with a music connoting and with words signifying feelings of acceptance, love, joy, and peace. In Part II: Lift Me Out of These Blues, Nicola Allen and Gerald Carlin study Rattle and Hum (1988) as U2’s album of reclaiming, complicating, and updating the counter-cultural passion for peace, love, and social justice of the 1960s. Richard S. Briggs unpacks the PopMart tour’s (1997–1998) form and function to indicate U2’s compelling way of performing a music of both hope and complicated reality, heightened by and perhaps best appreciated at U2’s concert for the admittedly despairing Sarajevo of 1997. The uplift U2 reliably provides in songs and concerts, no matter the time or place, has much to do with the healthy acknowledgment in U2’s lyrics of the power shame has over a person, as Mark Meynell presents in his insightful explanation of this part of the religious impulse that moves so many listeners toward U2’s music. In Part IV: You Give Me Something I Can Feel, Naomi Dinnen writes from a Jewish perspective on the wealth of Jewish concepts represented in U2’s lyrics, thereby providing an informed, supported explanation that improves our understanding of what has been observed for a long time: that U2’s fandom extends well beyond a Christian fan group. Angela Pancella appreciates the ambiguity of belief and doubt in some of U2’s songs, and after playing these songs for people who profess theism and for people who profess agnosticism, atheism, or humanism, she interviewed them to ascertain what U2 offers that attracts the theist and nontheist, and what also might be a model in U2’s approach for sustaining a diverse community. Neil R. Coulter offers a study of a very specific group of fans with religious impulses identifying with U2, namely American evangelical teens in the 1980s who formed part of the complicated identity U2 itself had with the contemporary Christian music industry in its early years. Coulter’s multi-methodological examination of this subset of U2’s fans points to the strong desires most fans have to idolize their bands. Lastly, for this book, we end with an argument from Mark Peters that although when fans, critics, and scholars have sought a greater appreciation and understanding of U2 along religious lines they have looked at U2 through the lens of Christianity, U2 itself


U2 and the Religious Impulse

has not, in fact, asked to be appreciated or understood in the singular context of Christianity. Rather, Peters suggests, U2 advocates for religious humanism, which he sees as the best context in which to evaluate U2 because it is compatible with Christianity but does not necessitate that religion’s specific tenets for either fully receiving U2 or enacting the values U2 preaches. The impulse for something structured and replicable that can elevate body and spirit is an impulse familiar enough to the human condition to not need much proof of its existence, yet understanding the impulse invites a host of disciplinary approaches. U2 has done very well at meeting its fans along the current of this impulse with its sacrament of music. And in doing so, U2 has become a myth itself for narrating this common but inscrutable truth: that sound moves us most mysteriously so.


Chapter 1 “E D G E , R I N G T HO SE B E L L S” : T H E G U I TA R A N D I T S SP I R I T UA L S OU N D S C A P E S I N E A R LY U 2

Henrik Marstal

I believe in the bells of Christ’s Church Ringing for this land. U2, “A Celebration” (1982)

A Beginning Throughout Virginia Woolf ’s novel Mrs. Dalloway, published in 1925, the protagonist of the same name offers a number of vivid and sensuous impressions of daily life in Westminster during two consecutive days in June 1923, including recurring references to the bells of Big Ben and sometimes also the nearby St. Margaret’s Church, as well as other churches (Woolf 1992). The working title of the novel was actually The Hours, and with their continuous layers of ringing and lingering tintinnabulation, these clock and church bells measure out the hours of Mrs. Dalloway’s daily life in a Londonian post–First World War setting. Mrs. Dalloway can be understood as a literary counterpart to numerous songs made by U2 in the early stage of the band’s career from 1980 to 1984 as heard on the studio albums Boy (1980), October (1981), War (1983), and The Unforgettable Fire (1984) as well as a number of stand-alone singles (1980–1982) and the live mini-album Under a Blood Red Sky (1983). Throughout this period, bell-like guitar soundscapes performed by guitarist the Edge (né David Howell Evans) were almost constantly present as a major contribution to the overall signature sound of the band. Like the church bells in the novel, these particular soundscapes were more or less all over the place in early U2, almost resembling a bell choir performing at a celebration. Even though Virginia Woolf undoubtedly displays a spiritual focus in Mrs. Dalloway, religious connotations of the continuous tintinnabulation of the bells are not part of it. The opposite is the case with U2, though: here, the harmonics, bell-like chimings and ringing sounds explored primarily in numerous guitar parts throughout the songs embody a spiritual dimension. (The Christianity and spiritual core of the band is well-known and documented.1) Besides, bells are


U2 and the Religious Impulse

usually associated with religion, albeit more mundane bells provide a significant part of Western everyday soundscapes (doorbells, bike bells, alarm bells, bells in buses and trams, and so on). These soundscapes form a musical counterpart together with a fabric of other spiritual components: 1. The anthemic endeavor in the musical performances as well as in the production. 2. The usually ecstatic voice quality and mesmerizing phrasing of front singer Bono. 3. The scope of the lyrics with their many overt and concealed Christian and biblical references.2

I will argue that these components form a synergy with 4. The Edge’s soundscapes, which affect the overall design of early U2 in terms of musical arrangements as “a band of spiritual commitment” (Kline 2012, 129).

There are presumably many ways of outlining the spiritual habitus of U2 and analyzing the Edge’s contributions on the guitar understood as a spiritually informed practice might indeed be one of them.3 In this chapter, I pursue the idea that the ringing soundscapes of the guitar is at least as important a marker of spirituality in early U2 as the three other above-mentioned components. Moreover, I will attempt to put the soundscapes performed by the Edge into a broader cultural perspective by relating them to other musical realizations of the zeitgeist. Not least during the period from 1980 to 1984, the Christian faith of the three band members Bono, the Edge, and drummer Larry Clayton Jr. (but not bass player Adam Clayton)4 provided a point of reference not only in terms of lyrics and visual appearance, but also in terms of musical arrangement and production, that is, atmosphere and sound, thus marking a prominent post-punk-related contribution to the commercial production and consumption of spirituality as well as of Christianity.5 In this sense, U2 had plenty of reasons not only to “believe in the bells of Christ’s Church” (as Bono sings on the stand-alone single “A Celebration,” quoted at the beginning of this chapter), but also to rely on bell-like soundscapes to prove it. Taking my point of departure in the assumption that the chime-sounding soundscapes performed by the Edge are equivalent to a Christian signifié of tolling bells, I will attempt to detect the spiritual dimension of U2 by investigating issues related to connections between organological studies on the one hand and the musical arrangements on the other, that is, between the sound of bells in Christianity and the Edge’s idiomatic exploitations of his musical equipment (guitars, amps, effects pedals, and picks)6 as well as techniques related to the creation of bell-like “signature guitar chimes” (Calhoun 2012, 241).7

Guitar Soundscapes in Early U2


Sound Material The Edge’s guitar techniques developed as an essential part of the signature sound of early U2 due to his musical ingenuity. This is appreciated within the band as well: Bono once likened the Edge’s presence in the band to a spaceship.8 Moreover, the tight and solid ensemble playing of bass guitarist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. allowed the Edge to pursue a lighter and more atmospheric approach, although basic rhythm parts on the guitar are also common in many early U2 songs. It should be added, however, that other guitar techniques such as slide playing, muted playing, the use of noisy sounds as well as the use of the E-bow were present as well, all of which do not necessarily evoke any bell-like associations. The Edge’s bell-like techniques can be divided into three categories: 1. The use of harmonics 2. The use of two-note chords or light power chords9 performed on the upper strings of the guitar (sometimes with the use of an open string as a drone) 3. The use of single notes, usually high pitched.

For the sake of brevity, I will focus on the most prominent technique, the use of harmonics, and then provide a few examples of the two other techniques.

Harmonics Harmonics, also called flageolets, can be produced on many instruments, including string instruments like the guitar. Instead of pressing the string into the fingerboard and thus making a stop on the string—the way in which notes are usually produced on a guitar—the open string is merely touched with the finger, resulting in a quite pure tone quality, especially when this is done on certain frets of the fingerboard due to the nature of the partials of a given string. These partials all sound between one octave and up to several octaves higher than the notes themselves (had the finger been pressed down on the fingerboard), resulting in sounds operating in the absolute treble area of the frequency range of the guitar. About three out of four U2 songs from the first four albums are arranged with the use of the three basic open strings E, A, and D, although in the case of U2 the standard tuning of the guitar strings (and bass strings as well) have been tuned down one semitone to provide a slightly darker sound and meet the tone range of Bono’s voice in the most optimal way.10 This means that songs performed in, say, the E minor key which is the most common key in early U2 songs, ring a semitone lower, that is, E flat minor.11 Similarly, songs performed in A major or A minor ring in A flat major12 or A flat minor,13 and songs performed in D major or D minor ring in D flat major14 or D flat minor.15 The choice of these keys with maximum use of open strings made it possible for the Edge to integrate harmonics,16 often by combining them on different frets and strings.


U2 and the Religious Impulse

A textbook example is the middle section of “I Will Follow” (Boy) (2:06-2:30),17 where the three upper strings are used at the same time, stroked at the beginning of each bar. Here, the Edge alternately makes use of the harmonics on the guitar which corresponds with the three first overtones of the partials which also are the three most distinct sounding: The ones performed on the twelfth fret (sounding one perfect octave above the actual pitch of the corresponding note), the seventh fret (sounding one perfect octave plus one perfect fifth above, often called a “perfect twelfth”), and the fifth fret (sounding two perfect octaves above), making the guitar part of the song “sound like the bells of St. Clements” (Fallon (ed.) 2016, 9). The guitar intro to “Another Time, Another Place” (Boy) (0:00-0:11) is entirely made up of harmonics of a more varied character, including the harmonics on the fourth fret (two perfect octaves and a major third above pitch) and incorporating harmonics on other frets as well. Harmonics make up the basis for the primary guitar part in the verses (as well as the instrumental verse introductions), played alternately on, respectively, the twelfth, seventh, and fifth fret (0:25-0:56; 1:27-1:58; 4:17-4:30), just like in “I Will Follow” and, for that matter, in a section toward the end of “Fire” (October) (2:59-3:25). Harmonics are also used as single notes, a feature which is prominent in the choruses of “Gloria” (October) (0:47-1:12; 1:462:12) as well as the backup for the guitar solo in the build-up part in the middle of the song (2:19-3:00). Furthermore, harmonics are substantially included many other songs.18 The use of harmonics is also heard in songs preceding the debut album. This is prominent in the concluding part of the stand-alone single “11 O’Clock Tick Tock” (1980), a part that can only be heard during the fade, though, but appears much more prominently in the live version of the song performed live on Under a Blood Red Sky. The technique can also be heard on the B-side of the single, “Touch.” Both songs indicate that this technique was an integral part of the guitar arrangements at a very early stage of the band’s career.19 Concerning the use of harmonics, the Edge said in 1982: I don’t think a lot of people realize the musical benefit harmonics can give to a song. I just developed that a bit and brought the harmonics more to the foreground. Some of our songs use harmonics as the main guitar part. (Nolan 1982)

In 1986 he said: There are various guitar sounds that interest me, and one of them is a melodic, linear way of playing, that has a kind of cutting clarity. I realized quite early on that a harmonic, let’s say, can be so pure and finely-focused that it has the incredible ability to pierce through its environment of sound, just like lightning. I’ve always wanted to be able to do that. (Hutchinson 1986)

The two statements indicate that the Edge certainly was determined in his insistence of harmonics as a means of creative expression and fulfillment—the

Guitar Soundscapes in Early U2


songs making use of harmonics constitute a little more than half of the U2 catalog up to 1984. In addition to the Edge’s performances, bass player Adam Clayton also makes use of harmonics on several tracks in U2’s early recordings,20 resulting in a lower register mirroring of the guitar and at least one point, an act of dynamic interaction with the guitar, when four songs in a row on Boy using harmonics (“An Cat Dubh,” “Into the Heart,” “Out of Control,” and “Stories for Boys” are followed by the solo bass intro of “The Ocean” [0:00-0:12]), displaying harmonics galore, a feature which continues throughout the song.21 Two-Note Chords Another bell-like signature sound of the Edge is derived from the use of two notes played more or less at the same time, usually in terms of a perfect fifth (or a perfect fourth), performed on the upper strings of the guitar. Once again, “I Will Follow” is a textbook example of this technique, which constitutes the recurring main guitar theme throughout the song (0:02-0:27; 0:40-0:52; 1:17-1:29; 1:54-2:05; 2:312:55; 3:20-3:30). Similar soundscapes can be heard in many other U2 songs. Single Notes In some songs, the use of single notes or strings of single notes can also sound bell-like. For instance, this is the case throughout “An Cat Dubh” (Boy), especially in the instrumental passage toward the end of the song (3:58-4:23). Another example is “A Day Without Me” of the same album (1:20-1:32) and “With a Shout (Jerusalem)” (October) (0:44-0:51; 0:58-1:02; 1:41-1:47; 1:53-1:59). A similar example is the theme riff of “Rejoice” on the same album (0:00-0:23; 1:34-1:45). These sounds are partly constructed due to the usually very bright, overtoneridden overall sound of the Edge’s playing as well as the combination of his own picking technique and his guitar rig which I will return to later. With reference to these findings in the above-mentioned three categories, it should be noted that the Edge’s chimey soundscapes emulate the sound of bells in general rather than copying them. This has to do with a number of circumstances: a) Even though a certain amount of modulation is added from the echo unit of the Edge’s guitar rig, resulting in a slightly pitch shifting character of the notes, the partials of real bells will usually produce much broader pitch changes than in the case in the Edge’s soundscapes. b) The notes are usually performed quite fast on the guitar, usually in note values like dotted crotches or quavers, sometimes even semiquavers. But since the sound of especially larger bells will need time to unfold, they are usually likely to be stroked at a slower pace. c) Due to the production of complex overtone rows, many bells create partials, which emphasize discordant intervals, often resulting in rich clusters of pitches and tonal ambiguous structures. This is not the case at all for the U2


U2 and the Religious Impulse

guitar soundscape, where pitches and overtone rows are always accurate due to the much more clearly defined partials of notes produced on the fretboard, including harmonics.22 d) Bells have all kinds of sizes: The bigger they are, the more low-frequency notes (and corresponding partials) they will produce, and the smaller they are, the more high-frequency notes (and corresponding partials) they will produce. But the Edge’s soundscapes are almost exclusively confined to high-frequency notes and harmonics of the upper strings of the guitar, which means that he emulates small bells, not huge ones. e) According to the nineteenth-century organologist Victor-Charles Mahillon as well as the definitive Hornbostel-Sachs classification system of musical instruments, bells are organologically speaking defined as idiophones, while string instruments such as the guitar are defined as chordophones. This essential differentiation between the actual soundscape (being performed on a chordophone) and its associative resonance makes the emulative character of the Edge’s performances clear. Notwithstanding, the Edge’s guitar playing does invoke the sound of bells as a means of displaying the aesthetic quality of the sounds themselves, as well as contributing to the spiritual or Christian evocation of the songs.

Bells as Musical Markers of Spirituality, Christianity, and Irishness The concept of bells used for religious purposes dates back to ancient Chinese dynasties. Bells were used in societies throughout the world even before the use of written language (Perrin 2006). Originally, the ringing of bells had two main religious functions: to announce death and call people to worship (Ibid.). The sound of bells was often believed to be so majestic that it attracted the attention of the gods, chased evil forces away, and represented the extremes of existence as well as its original entity (Stefánsson 2009, 231). Moreover, bells could be said to be the sound-wise equivalent of the alliance between heaven and earth, an essential component of any Christian church with an appurtenant bell tower. Church bells have been woven into the fabric of Christianity for most of its very existence in the Western world, probably as early as around the year 750 on the British Isles (Perrin 2006). Since this religious set of beliefs has dominated spiritual life as an institution ever since, the sound of bells is closely associated with Christian beliefs and values. The use and the sound of bells might therefore hold associations related to these beliefs and values, especially when set in a spiritual setting and/or with the use of texts or lyrics with a specific Christian content. Because the sound of bells has been an integral part of music making for centuries, countless pieces of music have used bells or bell-like sounds. Whether the composers of these pieces have lent the certain qualities and associations of bells by doing so, or whether religious or quasi-religious aspects have been appealing to deploy into the context of music, the repertoires in question have served the

Guitar Soundscapes in Early U2


purpose of bringing bell sounds related to spirituality and/or Christianity into the musical world, itself often being a spiritual matter in the first place. In addition, bells have found use in countless nonmusical contexts, in rituals of all kinds as well as remedies in various meditation practices. Like in Mrs. Dalloway, bells have served the purpose of telling the time since the Middle Ages. Church bells never exclusively served religious functions but also rather mundane functions such as waking people up or informing them that it was time to go to sleep, announcing market openings, and so on. In the Republic of Ireland (henceforth “Ireland”), more than 80 percent of the population adhere to the Roman Catholic Church. The rather ubiquitous concept of Catholicism in society means that, for example, schools may often have a Catholic ethos, just like Catholicism may be associated with Irish nationalism and notions of Irishness, bearing in mind what John O’Flynn reminds us about in his study The Irishness of Irish Music, namely that “imaginings of national identity usually require particular sets of material conditions in addition to purely symbolic resources.” (2009, 9) In this case, these resources are related to the Catholic ethos in Irish everyday life. With reference to John Connell and Chris Gibson (2003, 143), O’Flynn claims that: We can consider music in the context of Irish national identity as a “porous” cultural field, with the maintenance and/or revision of Irishness dialectically related to the increasingly “transnational flow” or musical identities. (O’Flynn 2009, 9)

It is in this cultural field that the Edge’s stylistic use of guitar techniques related to harmonics, bell-like chiming, and ringing sounds is at work: as a marker of the ancient sound of bells performed on a modern electric guitar in combination with state-of-the-art electronic devices and equipment, and as a marker of traditional Irish music practices as well as representations combined with international rock genres within the context of popular music production and music consumption.23 On this matter, the Edge said back in 1986: Perhaps most important of all is the Irish influence on my use of drone strings, which was something I started to do quite instinctively before I could afford a bank of expensive effects. In the early years I used quite clean sounds, generally playing higher strings, and plucking them with a pick, but playing the melody against a drone. (Hutchinson 1986)

Throughout numerous songs, the Edge emulates the concept of bell ringing, which includes change ringing for church services where the church tower bells ring down the scale or perform other sequences on instruction, known as rounds all over the British Isles. It is thus tempting to call the Edge a modernday bell ringer, offering his services in the context of the ever-present U2 church. In this respect, his guitar playing confirms the notion brought forward by Dave Bowler and Bryan Drays that from the very beginning U2 were instinctively


U2 and the Religious Impulse

“Irish musicians making Irish music” (Bowler and Dray 1993, 61). With another reference to the preliminary quote from “A Celebration,” it means that “the bells of Christ’s Church” in early U2 are “[r]inging for this land” as well. The concept of “Irishness” present in various guitar parts performed by the Edge (not to speak of U2 as such), “echoes the conflation of the concepts of ‘local’ and ‘authentic’ within rock ideology” (O’Flynn 2009, 21), just as is the case in many other national related “dialects” of rock. This said, the inclusion of traditional Irish sounds in early U2—such as the uilleann pipes on “Tomorrow” (October) and the fiddle on “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Drowning Man” (War)—shows that a sense of national music identity was also at stake in early U2.24 Notwithstanding, the bell-like soundscapes in early U2 display the notion that bells are part of the everyday soundscape throughout the Irish community and that these bells are symbolic markers of Christianity. As a Christian, the Edge practices so to speak what he preaches through the guitar, creating a musical language, which parallels or mirrors the anthemic quality of Bono’s melodies and use of biblical references in the lyrics. At the same time, the bell-like soundscapes serve several musical functions: They create dreamy, ambient atmospheres (underlined by the use of technical equipment, not least echo devices) which allow the band to move in a rather introvert direction, while at the same time creating an extrovert and powerful discourse of high-pitched, ringing notes. On Boy, the incorporation of these guitar techniques was complemented by the feature of a glockenspiel in “I Will Follow,” “An Cat Dubh,” and “Into the Heart” (performed by producer Steve Lillywhite, though, not the Edge [Graham and van Oosten de Boer 2004, 8]). Moreover, the bell-like guitar soundscapes conveyed an enormous emotionality, which also corresponded with the vocal duties of Bono. Dan Pinkston notices that the Edge’s “guitar timbres and textures” were a distinct marker of U2’s sound from the very beginning (2012, 150). Pinkston quotes rock journalist Joe Bosso for describing the Edge’s sounds as “chimerical and chiming, echoey and evocative,” using a “whole new language for the instrument, one of harmonic squalls and ringing ostinatos” (Qtd. after Pinkston 2012, 150). Pinkston also points to the sonic images of the bells as a means to understand the Edge’s guitar playing, relating it to Igor Stravinsky’s piece Les Noces (1952) where the effect of ringing bells is also heard (Pinkston 2012, 152).

Guitar Soundscape Techniques and Musical Equipment In May 1982, a journalist writing for U2’s own fanzine, U2 Magazine, did an interview with the Edge about his guitar playing. The interview opens with this loyal praise of his style on the band’s hitherto two albums, Boy and October: There aren’t too many players who can honestly be said to have developed their own style on an instrument as cliché-ridden as the electric guitar, but undoubtedly one such musician is the Edge. In the five [sic] years since the band’s inception, he has steadily evolved a unique approach that owes absolutely

Guitar Soundscapes in Early U2


nothing to anyone, and indeed, I can’t think of anybody who sounds remotely like him. (Nolan 1982)

Even though this praise expresses a rather biased view of the Edge, the observations in question seem to be rather convincing, even though—as will be discussed in the next section of the chapter—other post-punk guitarists of the time also had “a unique approach” and were into, among other playing techniques, harmonics and ringing guitar parts as well. The equipment, which the Edge made use of at the time, was instrumental in creating his signature sound. Especially on Boy and October, he succeeded in combining his main musical equipment in a way which created a unique synergy: an electric guitar—a 1976 Gibson Explorer Limited Edition Reissue (used on all tracks on Boy and many tracks on October), an echo unit—an Electro Harmonix Memory Man Deluxe, and an amp—a 1964 VOX AC30 Top Boost chassis in a 1970s cabinet (Eriksson 2012).25 It seems that the harmonics became alive and airy by help of the slightly altering pitch modulation and warmth, which the Memory Man echo unit added to the signal. In addition, the Vox Amp had been pushed to create a bit of overdrive which made it easier to create the harmonics sound clear— the reason for this was the humbucker pickups of the Gibson Explorer, which has a higher output than, for instance, the single coil pickups of a Fender Stratocaster.26 In 1982, the Edge had this to say about this very guitar and its merits: I like a nice ringing sound on [a] guitar, and [with] most of my chords I find two strings and make them ring the same note, so it’s almost like a 12-string sound. […] It works very well with the Gibson Explorer. It’s funny because the bass end of the Explorer was so awful that I used to stay away from the low strings, and a lot of the chords I played were very trebly, on the first four, or even three strings. I discovered that through using this one area of the fretboard I was developing a very stylized way of doing something that someone else would play in a normal way. […] It seems the body shape affects the sound somehow. It’s a very vibrant guitar with lots of treble. (Nolan 1982)

Tim Darling offers another observation concerning the Edge’s musical equipment: [The] Edge’s guitar picks (and holding them correctly) are the key component of his chimey guitar sound. [the] Edge’s guitar picks (Herdims) have a dimpled half and a flat half. The dimpled half is supposed to be where you hold the pick (it gives it a better grip). Apparently, [the] Edge holds the pick either backwards or sideways so that the dimpled part of the pick grates the strings to sharpen the sound and give it a slightly grating punch—what some people call a “chime” sound. […] He was using the Herdims at least by [the time of] The Unforgettable Fire, and perhaps earlier. (Darling 2006)27

In-depth investigations of the Edge’s idiomatic experimentations and exploitations of his musical equipment (guitars, amps, effects pedals and picks)


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have been brought forward by researchers such as Tim Darling (2006) and revealed in interviews with the Edge (see, for instance, Leonard 2008).

Post-Punk Chiming: Kindred Spirits In this and the following section, I will put the Edge’s soundscapes into a broader cultural perspective by relating it to other musical realizations of the time. There is at least one cluster of possible influences on the harmonics, bell-like chimings, and ringing sounds of the Edge’s guitar playing other than the sound of actual bells: The British bands of the post-punk era of the period 1978–1981, i.e., U2’s early contemporaries whom they learned from, were inspired by, competed against, adhered to, and reconciled themselves with. These examples go to show that the Edge certainly wasn’t the only guitarist of this era working with bell-like textures, and certainly not the only one who would live up to the findings of Rolling Stone journalist Jon Pareles in his 1981 review of October: “U2’s contribution to the progress of rock is that they’ve divorced guitar heroics from the idea of a dazzling guitar hero” (Qtd. after Gardner 1994, xvii). It cannot be doubted, however, that the Edge used bell-like sounds with much greater consequence and insistence than anyone else among British post-punk bands. One prominent example is Siouxsie and the Banshees, which U2 admit to have been inspired by (McCormick 2006, 56; 58; 96). The opening track “Poppy Day” from the band’s second album Join Hands (1979) is introduced by the sound of tolling bells as related to the horrors of the First World War, which the album thematizes. Moreover, the track “Mother/Oh mein Papa” from the same album is based on a musical accompaniment of a bell-sounding music box playing the German evergreen “O, mein Papa” (written in 1939 by Paul Burkhard). The band’s debut single “Hong Kong Garden” (1978), just like Boy produced by Steve Lillywhite, could have inspired the aforementioned use of glockenspiel on the album’s opening track “I Will Follow.” In addition, the Banshees’ guitarist John McKay made use of harmonics as a means of artistic expression as well as a way of creating textures related to new approaches in the use of the electric guitar. For instance, he displayed a certain bell-like sound on songs like “Jigsaw Feeling” (The Scream, 1978), which undoubtedly was a point of reference for the Edge on “I Will Follow.” In addition, much of the guitar playing on Join Hands with its repeated two-note chords might be a point of reference as well, although McKay’s playing in general is much noisier and disharmonic than the Edge’s. Another possible inspiration for “I Will Follow” is the chimey guitar playing in Magazine’s “Because You’re Frightened,” released as the opening track on The Correct Use of Soap in May 1980, five months prior to the release of U2’s debut album Boy. It even seems that the Magazine track inspired much more than just the guitar part for “I Will Follow”. Magazine’s guitarist John McGeoch replaced McKay as the guitarist in Siouxsie and the Banshees in 1980, and might have been an inspiration as well, not least in songs like “Clockface,” “Paradise Place,” and “Skin” from the album Kaleidoscope, released in August 1980 which

Guitar Soundscapes in Early U2


in some respect resembles the Edge’s playing style. This is also the case with the Banshees’ stand-alone single “Israel,” released in November 1980. There is also the like-minded music by the Skids, whose guitarist Stuart Adamson (later of Big Country)28 displayed a chime-like playing technique in songs like “Of One Skin” (Scared to Dance, 1979) which could have inspired several tracks on Boy, not least “Out of Control.”29 The same can be said of The Slits’ Cut (1979), where guitarist Viv Albertine’s airy, sparse, and muted soundscapes heard on songs like “Instant Hit”, “Spend, Spend, Spend” and “Newtown” display a likeminded approach to the guitar as well. Moreover, there is the chimey playing of singer and guitarist Stephen Fellows of The Comsat Angels—whom U2 toured with on thirteen occasions in October 198130—on songs like “Waiting for a Miracle” and “Home Is the Range” from the band’s debut album Waiting for a Miracle, released in September 1980, one month prior to Boy. Concerning the active and deliberate use of harmonics, Fellows’ use of this technique was at the forefront on the minor hit “Independence Day” (later re-recorded for the album Land [1983]), sounding quite similar to the Edge, and with an intro and verses that almost seem to have constituted the very basis of the intro and verses of “Indian Summer Sky” (The Unforgettable Fire). In addition, the dark-sounding atmosphere of The Comsat Angels might have influenced early U2. The album Sleep No More (1981) contains a huge amount of chimey guitar soundscapes, as well (not least on the title track, “Be Brave,” and to a lesser extent, “Light Years”), although usually with a less riff-oriented approach than U2.31 Finally, the single-note chimey guitar-playing style by Public Image Ltd.’s Keith Levene (as heard on, for instance, “Public Image” from Public Image: First Issue (1978) “Albatross” from Metal Box (1979)) is undoubtedly a huge inspiration as well, which might to a lesser extent also be the case with Andy Gill of Gang of Four, Will Sergeant of Echo, and the Bunnymen and Vini Reilly of The Durutti Column, whose use of harmonics can be heard, for instance, on “Messidor” and “Belgian Friends” (LC, 1981). Andy Summers of the Police also used harmonics on “Can’t Stand Losing You” (Outlandos d’Amour, 1978) and “Regatta de Blanc” (Regatta de Blanc, 1979) in the form of so-called harp harmonics, that is artificial harmonics where a given plucked note is picked 12 frets above as a harmonic note. The technique was originally popularized by Chet Atkins. Nowhere, though, does the Edge sound more in accordance with a like-minded spirit than on “Play for Today” by The Cure, the opening track on the band’s second album Seventeen Seconds (1980). Here (and to a lesser extent on “Another Day” from Three Imaginary Boys [1979]), singer and guitarist Robert Smith displays the use of harmonics as an autonomous technique, making it clear that it had been adapted by guitarists of the era. The intro of the song is arranged with a very distinct guitar part consisting of nothing but harmonic notes, using not least the harmonics on the twelfth and fifth frets of the three upper strings, resulting in the combination of a root note, a minor third, and a perfect fifth in two different octaves. These are exactly the intervals which the Edge has made extensively use of in, for instance, the aforementioned middle section of “I Will Follow” from Boy.


U2 and the Religious Impulse

It is worth noting that Seventeen Seconds was released in April 1980 when U2 had just begun the recordings of Boy in the Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin.32 Among the bulk of lesser-known bands to use harmonics and chimelike guitars, another Dublin-based band, Chant! Chant! Chant!, deserves a mention. The stand-alone single “Quicksand,” released in November 1980, is such a song. This example also puts the Edge’s guitar soundscapes into perspective by suggesting that he, even though he is a unique and envisioned artist in his own right, has not been alone in his bell-related quest for musical integrity.33

Aspects of Polygenesis The Edge’ bell-like playing can also be understood in a much broader context of West European music production during the 1970s, though, where quite a lot avantgarde music and experimental popular music—some of it hugely influential— displayed a tendency for the use of bells or bell-sounding instruments. Even though the Edge might not have been aware of all these musical works and pieces, they serve as a point of reference for his playing, because these works and pieces legitimized the use of bells and bell-like sounds in modern music of a nonclassical orientation. To an extent, this is a case where we could, using a malapropism, easily talk about “La Belle Époque” of the late twentieth century. Here are a few prominent examples: Karlheinz Stockhausen’s piece Sternklang (1971) opens with the sound of bells. Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (1973) makes prominent use of not only tubular bells, but also glockenspiel. Pink Floyd’s “Time” from The Dark Side of the Moon (1973) made use of ringing clocks and watches, presumably inspired by the opening of “Klingklang” on Kraftwerk’s album Kraftwerk 2 (1972). King Crimson made use of chimes, bells, and kalimbas on the opening title track of Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (1973), and guitarist Robert Fripp made sparse use of guitar harmonics on “Easy Money” from the same album. To these examples, the compositional system called tintinnabuli can be added, which the Estonian post-tonal composer Arvo Pärt developed in a number of strictly triadic and minimalistic works from 1976 to 1980. Originally, the Latin word “tintinnabuli” was used by the seminal British campanologists Richard Duckworth and Fabian Stedman in their 1668 publication Tintinnalogia, or, the art of Ringing34 to denote the sound of (small) bells. This is how Pärt defines his system as well, even though it does not refer to the sound of actual ringing bells in his case (he has used bells in a few pieces, however). Rather, the word “tintinnabuli” refers to the act of combining two voices with each other where one voice (called the T-voice or tintinnabuli-voice) exclusively makes use of the three notes in the triad (usually in the Aeolian mode or minor mode), while another voice (called the M-voice or the melody-voice) exclusively makes use of the notes of a diatonic scale in the same key and mode as the first voice. Since the second voice often wanders

Guitar Soundscapes in Early U2


according to principles determined by the text in vocal pieces, the two voices or pairs of two voices might occasionally “meet” each other in the dissonant interval of a semitone or a whole step (theoretically speaking a minor or major second). Even though these sounds might ring like bells, it is first and foremost the continuous sound of the three notes of the triad in the T-voice, which is performed one at a time throughout the whole piece. This explanation is offered by the composer himself (in Marstal 2008, 142) and elaborated by biographer Paul Hillier, who argues that the reference to the sound of ringing bells in the T-voice makes sense because of the constant motion of the complex harmonic overtones related to the notes of the triad (Hiller 1989, 134). The concept of tintinnabuli is much more complex, though, at least for the composer himself who often has taken advantage of reflecting upon it in a Christian context, being rooted in the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1998, after decades of intense occupation with the principle, he said: Since the tintinnabuli technique I am using basically is an intuitive process, it is also a method to play with overtones and with space, because the triad is constantly present in the whole score I have composed for the last 25 years. In every vertical sound there is a triad ringing, and these triads are being dissolved in the series of overtones, which spread in the room like natural music. It might not be the case in the beginning of the piece, but as the music develops, the overtones play a considerably more dominant role for the sound in the room. It is similar to the sound of ringing bells, a musical form of expression, which knows no borders, but consists of a flood of overtones. (Sætre 1998; author’s translation)

During the aforementioned period 1976–1980, Pärt wrote around a dozen pieces which during the 1980s laid the cornerstone to his fame throughout the world, including Für Alina (1976), Summa (1977), Fratres (1977), Spiegel im Spiegel (1978), and Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten (1977/1980).35 These musical works form not only an essential part of “La Belle Époque” but also strengthen the notion that a certain focus on the spiritual matters of music-making—made possible via the incorporation or use of bells and belllike discourses—played a considerable role at the time. It points toward the question whether the zeitgeist of the 1970s endorsed and embraced a spiritual understanding of the role and fulfillment of music, both in terms of production and consumption. Moreover, it is tempting to ask whether there “was something in the air” which the Edge and other post-punk guitarists discovered in the course of an intuitive process, just like Pärt did when he developed the tintinnabuli technique. If there ever was such a thing as a spiritual zeitgeist that induced new possibilities for the electric guitar in the post-punk era, and if this was especially the case for the Edge, then it is possible to talk of the very emergence of an artistic polygenesis. In evolution theory, polygenesis denotes the notion that an organism is derived by a


U2 and the Religious Impulse

plurality of origins, from more than one source. In other words, the polygenesis concept suggests that without the spiritual canvas of music-making in the 1970s, and without the quest for musical results which connected itself to the sound as well as the religious discourse of the bell, the harmonics, bell-like chimings, and ringing sounds of not only the Edge, but also his post-punk guitar peers, might never have come into existence at all. This means that it makes sense to talk about the Edge’s guitar soundscapes at the time as a kind of electric tintinnabuli. Even though he doesn’t remotely make use of the systematic proceedings of written notes which the score in itself is able to emphasize, the intuitive way in which he transcends the punk aesthetics he grew out of and performs bell ringings instead is not just a technique, but also a synthesis of musical and religious matters. This might be an important reason why so many people are fascinated by the music of U2: In communities all over the world, bells have been the tokens with which time for prayer was announced. At the same time, they have been a spiritual device, which strived to waken the listening soul and establish the connection between the earthly and the Divine (Marstal 2008, 143). Like Pärt’s tintinnabuli processes, the Edge’s guitar soundscapes emulate the simplest possible motivic cells which are known from basic forms of music: bell ringing, Gregorian chants, or folk tunes. The most bell-oriented albums by U2 remain to this day Boy and October, two quite introvert and otherworldly albums, which contrast the more direct and politically explicit albums from War and so on. On October, such soundscapes accompany Bono’s extensive worship of God and biblical references. As it turns out, the inspiration for the album was partly due to Bono listening to U2 manager Paul McGuinness’s Gregorian chant albums, hence the use of Latin in “Gloria”36 and the static chanting in “Scarlet” (Graham and van Oosten de Boer 2004, 13), making both of them sheer Christian hymnodies. But Pärt’s interest in creating a simple yet powerful musical language, which eventually became the tintinnabuli principle, had also to do with experiences of Gregorian chanting. In 1967, as a young composer immersed in serialism and other modernist techniques, he came across a room where someone played an album with Gregorian chants. He says this about the experience: The music was so simple, so clear, so enlightening. I was astonished. And suddenly it occurred to me that this was the truth. I mean: This musical thinking. That was a turning point. (Qtd. after Marstal 2008, 116; author’s translation) He continues: My meeting with this music was essential for several reasons. It was a music with deep roots, which went back to the music of the synagogue. There was, like in folk tunes, something unbiased or impartial about the music as if it had taken an ideal form. This is not something, which a composer can do alone, since it is the long tradition for using the music which has made it hard as steel. One could say that the music was cleansed for all needless, and that made it so strong. (Qtd. after Marstal 2008, 117–18, author’s translation)

Guitar Soundscapes in Early U2


The emulations of bells in the Edge’s guitar soundscapes might refer to a similar reality: the sound of bells also being music, which has taken an ideal form, being cleansed from all needless components. This explains why these soundscapes make sense as a musical extension of Christian thought and words put into the efforts of many songs in early U2. And this is the electric tintinnabuli according to the Edge: the constantly ringing bell-like sounds of harmonics, chime-sounding two-note chords, and treble-ridden single notes, which ring with the spiritual vision of the band. According to U2 biographers Dave Bowler and Bryan Dray, the spirituality of October had to do with “the search for God and the submission of ego, along with the Christian concept of going through the experience of death in order to be born again” (1993, 141). This might be what the bell soundscapes in U2 are all about. And like church bells heard at a close distance, the sound of the Edge’s bells can certainly be deafening, physically as well as mentally, drowning out any attempt to escape them, sometimes even tolling for those who defy them.

An Ending Like in Mrs. Dalloway, where church bells not only fill the air with the sound of tintinnabulation, but also measure time, the electric tintinnabulation in early U2 is indicative of time passing: When War was released in 1983, the Edge’s use of electric tintinnabulation as an essential part of the “more atmospheric and impressionistic arrangements” (Bowler and Dray 1993, 124) on Boy and October had been confined to a limited amount of songs (first and foremost “Surrender”),37 only to reappear on several songs on The Unforgettable Fire the following year. But from that time on, electric tintinnabulation became a reference sound of the Edge more than a signature sound, only to be heard in a restricted number of songs, because an increased focus on playing techniques related to rock, blues, and country, and later on electronic genres as well came into existence. This said, electric tintinnabuli has continued to form a crucial element of U2’s live sound throughout the band’s career, where material from especially Boy and War, but also The Unforgettable Fire and October has been performed continuously. Thus, the legacy of the chimes and bells in the music of U2 lingers on, reminding every listener about how musical elements underline the spiritual qualities and references of the band. To conclude, the Edge has created a musical-spiritual vision by using a wellbalanced idiomatic combination of the electric guitar on the one hand and his musical equipment on the other. But at the same time, he completely transcends this idiom by giving the impression that his vision has less to do with the use of a certain instrument or musical equipment than with a spiritual endeavor whose means are in principle irrelevant compared to the means itself.


Christopher Endrinal

That U2’s songs often contain spiritual undertones is hardly a secret. That spirituality is a fundamental part of U2’s identity is any wonder given the band members’ somewhat diverse religious backgrounds. Despite all coming from Christian backgrounds, U2 has never identified as being specifically a Christian band. In fact, the band was leery of religion from the very start. “I didn’t feel anything about God and church, it just didn’t reach me … Religion felt all wrong,” recalls lead singer Bono (U2 and Neil McCormick 2006, 17–18). Bassist Adam Clayton was “extremely negative towards any religious organization” (U2 and Neil McCormick 2006, 59). At just 17, drummer Larry Mullen Jr.’s mother died. After that, he recalls, he stopped going to church (U2 and Neil McCormick 2006, 72). By the time U2’s debut album, Boy, hit shelves in 1980, Bono, guitarist the Edge, and Mullen were involved with a Charismatic Christian group called the Shalom Fellowship. At first, their involvement was not problematic. To the contrary, as the Edge recalls: “Those gatherings provided a kind of support system and that fed into the developing relationships in the band. We were going through a lot together, and there were deep bonds of friendship and respect between us” (U2 and Neil McCormick 2006, 72). Gradually, however, tension began to mount. According to Mullen, Bono and the Edge were “having real difficulties coming to terms with what was going on for them spiritually in their Christianity and what being in a rock ‘n’ roll band meant” (U2 and Neil McCormick 2006, 118). As U2’s relationship with Shalom progressed, the band’s fledgling music career was also on the rise. Boy was released to critical praise and a small but devoted following in Ireland, the UK, and the United States. In addition to facing the pressure of avoiding the dreaded “sophomore slump,” U2 was now under pressure to commit even more deeply to Shalom. It is at this point in U2’s history that this project begins. The corpus of songs starts with tracks from 1981, around the time Bono, the Edge, and Mullen were beginning to question their involvement with Shalom. These songs are linked thematically and musically. First, they each espouse a celebratory theme that is expressed explicitly in the lyrics, by the song’s overall character and tone,


U2 and the Religious Impulse

and/or reflected less directly through other musical elements like texture, timbre, instrumentation, or tonality. Second, the songs share a common musical gesture. In this chapter, I identify and illustrate specific examples of that gesture from across this corpus. Then, I analyze individual characteristics like pitch content and intervallic construction. Finally, using the musical theories of gesture, narrative, and meaning, I show how U2’s spiritual faith, represented by that musical gesture, has changed over the course of their career and how tracing these motivic changes can provide insight into U2’s spiritual development.1

Theoretical Foundations Although my hypothesis and subsequent analysis have changed since this project’s inception (more on this in the “Conclusions” section), Robert Hatten’s theory of musical gesture (2004) remained central to my analysis throughout the process. According to Hatten, a musical gesture is a “synthetic gestalt with emergent meaning” (94) that can be made of any element of music (pitch, rhythm, articulation, dynamics) (114). More specifically, his idea of treating these musical gestures as themes allows me to analyze and interpret the music in the manner presented here. Hatten states that the most important function of musical gesture “comes from its thematization as motivic idea. A gesture becomes thematic if it is (a) foregrounded as significant, thereby gaining identity as a potential thematic entity, and then when it is (b) used consistently, typically as the subject of a musical discourse” [emphasis his] (Hatten 2004, 135). He continues, saying that the most elementary type of “thematization” results from the “markedness” of “repeated use.” (152). At the heart of my theory is a small musical segment, a gesture that I have identified in this collection of songs that satisfies Hatten’s criteria. It is used consistently across this corpus of songs in significant locations and is characterized by specific musical features. The identification and analysis of the gesture’s characteristics is the bulk of this chapter. Byron Almén’s theory of musical narrative (2003) is also employed here. U2’s long history has many narratives: musical, aesthetic, political, for instance. For this project, I was curious about how U2’s “spiritual story” is told through their music. According to Almén, “an effective [narrative] analysis must attempt to explain why certain musical events seem surprising, interesting, shocking, or otherwise salient” (Almén 2003, 20). My analysis explains why this particular musical gesture is used across U2’s catalog and how its use represents the band’s spiritual narrative. Finally, I turn to Leonard Meyer and his theory of musical meaning (1956). For Meyer, meaning is not inherent to an object (in this case, a musical gesture). It only is meaningful if it references or symbolizes something other than itself: Meaning is thus not a property of things. It cannot be located in the stimulus alone … Thus it is pointless to ask what the intrinsic meaning of a single tone or series of tones is. Purely as physical existences they are meaningless. They become meaningful only in so far as they point to, indicate, or imply something else. (Myer 1956, 34)

Evolution of U2’s Musical Gestures


In this chapter, the gesture symbolizes U2’s spiritual faith. An object’s meaning arises from the “relationship between (1) an object or stimulus; (2) that to which the stimulus points—that which is its consequent; and (3) the conscious observer” (Myer 1956, 34). This means that any stimulus can be interpreted to mean anything—to a point, obviously—so long as the stimulus (the musical gesture), its consequent (U2’s spirituality), and the conscious observer (the listener/researcher) are connected somehow. While some of the songs used here are not necessarily explicitly about God or spirituality, they can all be logically interpreted from a spiritual perspective. It is from this point of view that I have identified a thematic connection linking all the songs analyzed here.

The “Motive” The centerpiece of my analysis is a specific musical motive (heretofore the “Motive”). The Motive functions primarily as a melodic unit and is characterized by an overall descending contour spanning the range of a perfect fourth (five semitones). Three notes forming two successive intervals comprise the Motive: a descending second followed by a skip down of a third, respectively. Two types of Motives emerge: one with beginning with a minor second (one semitone) followed by major third (four semitones), and the other beginning with a major second (two semitones) and ending with a minor third (three semitones). For the rest of the chapter (and for the purposes of brevity), I will refer to these as the “m2M3” and “M2m3” Motive types, respectively. As I explain in the “Conclusions” section, the specific intervallic content of each instance of the Motive is directly linked to the band’s chronology and the relationship between their spirituality and the circumstances surrounding their musical career. Besides its pitch content and intervallic construction, the other defining characteristic of the Motive is its location within each song. Of course, not all motions of a descending second followed by a descending third are instances of the “Motive.” For a three-note segment descending first by second then by third to be classified as a Motive, it must be aurally salient and easily identifiable as the “Motive.” Therefore, the Motive occurs in conspicuous places such as on the last word(s) of a phrase or section, the highest note(s) of the section or song, on textually important lyrics, or separated from other notes by rests. Almost all the Motives examined here have unique rhythms. As a result, the metric and rhythmic properties vary from example to example. For instance, the metrical position and length of the Motive are not fixed; the Motive can begin anywhere in a measure (not just on the downbeat) and can last anywhere from two beats to several measures (depending on tempo and the constituent rhythms). These rhythmic and metrical variations, therefore, reinforce the primacy of pitch as the most important musical element when interpreting how each respective Motive relates to U2’s expression of its spirituality. Although most examples of the Motive (8/16, 50 percent) begin on the ^ ^ subdominant scale degree (4) and end on tonic ( 1), the Motive may begin and end on scale degrees other than tonic. The second-most common starting scale degree


U2 and the Religious Impulse

is the submediant (6^ ), occurring in approximately 19 percent of the Motives (3/16). ^ Two Motives (2/16, 12.5 percent) begin on ( 1), while the Motive in “Beautiful Day” ^ and the first Motive in “Magnificent” begin on the supertonic ( 2). The second Motive in “Magnificent” is unique in this corpus: it is the only one to begin on the ^ mediant ( 3) scale degree.

The Corpus In addition to the presence of the Motive, this career-spanning collection of songs is also related thematically. They all can be interpreted as a “celebration” of some aspect of the band’s faith, from subtle hints regarding spirituality to direct references to the story of Jesus Christ. The following analyses include a brief historical contextualization of the song and/or album, lyrical interpretations, and time-stamped transcriptions of the Motive.2 Using melodic, rhythmic, harmonic, and lyrical analyses, I will show how U2’s use of the two Motive types forms a timeline, the subject of which is the status of U2’s faith in the varying stages of their career. “Gloria” (1981) The Motive evolved over the course of the October album, the band’s second fulllength record and “first declaration to the outside world of the spiritual twist in the U2 story” (Stockman 2001, 23). According to the criteria defined above, Bono’s opening notes of the first track, “Gloria,” are “incorrectly” arranged. As Figure  2.1 illustrates, the first two notes are in the “wrong” order, forming an ascending second instead of a descending second. In the next measure, Bono again sings an “incorrect” version of the Motive. This time, however, instead of singing notes in the wrong order, Bono sings too many notes. The first three pitches on the words “sing this song” form the correct melodic contour and are organized in the proper intervallic order to be considered an example of the Motive, as if Bono recognizes his “mistake” from a measure earlier and attempts to “correct” it. But he uses two notes on the word “song,” lengthening the Motive by an extra pitch and thereby making this instance of the Motive “incorrect.” Additionally, the extra note affects the contour of the segment: the ascent from D♭5 to E♭5 on the word “song” changes the contour of the Motive from an overall descent to a concave shape.

Figure 2.1 Opening lyrics to “Gloria.”

Evolution of U2’s Musical Gestures


When interpreted along with the lyrics, it becomes clear that these “incorrect” instances of the Motive represent U2’s first efforts at expressing their faith explicitly. “This song” refers to the band’s faith, and Bono “trying to sing” represents the band’s attempt at expressing this faith. These two Motives, though erroneous, do reveal that the band learned valuable lessons about being rock musicians with spiritual inclinations. Bono describes “Gloria” as a “struggle” (U2 and Neil McCormick 2006, 113) with how best to profess spirituality without necessarily focusing on religion. Niall Stokes writes, “You can hear the desperation and confusion in some of the lyrics … ‘Gloria’ is really a lyric about not being able to express what’s going on, not being able to put it down, not knowing where we are” (2009, 23). The Edge agrees, describing October as U2’s “most awkward album in some ways, the most confused” (U2 and Neil McCormick 2006, 120). “Scarlet” (1981) “Scarlet,” the second-to-last track on October, is a sparsely textured song that simultaneously foreshadows U2’s future sound and aesthetic while also reveals the band’s spiritual ethos. The instances of the Motive in “Scarlet” are “correct” versions of the initial offerings presented in “Gloria” and illustrate a prototypical Motive that future “celebration” songs would incorporate. “I’m not ashamed [of my faith]. I’m just not going to go around and flog it like a second-hand car salesman” (Stokes 2009, 32). Perhaps this explains why Bono sings (and repeats) only one word throughout the entire song: “Rejoice.” This minimalist lyrical approach mirrors the sparse instrumental texture, both of which reflect Bono’s disinterest in putting his spirituality on display. The Motive appears approximately one minute into the song, when Bono sings the word “rejoice” high in his falsetto range, as illustrated in Figure 2.2. Figure  2.3 shows the m2M3 Motive reappearing about one minute later but ^ beginning on the subdominant scale degree (4) and descending to the tonic ^ ( 1). This musical evidence corroborates Stokes’s claim that “[‘Scarlet’] identified a vein that would yield further, greater riches later” (Stokes 2009, 32). In addition to foreshadowing future album closers like “40” and “MLK” as well as an expansive, atmospheric sonic aesthetic, “Scarlet” also presents the first celebratory Gesture that reappears consistently throughout the rest of U2’s catalog.

Figure 2.2 First appearance of the Motive in “Scarlet.”


U2 and the Religious Impulse

Figure 2.3 Second appearance of the Motive in “Scarlet.”

“Pride (In the Name of Love)” (1984) “Pride” is U2’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. and his advocacy of nonviolent protest in the name of social equality. Bono essentially calls King a modern-day Jesus, a man whose life was also taken from him because of the message he was trying to spread. There is a genuine honesty in the lyrics and music of “Pride,” but in a different way from “Scarlet.” That song was more naïve, more innocent, undoubtedly due to the band’s youth and lack of worldly experience. By 1984, however, the band had much more experience with and exposure to more cultures as a result of the increased travel that accompanied a burgeoning music career. Moreover, the honesty espoused in “Pride” could stem from the fact that U2 has seen and heard actual footage of King carrying out his mission. His eloquence and charisma are that much more impressive when considered in light of the systematic racism and blatant hatred against which he fought so poetically. The Motive initially appears at the end of the first line, on the lyrics “name of love” (see Figure 2.4). It occurs four more times at similar points throughout “Pride,” on the words “justify,” “barbed wire fence,” “empty beach,” and “April four.” The Motive is also present in the transition into the last verse (see Figure 2.5). Like the previous Motives in the song, the first two “Mmm’s” are of the m2M3 variety, which (not coincidentally) is the same intervallic construction and constituent ^ ^ ^ scale degrees (4-3-1) as the Motive in “Scarlet.” The last “Mmm” mimics Bono’s “erroneous” second attempt at the Motive in “Gloria” by ascending a major second after the third note of the Motive. While U2 is confident in their faith, Bono singing the Motive “incorrectly” indicates the band is still trying to reconcile their spirituality in the face of increasing celebrity.

Figure 2.4 First appearance of the Motive in “Pride (In the Name of Love).”

Figure 2.5 The Motive in the transition, just before the start of the third verse in “Pride.”

Evolution of U2’s Musical Gestures


“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (1987) By the late 1980s, U2 had ascended rock’s ranks and claimed the title of “biggest band in the world” with its chart-topping album, The Joshua Tree. The second track from the record, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” was the second single from The Joshua Tree and gave U2 a second consecutive number one song in the United States (following “With Or Without You”).3 Despite its seemingly discouraging title, “Found” can be interpreted as a celebration of steadfast faith in the face of seemingly countless challenges.4 U2’s unwavering spirituality is reflected by the sheer frequency of the Motive in “Found.” It is present at the end of several lyrical lines and appears a total of seven times throughout the entire song.5 A closer examination of this Motive’s intervals reveals a different construction from those in “Scarlet” and “Pride.” In “Found,” the Motive is of the M2m3 variety. This change in intervallic quality is directly tied to the scalar content, which is even more notable when considered in light of “Scarlet” and “Pride.” Whether intentional or not, and regardless of U2’s awareness of this connection, the ^ inclusion of 1 in those Motives—especially as either the initial pitch (departure) or the terminal note (return)—signifies that their faith was, at least in part, still rooted in or derived from their religious upbringings. As Figure 2.6 illustrates, ^ ^ ^ the Motive in “Found” begins on 6, descends to 5, and terminates on 3. It does ^ not, therefore, include 1. That this instance of the Motive begins and ends in the middle of the scale and does not include tonic symbolizes a revelation about the band’s spirituality, namely that it was no longer tied to any one religion or system of beliefs. It also signifies that the band’s faith is surrounded by—and subsequently tested by—obstacles and temptations. In U2’s case, it was the lifestyle of being the biggest band in the world. This Motive represents what Stockman identifies as “the struggles of personal faith, as well as the confusion that faith suffers from facing the world” (2001, 78).

Figure 2.6 The first two instances of the Motive in “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

“Even Better than the Real Thing” (1991) Achtung Baby (1991) sought to turn just about everything U2-related on its head. There was a radical new sound, influenced heavily by electronica and dance music. Themes of bitterness, uncertainty, and irony obfuscated U2’s omnipresent messages of hope and love. Bono even went so far as to create an alter-ego named The Fly, someone who looked, acted, and sounded very different from the U2 frontman of


U2 and the Religious Impulse

previous style periods. “Even Better than the Real Thing,” the second track from the landmark record, celebrates the hedonistic side of life. While on the surface this may seem contradictory to leading a spiritually fulfilling life, it is precisely this dichotomy that U2 illuminates in “Real Thing.” By celebrating the pleasures of the flesh, U2 recognizes the necessity of this part of the human experience. Our humanity, the acknowledgment of temptations around us, and the acceptance of our shortcomings in the face of some of these temptations is a necessary part of our spiritual lives. That is, a healthy spirituality is dependent upon a healthy sense of humanity. Similar to “Found,” the Motive in “Real Thing” has an M2m3 construction. It appears just once in “Real Thing,” in the middle of the slide guitar solo, but in light of the overall contour and range of the guitar solo, it is an important appearance. The guitar solo has an overall ascending contour that has a range one note shy of two octaves. An ascending perfect fifth leap from D4 to A4 begins the climb and, as seen in Figure 2.7, the first note of the Motive completes the ascent through the first octave. Its syncopated rhythm along with its upward approach via slide guitar lend this particular D5 more emphasis than either of this Gesture’s two other notes, thereby enhancing the salience of this Gesture in the midst of the solo.

Figure 2.7 The Motive in the guitar solo of “Even Better than the Real Thing.”

“The Playboy Mansion” (1997) U2 spent the 1990s actively dismantling the musical throne the success of The Joshua Tree built. Released a decade after their chart-topping opus, 1997’s Pop hardly sounds anything like the same band. Instead of creating vast sonic soundscapes, the focus on drum loops and synthesizers created a much more concentrated sound. While there remained signature U2 elements, the weak critical reception and relatively low sales numbers (by U2 standards, anyway) essentially signaled the end of this style period. This also marked the beginning of an important time for U2’s spirituality. As the following analysis will show, “The Playboy Mansion” celebrates the band finally learning to balance spirituality with celebrity. Examining the long-range contour of the vocal line in light of the lyrics reveals the song’s celebratory nature. Like the guitar solo in “Even Better than the Real Thing,” the vocal line of “The Playboy Mansion” has an ascending contour that travels through the E major scale. The ascent, however, takes time to unfold; ^ through the first two verses and choruses, the highest note is A3 (4), on the word ^ “perfume,” in the second verse. The dominant scale degree (5) is the melodic

Evolution of U2’s Musical Gestures


focus of the first interverse.6 In addition to the focus on a higher-scale degree, the increased rhythmic activity in the interverse increases the tension and lends a sense of desperation to the song, both of which are balanced by the Motive at the end of each line. With its descending contour and termination on the low tonic, the Motive (U2’s spirituality) functions like an anchor, keeping the melody (U2 themselves) grounded and preventing it from flying too high too soon. Despite the pervasive superficiality in modern culture and despite all the temptations and challenges spiritually faithful people encounter as they acquire more cultural fame, it is faith that anchors U2 in the proverbial tempest of celebrity. Not coincidentally, the last appearance of the Motive in “The Playboy Mansion” occurs on the last three words of the line “Don’t know if I’m that strong” (see Figure 2.8). This instance of the Motive is significant for two reasons: (1) It is just ^ the second time in the corpus that the Motive begins on 6 (“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” incorporates the first); (2) This particular Motive has an M2m3 construction, which is noteworthy because it is the first time one song contains both types of Motives. As Figure 2.9 demonstrates, the previous instances of the Motive have an m2M3 construction. (The significance of including both Motive types will be discussed at greater length at the end of the chapter.)

Figure 2.8 Example of the Motive in “The Playboy Mansion.”

Figure 2.9 The last sentence of the Motive in “The Playboy Mansion.”

“Beautiful Day” (2000) After the lackluster sales performance and mixed reviews of Pop, there was doubt as to whether U2 still had the performative chops and the creative motivation to maintain their seat in rock’s pantheon. All That You Can’t Leave Behind, released in 2000, signaled the return of the “traditional” U2 sound, albeit technologically updated (doubtless one of the positive outcomes from the controversial Third Period of the band’s career). It was a commercial and critical success, earning the band seven total Grammy Awards (three by “Beautiful Day” alone)7 and a 4x “Multi-Platinum” certification (sales of more than 4 million) by the RIAA.8 The song espouses “amazement, really, that whatever situation you find yourself


U2 and the Religious Impulse

Figure 2.10 The Motive in “Beautiful Day.”

in … if you’re alive and you are awake, then you have perspective on it … [You need to be] thankful for it, really, and celebrate that there is so much to live for” (U2 and Neil McCormick 2006, 298). The Motive occurs just once in “Beautiful Day,” but in a conspicuous (and almost obvious) place. Three measures before the lyrics “Touch me/take me to that other place,” Bono sings oohs in a high falsetto. These are the highest notes in the entire vocal line. In addition to the range, the pitch content of the this specific Motive is ^ noteworthy: It is the only Motive in this corpus that begins on 2. It subsequently ^ ^ descends to 6 through 1 (see Figure 2.10), resulting in a Motive that has the same M2m3 construction as in “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “Even Better than the Real Thing.” Recall that the Motives in “October,” “Scarlet,” and “Pride” have an m2M3 construction. “City of Blinding Lights” (2004) By the time U2 released How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, the band was approaching its thirtieth year of existence. The band members were well into their forties and as middle age approached, they began to reflect on their lives. “City of Blinding Lights” is a reminiscence “about [visiting New York] for the first time” (Stokes 2009, 156), but considered more broadly, the song is a celebration of innocence and a sense of wonder that can fade with age, experience, and celebrity. This song’s Motive is not present in the vocals; instead, it is used in the opening guitar solo, as shown in Figure 2.11. Despite the difference in instrumentation (guitar vs. voice) as well as the resulting timbral and textural distinctions, the m2M3 construction of the Motive in “City” remains consistent with the examples from early in U2’s career, specifically “Scarlet” and “Pride.” Similar to how All That You Can’t Leave Behind was a musical and aesthetic return to “classic U2,” the Motive in “City of Blinding Lights” symbolizes a kind of return to the simpler, more fundamental spirituality of the early 1980s. This “back-to-basics” approach is represented by the ^ ^ ^ reappearance of the 4-3-1 motion first heard in “Scarlet,” thereby echoing the 1981 song’s sense of honesty and awe. As Stokes astutely observes, “City” is about the “spirituality that’s to be found in every sparkle of light” (2009, 156).

Figure 2.11 The opening guitar solo and Motive in “City of Blinding Lights.”

Evolution of U2’s Musical Gestures


“Magnificent” (2009) At this stage of its career, U2 is now considered part of the “old guard” of rock. As celebrities, they have “been there, done that”; as men with steadfast spiritual inclinations who have traveled the world, they now have enough life and worldly experiences that they can efficiently, succinctly, and eloquently express their spirituality regardless of external circumstances. This is in sharp contrast to how U2 thought they could express their faith in the early stages. According to Bono, “Magnificent” is a “gospel song” that addresses faith on several levels (Stokes 2009, 166). Producer Steve Lillywhite adds that “Magnificent” is simultaneously groundbreaking and classic: “It’s new U2 because of the wonderful sounds on it, but it also reminds you of old U2” (Stokes 2009, 166). “Magnificent” is a celebratory song of praise and its intrinsic joy cannot be denied. Based on the lyrics, this joy can be directed to God, a significant other, a family member, or even to U2’s fans. This interpretative fluidity has a musical basis. As Figures 2.12 and 2.13 demonstrate, both the M2m3 and m2M3 versions of the Motive, respectively, are present in “Magnificent.” The M2m3 version is also present in the guitar solo, as shown in Figure 2.14. Not since “The Playboy Mansion” in 1997 had U2 incorporated both types of the Motive in one song, the significance of which is explained further in the “Conclusions” section. “Invisible (RED) Edit Version” (2014) U2 released “Invisible” as a single on Super Bowl Sunday 2014 (February 3). It was a limited-time free download that, in partnership with Bank of America, raised money for Bono’s anti-AIDS (RED) organization. On the surface, “Invisible” is a

Figure 2.12 The M2m3 Motive, in the first chorus of “Magnificent.”

Figure 2.13 The m2M3 Motive, at the end of the second chorus of “Magnificent.”

Figure 2.14 The guitar solo and M2m3 Motive in “Magnificent.”


U2 and the Religious Impulse

celebration of self-respect and pride in the face of daunting odds. Interpreted from a spiritual perspective, this song is a celebration of spiritual independence and the freedom associated with not subscribing to any one specific religion or spiritual worldview. The Motive is pervasive throughout “Invisible,” appearing eleven times throughout the song. Before the guitar solo (~2:37), Bono sings the Motive six times, on the lyrics “like the room,” “didn’t even want,” “finally found,” “won’t be me,” “I don’t dream” (Figure 2.15), and “don’t even think.” It appears once in the guitar solo (Figure 2.16) and four more times in the coda (Figure 2.17). In the ^ ^ ^ verses, the Motive’s scalar content (1-7-5) is identical to that in “Scarlet”; so, too, is the m2M3 intervallic construction. The Motive used in the guitar solo also has the m2M3 organization, but starts on the subdominant and ends on the tonic for an ^ ^ ^ identical 4-3-1 motion to that found in the second of “Scarlet’s” two Motives. On the other hand, the Motive in the coda has the M2m3 construction first seen in “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and again in “Even Better than the Real Thing” and “Beautiful Day.” Conclusions This project has evolved into something quite different from my initial endeavor. Originally, I hypothesized that there are musical representations of the changes U2’s spiritual faith experienced over the course of its storied career. Specifically, I wanted to confirm that there were musical gestures and Motives in U2’s songs about faith that would develop over the course of their career through various techniques like transposition, inversion, augmentation or diminution, retrograde, or some combination thereof, and that this development would symbolize the

Figure 2.15 The m2M3 Motive, in the second verse of “Invisible.”

Figure 2.16 The m2M3 Motive, in the guitar solo of “Invisible.”

Figure 2.17 The M2m3 Motive, in the coda of “Invisible.”

Evolution of U2’s Musical Gestures


evolution of the band’s faith. Additionally, I had hoped to prove that there were specific developmental techniques that could be associated with particular changes in the band’s spirituality. After months of analyzing music with little to show for my efforts, I altered my approach. The next iteration of this project was much more specific: It focused on songs that incorporated the slide guitar. I chose this particular technique because it plays an important part in U2’s first explicitly religious song, “Gloria.” Through the use of this technique, I attempted to trace how U2’s music reflected the band’s “crisis of faith” and how this crisis had evolved over the years. To my chagrin, and for the second time in as many attempts, my analysis did not yield noteworthy results. Fortunately, this second attempt was not without a windfall. From this slide guitar/crisis of faith hypothesis emerged my current theory regarding the Motive and its relative lack of development. While the Motive’s overall contour and intervallic construction remain consistent, the formal, musical, and aesthetic contexts in which the Motive is used change across the span of U2’s career. These two factors symbolize the band’s spirituality and the aesthetic circumstances surrounding the expression of these beliefs. What my analysis has shown, therefore, is that it was not the “filling” (U2’s spirituality) of the band’s “God-shaped hole” that changed; in fact, it remained relatively constant. Rather, it was the “hole” itself that morphed over time. The subtle variations the Motive undergoes over the years—the use of four notes instead of just three, beginning with a major second rather than a minor second, starting and ending on scale degrees other than tonic—indicate that the band’s faith has not fundamentally changed. Instead, the band has slightly adapted its faith to the circumstances surrounding the band’s continually evolving musical career and resulting celebrity. When categorized solely by intervallic construction, there is a clear connection to the band’s history. The Motives in “Gloria” (1981), “Scarlet” (1981), “Pride” (1984), and “City of Blinding Lights” (2004) all use the m2M3 type. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (1987), “Even Better than the Real Thing” (1991), and “Beautiful Day” (2000) all use the M2m3 Motive. Lastly, “The Playboy Mansion” (1997), “Magnificent” (2009), and “Invisible (RED) Edit Version” (2014) use both types of Motives. Figure 2.18 summarizes the categories. Three approximate time periods emerge when the Gesture is subcategorized by intervallic construction. Not coincidentally, these time periods are closely tied to the band’s style periods and therefore are also related to the band’s spiritual faith and its expression. The first period is the “early career,” the pre-1987 years as the band ascended the rock ranks. “Explosion and experimentation” stretches from 1987 to around 2000. The last period, the “sort of homecoming,” begins in the late1990s and lasts through at least 2014. We can now form a connection between the Motive’s constituent intervals and the band’s spiritual faith via this timeline. After severing ties with the Shalom group in the early 1980s, the band searched for subtle ways to express their spirituality. This was a challenge both musically and spiritually, and the Motive’s lack of variety before 1987 represents the band members’ difficulty breaking from their


U2 and the Religious Impulse

Figure 2.18 Groupings on songs according to Motive type.

childhood religious backgrounds. The massive success of The Joshua Tree and the accompanying superstardom only intensified the challenge, and the band adapted to its newfound superstardom. Musically, this is reflected by the variations of the Motive in “Found,” “Better,” and “Beautiful Day.” The overall contour and general intervallic distances (second, third) are consistent across periods, but slightly different intervallic qualities and scalar content represent the band trying to adjust to life in the limelight. The new millennium saw the band finally understanding how to balance spirituality and celebrity, which is reflected musically by the use of both types of Motives. It is here we can link U2’s spiritual narrative back to Robert Hatten’s theory of musical gesture. Two of Hatten’s points regarding gestural interpretation are particularly appropriate to my conclusions. First, he makes it clear that a gesture’s meaning is as much from the circumstances surrounding the gesture as it is from the gesture itself. “When interpreting the expressive meaning of a gesture, taking environmental forces into account can be an important stage of the investigation. However, one must also address the unique energies, intentional actions, and extended continuities of those individually motivated shapes” (Hatten 2004, 117). We can deduce additional meanings of the gesture’s developmental potential: “[T]hematic discourse might better be understood as having been generated from the gesture’s properties and their potential” (Hatten 2004, 178). In the case of the Motive, therefore, the central properties of intervallic construction and contour remain consistent throughout the band’s career. The potential for development of a Motive this simple is virtually unlimited, but the differences among these Motives do not occur systematically or in a fashion representative of logical musical development. With no discernible pattern of development, therefore, the rhythmic and metric variations between the different instances of the Motive do not have meaning in this study. As I have demonstrated, U2’s concept of spirituality manifests itself as a musical gesture that fundamentally does not change. The Edge acknowledges as much, saying that U2 has changed its “attitudes a lot since [the early days]. The central

Evolution of U2’s Musical Gestures


faith and spirit of the band is the same. But [we] have less and less time for legalism now” (Stockman 2001, 34). The band has almost always had a remarkably mature, not to mention resolute, sense of spirituality. In a time when the pace of change seems quicker than ever, this steadfastness helps U2 keep its “God-shaped hole” filled to the brim.


Steve Taylor

U2’s song “Mysterious Ways” is an essential case study in any discussion of the religious impulse in the U2 catalog. Released as the second single on their 1991 Achtung Baby (AB) album, it garnered critical acclaim and commercial success. The song has become a staple of their live performance, played over 580 times. Yet over time, the live performance of the song has gone through radical alterations. When first performed, the song included “bizarre projections of a woman’s head spinning” (Parra 1994, 141). Quickly the performance evolved to include a live belly dancer. The images, of the dancer moving teasingly always out of Bono’s reach, became central to the iconography of the ZooTV tour (Scrimgeour 2004, 84, 94–97). During the Elevation and Vertigo tour, the song included selecting an audience member, generally female, from the crowd to dance with Bono. During the 360° tour, the song was performed shorn of any female participation. The changing performances of “Mysterious Ways” invite a set of questions both musical and theological. The musical questions involve interpretation and evolution: What influences shape the journey of a song from album to live performance? I have argued previously that external factors have had an influence on U2 live. Performances of “Bullet the Blue Sky” over time were re-interpreted in light of different sociopolitical events (Taylor 2012). Individual songs on the 360° tour were shaped by unique events, including concert locations, the death of friends, and national tragedies (Taylor 2014). But what of prior internal factors? Do both album concepts and decisions by U2 about where they create music shape entire tours? The theological questions involve the identity and participation of the Divine in the created world. A common perception of the Christian God is of a deity that is male, remote, and coercive. This view is well illustrated in William Blake’s The Ancient of Days which portrays an elderly man, crouching to release lightning bolts into the darkness (Europe a Prophecy 1794, Frontpiece). Writers, both historic and contemporary, have connected this with the Divine (Richard Thompson 1828; Hawking 2005). In so doing, God is portrayed as removed and remote. Can the lyrics of “Mysterious Ways” (MW) be applied to God, as a mysterious movement


U2 and the Religious Impulse

in the created world? This would offer a significant contrast to an understanding of God as male, remote, and coercive. The contrast would generate a number of theological questions. Can God be understood in female images? Is God static and remote? Or does God move, dance even, with creation? These are questions of pneumatology: how might God’s Spirit connect with creation and move in ways that preserve Divine providence and free will? In what follows, I argue for a performed pneumatology as I explore these questions. Musically, I analyze elements of the song’s composition and its lyrics, and also the visual, sonic, and geographic factors influencing the song. This involves examining a visual pre-occupation of U2 in 1991, evident on Achtung Baby’s album sleeve, as well as the music video for MW and the performance of the song on the ZooTV tour. Additionally, I’m interested in a sonic pre-occupation of U2 in 2009 by tracing a coherence between the recording location in Morocco, the music genres of North Africa, and the resulting live performances of MW. These internal factors, of album concepts and recording locations, help to make sense of the changes in live performances of MW during the 1991–2009 era. Theologically, I will examine MW using work of contemporary theologians Sarah Coakley and Paul Fiddes. The use of Christian theologians is consistent with U2’s stated religious understandings. Coakley and Fiddes are leading contemporary theologians of the Trinity, wrestling with how best to understand the identity and participation of the Divine in the created world in light of the challenges of feminism and science. Their use of Christian notions of the Trinity—God as three-in-one—provides ways to nuance claims for God as a Mysterious Mover, dancing with and in the created world. Sarah Coakley understands participation in this Divine love as gendered, sexualized, ecstatic, and “inherently Trinitarian” (2009, 45). Fiddes offers the notion of sonic attunement to appreciate God’s moving in mysterious ways in the created order, in ways that offer a noncoercive, incorporative participation. This interplay of analyzing the song with a theological conversation provides the basis for my argument for performed pneumatology. MW is best understood live, in ways that appreciate visual and geographic influences. The mystery of MW refers not only to human love, but also to the interplay between Divine and human. God is not removed and remote, but moving as a Passionate Dancer. The mystery is the created world being invited to participate, freely, without coercion, in movements of self-giving love that reach, teach, and move.

“Mysterious Ways” as Visual Embodiment We begin in the silence of 1991, the first year U2 had not performed in public since they formed as a band in 1976. The Love Town tour of late 1989 and early 1990 included an announcement by Bono in Dublin that the band needed time to “dream it all up again” (Parra 1994, 135). While off the stage in 1991, a gathering tension crept into the band as they sought a way to escape the iconic sounds of The Joshua Tree, the hubris of Rattle and Hum, and the stark and serious design palette of the 1980s.

Pneumatology as Passionate Participation


“Mysterious Ways”: A Song Recorded in Sonic Tension [Mysterious Ways] … is U2 at our funkiest. Sexy music. (Bono in U2 and Neil McCormick 2006, 227) MW is the eighth track on U2’s AB album, released as the album’s second single. It reached number one on Modern Rock Tracks and Album Rock Tracks and number nine on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. Critics, including Rolling Stone, declared it one of the album’s standout tracks (Gardner 1992, 51). Despite this success, both critical and commercial, MW had a difficult birth. It was a “Berlin” song, emerging in a period of artistic struggle (Flanagan 1996, 1–22). Seeking inspiration, U2 had agreed to record in Berlin. They found themselves in a nation struggling to find a way forward following the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. The geographic location mirrored the internal tensions within the band. The success of The Joshua Tree and the journey into African-American musical traditions in Rattle and Hum left a band searching backward, for roots, and forward, for direction. There were rumors of breakup, fueled by Bono’s live announcement in Dublin. These were times of conflict, illustrated by an account of Bono and album producer Daniel Lanois almost coming to blows during the writing of MW (Stokes 2009, 104). MW was birthed in tension, which is embraced rather than avoided or resolved. The Edge described the birth of MW as a prime example of a moment where “the effects almost wrote the song” (Leonard 2013). The Edge, in experimenting with a Korg A3 effects unit, found a promising guitar hook. Bono (2006, 227) similarly described MW in sonic terms, as a “bass line in search of a song … U2 at our funkiest. Sexy music.” By paying attention to the sonic landscape, by maintaining yet bringing together separate chord progressions, U2 discovered the soundscape that is MW and, to a greater extent, the entire AB album. MW was birthed in sound, yet still needed lyrics. Any lyrical analysis of U2’s music needs to be approached with caution. Cogan (2007, 66) has argued that “Bono’s style of writing is quite complex,” using metaphors and phrases that are “often abstract and poetical,” and MW is a good example of this complex style of writing, as evidenced by a range of interpretations. Steve Turner points to lyrical similarities with Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” and argues that MW “take me higher” lyric references a drug-free transcendence (Turner 1995, 184–85). Calhoun (2011, 250) argues the song is an “enigmatic” reference to hope. These, and other diverse interpretations, reflect the complex and metaphorical nature of U2’s lyrics. Aware of these complexities, we can still seek to understand MW lyrically by considering authorial intent. For Bono (U2 and Neil McCormick 2006, 227), the song was one of need, “a man living on little or no romance.” The song introduces Johnny, who is alone in a quest for love, one surrounded by the mystery that is pale moonlight and walks in the rain. The chorus expresses a confidence in the future, the source of which is the movement of “mysterious ways.” The second verse deepens mystery, noting things that are beyond explanation, including redemption as embodied (“To touch is to heal; If you want to kiss the sky, Better learn how to kneel”). The third verse encourages following the feelings of mystery because with


U2 and the Religious Impulse

hindsight, one can see where and how they were held by love. Throughout the song, the feminine is important. The moon is a sister and love is a “she.” Hence Bono’s claim, that MW is “sexy music,” the bass in search of a song, is consistent with the lyrics, which tell a hopeful story of the mysterious search for love. The claim is strengthened when we turn from analysis of sounds and lyrics to visual dimensions, including video production and live performance. “Mysterious” Visuals Achtung Baby was made with much deliberation. (Godson 2003, 52) Released as a single on November 25, 1991, the accompanying music video for MW was directed by Stephane Sednaoui, a French artist working in film and photography who had produced videos for other musicians and bands including the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Alanis Morrissette. Analysis of the video demonstrates that visually, MW embodies mysterious movement in three interconnected dimensions: as feminine, as other, and as transforming across cultures. Sednaoui filmed the MW video in Fez, Morocco, and a North African Arabic influence is evident in various scenes, including the visuals of veiled women, a cobra snake, and Arabic architecture and design. The images open the video to the critique of Orientalism, in the vein of Edward Said’s (1977), who considers the implications of Western reductions of Arabic culture to an exotic and mysterious portrayal of sand, harems, and belly dancers. Two of these three are certainly present in MW; however, given that Sednaoui is of Syrian descent, he is more likely to be shaped by Arabic cultural influences and sensitive about cultural stereotypes. More importantly, as I will now argue, the imagery used in the video is both considered and consistent with the visual vision that surrounded AB, and by implication, MW. The MW video begins with the band silhouetted against a sunset. The figures are distorted, the effect generating both curiosity (who are these mysterious people?) and movement (the shimmer of desert heat). The sense of distortion is maintained by repeated use of both a fish-eye lens and a kaleidoscopic lens. The lyrical meanings are being expressed in the mysterious movements of these visual distortions. The concluding sequence is also distorted: shots of Bono’s red shirt blur with red colored material, most likely a reference to the veil of the belly dancer. A number of other visual motifs amplify the link between Bono and the belly dancer. The moon is a recurring image: a backdrop to Bono as he sings (0:25) and the belly dancer as she twirls. Throughout the video, red is a dominant color: present in Bono’s shirt, on a door beside which Adam stands (0:37) and the color of the belly dancers’ dress. Thus two visual images, moon and the color red, act symbolically to connect Bono and the belly dancer. The belly dancer makes five appearances (0:16, 0:49, 1:03; 1:59, and 3:02), with none lasting more than four seconds. Each time, she is filmed mid-performance and dancing alone. Mystery is now embodied not in lyrical dialogue with Johnny, but rather in the belly dancer, in what is exotic and feminine, moving in mysterious ways. Alsultany and Shohat (2013, 12) argue

Pneumatology as Passionate Participation


that this is not Orientalism, an “exoticist appropriation,” but evidence of creative collaboration across cultures. This approach is also theoretically consistent with Ashcroft, who notes the transformations that inevitably occur in diffusion across cultures (Ashcroft 2014, 5). Applied to MW, the original intent of “sexy music” remains, but is now being carried not by the romance of the lyrics but the visual imagery of a belly dancer. Mystery is now not only Johnny falling in love. Mysterious movement is embodied by the belly dancer. Mystery includes three further dimensions: as feminine, as other, and as transforming connection across cultures. All of these dimensions of mystery are now visually embodied by the belly dancer. In analyzing the visual dimensions of MW another source of data is provided when we consider album design. Godson (2003, 7) argued that the “way we perceive and understand recorded music is not only aural—the eye is also significant … graphic design has played a fundamental role in producing the meanings of popular music.” This view challenges Cogan’s (2007, 63) assertion that “the Holy Grail of a rock band is the sound.” Yet it is what we see in U2—at least in relation to AB—a conscious attention to the visual dimension of sound. For Godson (2003, 37), AB is the U2 album where “the visual, sonic and verbal are most productively aligned.” She documented a deliberation visual change, from the stark, serious, and singular design on The Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum album sleeves, to multiple images and a Technicolor palette in AB. Bono’s announcement regarding the need for U2 to dream it up again has extended to include not only the sonic, but the visual as well. The MW video includes multiple images from the AB album art. Two front sleeve images are directly referenced: an Arabic architectural pattern and the band distorted and in silhouette. Two indirect front sleeve references occur: a moon in a crescent shape and Adam bathed in red in front of a blue background. In addition, two back sleeve images are directly referenced in the MW video: a snake and a street scene. In other words, there is a coherence between the album cover and the visuals of MW. In addition to the repetition of visual images, AB’s Technicolor palette—red, blue, black—is also in evidence in the MW video. This is most obvious in scenes in which the belly dancer appears. She is dressed in red, the moon is blue, and the sky is black. She is thus, in terms of the Technicolor palette, the fullest embodiment of AB’s graphic vision. Album designer Steve Averill claimed the palette was “indicative of passion and the edginess of much of the album’s thematic concerns” (Godson 2003, 38). The word “mystery” is used repeatedly by Godson to describe the album sleeve (Godson 2003, 38, 40). The decision to embody mystery as exotic and feminine is thus a coherent and consistent development from album design to musical video. The attention to visual required a geographic relocation. The argument for visual coherence is also evident in the design for MW as a single. The sleeve design involved abstract lines and fluid patterns, consistent with the dessert shimmer and sense of distorted movement of the video. The color palette of the sleeve includes red, yellow, and blue. All three colors are central to the MW video, while two colors—red and blue—chime with the album sleeve.


U2 and the Religious Impulse

A further coherence emerges in terms of filming in Fez. The choice of location was deliberate. “I thought this is not going to work, it’s going to have the heavy vibe of The Joshua Tree,” and so “[Anton Corbijn] brought the band to Tangiers [sic] for a further session, and then to the carnival in Santa Cruz, Tenerife” (Godson 2003, 37). The visually artistic search for passion and mystery finds expression in the geography of Fez, Morocco. There is thus a coherent arc, from Tangier, to Tenerife, and then to Fez, shaped by the deliberate search for a visual identity: the way MW will be perceived and understood, not only sonically through the ear but visually with the eye. A change of location to Fez is deemed necessary to embody U2’s artistic intentions. As a result of the search for a passionate and edgy visual identity, mystery is expressed in movement in the feminine and embodied in the seeking of connection across cultures. Flowing from U2’s interest in geography influencing its art, this mystery shows through in album design and other visuals. The choice of visuals is not exoticist appropriation but a transforming engagement driven by the search for an alignment of the “visual, sonic and verbal.” This is an artistic exploration “made with much deliberation” (Godson, 52), the result of which is the deliberate embodiment of mystery as exotic and feminine, an experiment of edgy passion, through the representations of the belly dancer. However, despite being born, MW has yet to be performed live. Once on tour, a more radical embodiment of mystery became evident. Intriguingly, it was the result, not of deliberation, but of a more mysterious intersection of the unexpected. “Mysterious” ZooTV Performance It was actually really effective, sexy but cool and a reference to the video. (The Edge in U2 and Neil McCormick 2006, 238) “Mysterious Ways” made its live debut in Lakeland, Florida, on the opening night of the ZooTV Tour. U2 went on to perform the song at every concert of that tour and the subsequent PopMart Tour. The song stayed on the setlist for the majority of the Elevation Tour concerts as well as for the Vertigo Tour, 360° tour, and Innocence + Experience tours. MW has become a core element of U2’s live performance. Live performance changes U2 songs, given that concerts involve sound, lighting, design, video, theater, and audience participation (Joe O’Herlihy 2004, 210–14; Cunningham 2004, 196–99). Of the first live performance of MW, Parra (1994, 141) wrote: “‘Mysterious Ways’ has bizarre projections of a woman’s head spinning like a pendulum with black bars covering eyes, ears or mouth. The live version is even funkier than the album version and includes a lengthy guitar solo.” In the second show (March 1, 1992, Miami, Florida), an even more visually significant change occurred: Belly-dancer Christina Petro makes her debut tonight. A fan of U2, Christina had approached U2’s management before the tour with an offer to dance

Pneumatology as Passionate Participation


during Mysterious Ways in much the same way as the belly-dancer appears metaphorically in the video  …  When the song starts … she appears out of nowhere. Her act is highly choreographed to contain symbolic quality … She teases … dancing seductively … she remains out of [Bono’s] reach. (Parra 1994)

This account is consistent with an interview given by Christina Petro, in which she describes offering her business card to the production manager, Jake Kennedy. Kennedy asked her to perform, without warning the band, at a dress rehearsal (Smith, 2004). The creativity of rock music can be deliberate, as described above in MW’s journey from sound to lyric then video. Creativity can also be unexpected, as occurred in the live performance of MW. The presence of a belly dancer, projected live and large on video screens, would become a feature of the ZooTV tour. The belly dancer reappeared nine shows later in Boston and from then on, became a regular part of the ZooTV tour (Parra 1994, 141). She enters behind Bono, projected large on the massive video screens. Bono sings to her, but she keeps dancing, forever remaining tantalizingly out of reach, “sexy but cool and a reference to the video of the song” (The Edge in U2 and Neil McCormick 2006, 238). Brian Eno commented on the live performances of ZooTV: “It couldn’t be more tactile than it is” (Propaganda 2003, 154–55). In a show noted for technological advances (Bracewell 2004, 13), this tactility is embodied most clearly in the live performances of the belly dancer during MW. The visual preoccupation in the design of the single and album and production of the video is also present in live performance. The dance is a performed understanding of mysterious movement, embodied visually in live performance as feminine, as other, as transforming across cultures. The live performance of MW is deepened when brought into conversation with theology, in particular with the insights of Sarah Coakley. A Theological Reading of Visual Embodiment with Sarah Coakley I shall be arguing that Christian prayer-practice is inherently trinitarian. (Coakley 2009, 45) For Coakley, our understandings of God, and in particular, our experience of the mysterious movement of God, occurs through prayer and in ways that are gendered, sexualized, and ecstatic. Placing her work alongside the live performance of MW clarifies and deepens how mystery might be understood as Divine. Coakley argues (2009, 46) that an analysis of Christian prayer “provides an acutely revealing matrix for explaining the origins of Trinitarian reflection.” Drawing on Romans 8:22-27, Coakley (2009, 47) focuses on pneumatology and argues that the “Spirit is primary.” The verses have a circular flow in which “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth”; “we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly” and “the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” The implication for Coakley is that it is never us (or in the case of MW, Bono), praying to God:


U2 and the Religious Impulse Vital here is Paul’s analysis of prayer in Romans 8, where he describes how, strictly speaking, we do not autonomously do the praying, for we do not even really know what to ask for; rather it is the “Spirit” who prays in us to the ultimate source in God. (Coakley 2009, 45)

Prayer is the gracious act of the Spirit, in which humans are invited to participate. Prayer is not about us moving God. It is about God who moves us in mysterious ways. There is a further strand in Coakley’s work that is important in clarifying elements in the live performance of MW. Coakley argues from Romans 8:22-27 that God is experienced through the ecstasies of human sexual desire. For Coakley, feminine metaphors (birth pains) and the mysterious ways of the nonrational realm (wordless groans) describe Divine participation. At this point, Coakley gives a theological register to the performative phrases of MW, the way the song is “sexy music.” Mystery has dimensions, both theological and musical, that are expressed not only in a sound in search of need, but also in visuals that invite us to see passion and mystery embodied in the performance of the belly dancer. Eugene Rogers (2009, 2) provides a helpful clarification of Sarah Coakley’s theology as he makes a distinction between prayer as linear and incorporative. “It is almost as if, in the Spirit, ‘only’ God prays … the Spirit includes human beings in the intra-divine prayer by which … one person of the Trinity joins with another in an exchange of gift and gratitude” (Rogers 2009, 44). Prayer, to use MW lyrics, is a human participation in the God who moves in mysterious ways. This involves an incorporative pneumatology. In the more linear pattern … the Spirit leads a human being to the Son, who presents that one to the Father. The theology of Blake’s The Ancient of Days suggests a linear model: God above sending Jesus down in lightning bolts to reach humans on earth. In a more incorporative pattern, the Spirit introduces the human being into the interior of a relationship among Father, Son, and Spirit.

An example of a linear model can be found in the work of James Torrance (1981, 128), who explores various models by which to understand worship. He suggests one model—that “worship is something we do … because Jesus taught us to do it … In theological language, this means that the only priesthood is our priesthood.” He offers a contrast, that he considers the concern of the Protestant Reformers: that worship involves our “union with Christ, in what he has done for us once and for all” (1981, 128). For Torrance (1981, 141), this is a linear model: “a God-man-ward and man-God-ward relationship (movement) both freely given to us in Jesus Christ.” Applying these frameworks to MW, in the linear model, Bono must pray through Jesus to God. This contrasts with the incorporative approach that Coakley derives from Romans 8, in which God participates in the created world. Humans pray by opening themselves to the Spirit’s prayer, participating in the intra-Divine mystery of prayer by which the Spirit “intercedes for us” (Rom. 8:26). It is the Spirit who offers us incorporation into the prayer life of the Tri-

Pneumatology as Passionate Participation


unity. Or, to quote the lyrics from MW: “She moves in mysterious ways” and all we can do is “move on this moment, follow this feeling.” God is not removed and remote, the coercive male. Rather God is mysteriously moving in the created world, in ways gendered, sexualized, and ecstatic. Prayer for Coakley (2009, 48) is about human participation in this Divine movement, understood as an incorporative pneumatology, in ways that include the nonrational (“wordless groans” [Rom. 8:26]) and a feminization of metaphors (“pains of childbirth” [8:22]). She suggests (2009, 45), a “profound entanglement of our human sexual desires and our desire for God; and in any prayer of the sort in which we radically cede control to the Spirit there is an instant reminder of the close analogue between this ceding (to the Trinitarian God), and the ekstatis of human sexual passion.” More explicitly (Coakley 2009, 49), “erotic language becomes the (finally) indispensable mode of speaking of our intimacy with God.” Such eroticism is a hallmark of the live performances of MW, the singing of “She moves me” as Bono reaches for a belly dancer, scantily clad in twirling silk. It is consistent with Bono’s claim: “It’s a song about women—or a woman—but it’s addressed to [God]  …  I’ve always believed that the spirit is a feminine thing.” (“Mysterious Ways by U2” nd). Coakley, therefore, provides a theological language by which to interpret the performances of the ZooTV tour. First, as already discussed, in relation to God as participating in the created world, moving in ways that are gendered, sexualized, and ecstatic. Such is an apt description of the interplay between the lyrics of MW and the moving belly dancer. Second, in relation to musical intent. This is evident as we recall the struggle of recording AB. U2 need to “dream it all up again” (Parra 1994, 135). They embark on a difficult artistic journey on which they often found themselves grasping for something that seemed to keep slipping away. Ironically, in performing MW live, the struggle is no more. By entering the nonrational, the sonic space that is experimenting with a Korg A3 effects unit, “mystery” for U2 has been touched. A song has been created. Every performance of MW is thus an expression of gratitude, the fulfillment of their search, an embodiment of their having found mystery. In the ZooTV live performances of MW, the Divine— sensuous, moving—has been reached, but only through the bands’ struggle. At the same time, this live performance opens U2 to a significant critique in regard to their performed pneumatology. The belly dancer is always moving on, ever out of Bono’s reach. Is the performance thus suggesting that God is unreachable? While the live performance can thus be affirmed for celebrating the elusiveness of mystery, the suggestions that God is unreachable is more an echo of Blake’s The Ancient of Days than with notions of God as passionate, self-giving love in which anyone can participate. It might be that the performance of MW by U2 is addressing this theological incoherence: that the very act of their performing an act of reaching is in reality a declaration of having found mystery. It might also be that a better way to perform MW as a performed pneumatology is possible. Eighteen years later U2 will return to Morocco. The result will be not a visual preoccupation but a sonic preoccupation, the finding of another way, both musical and theological, to perform MW.


U2 and the Religious Impulse

Thus far, I’ve argued that the deliberate visual preoccupation in the making of AB should influence how the mystery of MW is understood. There is a coherence between the album sleeve and the visuals of the MW video, in offering passion and mystery. These elements become embodied in the live performances of a belly dancer during ZooTV. Theologian Sarah Coakley’s contribution makes clear the necessity of an understanding of God’s Holy Spirit as gendered, sexualized, and ecstatic. Bringing these factors together informs my claim that the live performance of MW is “an acutely revealing matrix for explaining the origins of Trinitarian reflection” (Coakley 2009, 46). God is the Passionate Dancer, inviting humans to prayer with Her. However, this performed pneumatology is open to the critique of portraying God as unreachable. What other approaches, both musical and theological, could U2 appropriate, in their performance of MW?

“Mysterious Ways” as Sonic Embodiment All agree … that the influence of this ancient and exotic location of Fez, Morocco, will be evident in the music that results. (“U2 Recording a New Album,” nd) In 2009, U2 returned to Morocco. Bono invited record producers, Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, to join them in Fez to record: a futuristic spirituals record with a lot of life force in it  …  We went to Morocco … We huddled and had a nice time jamming and bringing ideas to the table. Eno came in with some very fascinating rhythmic beginnings that Larry Mullen jumped right on top of and that became, essentially, the spine of the record. (Frenette 2009)

This description makes clear that, as in Berlin, what was birthed was sonic: “rhythmic beginnings that  …  became, essentially, the spine of the record.” However, unlike the visual preoccupation of ZooTV, I argue that U2 maintain a sonic preoccupation during this creative period, including in the live performance of MW during the 360° tour. To appreciate this requires attention to the nature of Moroccan music, analysis of the role of sound in No Line on the Horizon (NLOTH) and the 360° tour, shaped by a specific case study of the performance of MW and in dialogue with a second theologian, Paul Fiddes. Moroccan Sonic Musical Fusion The sounds of Moroccan music are distinctive. Schuyler (2016, 19) has described it as “collective, primal, self-effacing,” evident in the work of Paul Bowles (Dust to Digital 2016), who traveled to Morocco during 1959–1961, recording local music ensembles. Moroccan music is distinctive in its capacity to fuse sounds both ancient and modern (Muddyman 1999; Alsultany and Shohat 2013). The fusion

Pneumatology as Passionate Participation


is twofold: musical in the weaving of a modal structure; vocal style, and phrasing and religious in its concern for the cosmic qualities of music—a sound based on “relationships between parts of the body and elements of Earth and Heaven” (Wendt 2008, 243). Caroline Wendt documents the rise of modern Moroccan music. It fuses “new genres and hybrid styles” (2008, 254), shaped by European, American, and traditional Middle Eastern sounds. One example is A vava inowa (Oh my father) written by a young African man, Idir. Musical anthropologist Jane Goodman analyzes how this 1973 song is built around a tribal story while utilizing a Western folk acoustic guitar sound. Goodman traces the song’s genesis, distribution, and then popular success in France. She concludes that this is not a continuation of colonial appropriation through an Oriental gaze. Rather, it is a fusion of indigenous traditions with contemporary communication (Goodman 2008, 284). This suggests a further dimension of fusion in Moroccan music: between Third World and Western cultures (Goodman 2008, 293–94). It is noteworthy that during their time in Morocco, U2 engaged all three dimensions of fusion—musical, religious, and across cultures—by visiting the World Festival of Sacred Music. The Festival, a key event in world music, is to Goodman important in enhancing the diffusion of sounds across cultures (2008, 288). During the festival, U2 experienced the “nightly Sufi dhikr (remembrance of God), ecstatic music”: a way of understanding sound as a direct medium of contact with God (Maynard 2009). In search for a “futuristic spiritual” sound, U2 locate themselves in Fez and immerse themselves in sound that seeks a “very palpable connection with God” (Maynard 2009). How do these different dimensions of fusion—musical, spiritual, cross-cultural—shape the music recorded in Fez? We begin by considering a song created in Morocco: “Fez-Being Born.” An African Sound: NLOTH Recording U2 drew inspiration from a group of Moroccan percussionists playing along with the band. (Owens 2009) “Fez-Being Born” stands as a musical fusion, blending the soundscape of Fez with contemporary rock. It has two distinct segments. The opening 63 seconds consist of instrumental sound, Moroccan percussionists playing, while Bono is wailing “let me in the sound.” One can imagine U2 walking African streets, seeking mysterious ways, not visually in the form of a belly dancer, but sonically in sounds futuristic and spiritual. Following the Fez soundscape, the song pivots into driving base and singular chiming guitar. Sonic tension is evident: Bono’s vocals slow and drawn, a pace at odds with the drive of the rhythm and the clear chime of the Edge’s guitar. The lyrics speak of North Africa: Fez named in the title (U2 No Line on the Horizon, 2009), the first verse describing a drive to see the “African sun at last.” The second verse suggests a “being born, a bleeding start,” through immersion in experience (“Head first, then foot. Then heart sets sail”). Bono claims the song references a “primeval drive to get back to your essence” (Owens 2009). There


U2 and the Religious Impulse

is a coherence between the lyrics of new birth being experienced in the journey toward Africa and the ecstatic music U2 experience in the streets of Fez and the nightly Sufi dhikr at the World Festival of Sacred Music. The significance of the geographic location, in North Africa, is visible in another dimension of NLOTH. A film, Linear, commissioned by U2 was released alongside the album (Corbijn, 2009). The film is the journey of a motorcyclist, driving from Paris to Tripoli in order to row toward Africa. While incorporating ten of the eleven tracks from NLOTH, the film is not a music video, but a “new way to listen to the record” (Burgoyne 2009). A visual preoccupation, but in service of what is a sonic preoccupation, that of listening. I have already noted the influence of Corbijn in AB, and the way that his directorial instincts shape the meanings that evolve from MW. Eighteen years later, we again see his involvement in the songs that emerge in Fez. For U2, the visual and the sonic exist in a complex interplay. Turning from one song, “Fez—Being Born,” to the NLOTH album, a number of commentators note the importance of sound for U2 in the album. For Beth Maynard (2009), “a less apophatic and more immersive sacred ‘sound’ comes to the fore.” Steve Harmon (2009), in his review of NLOTH, observed that: The central eschatological metaphor of No Line is the sound of the divine song, heard only by those who have the ears to hear it, yet unconsciously sought by everyone, for all people were created to hear and sing this song. Seven of the album’s 11 songs invoke that metaphor in one way or another. Key expressions of it are the lines “Let me in the sound … meet me in the sound” from “Get On Your Boots,” reprised at the beginning of “FEZ—Being Born,” and the concluding declaration of “Breathe,” “I’ve found grace inside a sound.”

U2 visit Fez seeking a “futuristic spiritual” record. They experience the sonic soundscape of Fez, a fusion that is musical, sonic, and across cultures. It becomes a “let me in the sound” plea that shapes the NLOTH album. What then of the 360° tour? How does U2’s “let me in the sound” plea shape live performance, including MW? Mysterious Sonic 360° Performance U2 follow the release of an album with a tour. One way to analyze the relationship between the album and the tour is to consider the number of new album songs played, including as a percentage of the entire tour. The tour before 360° was called Vertigo. Nine songs from the new album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb were played, seven regularly (in descending order “Vertigo”, “City of Blinding Lights”, “Sometimes You Can’t Make It”, “Love and Peace or Else”, “Yahweh”, “Miracle Drug”, and “All Because of You”), two sporadically (“Original of Species” and “Crumbs from Table”). During the entire tour, 2984 songs were played, of which 885 were from HTDAAB, a total of 29.7 percent. The tour after the 360° tour was called Innocence and Experience. Nine songs from the new album (Songs of Innocence) were played, seven regularly (“California”, “Miracle”, “Every Breaking Wave”, “Songs for Someone”, “Iris”, “Raised by Wolves”, and “Cedarwood Rd”),

Pneumatology as Passionate Participation


two sporadically (Volcano and The Troubles). During the entire tour, 1835 songs were played, of which 549 were from NLOTH, a total of 29.9 percent. Turning to the 360° tour, eight songs from NLOTH were played, four regularly (“Crazy Tonight”, “Moment of Surrender”, “Get On Your Boots”, and “Magnificent”), four others sporadically (“Breathe”, “No Line on the Horizon”, “Unknown Caller”, and “Fez-Being Born”). During the entire tour, 2632 songs were played, of which 519 were from NLOTH, a total of 19.7 percent.1 So on the 360° tour, in contrast to the tours before and after, less songs were played (eight compared to nine) less often (20 percent compared to 30 percent). The sonic preoccupation of the album is not evident in the playlist of the tour. However, another way is to analyze specific songs. Given my focus on MW, how does the sonic preoccupation and fusion in Fez shape the subsequent 360° tour? I was a participant observer of the performance at Raleigh, North Carolina, on October 3, 2009.2 Of the twenty-three songs performed at that concert, six (26.1 percent) were from the No Line on the Horizon album, including four of the opening six songs.3 What was significant was a reworked lyrical conclusion in the live performance of MW, in which a sonic preoccupation is essential. The initial (album) version of MW ends with the following lyrics: “Spirit moves in mysterious ways; She moves with it (x2).” During the Raleigh concert, “She moves,” rather than being repeated, is extended: “She moves, We move, s/Spirit teach me.” This is repeated “We move, s/Spirit reach me, s/She move with it.”4 In this reworked conclusion, two new verbs are introduced, alongside the primary verb (move). We can learn (teach me). We can connect (reach me). The perspective is broadened, to include “we” as well as “she.” The Spirit is still the object. But what was previously unreachable, embodied visually in the belly dancer tantalizingly out of touch, is now something in which, in hearing the lyrics, we participate, as we learn, connect, and move. This participation is not a singular—She to I— but a plural—She to we, both band and audience. Drawing on Coakley, these lyrical changes can be interpreted as an incorporative, participative, pneumatology. The Spirit initiates (She moves). In response to this move, the human subject can begin to pray (s/Spirit teach me … s/Spirit reach me), in a posture of humility and expectation. This human responsiveness is assumed to be plural (We move), rather than individual. In other words: our entry, our participation, our prayer, is framed as a response to the movement of a/Another, who initiates the action (She moves), incorporates human participation (We move) and finally completes the action (s/She move with it). This is a very different understanding of the Divine than William Blake’s remote and removed. The use of performance, both in Bono’s theatrical gestures and lighting, helps define this “we.” It includes the audience as well as the band. I have argued elsewhere (Taylor 2014) that Bono’s hand gestures are an intentional part of communal memory making. As Bono sings these lyrics in the 360° performance of MW, he raises his arms upward and outward. As the s/Spirit was invited lyrically to be present (s/Spirt reach me … teach me, to move with it), and as Bono’s hands gesture outward, the lighting, which until then had been focused tightly in on the band, began to circle and roll out, away from the band and over the audience. The entire crowd is illuminated. They become the “we” who are invited to participate


U2 and the Religious Impulse

with Bono in the movement of mysterious ways, to join him in learning and connecting. The primary color of the lighting during this 360° performance was red, which is the color ascribed by the Christian church to Pentecost. Whether intended or not, such a use of lighting evokes references to the Pentecost narrative in Acts 2, in which the Spirit, in the form of tongues of fire, is said to fall on all people: “both men and women” (2:17-18). Thus far, I have defined Moroccan music as a fusion of ancient and contemporary sound, argued for a sonic in Fez fusion in the birth of NLOTH and examined a specific case study, the live performance of MW in the 360° tour. The impact of a reworked lyrical conclusion, amplified by performance gesture and the use of lighting, has been analyzed. My argument is that MW in 2009 continues to offer an incorporative, participative, pneumatology, in which the audience is being invited to “move with it,” to participate, in the dance of the s/Spirit. However, this is embodied not visually, in the performance of a belly dancer, but sonically, in the use of reworked lyrics, amplified by Bono’s gestures and concert lighting. While the latter are visual, it is the lyrical changes in MW that are the most significant feature of this live performance. This analysis is deepened when we turn to theology, in particular the work of Paul Fiddes. A Theological Reading of Sonic Embodiment with Paul Fiddes The cross taught all wood to resound his name … His stretched sinews taught all strings. (George Herbert in Fiddes 2013, 373) For Stephen Webb (2004, 32, 28), theologians must appreciate the “soundscape” of Christian theology. While Webb chooses to focus on preaching, his work provides a trajectory by which theology is expected to address the sonic as a way by which God moves in the created world. Sound has a certain nonrational physicality, given that it is transmitted through the vibrations of sound waves. Sound works through a different construction of temporality in which the “simultaneity of sight needs to be contrasted with the sequential nature of sound” (Webb 2004, 46). Sound therefore enables a different type of engagement. This includes the possibility of being “intimate without being immediate” (Webb 2004, 46). It invites the hearer out of themselves, into a posture of being fully present, embodied in our bodies, yet becoming open to another (Webb 2004, 46). This provides a new and rich set of registers by which to consider the religious in music. With this introduction to a theology of sound, we turn to a second theological partner, Paul Fiddes, who proposes (without reference to Webb) that participation in God’s mysterious ways is made possible in a sonic preoccupation. Fiddes begins with the work of George Herbert, Anglican priest and devotional writer, and his distinctly Christian understanding of the search for sound (George Herbert in Fiddes 2013, 373): “The cross taught all wood to resound his name  …  His stretched sinews taught all strings.” This is a theology that, while beyond rational

Pneumatology as Passionate Participation


words, invites a sonic participation in the life of God. The poem begins in struggle (“Awake, my lute, and struggle for thy part” [George Herbert in Fiddes 2013, 373]), a theme particularly evident in the composition of MW. It affirms the material— wood and string for Herbert, amplified electronic sound for U2—as able to participate in the Divine, to “resound” the cross and resurrection. Fiddes extends this involvement to human participation, arguing that “the human body can be attuned to Christ” (Fiddes 2013, 373). This participation is understood when God is considered as mystery in Trinity. Fiddes draws on eighth-century theologian John Damascus (de fida orthodox 1.14) and the understanding of God as perichoresis, Divine movements of reciprocity and exchange. God active in initiating, passive in receiving (Fiddes 2013, 150–54). God’s performed pneumatology includes the mystery of sonic involvement. Let us examine the live performance of MW, using Fiddes’s categories for the Divine, as a wide open space in which God is movements of reciprocal relationships  …  of rhythms of being, in relationship with each other. By speaking of “Father,” we mean a relationship like that of a Father sending out a son on mission into the world; by “Son” we mean a relationship like that of a son (or daughter) responding in glad obedience to a father (or mother); and by “Spirit” we mean a movement opening up these relationships to new depths of love and to new events in the future. We cannot observe these relationships, but we can participate in them, like engaging in measures of music. (2013, 385–86)

Bono’s reach me (“Father”) suggests the sending of a son in mission, in this case into the world of entertainment, live, in front of 60,000 fans, through the medium of music. The teach me (“Son”) suggests a responding in joyous, delighted response to the love found in the sound. The move me (“Spirit”) suggests the opening, sonically, to mystery. Three movements that express the mystery of “Father,” “Son,” and “Spirit” performed in one moment of one song. Fiddes’s insights give a profoundly theological shape to Bono’s call to learn, connect, and move. Let us further examine the ending of MW, using another theological notion from Fiddes, that of attunement. Fiddes does not argue for a direct equating of human spirit with Divine spirit. Such would be coercive, William Blake’s The Ancient of Days shooting lightning bolts at human spirits to enforce His will. Rather, he affirms that each human has a distinct personality, a personality that can resonate with the Divine. When mystery is carried by sound, a human can, like a string being tightened, choose to move (or not) with this Divine movement. Based on this understanding, Fiddes introduces attunement as a metaphor central to Christian theology. “The musical image does not merely ‘illustrate’ the Trinity: engaging in the rhythms of music is one place where we actually encounter the rhythmic movements of the love of God and where talk of the Trinity comes alive” (2013, 395–96). Attunement assumes a reciprocity, in which the person who is “brought to tune must be flexible enough to undergo the process of tuning” (Fiddes 2013, 376). For Fiddes this allows both a uniqueness and inclusivity. “Christians


U2 and the Religious Impulse

will understand Christ’s own attunement as universally enabling for others, but all human beings are, in their own way and to varying degrees, attuned to wisdom and to God” (2013, 375). The result is a noncoercive invitation, in which there can be layers of response. We see this as Bono sings to move with it. This is an invitation to participate, defined by the lyrical changes and carried by sound and light. It is a sonic space, through the wonders of technology reaching everyone at once, in which the audience is invited to participate. Concert goers can remain standing, drinking beer, and talking to their friends. They can dance, joining Bono, raising outstretched hands. They can limit their attunement to this one song, learning, connecting, moving with MW. Or they can take their response, this moment of surrender, beyond the concert, into their homes and workplaces. Each of these movements occurs in the moment that is the song’s performance. Each of these movements can also occur beyond the concert. This is the potential of sound, a different construction of temporality, which opens up different types of engagement, as the hearer “moves” out from the concert, following the expanding concert lighting into their week. At every moment, there is an invitation, never coercive, to participate, not by observing, but by engaging incorporatively in the sound of mysterious ways.5 Bono’s “Let me in the sound” thus takes on rich theological hues. His cry in Morocco chimes in perfect harmony with what is essentially prayer at the end of MW: “We move, teach me.” It is embodied in 2009 in the 360° tour not in the individual search for the elusive dancer, but in the sonic preoccupation of reach, teach, move, amplified by the visual preoccupation that is the lighting, red for Pentecost, spilling over those gathered. The use of sound offers a pneumatology founded not on a reaching for, but an incorporative immersion, a call to learn, connect and move. In contrast to notions of religion as a pursuit of a “take me higher” transcendence, what is experienced in the 360° tour is consistent with Fiddes’s definition of Christian wisdom as God incarnated—the self-immersed in the material world, participating through the actuality of the body and its passion. This is indeed a futuristic spirituality, inviting in the learning, connecting, moving a widening of “interpretive space” (Goodman 2008, 291), carried sonically, with rhythm as the spine. Both Coakley and Fiddes provide a theological language by which to interpret mystery in U2 as embodied, passionate, and a fusion across cultures. In engaging Coakley I noted a limitation in U2’s performed pneumatology, the danger of portraying God as never able to be reached. In engaging Fiddes, I note a different limitation. During the 360° live performance, in the concluding lyrics U2 sing of the Spirit as “she.” However, they also end with the call to move with “it.” English is limited by language that either dualizes gender (he or she) or neutralizes gender (it). This limitation is reinforced when sound, rather than a belly dancer, introduces a central theological metaphor. Is sound he, she, or it? U2’s use of “it” runs the risk of depersonalizing God, suggesting that the audience relate to the Divine not in gendered and relational terms, but as a mysterious moving neuter.

Pneumatology as Passionate Participation


Conclusion In summary, I have argued MW is a performed pneumatology, a song in which the Divine is a Passionate Dancer, intimately involved in creation, inviting us to participate in the mystery of movements that reach, teach, and move. To make this argument has required a movement in two directions. Musically, what is the song saying? I have argued that U2 have a visual preoccupation in 1991 and a sonic preoccupation in 2009. The visual preoccupation is clear when the design of the covers of the AB album and MW single is analyzed in relation to the video of MW. It makes sense of the use of the belly dancer in the live performance of the ZooTV tour. The sonic preoccupation is consistent with the fusions of Moroccan music, U2’s hopes in recording in Fez, and the “let me in the sound” themes of the NLOTH album. U2’s sonic search makes sense of the reinterpretation of the live performance of MW in the 360° tour. Hence internal factors, including the location of artistic exploration (for MW in Fez), shape live performance. Given this visual, sonic, and geographic analysis, MW can be interpreted musically as a reaching for the feminine and an embodied, immersive participation in a reaching for the other. Theologically, I have argued that God is not male, remote, and coercive. Rather God can be imaged as feminine—moving, reaching, teaching—inviting us to participate in immersive, embodied, ecstatic Divine life. The work of two contemporary theologians, Sarah Coakley and Paul Fiddes, has been considered. Both understand God in Trinitarian terms, as three movements in which the Divine is passionate, self-giving love and participates in creation in ways that are ecstatic, sonic, and participative. Considering U2’s live performances of MW on the ZooTV tour in conversation with Sarah Coakley allows us to see prayer as ecstatic participation in the Spirit. Considering U2’s live performances of MW on the 360° tour can be interpreted as God in three movements—reach, teach, move—with and for creation. A theology of sound allows us to see the interplay between Divine and creation as a sonic attunement in which all of creation is invited to freely participate in multiple ways. This ensures Christian particularity, consistent with U2’s stated religious beliefs, while providing freedom in which varying degrees of incorporative participation, from any and all concertgoers, are possible. Hence theology provides a way to parse the complexities of U2 and religion, offering a set of analytical frames that clarify the development in U2’s performed pneumatology. Equally, what emerges is quite a different place in which the mystery of religious experience can be located. Live performances at a rock concert become a “thin place” for Divine encounter and ecstatic experience an ideal way to encounter the Divine. In making this argument, some notes of concluding clarification are necessary. First, this conversation between music and theology is consistent with Fiddes’s “connectional” methodology. This approach is based on a “dialogue of interacting voices” in which each discipline, in this case music and religion, is “truly itself, not manipulated by the other, while contributing to mutual illumination” (Fiddes


U2 and the Religious Impulse

2013, 23). Theology illuminates musical performance: musical performance illuminates theology. Second, while I have engaged with the work of Fiddes and Coakley, it is important to note that each remains truly themselves, contributing uniquely, yet in mutual illumination. Fiddes has disagreed with dimensions of Coakley’s pneumatology (Fiddes 2016). Coakley’s (2009) work is based on the priority of contemplation as the path by which one can participate in incorporative pneumatology. While I have deployed her to understand the 1991 performances of MW, her appreciation of embodiment as contemplation in the sounds of silence is not likely to also include U2’s live performance as a carrier of God’s “mysterious ways.” Third, and finally, while I have demonstrated ways in which both visual and sonic can embody a Christian understanding of Spirit as Divine mystery, I have also expressed limits: the never reaching in ZooTV, the potentially neutered Spirit in 360°. Perhaps this is the way of all live performance, that no one performance can ever clarify the depths of mystery. Theologically, this would be consistent with a God always moving, always inviting the unfolding creation into the movements of self-giving love. Musically, it would be consistent with the argument in this chapter regarding the development in the work of U2. “Let me in the sound” is a prayer of humble, pleading petition, essential to a band continuously admitting in live performance that they are yet to find what they are looking (visual)—and listening (sonic)—for. Such is the essential commitment of performed pneumatology, human response to the Divine who is ever-reaching, ever-teaching, and evermoving in mysterious ways.


Chapter 4 “HO L D O N T O L OV E” : U 2 ’ S B E SP O K E E XO R C I SM O F T H E 1 9 6 0 S

Nicola Allen and Gerry Carlin

When U2 released the The Joshua Tree on March 9, 1987, the record catapulted the band to the apex of its career while producing the hit singles “With or Without You,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and “Where the Streets Have No Name”—the first two of which became the group’s only number-one singles in the United States. The album is steeped in American iconography, from the cover shots of the band in a Mojave Desert landscape to the drawn-out soulful sound of many of the tracks. But its success perhaps obscures the fact that if the album can be typified at all, it is best considered in terms of an ever-elusive search. It speaks of loss with songs such as “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” which the Edge would call “a gospel song” (Joanou 1988), a song about something sought, but never found, and “With or Without You” and “Where the Streets Have No Name” similarly seem to hint at new beginnings, but ones that carry the weight of the past, hinting at loss as much as hope. This is significant, and the loss hinted at may be symbolic of several losses (the band had previously thematized the loss of youth in Boy (1980), and had also spoken widely about their loss of family members, crises of faith, etc.), but it is also significant that the album was released just as the neoliberal right was in the process of dismantling the welfare capitalism and consensus politics that had dominated postwar Western ideology. The album catches a zeitgeist that is at odds with that triumphant (and popular) right: it was released one month after the Labor Party of Ireland was all but destroyed in the General Election—their leader Dick Spring almost losing his own seat—and three months before Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government was reelected for a third consecutive time in Great Britain. American politics was also in the grip of a further lurch to the religious right with televangelist Pat Robertson announcing his (successful) candidacy for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination—later he would denounce some Protestant churches for worshipping the antichrist, claim that Hinduism is demonic and that Islam is satanic, and go on to censure progressive social movements such as feminism, claiming that: “The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that


U2 and the Religious Impulse

encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians” (Cited in Burack 2008, 4). It is against this backdrop that U2, the politically astute and progressive, formerly “Christian” rock band, finally break America: the place that has represented hope and inspiration for so many Irish émigrés. The tour that accompanied the record eventually became Rattle and Hum (1988), the band’s sixth studio album with a companion “rockumentary” film directed by Phil Joanou. The use of black and white footage for parts of the film and the setting of Harlem and the Bronx echo the band’s earlier treatment of Ireland in their videos for tracks from 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire, often shot evocatively in black and white around the poorest areas of Dublin. Their 1984 video for “Pride (In the Name of Love)” sees the band perform to a dozen people in a rundown theater, and over shots across the dying docks of the Liffey, the lyric speaks of hope in the abiding value of the message of Martin Luther King. In the video that hope (and an undefeatable pride) slowly animates the downtrodden white working-class Irish audience into sharing Bono’s final, almost religious, trance. The band are well aware of the special relationship between America and Ireland, but they infuse it with different implications: instead of nineteenth-century emigration becoming the focus of new beginnings, the band imply that King himself can reach across the ocean, and the decades since his assassination, to inspire (and save) the spirit in Dublin’s dispossessed youth—not into leaving, but into making something better where they are. The single’s sleeve contains a quote from King: Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that. Hatred paralyses life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonises it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it. (Island Records, 1984)

In Using King, and his belief in the power of love in the 1960s to enthuse 1980s Irish youth, the band go directly against establishment attitudes. In Britain the ruling Conservative Party blamed any perceived social crises of the 1980s on the irresponsibility and permissiveness of the 1960s, invoking a return to family and even “Victorian” values as the antidote to the decadence of the Left-leaning decade. In 1988 Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would fashion the period as one in which, Permissiveness, selfish and uncaring, proliferated under the guise of the new sexual freedom. Aggressive verbal hostility, presented as a refreshing lack of subservience, replaced courtesy and good manners. Instant gratification became the philosophy of the young and the youth cultists. (Cited in Moore-Gilbert and Seed 1992, 2–3)

Thatcher glossed over the aggressive individualism of the unfettered market economy that the Tories championed, elevating idealized and undefined “traditional” values over the socialistic tendencies of “a third-rate decade” like the 1960s (2). In the States, Ronald Reagan was fighting a similar rhetorical war against

U2’s Bespoke Exorcism of the 1960s


the decade, and “Pride” was originally intended to be an attack on Reagan’s pride in US military power, but turned into a eulogy to the civil rights leader after Bono read King’s biography (Bono et al. 2006, 151). Like Thatcher, Reagan was espousing inconsistent ideals: “his odes to traditional values coexisted with his role as an avatar of American consumption, a maestro of materialism” as he watched over the trivialization and commodification of a rebellious past: After gaining office, Ronald Reagan helped invent the 1980s … John Lennon’s murder in December 1980, during the presidential transition, underscored the sense that a new era—with a new ethos—was emerging. Lennon was eulogized as the ideological Beatle, the Beatle with the sixties’ soul. By 1987 Nike used John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s anthem, “Revolution,” to sell sneakers, as public discussion of the legendary rock group centered around the modern gods of celebrity and money. (55–52)

The Beatles had split as a group, publicly and acrimoniously, by early 1970. U2, like many others of their generation, had witnessed their heroes turn into frail, flawed humans, almost overnight. By the 1980s, with Lennon dead and the noted ideological lurch to the right, any belief in the power of the 1960s and its ideals of community and progressive change were being tested. Against the grain of the times, U2 try to re-sanctify the spirit of the 1960s. When the band choose to open Rattle and Hum by introducing “Helter Skelter” as “a song that Charles Manson stole from the Beatles,” declaring, “We’re stealing it back,” it heralds the start of a historiographic pilgrimage. But the band will revisit the 1960s on different terms—different to Thatcher and Reagan certainly, but distinct too from their own gauche romanticizing of King in “Pride.” Instead, by 1987, the band achieve a deeply nuanced relationship with the object of their faith. They simultaneously pay homage to the history of popular music and still defiantly insist upon the message and credo that such music carries, despite the misreadings, distortions, and betrayals that it has been subject to. They visit the era’s darkest moments in order to exorcize them, confessing that the 1960s and its “love generation” must recognize the dystopian strains of war, injustice, political failure, and disillusionment which undercut its bids for peace and harmony—but the band refuse to let that be the end of the story. The first track on Rattle and Hum sets the stage for a series of excursions into rock history, but U2 indicate that they are reclaiming more than just the right to revisit a musical heritage: through “Helter Skelter” they confront the mythos of the period head-on, attempting to rewrite the rewriting of its history. And the song’s history is a strange one. After the playful conceptual coherence of Sgt. Pepper in 1967, the “White Album” (The Beatles, 1968) emerged as a rather bewildering mixture of ballads, rock gestures, pastiches, homages, and experiments, and, as such, it would for many come to symbolize the schisms that developed in the decade’s earlier spirit of peace and love. In the counterculture, 1968 was the year of global student protests, assassinations, increasingly vocal radical factions, and aggressive opposition to the war in Vietnam—generating an atmosphere of


U2 and the Religious Impulse

crisis which would make Lennon’s infamous equivocation over support for violent revolution on the White Album’s “Revolution 1,” with its “count me out (in)” lyric, particularly apt. “Helter Skelter,” with its overdriven guitars, screamed vocals, and series of discordant faux endings, sounds like heavy metal before the fact—in a surprisingly scathing treatment, one of the band’s most perceptive critics abruptly dismisses the track as an “out-of-tune thrashing” (MacDonald 1997, 261–62), but tucked away on the third side of the double LP as it was, the song was drained of a lot of its aggressive weirdness. But all that would change in 1969. In early August, the weekend before the Woodstock festival of peace, love, and music, Charles Manson’s “Family” of young, mainly female followers, perpetrated a series of murders in the Hollywood Hills—one victim being actress Sharon Tate, pregnant with film director Roman Polanski’s baby—that came to symbolize the end of the decade’s utopian countercultural endeavors. Manson had immersed himself in the emerging cultural matrix of the period while in prison—listening to the Beatles, reading the Bible, occult and mystical texts, and science fiction, and studying scientology; he headed for San Francisco and the Summer of Love on release, and fitted in perfectly. Picking up followers along the way, the self-styled family felt that they were tuned-in to something like early radical Christianity, as they resisted the oppression of a despotic state, preached love, and sought spiritual enlightenment through LSD and psychosexual liberation under the tutelage of their guru, Manson, whom they considered, as he considered himself, a reincarnation of Christ (Carlin and Jones 2010, 54–55). By 1969 the Summer of Love had turned sour for Manson and his Family. Baulked musical ambitions, botched drug deals, a messy murder and attempted murder, Manson’s jail-house racism, and the rising paranoia of the late 1960s had turned the spiritual guru into a revolutionary messiah. What Manson foresaw was a race war which would bring about a period of millenarian destruction, after which the family would emerge from a hole in the desert (a borrowing from Hopi Indian legend) and rule over the survivors. This was the apocalypse foretold in the Biblical Book of Revelation: and the Beatles were the four angels of the apocalypse that the prophesy promised (Bugliosi with Gentry 1994, 320). In family gatherings, exegetic analyses of The White Album dominated Manson’s “rap” in 1969, as Paul Watkins, a key family member until a late disaffection, recounts: “Are you hep to what the Beatles are saying? … Dig it, they’re telling it like it is. They know what’s happening in the city; blackie is getting ready. They put the revolution to music … it’s ‘Helter-Skelter.’ Helter-Skelter is coming down.” … we all listened to the album over and over, particularly to five songs; “Blackbird,” “Piggies,” “Revolution 1,” “Revolution 9,” and “Helter-Skelter.” Sitting high in the Panamints around the fire, the songs did seem strangely prophetic. We listened to “Helter-Skelter,” to the discord and caterwauling of “Revolution 9,” which ends with machine guns firing and people screaming in agony as though it were the end of the world. Indeed, at that point Charlie’s credibility seemed indisputable … Few of us doubted Charlie’s power. He had alluded often to his being a spiritual medium, a

U2’s Bespoke Exorcism of the 1960s


“hole in the infinite,” a latter-day Jesus Christ. Why not? On the eve of the New Year (1969), the rest of the world seemed no less insane. (Watkins with Soledad 1979, 135–36)

What U2 are acknowledging in reclaiming “Helter Skelter” is both the role of Manson as a false prophet and the power of music to convey meaning, to ask questions and apparently provide answers (“tell me the answer” “Helter Skelter” refrains)—to act as a form of poetic scripture. Manson was deluded, but he wasn’t a fool, and to the end he believed that the Beatles were foretelling the future. In an interview with chief prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi while he was on trial, Manson continued to insist upon the veracity of the music’s message: “We both know you ordered these murders,” I told him. “Bugliosi, it’s the Beatles, the music they’re putting out. They’re talking about war. These kids listen to this music and pick up the message, it’s subliminal.” (Bugliosi with Gentry 1994, 497)

Manson’s interpretation of the period’s music, and the White Album in particular, wasn’t really unusual: indeed, what gives the music of the 1960s its social, psychic, and spiritual power is precisely its audience’s hunger for messages, for communities of faith, for feedback loops between the artists and their followers, and the Beatles held a preeminent role as mediators of meanings—even satirizing their audience’s appetite for gnostic insights in songs like “Glass Onion.” Considering Manson, meaning and interpretation in the period, Nick Bromell concludes that “Manson was insane, but he was also representative. When everything connects, the vision can be one of joy or terror” (Bromell 2000, 124–25). At a certain point, the psychedelic vision and the psychotic revelation are essentially indistinguishable. As Aldous Huxley, the intellectual godfather of psychedelia, implied in the titles of his two most famous essays on visionary experience, opening The Doors of Perception can lead to Heaven and Hell (Huxley 1954). But of course, these warnings apply equally to religious and mystical experience, whose insights can be blissfully enlightening, or darkly apocalyptic. As noted, Manson’s syncretic interpretations of the Bible and the White Album weren’t unusual. In the case of “Helter Skelter” and its accreted meanings, the interpretive feedback loops between performer and audience remain highly cathected. U2’s cover of the song isn’t really a version as much as it is a sublimated echo of the original. The band play it straight; there is no delay on the Edge’s guitar and he doesn’t use his trademark harmonics—the band don’t try to make it, as they would later with “Happiness is a Warm Gun” (1997), a “U2” song. The guitar is overdriven, but the song’s structure is simplified—no phased endings and no departures from a straight rock cover: U2 give us “Helter Skelter” shorn of its strangeness. And if U2 were to reclaim the song, exorcise its demons, and re-historicize it, a straight cover was essential simply because “Helter Skelter” had become almost invisible under the layers of heavy metal, punk, new-wave, and thrash versions that had inflected and mutated it by the late 1980s (Carlin and Jones 2014, passim). This


U2 and the Religious Impulse

is because the song had come to symbolize the death of the 1960s and the failure of its idealistic projects. The ethos of peace and love had come to an end in the Hollywood Hills in 1969, and “Helter Skelter” now signified a dark, sinister, even hypocritical 1960s. The song had accrued unholy connotations, and for many post1960s musicians, mutated versions of and references to “Helter Skelter” became an index of intergenerational contempt. U2 needed to reinstate the song’s “innocence.” However, as reader-reception theory insists, and as Manson proves, with the Bible, as with any other text, meanings do not exist independently of the history of their reception (Beal 2013, 5). And the shadow is still there as the curtains rise for Rattle and Hum. Indeed, the shadow of “Helter Skelter” would prove murderously inescapable. The live concert performance that follows the Beatles’ cover in U2’s film is “Exit,” a song about a religiously delusional killer. As the number climaxes, Bono repeats the chorus from Van Morrison’s 1964 classic “Gloria”—a song refracted through Patti Smith’s version (Horses, 1975) and refocused by U2’s own euphoric and devotional song of that name. But neither this intertextual effort to exorcise the darkness of “Exit,” nor Bono’s live introductions of its subject as a man “who misunderstands the hands of love,” would prevent Robert John Bardo citing it as the inspiration behind his own murder of a young actress in 1989 (Thomson 2008, 115–17). The darkness doesn’t just return; it proliferates. But here the band acknowledges this. Indeed, darkness and ambivalence may be integral to the creative process, and essential to any kind of “grown-up” faith in our inheritance from the 1960s. Bono’s biographer writes of his heroes that “he had always admired Lennon, particularly his eccentric, dark sense of humor, his mood swings, and his conflicted messages of violence and love” (Kootnikoff 2012, 35–36), and it is the light-dark, satirical-tragic spirit of John Lennon that presides over Rattle and Hum’s exploration of the band’s musical heritage and lends it its edge. As a lyricist Bono has often talked and written about the appeal of the “dark side,” interestingly locating this in its ability to provide hope and comfort, for in acknowledging and articulating gaps in faith, the singer finds hope in the possibility for a kind of communal exorcism of the darkness that, ironically, gets us closer to the thing we feel is lost—communal love. In an introduction to a collection of psalms he discusses this in religious terms: Abandonment, displacement, is the stuff of my favorite psalms. The Psalter may be a font of gospel music, but for me it’s in his despair that the psalmist really reveals his relationship with God. Honesty, even to the point of anger … … Still, in an odd way, they prepared me for the honesty of John Lennon … “40” became the closing song at U2 shows and on hundreds of occasions, literally hundreds of thousands of people of every size and shape t-shirt have shouted back the refrain, pinched from Psalm 6: “How long (to sing this song).” I had thought of it as a nagging question—pulling at the hem of an invisible deity whose presence we glimpse only when we act in love. How long hunger? How long hatred? How long until creation grows up and the chaos of its precocious, hell-bent adolescence has been discarded? I thought it odd that the vocalizing of such questions could bring such comfort: to me too. (Bono 1999, ix, xii)

U2’s Bespoke Exorcism of the 1960s


Two things are interesting here; one is the similarity between the questions asked of God when doubt threatens the preservation of faith, and those asked of civilization by the counterculture in the 1960s, and then the subsequent doubt in either as having the “answer.” The second is the abiding insistence that we must confront and exorcise such “demons.” But it is clear that the place where both faith and exorcism must be practiced is in the music. Theodore Roszak was an early and respected documenter and enthusiastic champion of many of the ideals of the 1960s counterculture. He is cautious and even cynical about its naïve embrace of Eastern religions, but he recognizes the religious intensity that lay at the heart of the period’s ethos: “The dissenting young have indeed got religion. Not the brand of religion Billy Graham or William Buckley would like to see the young crusading for—but religion nonetheless” (Roszak 1995, 138). He speaks of the period’s “ecstatic radicalism” (126) and its impulses toward “something sacred which stands above all men, causes, regimes and factions” to which “all are allowed equal access” (150). Bono focuses these impulses accurately in his introduction to the psalms, where he identifies music as the medium in which these necessary rituals have found a home since the 1960s: I stopped going to churches and got myself into a different kind of religion … that’s what a rock ‘n’ roll band is, not pseudo-religion either  …  Show-business is Shamanism: music is worship. (Bono 1999, xi)

It was in acknowledgment of the “shamanic” power of music, and its supremacy in carrying messages of redemption and doubt, and ultimately heaven and hell, that U2 opened Rattle and Hum with “Helter Skelter.” Just as the psalms speak of doubt as much as faith in Christianity, Rattle and Hum follows a similar pattern of exalting and exorcising the object of faith—this time it is the 1960s—for its power to offer but, as yet deny, deliverance. Like the psalmists, thousands of years before, U2 have to deal with the darkest aspects of their faith in order to keep it alive. The band need to become exorcists, and, as the borrowed line from Bruce Cockburn in “God Part II” announces, “kick the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight” (Luerssen 2010, 221). It is in this spirit that several of the songs conduct revisionings of musical history that become acts of beatification. “Angel of Harlem” is a song about Billie Holiday that reminds us of her drug habit and abusive childhood: “eyes swollen like a bee sting,” but insists that she is, nonetheless, the “angel of Harlem.” It references the jazz era and the prehistory of 1960s rock, and is embedded in a Motown beat with Stax brass throughout (“Love Rescue Me,” a soul number written with Bob Dylan, has a similar retro feel). “Angel” reverences the legacy of Black American music with its roots in the blues, as Bono declares she was an “Angel in the Devil’s shoes” and she, and we, can find “Salvation in the blues.” In his introduction to the psalms Bono had announced that “a lot of the psalms feel like the blues to me” (Bono 1999, viii) and the blues take center stage in “When Love Comes to Town,” featuring B. B. King—a blues guitar legend, and one that Lennon too really admired (Wenner 2000, 22). But Billie Holiday and B. B. King


U2 and the Religious Impulse

act like portals into the history of jazz and blues singers that preceded them, and ultimately the ghosts of slavery, the ghetto, and the gothic nightmare of the American past attend them and remind the listener that the Black American music that gave birth to 1960s pop and rock was, and still is, a vehicle of salvation, but it is also the product of brutalization and struggle. Rattle and Hum has this metahistorical relationship to its musical heritage, and another aspect of this is revealed when the band visit Elvis’s grave and Larry Mullen says, “I wish he’d been buried somewhere I couldn’t have gone.” Rather than the commercial glitz of Graceland, and the commodification of the dreams that rock and roll nurtures, Mullen wants a reverent distance and mystery—something that grants status to the noble, almost mythic past, of postwar pop music. In Rattle and Hum’s filmed interviews the band express an awareness of such processes of nostalgia, and in “God, Part II” the lines “Don’t believe in the sixties, the golden age of pop/You glorify the past, when the future dries up” warn of the pitfalls of any blind romanticizing of the past. But it also speaks of an imperative to not let the spirit that the era evoked stay relegated to the past, to not let the future wither. Reinvoking the idea that “the dream is over” from the song “God” on Lennon’s seminal John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (1970) yet keeping the dream alive by overwriting and relaying its history, is one of Rattle and Hum’s imperatives. The message of “God Part II” at first seems contradictory: the lyric states, “I believe in love,” which it repeats ten times, or simply makes a refrain out of the word “love”—but it describes doubt in the power of that love to do anything, and becomes a list of things that the singer no longer believes in. High ideals are contrasted with realities that fall short of those ideals: “don’t believe in forced entry, don’t believe in rape/but every time she walks on by wild thoughts escape.” Lines like this directly echo Lennon’s late avowal that “I sincerely believe in love and peace. I am a violent man who has learned not to be violent and regrets his violence” (Lennon and Ono 1981, 154), and in “God Part II” the singer seems fatalistic in his acceptance that his ideals will always be arenas of struggle. The 1960s are treated in exactly the same way: we are reminded of Albert Goldman’s rather scurrilous biography of Lennon (The Lives of John Lennon, 1988, foregrounds the failings of the man, and U2’s disavowal of the book can’t help but remind the listener of them too), and we are told repeatedly exactly what the singer can no longer believe in (as we are in Lennon’s “God”) but, just as with the original’s emphasis on “Yoko and me,” the refrain insists, “I believe in love,” and ultimately the song counters the doubt it catalogs—without having to interact with it intellectually, thus serving to exorcise rather than entertain or engage with it. Lennon haunts this song, but it is his status as a flawed man, rather than a hero (unlike King in “Pride”), that is central to the transformative power that the singer finds in the figure. Perhaps this is fitting—given Lennon’s notorious contention in 1966 that “We’re more popular than Jesus now” (Cleave 1995, 255)—as Bono’s treatment of Lennon as a symbol echoes Christian doctrine about the importance of Christ as a human who is tested and tempted, rather than as a god existing in a rarefied space outside of human frailty. Arguably, U2 borrowed “Sunday Bloody Sunday” as a song title from Lennon (Sometime in New York City, 1972), but they take away the revolutionary rhetoric of

U2’s Bespoke Exorcism of the 1960s


the original (“Keep Ireland for the Irish/Put the English back to sea!”) and instead insist, in both Under a Blood Red Sky (1983) and Rattle and Hum’s live versions, that “this is not a rebel song.” By Rattle and Hum this sentiment is extended and Bono tells his Irish-American audience that he does not want them collecting for the IRA at U2 gigs, adding a Republican shooting at a remembrance day parade to the list of atrocities that the song deals with, turning the song into a lament for the lost from both sides of the divide. Effectively, the band take a rebel song, exorcise the naïve elements in it, and then reinstate its power. In a move that echoes the difference between New and Old Testament doctrine, in this version of the 1960s, we are asked to put aside hatred and to extend love, to turn the other cheek, in ways that the original 1960s and early 1970s did not require. Rattle and Hum continues to exorcise the demons of the 1960s through its cover of another of 1968’s “dark” anthems, “All Along the Watchtower,” and consolidates it by later sampling the war-torn feedback of Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” from Woodstock. U2’s version of “All Along the Watchtower” pays tribute to Hendrix’s version from Electric Ladyland (1968) rather than Dylan’s original, and this is inevitable: as one critic has perceptively observed, when Dylan started performing “All Along the Watchtower” live in 1974, his version had to pay homage to Jimi, as “Hendrix had taken such complete possession” of the song (Murray 1989, 150). Just as “Helter Skelter” had cried out for a response (“tell me the answer”) so “Watchtower’s” haunted lyrics—set in a no-time where everything is waiting for something to happen, or trying to escape from something, or anticipating an ominous outcome as “two riders” approach and the wind howls—is evocative of a dark 1960s. Many of the song’s images—the watchtower, the princes, and the horsemen—are reputedly drawn from the book of Isaiah (21.5-9) with the fall of Babylon omitted from the lyric but implicit in the sense of a reckoning that the song hints at. As one critic has suggested, Dylan’s version “had echoes of Isaiah and Revelation. When Jimi Hendrix had a hit with a searing cover six months later, he invoked the howl of the apocalypse with even more zeal” (Sounes 2001, 229). Hendrix was popular in the field in Vietnam (Herr 1978, 148) and the first line’s anxious wish to find “some way outta here” resonated with the conscripted troops. The war echoes even more loudly in the fragment of “The Star Spangled Banner” in Rattle and Hum, which is prefaced by Adam Clayton saying, “There are people who would say that you shouldn’t mix music and politics … but I think that’s kinda bullshit,” before the band launch into a menacing “Bullet the Blue Sky” with its indictment of the new Vietnam in America’s backyard. Hendrix’s treatment of the national anthem has been considered as nothing less than an “interpretation of history” and an indictment of the war in Vietnam specifically (Murray 1989, 24). Perhaps one of the most political statements to emerge from the late 1960s, its performance at Woodstock stands as a kind of coda to the decade—much as Hendrix’s life itself does: he would be dead just over a year later. Hendrix’s appearances in Rattle and Hum are important. The band’s version of “Watchtower” is played as straight as their cover of “Helter Skelter,” and there is barely a break in the rising and falling three-chord pattern, and only nugatory gestures toward a guitar solo by the Edge. The film is edited so that the song


U2 and the Religious Impulse

forms the soundtrack to Bono’s spray-painting of the words “rock and roll stops the traffic” on the Vaillancourt Fountain sculpture at a free concert organized by legendary 1960s concert promoter Bill Graham (the footage is actually edited-in from a performance of “Pride”: Chatterton 2001, 181–82; Luerssen 2010, 86). The editing suggests that Bono is possessed by the spirit of the music and motivated into committing an act of disobedience. Since the concert was free, and the action incurred a fine which resulted in them paying to get the statue cleaned, Bono’s moment of inspired vandalism literally cost the performer and the concert organizers, but it staged a will to subversion that speaks loudly to the ethos of the band’s heroes. Hendrix has become an icon of the 1960s, and seems to somehow personify them with his talent, his iconoclasm, and his tragically early death. But his spirituality and utopianism are important elements in this mix too. While he was putting the finishing touches to Electric Ladyland he gave an interview in which he stressed the spiritual nature of his music, subverting the music business, and the importance of rock as a medium with a message of love: We’re making our music into electric church music—a new kind of Bible, not like in a hotel, but a Bible you carry in your hearts, one that will give you a physical feeling … Lots of young people now feel they’re not getting a fair deal … Their music hasn’t been put in a cage yet. It’s more than music. It’s like church, like a foundation for the lost or the potentially lost. That’s why the kids don’t mind when you take fifteen minutes setting up for a concert. It’s like watching something being born … … The argument is not between black and white now. That’s just another game the establishment set up to turn us against one another. … We want them to realize that our music is just as spiritual as going to church. … … kids are wiser than grown-ups in some respects. If parents really want to love their kids, they should be aware of their music … Conflict comes when insecure older people overprotect their young. The content of the old blues was singing about sex … Now people are saying so much more with music; music is such an important thing now; people have to realize that. (Hendrix cited in Henderson 1981, 205–7)

As Charles Shaar Murray suggests, Hendrix’s idea of the “electric church” was vague, but it seemed to be “a context for participatory worship, learning and communion without regard for denomination or demeanor” (Murray 1989, 161). What the idea of an electric church implies more broadly is the spiritual environment that modern music and its electrified media—the concert, the record player, the radio, the TV—constitute. As Marshall McLuhan wrote in 1969, “Today the teenage music is an environment not something to be played inside an environment” (McLuhan 1969, 72)—and the audience draw spiritual messages, and nourishment, from this sacred space. As Bono would insist, “music is worship.” For U2 the 1960s become a zone of worship and they unapologetically insist upon the abiding value of, and music’s ability to promote, principles of love and

U2’s Bespoke Exorcism of the 1960s


social justice. But they also insist on historical honesty. Thus in Rattle and Hum the band knowingly borrow the theatrical diabolism of the Rolling Stones by interpolating a line from “Sympathy for the Devil” into the close of “Bad.” The ground is prepared by Bono through a kind of potted history of Stones’s styles as he chants “not fade away” in the long outro, invoking the title of the Buddy Holly and Norman Petty–penned song which was a hit for the band in 1964, followed by lines from the chorus of “Ruby Tuesday,” a sensitive ballad that emerged as a B side in January 1967. Then Bono intones “Pleased to meet you” from “Sympathy for the Devil,” the opening track from Beggars Banquet, an album which, with songs like “Street Fighting Man,” perfectly chimed with the youthful spirit of protest and rebellion that characterized 1968. But with “Sympathy for the Devil” it isn’t the spirit of rebellion so much as the specter of catastrophe that the song summons up, linked as it is to the other dark and apocalyptic event of 1969: Altamont. In the film of the Stones’s concert, a fight starts early in the song and spills onto the dangerously low stage. Mick Jagger laments, “We always have—something very funny happens when we start that number” as things settle down again, but then disturbances persist after the song ends, and a frightened and ineffectual Jagger asks, “Who’s fighting and what for? Why are we fighting?” A few songs later, Meredith Hunter would be murdered by Hell’s Angels in front of the stage. By 1988 U2 simply cannot entertain the naivety that led to Altamont. The world they live in has lost its faith in peace and love and has even given up on nonviolence. In the song “Silver and Gold,” the band depict a man considering taking up arms against white South Africa—once violence had entered the utopic spaces of the flower power movement it could not be put back in its box, but the band convey more focused political impulses than their 1960s predecessors. They adopt the radicalism of the counterculture, but instead of calling for an undefined revolution they focus it in more politically literate ways. Bono speaks of organized responses to the world’s ills, drawing his audience’s attention to movements like Artists Against Apartheid. But the record and film never leave their 1960s roots behind completely and always acknowledge a debt to, and faith in, the rhetoric, music, and figures from that era. Rattle and Hum ends with “All I Want Is You”—a ballad about the consolation found in love which sees the band return to a sound comprised equally of their trademark Joshua Tree reverb-heavy-layered guitar backing, but complemented by orchestral string arrangements that evoke moods reminiscent of those created by George Martin for The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper. But as it happens, the arranger on “All I Want Is You” is actually Van Dyke Parks, the composer, singer, instrumentalist, and producer who had worked with the Beach Boys and other key artists since the mid-1960s. Our dreams are still colored by the 1960s, after all, and the 1960s often have the final word.

Chapter 5 S A R AJ EVO A N D T H E P O P M A RT L E M O N : T H E F R AC T U R E D F O R M A N D F U N C T IO N O F U 2 ’ S WA L K T H R O U G H T H E VA L L EY O F T H E SHA D OW O F D E AT H

Richard S. Briggs

“They wanted the lemon!” September 23, 1997: U2 play Sarajevo. The PopMart trucks rolled in across the border, and up went the giant screen, the over-the-top light show, and fortyfoot spinning mirror ball lemon, which served as the band’s space-age transport for the encores at the end of each show. What may have made a certain ironic cultural sense in Las Vegas (where the first PopMart concert took place on April 25, 1997), or arguably in Paris and other major Western cities, appeared utterly incongruous in shell-shocked Sarajevo. When the band had finally managed to arrange to go to Bosnia, they offered a stripped-down benefit concert—though it is hard to imagine what that would have been like, in the middle of their 1997 touring extravaganza that opened every night with M’s “Pop Muzik” and their own cacophonous “Mofo”—but the offer was turned down in any case. No, Sarajevo wanted the full show. For a man who appears barely ever incredulous, even Bono seemed to find it hard to suspend disbelief: “They wanted the lemon!”1 Surely this was one of the oddest rock concerts in all the fifty-year history of such events to date. It was their delivery on the promise to perform in the war-torn city that had featured, somewhat problematically, in the live link-ups with American aid worker Bill Carter in July–August 1993, through the European stadium leg of the ZooTV tour.2 Around a dozen times that media-glitz spectacular had been brought to a juddering halt with images of suffering, pain, and the transmission of unfiltered despair into the midst of some of the most postmodern and ironic big rock concerts ever staged. What is an artist supposed to do to contribute in a world of such bleakness? Sing songs? But if U2 winked at the devil through ZooTV, with Bono eventually transforming every night into MacPhisto, the aging devil-as-failed-bar-bandcrooner cartoon figure presiding over TV-channel-hopping dystopia, then with PopMart they pushed the whole concept of the ironic rock concert right out into


U2 and the Religious Impulse

the heart of darkness. From the band’s brightest star came their blackest hole: the sound-and-fury lightshow that was both the opening of the Pop album and the whole of its associated PopMart tour. They trawled out into the bleakest regions of the lost soul, adrift on the high seas of theorized postmodern self-reflexivity. It was fun, it was fabulous, but it was also frenzied and fragmented, and very hard to see as a genuine celebration of anything. It remains reckoned as the band’s most conspicuous failure, in a surprisingly wide range of estimations: it was a business failure, and it left them in something of a critical wilderness.3 Perhaps most interestingly it points to the in-built limitations of trying to present any kind of consistent vision using irony as the predominant mode: once let loose, irony could not be conveniently suspended for more straightforward communication (Dettmar 2012, 123). So how does one bring healing to the war-torn Balkans with glam and glitter? As symbolism so often does, it all unintentionally seemed to denote the grossest failure of both taste and triumph: a “lemon” indeed.

The Darkness Is Where the Light Shines: Situating Pop(Mart) Theologically In the wake of PopMart—perhaps in two senses, as meaning both “in the aftermath” and also referring to its own encounter with a kind of death and failure—U2 would once again reinvent themselves. Bono liked to say of 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind that U2 were “reapplying for the job of best band in the world” (Bono et al. 2006, 303). It is hard to fault the millennial reinvention of Beautiful Day and the Elevation Tour on its own terms. For many fans and critics alike this was a return to U2’s heartland: the reinstatement of an earnestness that brooked rather less possibility of being misunderstood, along with a reinstatement of monochrome shadings and band photos on the album covers, and a turning out of the colored lights that had bathed the 1990s concerts. Look deeper, though, and the continuities between the U2 of the 1990s and their earlier and later selves become evident. It was noted that Pop addressed God more often than almost any self-described Christian record contemporary with it, but since it did so in the tone of relentless despair, with a psalmist’s harangue (“Wake up dead man!”), many Christians were rather nervous of embracing it.4 The irony here is that Christian theology, and the Jewish tradition out of which it grows, has long claimed that realism about pain and suffering lies at the heart of understanding true hope, rather than being an alternative to it. Despite frequent popular versions of Christian faith that often express the contrary, any theological understanding that is nourished by the Psalms of Hebrew scripture, or the letters of the Apostle Paul written from prison, will affirm that God is not an alternative scenario to struggle and suffering, but is the one present in the midst of that struggle and suffering. Or: God is the light that shines most clearly precisely in the darkness. One may wonder why this is so often missed in popular forms of Christian faith. Doubtless on the part of some it is an insensitivity evidenced toward subtlety, or an unwillingness to be hospitable to paradox and struggle in the life of faith.

Sarajevo and the PopMart Lemon


A cultural mixture of practical atheism, and the predisposition to scientific explanation as the main mode of knowledge that counts, combine to render the public profile of popular faith somewhat simplistic. Missing are the nuances that appeal to the prophet, the visionary, the countercultural thinker. Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann makes a telling appropriation of the poetic words of Walt Whitman to capture the sense that the Old Testament voice operates from an altogether different rhetorical place: after all human achievement is taken into account, “Finally shall come the poet” (1989, 6–7). Brueggemann adds that his own readings of Old Testament texts offer “a poetic construal of an alternative world,” and the introduction to his account is entitled “Poetry in a prose-flattened world” (1989, 1–13). It seems plausible to suggest that Bono’s natural lyrical register is much closer to this than to a lot of what passes for Christian affirmation in late modernity. His suitably enchanted introduction to the book of Psalms (1999) is one pointer in that direction.5 One thought-provoking study has even suggested that he deliberately writes in allusive terms, spiritually, in order to bypass those without ears to hear, and to let U2 be a main-stage player in the music industry, while suffusing the lyrics with cues for an alternative script if one only knows how to understand paeans to the “Magnificent” (Galbraith 2011). In his engaging theological discussion of U2’s work, Robert Vagacs (2005) reads U2 through the lens of Brueggemann’s own approach to the Old Testament Psalms (Brueggemann 1984): a threefold journey from orientation (“all is right with the world: praise God!”), through disorientation (“why? how long?”), and on to reorientation (“even though … yet I will still praise God”). Brueggemann discerns this recurring thematic cycle both in many individual psalms, but also in the whole Old Testament book of Psalms as it leads readers and listeners through cycles of praise and lament (Brueggemann 1995). Long-term listeners to U2 find it easy to recognize these stages in their work, “from the level, orientated desert plains of The Joshua Tree, to wandering under the atomic skies of the disorientated city of Zooropa, through the Wilderness of re-orientated Vertigo,” as Vagacs puts it (2005, 78). It is not hard to see why Christian critics thought of All That You Can’t Leave Behind as a sort of spiritual homecoming (e.g. Powell 2002). From its hope-filled opening wonder at beholding the joys of the earth—“see the dove with the leaf in its mouth/after the flood all the colors came out”—to its striking closing return to the language of grace (that breaks the endless cycle of karma, in “Grace”), the album operates in an “orientated” register: hope for the good and rejection of the bad. All of which does not add up to a conceptually complex map of reality. However, if we are right that at least part of U2’s vision of the world is shaped in more poetic ways, then it becomes clear that both Pop and PopMart also represent profoundly theological takes on the world. In Bono’s words concerning this period: “We got darker and darker, but the lights were all the brighter at our concerts” (cited in Vagacs 2005, 61); so for those with eyes to see, the spiritual background to where U2 were operating in 1997 was recognizably still a Christian symbolic map of the universe. But instead of the binary affirmations and negations of orientation, which do of course have their place for simpler times, this was the troubling and diffuse work of disorientation. To pursue the image of the poet, Bono’s lyrics on


U2 and the Religious Impulse

Pop—and more broadly the entire rhetorical thrust of PopMart—work to explore our present world through the creation of another, or in Tolkien’s felicitous phrase, a “secondary world,” the result of an author’s “sub-creation”: “Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter” (1975, 54). Tolkien’s phrasing here pointedly captures something of the experience of watching PopMart concerts: entering into a world as a “spectator” drawn into U2’s creation. Whether all spectators enjoyed that journey is another question: clearly some did and some did not. Pop is perhaps U2’s most religious album, suffused with shades of Augustine and Yeats, lament and longing, and convinced that Jesus lurks in, with, and under the trash of a failing and ailing modern/postmodern world. This much is clear. However, in what follows I want to argue that one needs to respect the form and function of both U2’s work and the religious claims being made, which turns out to be a requirement all too easy to abandon. Surface-level analyses seem to bounce back, sliding down the surface of things in reaffirming rather straightforward views of the world that, of course, are precisely not what Pop affirms. How might we press on to an account that follows where U2’s “text” actually leads?

How (Not) to Read the Form of Pop(Mart): Finally Comes the Poet I have suggested above that religious and theological conviction is not an alternative to embracing the pain of experience, but provides the forum within which it is done. It takes a certain confidence for a believer to have an argument with their God: fundamentally it requires confidence that the God in question is there and willing to entertain the articulation of complaint and anger. Bono himself says something similar: “You can’t be having an argument with God if you don’t believe there is one” (Bono et al. 2006, 266). One of the troubles of Christian faith in modern times has been a loss of that confidence, with the result that Christian language devolves at best on to elegant attempts to suggest that there may be something in it after all. The archetypal—and strikingly influential—account that sought to offer this kind of “respectability” for Christian faith was Friedrich Schleiermacher’s little book first published in 1799, On Religion: Speeches to Cultured Despisers (1996). Some Jewish scholars have even wondered whether this kind of Christian loss of nerve springs from a guilty conscience about co-opting someone else’s tradition. To over-simplify: where Christian theologians feel compelled to struggle in pursuit of conceptual coherence for their faith, Jewish thinkers feel more at liberty to relax and fall back on history, since even if they have not fully understood the God they worship, that God and their way of life do go all the way back to the beginning, and thus Judaism stands less in need of a conceptual core to justify itself (Levenson 1993, 50). The book of Psalms, at the heart of the Christian Old Testament/Jewish Scripture, remains the parade example of a core religious text, in each tradition, that gives voice to all manner of frustration, incomprehension, and anger. It thereby manifestly demonstrates that such modes of address do not lie outside orthodox faith, but comprise some of its key resources.

Sarajevo and the PopMart Lemon


On one level, it is not uncommon for those writing on U2 to pick up on this, and affirm that specific psalms of lament, longing, or praise have their counterparts in the U2 canon. In addition to Vagacs, Brian Walsh (2003) cross-compares Psalm 44 to “Wake Up Dead Man.”6 Jamie Howison avers that U2, like the Psalms, are about “the sounding of deep, resonant, and truthful chords … and we need them all, to keep us honest” (2003, 36). William Goodman (2012a) offers a fine reading of several Psalm allusions and citations in U2 songs, producing an interplay of praise and longing/lament.7 Other writers frequently see synergy between reading the Psalms and hearing U2, and it has become almost a standard apologetic way into translating U2’s work into the scriptural modes of the Psalms either for the interested enquirer or the concerned believer (see Garrett 2009, 28–32; Scharen 2006, 29–41). An equally standard trope for the latter, the concerned believer, is to shift Pop-era U2 into the register of Ecclesiastes, the Old Testament’s great book of world-weary despair (Stockman 2005, 122–23; Scharen 2006, 43–55). This too is a point that Bono himself has made, though more with reference to the less angst-ridden world of ZooTV: “It took U2 fifteen years to get from Psalms to Ecclesiastes … And it’s only one book!” (in Flanagan 1996, 397). The implicit message of such translation comes perilously close to “So that’s all right then  …  it’s Christian after all.” The problem may in part be an overattachment to explaining U2’s work in a more traditional Christian conceptual scheme, as if one would thereby validate it by showing that it turns out to be saying what one already believed, albeit in more aurally and visually engaging ways.8 But this is parallel to theological attempts to validate those scriptural texts that appear to be at odds with traditional understandings by explaining them away, or remolding them until they are pressed into service to support the position they appear to challenge. Biblical scholars have of late come to see more clearly that attempts to “exonerate” the Bible against charges that it can be aggressive or violent need to beware, that they do not lose the point of how these scriptural texts are immersed in the midst of human failing. One milestone in the articulation of this understanding is the sobering work of Phyllis Trible: Texts of Terror. Her fundamental claim is relatively simple in principle (though harrowing in practice): one must dwell with the Bible’s terrifying texts, and not rush too soon to claim “happy endings,” because there is healing for the terrorized in seeing how such experiences are recognized in the text (Trible 1984, 1–7). A biblical theology does not “get around” these texts to some imagined place of calm abstraction, but rather embraces them, or “goes through” them, to let voices of pain and anger play constructive and constitutive roles in shaping what it means to live life before the God of scripture (Portier-Young 2012). A little reflection on the contours of such “difficult” texts in the Old Testament actually reveals that the book of Psalms hosts many of the most “unpleasant and repulsive” sentiments in the Bible, and again the reader must navigate through these texts, not around them. In the words of Erich Zenger, whose account begins with a review of those “unpleasant and repulsive” aspects of the Psalms, “the psalms of vengeance participate in the revelatory dynamic of the Bible  …  they very often compel us to confess that we ourselves are violent, and belong among


U2 and the Religious Impulse

the perpetrators of the violence lamented in these Psalms” (Zenger 1996, 1–9, 84– 85). It takes interpretative courage to hold one’s nerve before these texts, and let them take readers to troubling places of self-examination, more courage than is evidenced by approaches that rush to explain how everything fits with orthodox theological affirmations of faith. Likewise, I suggest, it is key to recognize that U2’s work, especially in the 1990s, should not suffer too rapid an explanatory translation into more familiar registers. Just as a poet is not simply a preacher using fancy language, that one can filter out to get at what the poet “really means,” so PopMart is not The Joshua Tree with ironic bells and whistles. When Bono sings “Looking for the baby Jesus under the trash,” in “Mofo,” this is not a coded invitation to recognize that Jesus is the key, except by some imperial overreach of the imagination. It is part pain and part loss, if the sonic dislocation of the song is to be believed, but it is also part immersion in a world of poetic intertextuality. This is a song that pulls in Yeats’s stunning and evocative poem of forlorn human reinvention, “Before the World was Made,” which itself lamented that “I’m looking for the face I had/before the world was made” (1990, 308–9).9 And while it is true that “looking for to fill that God-shaped hole” is in a direct line of descent from Augustine’s “our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” via Pascal’s Pensees, as every writer on U2 and religion has pointed out, this is not to equate “Mofo” with Augustine’s Confessions. It is using Augustine to say something new, or seeing as how it is Augustine, the one who said that to sing is to pray twice, it is to sing something new, and transport listeners to a place that they do not recognize, because it is not the old place seen slant, but a new (sub-created) world. Most of Pop, and in turn PopMart, should be reread this way. The mapping of heaven onto the “Playboy Mansion,” in the song of that name, is not sufficiently well-served by saying that this is an ironic inversion of the values of our own world (though it is that too, as shown quite elegantly by Walmsley 2003). It is also injecting an eroticized longing into hope for the kingdom to come. One might judge that as clever, outrageous, or hopelessly muddled, but that is part of what the song does. The song that follows it on Pop, “If You Wear that Velvet Dress,” pushes the theme of desire to even darker places. It is not as if “Desire” were a new topic for U2. But the poet is not writing a dissertation about it. Instead they are surrendering to it. It is what is seen in the grip of such passion that is at stake in this music. Poetry inherently has a way of transcending its originating contexts, and sending its signifying resonances out into the world beyond the text. “Lemon,” the song, was so called because it was the color of the dress worn by Bono’s mother in the film clip from the past that triggered the song (Bono et al. 2006, 248–49). By the time the stage-transport is a motorized lemon, the color has faded from view. Poets do not (and cannot) control their imagery. I suggest that Pop ends up beyond U2’s control, perhaps particularly because it surrenders most fully to a poetic vision of the world. No wonder they could not finish the album, but had to cut their losses and abandon it in order to make the tour that had been prebooked. It may be that a vision such as that of Pop cannot be finished, because it is

Sarajevo and the PopMart Lemon


in part about opening up to the cracks of the world, where the mysteries of human pain and inadequacy run deep. So if we learn to respect the form of Pop(Mart)’s theological confessions and professions, what will it mean to respect their substantive functions? It is to this consideration of what we might call Pop’s “subject matter” that we now turn.

How (Not) to Read the Function of Pop(Mart): Original (and Unoriginal) Sin A good candidate for the most commonly misunderstood Christian doctrine in the modern history of Christianity is original sin (Jacobs 2008; see McFadyen 2000, 14–42, for the argument that original sin is a fundamental challenge to the way morality is conceived in modernity). In my judgment, it is a doctrine either largely ignored or disastrously transmuted into some kind of damning pronouncement of universal guilt. It is possible of course to reject the doctrine, but for the sake of this analysis I shall proceed with at least an attentive openness to what it offers, in order to explore the question of whether U2’s work in Pop and PopMart might be usefully conceptualized in terms of presenting an artistic vision of original sin. What is the doctrine of original sin?10 Without launching into a full-scale analysis, we may take it to be the affirmation that all human beings sin, not just actually in performing sins, but by virtue of being born into the fallen and corrupted world bequeathed to them by some “original” sin (classically the sin of Adam and Eve). While one may only be held responsible by God for the wrong one does oneself, the fact that one sins is not therefore one’s own fault, but is a result of “the original sin.” Though perhaps counterintuitive at first sight, this may be seen as good news because, as a recognition that failure is inevitable without ruling out the possibility of goodness, it releases humankind from impossible burdens, and invites one to celebrate the welcome that God offers anyway, or in spite of human failing. Thus the doctrine actually serves to encourage hope. It also, rightly understood, mitigates against a sense of inherited guilt, which is not the trigger for turning to God: rather it is love that draws the individual to God (McFarland 2010, 213–14; Crisp 2015, 256–63). Finally, it is a profoundly realistic comment on the character of human nature as it is seen worked out in the world in which we live, accounting for the universal mixed experience of both good and evil that is all around. My claim here is that PopMart may be seen to represent U2’s most sustained working out of such a belief in the impossibility of perfection in human life and experience. If such a manifestation of “original sin” is understood, then it is good news on its own terms. Again, this is not because it redirects us somewhere else as a claim that life fails without God, hence one must turn from here to the gospel good news (as some apologists for U2 can suggest, in line with the preceding discussion of the form of U2’s work). Rather it is because in itself the doctrine offers good news. To anticipate: one need not wend one’s way home from PopMart saying, “At least I’m glad I don’t live in that world, and it has reminded me of my


U2 and the Religious Impulse

need for hope”; rather, one might reflect on having been lifted up by the experience of embracing failure right alongside hope. The famous version of this story found at the beginning of the book of Genesis (chapter 3) has been waylaid by interminable modern debate over whether there was an historical Adam and Eve, or a historic moment of fall in a particular Garden of Eden. We may set aside those questions, which do not concern us here, to remark solely on the point of the narrative. Genesis 3 takes its place as the first episode after the establishment of “Adam” (which is Hebrew for “man”) and “Eve” (Hebrew for “life/living”). What is the first thing to say about this couple? The story offers a subtle double-affirmation. First, there is good in the world. It is possible to love, enjoy and take pleasure in one another, in creation, and in the work of curating the garden. Secondly, there is evil in the world. It is possible to get things wrong, to prioritize selfish interest, and turn away from the generous and life-giving provision of God. It has to be said that the balance struck between these two affirmations has not been well kept in the history of religious thought. Either all is basically good, and one may do as one pleases. Or all is basically rotten, and one is crushed by the weight of guilt. But Genesis makes the daring claim that each of these views needs to be held in check by the other. Notice that Genesis 3 does not offer an explanation of why Adam and Eve sin, or fall, or turn away from God. It is not an etiology, and Christian theology ultimately has no answer to the vexed question of why we live in a world of evil—but it will not give up on the claim that this is true of our world (cf. McFarland 2010, 47–48). If one calls Genesis 3 a myth it is not with a view to making a judgment on its historical status, but rather in order to attend to its world-shaping power as a narrative that imbues human existence with meaning. In this sense, the Adam and Eve myth is one among various narratives that seek to evaluate truthfully the world and human experience. Other myths are available. PopMart may be read as one such myth. The symbolic world created by PopMart, that secondary world into which spectators enter as participants, makes the same double-affirmation that all understandings of original sin make. First: the world is broken. It may be, variously, the “Last Night on Earth,” or the absence of the angels we know we need (in “If God Will Send His Angels”), or the vividly described broken world of “Wake Up Dead Man.” The disorientating disco-pop stylings of Pop’s first three tracks (“Discotheque,” “Do You Feel Loved?” and “Mofo”) notoriously threw listeners off the scent, thinking that U2 had delivered a celebration of dance-culture, when in fact they beckoned listeners into a more musically varied brokenness. Though only two of those songs survived the whole PopMart tour, they remained definitively placed: “Mofo” being the opening song, and “Discotheque” the one that kick-started the final sections of the concert. Tonally, they anchor the whole performance in the grip of failed expectation, which is quite some burden for a rock concert to seek to carry. Secondly, there remains goodness in the world. How else can one explain the fact that in the midst of the show U2 are able to return to the long-established optimism of a song like “Where the Streets Have No Name”? The concert version of

Sarajevo and the PopMart Lemon


“One,” which usually either finished the show or ushered in a final longing lament (often extracts from either “Wake Up Dead Man” or “Unchained Melody”), had long since developed an additional final verse compared to the studio recording: “Hear us coming Lord … We’re knocking at your door …” It could be felt as an attempt to mediate before God the arena full of people in need of the transcendence that required the breaking down of any final barrier (or “door”). Songs from Pop equally latch on to the goodness of the world, albeit in less obvious and much more submerged ways, and not unequivocally. All one needs to notice is that they are not exercises in relentless despair, so much as the couching of hope in terms that recognize the despair too. My contention is that PopMart needs to be seen as balancing both these affirmations. Thus a listener is simultaneously confronted with evidence of the disorder of our world, structural and moral, through the dislocation found throughout the show and the lyrics of (especially) the newer songs, while at the same time they are lifted through a recognition that this truth is in tension with another. In the words of “Please,” which may be the closest thing on Pop to a song that articulates this tension, “Love is … bigger than us/ But love is not what you’re thinking of.” And in one of the lesser-observed lines from “Wake Up Dead Man”: “Jesus  …  I know you’re looking out for us/But maybe your hands aren’t free?” There you have goodness and brokenness, and release comes through embracing both together. That is original sin as vehicle of good news and why, at least in principle, the concertgoer is able to depart PopMart in peace.

How (not) to Evaluate Pop(Mart) Theologically: In the Valley of the Shadow of Death Even if the reading of Pop and PopMart that we have offered above is granted, an evaluative question remains, if not two. First: does it work? Does the PopMart experience successfully bring about release through confrontation with brokenness, or does it rather fall into jagged and irreconcilable sections, so that it is only dislocation that is experienced? A second question might be: is it any good? Aesthetically? Theologically? And quite simply: is there any fun to be had here? First, the question of whether PopMart delivers a coherent experience, even if it is one of in-built tensions. The answer to this is probably at best a qualified “Yes.” The irony unleashed by the stage set and the band’s bizarre costumes is a voracious irony, not easily put back in the box when other modes of address enter into play (as rightly argued by Dettmar 2012; cf. Montano 2015, 33). Despite occasional B-stage respites, the rhetorical feel of the concerts seemed almost to be pinned up against a (light-)wall, unable to breathe and find space to do more than operate in anything but attack mode. It would be interesting to see performance art critics reflect on why this might be so. If PopMart is indeed a failure, is it because it is impossible in human terms to square the circles of suffering and the entertainment industry, or of art and anomie? Is one strange outworking of a doctrine of original sin that any attempt to offer liberation through a rock concert will in some ways always fail?


U2 and the Religious Impulse

But that failure would then have to be interpreted alongside recognizing that the two hours spent immersed in the musical world was nevertheless a good thing, and that for all that the concerts move through the territory of original sin, they more or less successfully stop short of trading in guilt. Secondly, the question of evaluating its quality. On an aesthetic and entertainment level, Pop and PopMart clearly appealed to some and not to others. Perhaps in the long run they have not even appealed all that much to U2, who have rarely played songs from Pop since. A musical evaluation of all of this would be a different project, and one I am not qualified to undertake. As it happens I like the album, and to a lesser extent the tour, but not much stands or falls on that statement of personal preference. I would however like to suggest one point of theological critique, which again mitigates against the “apologetic” route taken by U2 commentators keen to salvage Christian orientation from Pop’s disorientation. For all the album and tour’s valiant attempt to address the darkness with an integrity and in a range of voices pertinent to late capitalist insanity, and for all that “PopMart” is itself a gloriously apposite image for the consumer-driven world thereby confronted, I do think there may be a problematic theological dislocation in the fabric of the album, which is then simply thrown up large on the stage. Pop snakes its way so far inside the consciousness of the consumer-driven culture that it is critiquing (cf. Montano 2015, 44), its hedonism and endless desire for novelty and selfauthenticating experience, that it seems to lose sight of the real enemy. Or to be more specific: it assimilates the enemy to people living the lost life. In locating the outworking of the battle of good and evil in the lives and pursuits of late-modern Western lifestyles, the underlying conflicts that constrain human experience are (quite literally) glossed over.11 This may be clearer by way of comparison with Stephen Catanzarite’s masterly reading of Achtung Baby as “an album-length meditation on the imperfectability of human nature” (2012, 236), a reading with which I am in complete sympathy. He wrote memorably of “The Fly” as “the sound of humanity free-falling from Babel’s penthouse suite” (2007, 53), and noted that “The essential point of ‘One,’ however, is that something very bad has happened, and our ability to fully and perfectly love has been terribly compromised” (2007, 23). Indeed: and this would fit entirely with our discussion of original sin. Catanzarite brings out the cosmic drama underlying the human aspirations and failings throughout Achtung Baby. However, with Pop that cosmic drama appears to have slipped from view. The problem has become the nightclub, the drugs, the broken relationship, the dark desires that can drive sex, even Miami, apparently. All of these may indeed be problems, but the oddity is highlighted when the final track comes to its plea for Jesus to “wake up”: it is predicated on the fact that we are losing our way, and need help. In one sense this is true. But the more compelling theological picture, to which Achtung Baby attested in just the way Catanzarite discussed (and see also Galbraith 2012, 187–90), is that we are caught up in a conflict between good and evil that is bigger than our ability to choose to live the good life in the first place. What is longed for, in the two visions, seems different. In her discussion of

Sarajevo and the PopMart Lemon


Irish emphases at work in U2, Hess notes the view that “Irishness is characterized by the longing for and rejection of transcendence,” and thus that the Irishness of U2 is shown in its conviction that “transcendence is not only possible, but stretches the limits of modernism in the late twentieth century” (Hess 2015, 51–52). My question about Pop is whether this transcendent dimension is lost, or at best submerged, even in its still characteristic “deep and abiding search for what it means to be human in a dehumanizing age” (Keuss and Koenig 2012, 54). The Christian claim has traditionally been that God is fighting against sin, death and the devil, as the U2 of Achtung Baby seemed to know full well. With Pop, God is still fighting, but the enemy seems out of focus. If the enemy crosses into being human failing itself, it then becomes difficult to hold the line at acknowledging sin without it shading into preoccupation with guilt. “Gone,” for example, seems to be a song where these different focal points get blurred. The result, while profound, engaging, and often intensely moving, can seem strangely joyless, which one might also say of PopMart. Do the theological fault lines show through? In conclusion, then, PopMart is U2’s spectacular, sprawling attempt to sing and dazzle one’s way through the valley of the shadow of death. As such, it is like a mini-Psalter: a collection of psalmic attempts to sing praise and shout pain, to prepare a table in the presence of one’s enemies. It knows the God to whom it cries, but it may be a cry that has lost its nerve. In Psalm 23, the Psalmist ends with the famous line that “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me.” Lost from the vigor of the Hebrew language in this standard translation is that the verb in question, radaph, has a sense more of “pursue” or “chase” than simply “follow.” Goodness and mercy will not just follow the Psalmist, they will track them down; they know where the Psalmist lives. That is supposed to fortify one’s pilgrimage through the troubles of life. But unless the human spirit can embrace such darkness for what it is, there is only fear in the valley of the shadow. Primed and fortified, with “the whole lemon” one might almost say, one may fear no evil.

Encore Musically, the Sarajevo concert was a mixed achievement. Bono’s voice did not do well, collapsing into spoken word performance after the opening half dozen songs. A fan video of it exists, offering one perspective from far off stage left (U2 “U2— Sarajevo,” 2015). The strain of the vocals is most obvious as “Last Night on Earth” and “Pride” see Bono resort first to encouraging everyone to sing along, and then to spoken word renditions. A real highlight is the performance of Miss Sarajevo at 1:42:35–1:49:23, with Brian Eno on stage and Pavarotti’s part played through a wind-up gramophone record player. Equally remarkable, in U2’s own history, was The Edge’s remodeling of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” as an acoustic ballad, shorn of its final vision of Christological overcoming, and added to the range of U2 songs that climax lyrically with a simple “How long?” (0:54:51–0:58:33). With the aid of cortisone injections, Bono managed to sing his way to the end of the encores,


U2 and the Religious Impulse

finishing with their Pop-standard appropriation of the Righteous Brothers’ longing for transcendence: “Unchained Melody.” What the concert signified far exceeds its internal merits. In some ways it is the ultimate triumph of function over form in U2’s work. The heart is in the right place, but as the prophet Jeremiah once put it, the heart is deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9; KJV), and redemption lies not in and through the working out of the concert, lemon and all, but in its simple existence. Like God’s preference in Genesis for Abel’s offering over Cain’s, but for no reason that can be traced to the content of their respective offerings (Gen 4:4-5), the concert for Sarajevo is an offering that succeeds simply because it is offered. The original Hebrew text of Genesis 4 had God addressing a distraught Cain with “If you do well, will there not be a lifting?” (Gen 4:7), but—as the verse goes on—“if you do not, then sin is crouching at your door.” The Sarajevo concert, in miniature, and the PopMart tour, writ large, lift the listener/spectator not through their own merits, but because they voice the conviction that even though sin is crouching at the door of our world, indeed sometimes appears to be kicking in that door and trampling through the house, there is yet a lifting: good news to be embraced in the recognition of sin for what it is. One of the things that works seamlessly in the Sarajevo show is the lemon. So all in all, with Bono’s voice but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets two hours upon the PopMart stage, the end result is a tale, performed by today’s versions of holy fools, full of sound and visual fury … but signifying everything.


Mark Meynell

Shame is not an affliction commonly associated with Bono. In fact, if Bono is ever mentioned in the same breath, it will most likely be in conjunction with its antonyms. Sometimes, of course, his apparent shamelessness can be a means to an end, using a bombastic persona to provoke or beguile the crowd (as with The Fly and MacPhisto). Behind the swaggering showmanship, Bono was deliberately exaggerating in order to satirize (the egotistic rock star in the case of The Fly) or ridicule (the devil in the case of MacPhisto). This is shamelessness with a purpose. Of course, the history of rock ‘n’ roll is full of those deemed by others to be lacking enough shame. Lyrics, lifestyles, and antics on- or off-stage buttress such judgments, suggesting that there is much for which they ought to be ashamed. But that is a different matter altogether (even if U2 does have its detractors on these counts). In view here is a lyrical exploration of the experience of shame and its effects. As so often with the world’s great poets and performers, there are surprises in store for those with ears to hear. High on that list of the unexpected must surely come the experience of shame. Although not commonly recognized, it too belongs to U2’s ever growing catalog of themes that are generally off-piste for rock bands. Even more important from a pastoral theological and psychological perspective, there are more than hints in Bono’s lyric-writing that secrets to overcoming shame have been unearthed. Could this go some way to explaining perhaps the enigmatic aspect of the band’s appeal: joy? For paradoxically, shame and joy are deeply connected.

Confounding Paradoxes: Too Broad to Categorize Bono wanted to confound expectations from the start. He explained in a 1981 interview that they “chose the name U2 to be ambiguous, to stay away from categorization” (Bordowitz 2003, 11). Then, in a 1992 New Yorker article, Elizabeth


U2 and the Religious Impulse

Wurtzel briefly considered the Irish Invasion phenomenon, pioneered by its “maiden voyager,” Van Morrison. In comparing him to U2, she noted that the only thing these artists have in common is a deeply Irish outlook—a striking mixture of bleakness and joy, which can sometimes seem maudlin but never fails to fascinate and confound an American sensibility accustomed to rock stars who prefer to keep an ironic distance from the fray. (Wurtzel 2003, 91)

There is little doubt that Irish music conveys joy as well as melancholy—but the same can surely be said of many folk music traditions. For although traditional folk provides the source code for much of Ireland’s output, from Van Morrison onward, it does not seem an exclusively Irish outlook. What is surprising, however, is that these folk characteristics find their expression in rock music, as Wurtzel acknowledges. Rock is far more commonly an expression of rage and exhilaration than the somehow more intimate emotions of “bleakness and joy.” This does indeed seem part of the confounding, hard-to-categorize phenomenon of U2. This is a band that channels the extravagance and bluster of rock, while fusing it with so much more. In his review of No Line on the Horizon, The New Yorker staff-writer Sasha Frere-Jones also tried to put his finger on the enigma: While almost every rock band flirts with the allure of destruction and the charms of sin, U2 has kept its eye on that corniest of feelings: uplift. You’d have to be somewhat Grinchy to resist the optimism at the heart of even a wobbly U2 album like “No Line on the Horizon.” (Frere-Jones 2009, 80)

One can’t quite escape the feeling that he prefers to resist that optimism, though. And not just because it’s corny. Perhaps it’s because it seems unreal or unattainable. Perhaps it’s because he simply doesn’t get it. After all, it does seem out of place on a great rock album. So some of that album’s depth appears to pass him by, especially with the remarkable “Unknown Caller,” whose deeply theological significance is missed altogether. the band starts to chant phrases from digital life, all together: “Force quit! And move to trash! … Password! You enter here!” It has the unfortunate feeling of Dad forwarding a page of e-mail jokes. (Yes, Dad, those are all computer words. Yes, I had seen them before, but I really liked reading them again.) (Frere-Jones 2009, 81)

We will return to this significance in due course. A final example of the difficulty of categorizing this positivity comes from Joshua Rothman. Here he writes of “Iris,” Bono’s poignant elegy for his long-dead mother on Songs of Innocence. After engaging with the theological depths more constructively, he concludes with this perceptive observation.

From Shame to Joy in the Songs of U2


Then the song stops being comforting; it reaches for something it doesn’t quite understand, and possibly doesn’t even want; it becomes ambiguous and mournful. It expresses a particular combination of faith and disquiet, exaltation and desperation, that is too spiritual for rock but too strange for church—classic U2. (Rothman 2014)

In theological terms, one could call this the paradoxical “now and not yet” experience of Christian discipleship, the blunt realism of an eschatology that is neither over-realized nor under-realized. As N. T. Wright helpfully defines it, we don’t simply mean “the second coming,” still less a particular theory about it, but rather the entire sense of God’s future for the world, and the belief that this world has already begun to come forward to meet us in the present. (Wright 2012, 134)

The point is that this has begun; it is by no means complete. Hence the tension. This tension is so often perfectly expressed at U2’s live tours. For many can testify to the euphoria of being swept up in a joy that seems as genuine as it is corporate, even against their better judgment,1 and yet also having delved into the darkness along the way, whether it’s the rage of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” redirected to a Tehran uprising or the destruction of Syrian cities, or the restless agony of drug addiction heard in “Bad.” So it is intriguing, to say the least, that the meticulously planned gigs invariably close out with a song drawn from a very small list. Fans leave with strains of “40” or “Yahweh” or “Moment of Surrender” ringing in their ears.2 Each powerfully combines darkness and light, despair and hope, albeit in varying proportions. Each expresses “the now and not yet” tensions of traditional Christian theology. • “40” is a psalm of yearning, trusting that the day of a new song will come— but dominated by the persistent question of how long the waiting must last. • “Yahweh” is a prayer for much needed personal and social change, but still acknowledges that before God can transform our fists and critical spirits for his purposes, we must wait during the “dark before the dawn.” • “Moment of Surrender” is the most intensely private of the three—an expression of begging for some kind of restoration that only seems possible when coming to the end of oneself (“I folded to my knees,” “my body’s now a begging bowl”). There are hints of the possibility of this—through “the stations of the cross” and “counting down ’til the Pentecost.” So it seems that for all the uplift, departing fans are never permitted to have their joy unalloyed (as long as they take note of the lyrics, that is). They are left with the yearning for more—for a future gig, certainly—but as likely as not, for some future, Divine intervention as well. So where, if at all, might the eschatological tensions between shame and joy coexist in U2’s music? In order to explore this motif in the songs, it is first necessary to delve into the psychological connections between the two emotions.


U2 and the Religious Impulse

“You Better Call Out in Shame” Shame is rarely mentioned, let alone discussed, beyond the therapist’s consulting room. This seems to be a particularly Western blind spot, according to Werner Mischke. For example, he notes that there are over twice as many shame-based words in the Bible as there are guilt-based words, and yet from his brief survey of seven theological dictionaries published in the United States, all contained entries for guilt, while only two had “shame” (Mischke 2015). Perhaps this blind spot has resulted from Westerners having taken to heart Ruth Benedict’s now largely discredited distinction of the United States as a “guilt culture” in contrast to Japan’s “shame culture.”3 Shame would appear then to be a less than relevant concept. Yet the truth is that shame and guilt are too closely intertwined to be aided by unhelpful reductionisms, and if Benedict’s terms have any anthropological value today, scholars suggest using “guilt-oriented” and “shame-oriented” instead (Forrester 2010, 47). What does seem to be taking place is a shift in Western cultures toward being more shame-oriented than they have been perhaps since the Reformation (see Clapp 1999). The more likely reason is the nature of shame itself. It is an insidious affliction, concealed and thus taboo, which then drives its sufferers to further concealment and isolation.

The Nature of Shame But what precisely is in view here? Two clarifications are necessary. The first is the distinction between what might be termed “good and bad shame,” one that dates back to ancient Greece (Forrester 2010, 23–24). “Good shame” is essentially a healthy self-awareness which precipitates the modesty appropriate to a finite human being—it prevents us from overstepping the mark, from atrocity and hubris. Thus Apollo condemned Achilles for his appalling treatment of the Trojan Hector’s body: The man has lost all mercy; he has no shame—that gift that hinders mortals but helps them too. … Let him take care, or, brave as he is, we gods will turn against him, seeing him outrage the insensate earth! (Iliad 24:45-54, translation by Dover and Burstall 1980, 73)

This is clearly of a very different order from the kind of shame that corrodes a person’s heart. Genuine modesty provides protection, especially for the vulnerable. Bad shame certainly does not, as we will explore. The second clarification is to dissect the relationship between shame and guilt. Glynn Harrison, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Bristol University, puts this well:

From Shame to Joy in the Songs of U2


As guilt is the emotion linked to specific wrongs I commit, shame is the emotion that springs from being the kind of person that does that sort of thing. Shame, indeed, is the emotion of inferiority … But shame isn’t always linked to moral culpability and guilt. There were many other moments of shame in my childhood (as there probably were in yours) that had nothing to do with wrongdoing. (Harrison 2013, 141, original emphasis)

So, in John Forrester’s helpful compression, “shame is a crisis in personal ontology” (Forrester 2010, 75) drawing on Donald Capps’s distinction, “we perform guilty actions, but we are our shame” (Capps 1993, 74). Guilt is the consequence of doing bad, while shame is the response to being bad. Thompson suggests that this explains why shame leads to the desire to hide, to avoid exposure at all costs. Shame, on the other hand, separates me from others, as my awareness of what I feel is virtually consumed with my own internal sensations. Furthermore, [shame and guilt] are related in that I will sense shame in addition to the guilt I feel when I do something “wrong.” Hence, in one sense, neurodevelopmentally guilt stands on shame’s shoulders. One way to think of this is that we can experience shame without guilt but are unlikely to experience guilt without shame. (Thompson 2015, 63)

As we will see, experiences of both guilt and shame are articulated in U2’s songs— but that should come as no surprise bearing in mind the well-documented influence that the Bible has had on their song-writing (see @U2 Pancella & Neufeld). In scriptural terms this is a well-established pattern. No sooner have the man and woman eaten from Eden’s tree of the knowledge of good and evil than they are overcome by the first consciousness of their nakedness. Their instinct is thus to cover themselves with leaves and to hide from their Creator (Genesis 3:6-8). This imagery is foundational for the Bible, as Stockitt points out. There is a deep linguistic and cultural connection therefore between the uncovering of a person’s nakedness, causing shame, and the experience of exile. By the time of Isaiah’s prophetic utterances against the threat of the mighty Babylonian empire, the expression of the judgment of God was couched in terms of the exposure of nakedness, causing the most distressing experience of shame. (Stockitt 2012, 74)

Exposure forms the greatest threat to the shamed, which is why nakedness is such a potent symbol for it. This is not the supposedly alluring nudity of the pornographic, but the cowering nakedness of the supremely vulnerable. At its most moderate, shame causes us to blush, which Charles Darwin termed “the most peculiar and the most human of all expressions” (Forrester 2010, 20). At its worst, it propels a person toward that ultimate sanction of concealment: suicide.


U2 and the Religious Impulse

The Causes and Effects of Shame Shame is agonizing precisely because it is ontological, but it is made especially unnerving by its connections with innocence and victimhood. In this sense it is very different from guilt, even if it is sometimes misnamed as such. Those who have suffered abuse commonly find that the pain long outlives the traumas themselves. Here is one man’s account, decades later, of being bullied at a prestigious British boarding school. I am ashamed of what was done to me, just as torture victims often are. Presenting one’s self in the role of victim is not very edifying. I’ve hardly described to anyone the fullness of what happened or how I felt. And the blackmail is that it happened in an institution designed to accommodate the sons of the privileged class so that many a listener might think simply that that I was lucky and am ungrateful. (Duffell 2000, 54)

Or here, a woman describes why it was so difficult for her to write an account of her marriage to a violent and abusive husband, all while he was in active church leadership. In the decades since we escaped, friends, acquaintances, and even publishers have urged me to write my story. Why not? Writing is my primary profession. But the pain of reliving those years has always stood in the way. More than that, humiliation. Few can comprehend the depth of shame that still lingers. And not just the shame of being married to an abusive minister, but also the awful acknowledgment of my own complicity—the failure to report my husband to law enforcement when his crimes involved an innocent foster child. (Tucker 2016, 13)

Abuse robs its victim of a sense of autonomy and agency, compounding it with feelings of just desert and blameworthiness. That is profoundly unjust of course. The victim of another’s abuse or aggression can never be held responsible for them. There are times when there is objective guilt of course, and shame will invariably result. But when the catalyst is pain derived from another’s actions, it is so cruel. As Thompson notes, both come from “a sense of there being ‘something wrong’ with me or of ‘not being enough,’ and therefore exudes the aroma of being unable or powerless to change one’s condition or circumstances” (Thompson 2015, 24). This leads to a double-fracture. • There is internal disintegration—a shattered confidence and fearful vulnerability; as Duffell notes, the shamed lacks “sympathy for himself ” (Duffell 2000, 29) and so is imprisoned. • There is external disintegration—a withdrawal from society, and even (or perhaps especially) from those who are closest and most beloved. Jean-Paul Sartre powerfully conveyed the withdrawal impulse in his Being and Nothingness, through his story of a man who thinks he is all alone to enjoy a

From Shame to Joy in the Songs of U2


beautiful park. Yet as soon as he sees another person, he becomes terrified of that person’s scrutiny. In Scott Sauls’s helpful précis, “vague feelings of shame, anxiety, and desperation overcome him.” When he realizes that it is only a mannequin after all, “the feeling of shame disappears and he returns to enjoying the park” (Sauls 2015, 101). This is because he feels safer. Yet shame’s isolating impulse also perversely breeds the perception of abandonment, the horror of being unloved because of one’s “unlovability”; it is a vicious circle. And to be abandoned ultimately is to be in hell. This terror of being alone drives my shame-based behaviour and, ironically, takes me to the very place I most fear going—to the hell of absolute isolation. (Thompson 2015, 109)

Brené Brown has probably done more than any in recent times to bring the discussion of shame into the open. Her “shame” definition chimes very precisely here: “shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging” (Brown 2013, loc 833). Is there any escape from this psychological vortex? More to the point, how can it make sense to speak of joy in this context at all? Yet again, Bono, in particular, seems to have explored these very puzzles, so before assessing U2’s creative output, it is first necessary to understand that process in more detail.

“A Thought That Changed the World” The Western theological tradition, especially since the Reformation, has tended to emphasize the forensic benefits of the Christian kerygma through the doctrine of justification. Guilt for sin is wiped away through Christ’s atonement, which brings the experience of forgiveness. There is joy in that without doubt, an experience poignantly articulated in the psalter. 3

When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long … 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. … 11 Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart! (Psalm 32.3, 5, 11)

The psalmist’s climactic command to rejoice is for the “righteous,” in context, specifically those with transgressions forgiven. As Craigie comments, the psalm establishes (as St. Paul was later to write) that justification and forgiveness for mankind are not achieved on the basis of law, or of circumcision, but on the basis of the divine grace, which flowed in response to the faith of the one who confessed and sought forgiveness (Rom. 4.6-9). (Craigie 1998, 268)


U2 and the Religious Impulse

Divine grace is the crucial catalyst. But for the person battling shame, forgiveness only offers a partial respite, if any. Thompson explains why. Despite all we know about shame, containing it, let alone disposing of it, is a bit like grasping for mercury: the more pressure you use to seize it, the more evasive it becomes … It is ubiquitous, seeping into every nook and cranny of life. It is pernicious, infesting not just our thoughts but our sensations, images, feelings and, of course, ultimately our behaviour. It just doesn’t seem to go away. (Thompson 2015, 10)

Because of this ontological reality, the only hope is for the unloved and supposedly unlovable to find acceptance and welcome, to be loved. Anything less is profoundly threatening, compounding the shame and desperation. It is fascinating, therefore, to discover that the Old Testament anticipates precisely this need, with Isaiah here describing the promised Divine blessing for the shamed. Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion; instead of dishonour they shall rejoice in their lot; therefore, in their land they shall possess a double portion; they shall have everlasting joy. (Isa. 61.7)

Divine acceptance, like justification, elicits joy. But because of shame’s ontological nature, the joy for such acceptance is bound to be more intense and settled, less shaken by life’s confusions. This joy is “everlasting” according to the prophet, substantial and renewing. Timothy Keller articulates the shock of such acceptance well, writing in the context of the marriage ideal. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretence, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us. (Keller 2011, 95)

This brings us closer to the more traditional domains of love songs, of course, which is why there are clear connections to be made with U2 here. The risks for the shamed are great, yet so are the longings for connection with others. More often than not, however, the risks supersede the longings, especially if the problems are chronic and the memories of rebuffs dominate. So in extremis, the initiative for connection needs to come from another, for the shamed will be too crushed to risk it. Only that will convince the shamed that being loved is possible, despite everything. Especially when there is objective guilt and genuine grounds for shame. In other words, there needs to be grace. Grace for guilt is unmerited forgiveness. Grace for shame is unmerited acceptance. (And grace for anxiety is unmerited security.) … As Patton rightly

From Shame to Joy in the Songs of U2


observes, “Guilt can be more nearly dealt with according to rational principle, whereas shame is inevitably relational and personal.” (Forrester 2010, 152)

This is what makes Yahweh’s instructions for how Israel’s priesthood are to bless the people so powerful. For this blessing is explicitly relational and counteracts shame’s crippling effects. The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Nu. 6.24-26)

No longer must they cower or lower the gaze before God—instead his face is turned toward his people, and their faces reflect his shining glory. It is a vivid picture of restoration and reconciliation, especially for the one who feels worthy only of hiding and concealment. It produces an “enduring sense of safety and shameless intimacy” (Stockitt 2012, 21) despite being a people who have consistently failed to be consistent in their devotion. An even more explicit note is sounded by the writer of Hebrews, in his discussion of Christ’s incarnate humanity. He teaches that because we all share the same humanity with Jesus, he is “not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters” (Heb. 2.11). Here in Figure 6.1 is a graphic summary of the relationship of shame to guilt, designed to illustrate why forgiveness for guilt makes little difference for the shamed (hence the placement of the guilt-forgiveness dynamic on a different plane).

Figure 6.1 The complexities of shame and its remedies.


U2 and the Religious Impulse

We will now analyze the themes of shame and joy in U2’s music by tracing these four categories at the foot of the diagram.

“Walk Out, Into the Sunburst Street and Sing Your Heart Out” In 1892, Tolstoy wrote in his diary, “Life cannot have any other purpose than joy and goodness. Only this purpose—joy—is ultimately worthy of life” (Thompson 2015, 59). The dilemma is that joy is elusive, and pursuing it for its own sake always results in frustration. It catches us unawares; it is a gift. As C. S. Lewis famously discovered, it caught him by surprise. In eschatological terms, those fleeting moments of joy are foretastes, anticipations of the everlasting joy to come. This is alluded to in “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” with its belief in the “kingdom come.” Despite common misapprehensions, this is a song of theological conviction and no doubt; it is merely a profound expression of an eschatology that is far from over-realized. It exists in the tensions of the “now-and-not-yet,” in the life of a person who that has experienced everything from mountain summits to the devil’s hand. But the most intriguing aspect is the foundation for believing in the coming kingdom. For it is explicitly anchored in the reality of Christ’s crucifixion, as Bono refers to it in “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”: You broke the bonds, and you loosed the chains carried the cross of my shame, Oh my shame, you know I believe it. (U2. The Joshua Tree, 1987)

That emphatic, double shame reference is startling, not least because so much of Western atonement theology has been preoccupied with guilt and justification. It is entirely appropriate, of course, because crucifixion was a deliberately shaming means of execution. As Martin Hengel said in his definitive exploration of the ancient culture of crucifixion, “death on the cross was the penalty for slaves, as everyone knew; as such it symbolized extreme humiliation, shame and torture” (Hengel 1977, 62). The lyrical twist here, however, is the personal appropriation of that shame, an identification with Christ that he himself encouraged in Matthew 16.24. Is there any significance then in this emphasis on shame as opposed to guilt? If it were an isolated reference, there would be little to say, other than merely to note it. But a survey of the band’s output over four decades reveals a surprisingly consistent concern with shame-related themes, from Boy in 1980 right through to Songs of Innocence in 2014. Even more striking is the recurrence of rejoicing that pours out from some sort of grace intervention. This is not to claim that the songs deliberately trace this transition, merely that the accumulative effect of the entire output suggests at least a familiarity with the experience of shame overcome. Occasionally Bono arrives in the studio with the seeds of a whole song. But because so many of the songs evolve from studio

From Shame to Joy in the Songs of U2


improvisations around a sequence the Edge has stumbled on, or a motif playing in Bono’s head, many of his lyrics unsurprisingly reflect his long-term preoccupations. Of course, sometimes they are nonsensical streams of consciousness—a case in point being “Elvis Presley and America,” recorded in only five minutes after Brian Eno handed Bono a microphone and told him just to sing (@U2 Elvis). But most of the time, the lyrics get refined into a much more substantial and consistent whole. Assuming that the recovery from deep shame tends to lead to profound joy, it is worth assessing whether the band’s output reflects the stages along that trajectory in any way. Because there is no doubt whatsoever that those who have faced their own experiences with shame (as this writer can testify) find uncanny connections in so many of these songs.

Experience: Naked in the Palace of My Shame In his meditation on Achtung Baby for Bloomsbury’s 331/3 book series, Stephen Catanzarite controversially claimed that its lyrics constituted “a poetry of fallenness” (2007, 6), a suggestion subsequently endorsed by Bono himself: Litanies of frustration and regret, slogan-like boasts, Psalm-like appeals, and unholy confessions push, prod, and stretch the boundaries of what is possible and acceptable in a rock song … Achtung Baby is itself a paradox: a dark disturbing album about ruination that is strikingly beautiful and inspired. (2007, 6)

While certainly true of Achtung Baby, he could easily be describing U2’s entire output. The tensions caused by Christian faith amid darkness and ruination feature from the very start. So when, on Boy, Bono sings of “Another Time, Another Place,” he does so as a teenager on the cusp of manhood, bravely exposing all the anxieties of that moment. “With a tear on his tongue” he describes himself as “being naked and afraid, in the open space of my bed” (U2. Boy, 1980). This is archetypal shame language—but the admission of such vulnerability at such a young age is simply astonishing. A similar sentiment is conveyed in the “Elvis Presley and America” stream of consciousness a few years later—“and the rain beats down, and the shame goes down” (U2, The Unforgettable Fire, 1984)—but it is not until The Joshua Tree that it is more developed. A few tracks after “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” comes “Trip Through Your Wires,” reputed originally to be a companion to “Sweetest Thing.” It is clearly an anguished love song, presumably directed to Bono’s wife Ali (like “Sweetest Thing”). The song’s narrator clearly felt traumatized and isolated—it was their relationship which had set him on the path to healing. But his afflictions are couched in classic shame terms, hinted at in the first verse (“shaking,” “in pain,” “cold,” and “down”) and then developed in the second: I was broken, bent out of shape I was naked in the clothes you made. (U2. The Joshua Tree, 1987)


U2 and the Religious Impulse

Yet, as so often with U2’s songs about human relationships, this works on another level, representing a longing for God (inspired by interpretations of the Bible’s Song of Songs and marriage passages like Ephesians 5). This explains the deliberate ambiguity of a song like “Mysterious Ways,” especially when sung live. Bono often interchanges the girl who is the song’s subject with God the Spirit (Scharen 2006, 52). After all, the title itself evokes the famous eighteenth-century hymn by William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” Thus these lines from “Trip Through Your Wires” could easily express spiritual vulnerability, a nakedness east of Eden, despite God’s provision of clothing just before humanity’s expulsion (Genesis 3:21). On Rattle and Hum, the band parades its discovery of the roots of American music, much to the irritation of many critics at the time. But they were making a genuine attempt to connect to the gospel origins of blues, and then rock and roll, in particular. Some tracks make this explicit, as with the arrangement of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” with the Harlem choir, The New Voices of Freedom. But two songs written for the album are notable here, and they form a natural pairing: “Love Rescue Me” and “When Love Came to Town” (written for Bob Dylan and B. B. King, respectively). In the latter, the song’s narrator has been unfaithful to his lover, and now stands “accused of the things I have said.” But this all happened before “Love Came to Town.” King was evidently impressed, and remarked how Bono was “mighty young to write such heavy lyrics”! (Murray 2014). Bono was still in his twenties. Then, in “Love Rescue Me,” the pain is more all-encompassing. I’m here without a name In the palace of my shame Said, love rescue me (U2. Rattle and Hum, 1988)

The “palace of my shame” is a starkly taut and resonant phrase: it conveys a sense of sordid grandeur, a self-made edifice from which there is no escape without rescue. This sense is anticipated in the opening stanza, with the recognition that “no man is my enemy, my own hands imprison me.” The 1990s saw significant departures for the band, musically and thematically. Yet the darker extremes of the spectrum of human experience continued to awaken their creativity. In “Ultraviolet (Light My Way),” Bono is back to recalling his teenage bedroom, dominated by the pendulum swing of the light (which would later feature in the evocations of that Cedarwood Road room in the 2015 Innocence + Experience tour). There he felt so “messed up” and like “trash,” and “the day it is dark, as the night is long” (U2. Achtung Baby, 1991) A few years later in “Stay (Faraway, So Close)” the singer pleads with a similarly imprisoned friend, but this time trapped by an abusive relationship. She appears to operate on autopilot, listlessly drifting through the night, living as “a vampire and a victim” (U2. Zooropa, 1993). She refuses to leave her abuser, but is untouched by the singer’s touch. It’s as if she feels she deserves it and has no exit route.

From Shame to Joy in the Songs of U2


It is perhaps no surprise, then, that that last explicit reference to the shame experience comes in the most recent album, because it revisits the raw emotions and violence of those teenage years in Dublin. None is more visceral than “Raised by Wolves.” This harks back to the terrifying aftermath of the 1974 bombings, especially for Andy Rowen, the brother of Bono’s great friend Guggi. Rowen found that he could only cope with the trauma by self-medicating with a heroin addiction (which he subsequently conquered). Andy is the one to feel trapped now: Face down on a pillow of shame There are some girls with a needle tryin’ to spell my name My body’s not a canvas, my body’s now a toilet wall. (U2. Songs of Innocence, 2014)

Effects: Stuck in a Moment Many of the effects of shame are alluded in the songs already discussed. But on the albums from the new century’s first decade, there is some development. In “Stuck in a Moment That You Can’t Get Out Of,” Bono is rehearsing a conversation he wished he had had before Michael Hutchence’s suicide. It is heartbreaking, a raging poetic “if only” but “too late.” His depressed interlocutor is evidently in deep pain, in a psychological cell from which the only apparent escape is the most drastic, as the title suggests. “Kite” is also a conversation, but this time with Bono’s family, not only with children and also perhaps father. It is an appeal to resist the hardening that comes from the pains and traumas of life, a plea to stay soft to the people that matter. This is an adult now, addressing the generations on either side of him, from the perspective of someone who knows their pain all too well. The same dynamic is at work on the subsequent album, How to Destroy an Atomic Bomb, albeit in separate songs this time. Bono first focuses specifically on his relationship with his own father in “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own.” If the song’s title is anything to go by, Bob Hewson seems to have been a man toughened by life, driven to a stubborn doggedness. It is a plea to be allowed in, a longing to find some sort of filial connection. There’s no suggestion of shame being the cause of this attitude per se, but it does echo shame’s isolating effect. There is a fear of lowering one’s defenses in case of further hurt. Then, in “Original of the Species,” Bono addresses the Edge’s daughter (and his goddaughter), Holly Evans, and presumably all their daughters. He sees them endure the same teenage insecurities and traumas we all faced, this time from the perspective of a concerned parent: shyness and feeling uniquely troubled has led to the withdrawal from and of love. Hence this appeal: Sugar come on, show your soul You’ve been keeping your love under control. (U2. How To Dismantle and Atomic Bomb, 2005)


U2 and the Religious Impulse

Finally, this despairing imprisonment recurs in “Moment of Surrender” in 2009. It is the most affecting and vulnerable song on the album, in which Bono seems to tap deep-rooted pain. Producer Brian Eno described its creation as the “most magical experience I’ve ever had in a studio” (U2.com 2012). The narrator has got himself into real trouble (perhaps in his marriage) from which again there seems no escape. He has “played with fire,” been in “every black hole at the altar of the dark star.” He is shocked to find himself driven to his knees while getting cash out of the ATM. There is no alternative but to appeal to God.

Catalysts: Grace Inside a Sound In terms beloved, and oft-repeated, by evangelical preachers, Bono explained the heart of his theological convictions to a skeptical Michka Assayas. He contrasts his sense of karma (the just deserts for misdeeds) being woven into the fabric of the universe, with the very good news of grace found in Christ’s death on the cross. As a direct result of this grace, we are humbled and forced to recognize that “it’s not our own good works that get through the gates of heaven” (Assayas 2005, 204). The whole passage offers probably as succinct an articulation of classic reformation orthodoxy as one can find anywhere—but perhaps unexpected from the lips of a rock star. It is no surprise, therefore, to find this in Bono’s foreword to Steve Turner’s cultural history of John Newton’s hymn “Amazing Grace”: Steve Turner is a tough-minded poet with an ear for the psalms, an eye for the miracles in the mundane, and an understanding of how despair can break the ground for joy to take root. The story of “Amazing Grace” is just that: a gospel song without any of the big-grinning cheesiness often found in that genre. As a musician, I am often struck by the phrase “sweet the sound” as in “Amazing grace! (How sweet the sound).” I love to think music can be an instrument of grace … that there might be mercy in melody and that at the very least a great song can fill the silence of indifference we sometimes find in our hearts. (Turner 2005)

It is clear, then, that grace and its close synonym (at least in U2’s songbook) lie at the heart of everything that U2 stands for. After all, the song “One” insists that “love is a higher law” (U2, Achtung Baby, 1991). Then, at the end of his book of conversations, Assayas asks Bono what leaves him speechless. It is a question that in fact renders him speechless, albeit temporarily, and he requires prodding before answering. “Forgiveness is my answer,” he eventually replies (Assayas 2005, 321). Grace. Love. Forgiveness. It is surely no accident that these concepts are so precious to Bono. For these are the very things that are catalysts for change to the guilty and the shamed. Those words about Turner’s book could easily point to the whole of No Line on the Horizon, written five years before the album came out. For grace changes

From Shame to Joy in the Songs of U2


everything (as anticipated by the song of that name which closed out All That You Can’t Leave Behind in 2000). So instead of simply highlighting examples from across U2’s output, it is instructive to consider this album as a unit. For in many ways, grace is the leitmotif that binds No Line on the Horizon together. • Grace is precisely what enables a fresh start (or “reboot”) in “Unknown Caller” • Grace is what brings relief in “Moment of Surrender”: “It’s not if I believe in love but if love believes in me, Oh, believe in me!” • Grace swells the exuberant joy of “Magnificent,” for “only love can heal such a scar” Despite the self-deprecating humor of “Stand Up Comedy,” the word “love” is constantly repeated in a kind of mantra, suggesting that love might in fact be an alternative to Bob Marley’s iconic “get up, stand up, stand up for your rights!” “Get On Your Boots” is equally light-hearted and even more bombastic—but it is also haunted by an echoing, chanted refrain: “let me in the sound.” Most telling is the indication that, for all the song’s fun and joie de vivre, it is somehow a prayer of desperation: Let me in the sound Let me in the sound, now God, I’m going down I don’t wanna drown now Meet me in the sound (U2. No Line on the Horizon, 2009)

Consequences: Rejoice! It is only once we get to the album’s penultimate track, “Breathe,” that the implications of these two chants become explicit. The last two stanzas exude confidence, as well as infectious joy. But far from smug arrogance, this is the direct result of the catalyst of grace, in a clear allusion to Newton’s hymn. Walk out, into the sunburst street Sing your heart out, sing my heart out I’ve found grace inside a sound I found grace, it’s all that I found And I can breathe, Breathe now (U2. No Line on the Horizon, 2009)

Far from cowering in seclusion and shame, this found grace has brought about a revolution, restoring confidence, sociability, and joy. It has brought about real living, as suggested by the song’s title. It now figures that this grace is perhaps precisely the password in Unknown Caller which enables us to “enter here,” the sunlit uplands of Eden restored.


U2 and the Religious Impulse

U2 Studio Albums Album

Experiencing Shame

Effects of Shame

Catalysts for Change

Boy (1980)

Another Time, Another Place

Another Time, Another Place 11 O'clock Tick Tock (Marquee Version)

October (1981)

The Unforgettable Fire (1984) The Joshua Tree (1987)

Gloria Rejoice Scarlet Elvis Presley And America I Still Haven’t Found Trip Through Your Wires

Trip Through Your Wires

Rattle and Hum (1988)

Love Rescue Me

Love Rescue Me

When Love Came To Town

Achtung Baby (1991)

Ultraviolet (Light My Way)

Ultraviolet (Light My Way)

Mysterious Ways

Zooropa (1993)

Stay (Faraway, So Close)

Stay (Faraway, So Close)

Pop (1997)

Staring At The Sun

All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000)

Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of Kite Grace

How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (2004)

Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own Original Of The Species

U2 18 singles (2006) No Line on the Horizon (2009)

Moment Of Surrender

Raised By Wolves

The Troubles Raised By Wolves

Twilight (Live Improvisation)

Twilight (Live Improvisation)

I Still Haven’t Found

The Playboy Mansion Beautiful Day Grace

All Because Of You Original Of The Species Window In The Skies

Window In The Skies

Magnificent Moment Of Surrender


Breathe Songs of Innocence (2014)

Results of that Change

Unknown Caller Breathe

The Troubles

U2 Live Improvisations Under a Blood Red Sky (1983) Popmart - Live from Mexico City (1997)

Where The Streets Have No Name (Live Improvisation)

Elevation - Live from Boston (2001)

Where The Streets Have No Name (Live Improvisation)

Figure 6.2 From shame to change song chart.

As Forrester beautifully put it, “the love of God calls the shamed self out of hiding” (Forrester 2010, 153). The truly astonishing aspect of this derives in Christian theology from Christ’s willingness to endure the humiliation of the cross, and indeed “to scorn its shame,” for “the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). The shamed person can therefore know that there was one even more shamed, but through his intervention, that shame is not the last word. It is now possible to trace how this dynamic is at work throughout U2’s career, using a far-from-comprehensive Table 6.2 above as a launching point. Again and again in the songs, grace (or love or forgiveness) intervenes and brings infectious joy.

May God Look You in the Face Grace is both realistic and accepting; it has its eyes open to our faults but arms wide to our value. To know the relief from personal insecurity and shame is truly

From Shame to Joy in the Songs of U2


extraordinary. It does not lead to pride or conceit. Quite the reverse. It results in what Harrison and others call the “joy of the zone,” a heightened state of loss of self-consciousness called “flow” … we are so engaged and absorbed that we don’t think about ourselves at all. People who achieve this for a few moments, and occasionally for a few hours, describe it as an intensely exhilarating experience. (Harrison 2013, 199)

The experience may be transient and joyful—inevitable in the “now” and the “not yet” of our eschatological existence. These are but foretastes. But they are no less real for that. And for the shamed, this possibility is indeed good. Could this be what lies at the very heart of U2’s infectious joy? It is not contrived or manipulated, even if its roots are not always understood. It is the sense that this music, these albums and shows are haunted by a transcendence to something richer and longer-lasting than most of us are accustomed to. This is the mystery of becoming acceptable, and indeed being embraced, by God himself. Could this be why Bono, at the culmination of one of the 360° tour shows, offered his own adaptation of the Aaronic blessing, over the strains of another Old Testament inspired song, “40”? God bless you and keep you God smile on you and gift you God look you full in the face And make you prosper.


Chapter 7 T H E T E C H N O L O G IC A L R E AC H F O R T H E SU B L I M E O N U 2 ’ S 3 6 0 ° T OU R

Kimi Kärki

Finding that intimate connection in a stadium of over 90,000 people with the audio-visual tools of shock and awe would seem impossible, but U2 were and are past masters at squaring this circle. Time and again, the contrast is made between the individual—alone, vulnerable, confused—and the strength which that individual can draw from one’s common humanity, from being part of a stadium crowd singing and feeling as one, a congregation on a massive scale. Snow (2014, 224) The primary aim of this chapter is to analyze the “squaring of the circle,” the art of stadium rock spectacle as a technologically mediated event, or rather, “media spectacle,” which often competes with the religious event or even surpasses it as an experience, and reaches toward the sublime.1 Stadium rock concert can indeed have a feeling of a congregation, an affective and spiritual relationship between the performers and the audience. U2 is definitely one of the few bands that have got that special “something” in their live performances. They have been able to afford the most lavish, technologically up-to-date stage constructions, in order to make their tours attractive in the current era of declining album sales. And U2 360° Tour (2009–2011) has been the most extravagant of all stadium scale rock spectacles so far. One could argue that there were earlier more pioneering events, such as Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1980–1981, see Kärki 2015), or U2’s groundbreaking ZooTV Tour (1992–1993, five legs, 157 shows), that hit the postmodern zeitgeist of the early 1990s Europe. But in the rare breed of stadium rock media spectacles, more is simply more. In comparison to U2’s own history, the figures speak for themselves. U2 360° Tour lasted for 110 shows within seven legs, a bit less shows compared to previous tour (Vertigo, 2005–2006) which had 131, on five legs. Vertigo was still an arena tour, but toward the end of it U2 returned to stadiums, with extensively redesigned stage. But during those stadium shows of Vertigo they noticed they wanted more contact with the audience in such vast spaces, and that was the starting point of the round staging plan for the new stadium tour (Kronenburg 2012, 183).


U2 and the Religious Impulse

U2 360° Tour was witnessed by average of 66,110 spectators per night, nearly half more than in the previous tour. Every venue was sold out, in the end the tour was seen by 7,272,046 people, and it grossed $736 million (Snow 2014, 223). Both of these figures still absolutely make it the biggest tour of all time. If money would be the ultimate religion, Bono would be the pope of live rock music. Size matters: with 50 meters the staging was twice as tall as the previous record holder, another Mark Fisher design, Rolling Stones’s Bigger Bang Tour stage, that was on the road from 2005 to 2007 (Snow 2014, 220). Rock culture and especially spectacular live performances can be said to offer semi-sacral multimodal experiences; uplifting feelings of awe and sublime power are what the stage designers aim for as the climaxes of the concerts. Of particular interest for me is the technological side of how these experiences are intended to unfold. The origins of these spectacles are ancient, and have existed throughout the Western civilization; those elements of flying gods, assisted by cranes and ropes, performing as a Deus ex Machina in many of the ancient Greek tragedies, Wagnerian Gesamtkunswerk in all its bombastic and mythological operatic might, and finally the electric evolution of rock staging, especially since the late 1960s (see Macan 1997, 15; Kärki 2014, 61), but I think our superficially materialistic era creates a new kind of need for these kind of technologically mediated experiences for people who otherwise are not interested in religion. Most of us still long for shared sublime experiences, for visions that surpass our everyday lives. To this extent, machine becomes “Godlike,” like historian Henry Adams predicted after witnessing a dynamo at the Paris Exhibition of 1900. Impressed by Adams’s dark prophecy, Trevor J. Blank concludes that we have indeed entered an era where we worship the machine, most strikingly in the form of handheld smart devices which capture our attention so addictively (Blank 2012, 1–2). I argue that a stadium concert is one of those events that still forcefully grab the attention of those who are there to witness the audiovisual cathedral unfold to their senses, and even smartphones have their role in that. To follow the thinking of the radical French media philosopher Jean Baudrillard, these concerts would be the moments of simulacra where the simulation does not pretend to be anything else than exactly that. There is honesty in that bombastic architecture of light and sound. Baudrillard was referring, famously, to Las Vegas, the later starting point of PopMart tour (Baudrillard 1986, 61; Kärki 2010a, 26). In my opinion the idea of simulation and virtuality, in relation to “realness,” should be considered carefully, especially when thinking about the relation of religion and media spectacle. Stadium spectacle is naturally both technological and ephemeral, the whole idea is to create gigantic illusion by techno-magically recontextualizing the surroundings. We go to stadiums in order to forget we are there. According to Baudillard, events are ephemeral because they only have any resolution in the media. And that resolution is not political but related to images and their hidefinition version of “reality.” Instead of “history” we only have virtual acting-out. Baudrillard’s example is Sarajevo, another focal point in the history of U2. He writes, Sarajevo is a fine example of this unreal history, in which all the participants were just standing by, unable to act. It is no longer an event, but rather the

The Technological Reach for the Sublime


symbol of a specific impotence of history. Everywhere, virtuality—the media hyperspace and the hyperspace of discourses—develops in a way diametrically opposed to what one might call, if it still existed, the real movement of history. (Baudrillard 2001, 50)

In this kind of ahistorical or even anti-historical mass media dominance, the popular music stars, then, will become simulacra of themselves (Johnson 2004, 87). This kind of radical existential media philosophy can, in itself, approach a religion. Is it easier to believe that our sensory world is a version of Matrix, than that there is a good God above? For a historian, Baudrillard’s polemic claims seem potentially misleading. The whole idea of historiography can be seen as a construction based on whatever existing evidence of the past we might have, always reinterpreted in relation to the socio-historical situation at the time of writing. But to deny our reality, the taste in our mouths? We live a Western dream, a sanitized and materialistic era, where a lot of people seek ways to “fill that God shaped hole” (“Mofo,” Pop, 1997). For these people, alienated by their technology, stadium rock becomes the manifestation of the need to fill that emptiness with something sublime. For Baudrillard a stadium concert would be just a simulation that does not pretend to be anything else. I have argued (Kärki 2014, 40–41; Kärki 2015, 68–70), however, that the empty and passive notion of spectacle can also be seen in active and positive light: for a critical artist spectacle can be an opening to something new, a way to present social criticism to large masses of people, a place of struggle for truth. The moments of building meaning inside the spectacle offer a chance for the spectacle to be used spectacularly, in order to deflate the meaninglessness of itself. If this sounds tautological, it’s because spectacles are that by definition (see Kärki 2015). And certainly U2 has had this kind of critical power, especially with the ZooTV concept, but also later. It could be said that U2 survived the simulation they had become, around the late 1980s: “By playing simulacrum against simulacrum, creating a tension between the fake and the fake, they point out the elusiveness of the Real” (Johnson 2004, 91–94). And later, I would like to argue, they brought back honesty and intimacy, and managed to balance those contrasting elements in the U2 360° Tour. This is a book about U2 and religion. I think of them as a band that has huge multicultural and religious tolerance. With U2 there is an obvious link between the Christian faith and performances—Bono is a “biblical” performer of epic live moments. And it is indeed the live performances that, according to Bono, offer the ultimate U2 experience. Speaking to Jonathan Ross for BBC in 2009, he claimed that U2 were never good at being on camera, but “when we were in front of a crowd, magic happened between us and our audience, and the songs even started to make more sense … To this day that’s where we do our best work, and that’s where the songs live” (Washburn 2013, 90). There is a “Messianic” feel to Bono as live performer, as he, immune to embarrassment, works the crowd “into a united epiphany of feeling that banishes loneliness and helplessness, that mobilizes a mass moral force to free prisoners, to feed the starving, to bring justice, peace, and


U2 and the Religious Impulse

love to the world, to move mountains” (Snow 2014, 225). Even the biographical rhetoric above reaches toward epic and biblical, just like its target. I would like to argue that these “musical rituals” are very much based on similar elements as any massive religious ceremony. There is a sacral space, the stage, and the profane space where the audience gets to participate. New multimedia technology makes it possible to create sublime audiovisual illusions that make these experiences even more powerful. Other academics have written repeatedly on the religious side of U2’s live show. U2 touring has also been previously observed in relation to religion by William Bart Tolleson, whose 2003 PhD thesis U2’s Gospel of Modulation in a Decade of Change observed religious communication, based on Pierre Babin’s theories, is more than 400 pages of rigorous analysis of U2 and especially Bono as religious communicator. A gospel-filled combination of Marshall McLuhan and St. Augustine falls a bit out of my own province of audiovisual cultural studies and cultural history, but will perhaps offer insights for theologians. Beth Maynard (2012, 152–54), then again, has written about U2 concert being referred to as a church, even if she prefers to use the Greek language—later theological—concept of leitourgia, a public service that can have spiritual undertones. Theodore Louis Trots (2015, 91) has written on PopMart as something that went too far in excess, and paradoxically thus revealed the perhaps a bit comical essence of rock and roll, but with a theological edge. His analysis, however, focuses mostly on the album Pop itself, and is more concerned on the songs than staging of the event. I have written earlier on the PopMart stage design process, and the ironic, gendered spectacle it resulted (Kärki 2010a).

U2 and Spectacular Stadium Staging U2 was a stadium rock band already before ZooTV Tour (which took place in 1992–1993), but it was then, admittedly in the wake the commercial success of both The Joshua Tree (1987), and Achtung Baby (1991), that the band leapfrogged to be able to claim to be in the competition for the title of the world’s biggest rock band (Johnson 2004, 89). Ambitious “impermanent television station” set design was on par with the other big act stages, in the league of the two other true mega stadium rock acts, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones. It was the ZooTV Tour that defined the gargantuan scale where U2 would later operate during its following two stadium tours, PopMart (1997–1998, on five legs) and U2 360°. The tours between PopMart and U2 360°—Elevation (2001, three legs) and Vertigo (2005–2006, five legs)—were primarily designed for arena environments, as was their latest tour Innocence + Experience (2015). The 2017 tour focusing on The Joshua Tree album was the first time U2 looked back, making it seem somewhat like a nostalgia tour. If we look at the stylistic differences between the three spectacular stadium tours of U2 so far, they are all primarily results of collaboration between the band, lighting designer Willie Williams (http://www.willieworld.com/) and architectural

The Technological Reach for the Sublime


engineer Mark Fisher (The Mark Fisher Studio, http://www.stufish.com/). The tours were all also influenced by the socioeconomic situation of each era. ZooTV staging was a television station, a postmodern collage of Europe that felt to be on the brink of a new, promisingly lighter, –era after the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. East Germany was suddenly cool, the psychedelic Trabant cars that worked as lighting rigs were happily and shamelessly mixed with critical digs on Western entertainment. Even Nazi Germany era footage was used, from Leni Riefenstahl films Triumph des Willens (1935), and Olympia (1938). The footage was part of the concert intro, before Bono ascended to the stage in front of a screen portraying the EU flag, with one of the golden stars falling from its blue background, as the band started playing (see the opening sequence of ZooTV Live in Sydney). PopMart, then, was obviously heading deeper into the criticism of capitalism and brainless consumerism. For that the design team came up with a glittering kitsch and camp staging, by building the huge LED television, PA speakers suspended on the half of the golden McDonald’s logo, a mirrorball lemon, and the cocktail stick with an olive. This was as much Spinal Tap as partly very spiritual and political song material, touching personal faith, such as in “Staring at the Sun” (Pop, 1997). The odd mixture of irony and honesty was, despite the related symbolism being overblown, perhaps difficult to grasp. The album was rushed out and a relative flop, but the tour itself broke even, and its design was in many ways groundbreaking. The staging certainly became a gateway to sublime Baudrillardian hyperreality rollercoaster ride (Kärki 2010a). But it, just like ZooTV, was deeply political staging, meant to convey anti-spectacular critique to masses. In this sense, U2 360° Tour is inherently more interesting example of a techno-utopian staging that approaches the technology as a religion, both by form and by content, as something paradoxically both intimate and far-reaching—a strange and captivating utopian dream. This was “hyperreality disguised as a giant Christmas bauble, the postmodern rock show to end them all, a kaleidoscopic spectacle free of irony” (Jones 2012, 18, 24). It is this lack of irony that is one of the striking differences to ZooTV, and PopMart. By 2009 U2 were serious about the potential of their influence, and the uplifting and unifying power of their concerts. Another great difference comes from the fact that ZooTV and PopMart were obviously also meant to promote the albums Achtung Baby (1991) and Pop (1997). By U2 360° Tour, the music industry’s income logic has shifted to become more and more dependent on the live touring and promotion. This tour was not anymore so much about the album No Line On the Horizon (2009) being released and promoted, but about the huge spectacle that was the tour itself. Seeing U2 live was the end product. In March 2008 U2 signed a twelveyear deal with Live Nation, to take the financial burden off the band. This was not only about promoting concerts themselves, but Live Nation’s reach extended to merchandise, sponsorships, and official website. As No Line on the Horizon sold only five million copies, this is a primary example of the shift from records to live events (Kronenburg 2012, 189; Snow 2014, 218). As an effort to cut down the ticket pricing, U2 also signed a sponsorship deal with Research In Motion (RIM),


U2 and the Religious Impulse

makers of Blackberry smartphones (McGee 2011, 355). This was the first time they had to go fully corporate. Before this they had collaborated with Apple, and would do that again with the iPhone release of Songs of Innocence (2014). Smartphones were also big part of the intended concert experience; the circle was completed in the last song of the set, the intimate “Moment of Surrender” (No Line on the Horizon, 2009). All the other lights in the stadium were, for once, switched off, in order to create a beautiful moment of participation for an electric “milky way” that filled both the stadium and the central screen (Hamilton 2015, 131–32). In this moment of surrender, indeed, an amalgamation of spectacular and intimate techno-religion had reached its one powerful zenith.

Theater in the Round: Designing the Claw The Claw’s circular walkway enclosed the most privileged ticket holders, over whom soared four gantries like wheel spokes arched back to the central stage hub, above which was suspended the giant tapered cylinder of the lighting and video screen complex. In itself, this movie mothership, whose searchlights beamed into the sky like extraterrestrial beacons, provided the dynamic spectacle that compensated for Bono’s waning athleticism now that he was fifty (Snow 2014, 221). U2 360° Tour has been built around its staging. In that regard its marketing was self-referential, the building of the stage days before the actual concert was already in news. In Finland—a personal recollection—where I witnessed the tour live, in Helsinki Olympic Stadium August 20, 2010, the construction had already been featured in both television and major newspapers of the country. Nicknamed “The Claw,” this monstrous creation is the most unique piece of ephemeral entertainment architecture, unrivalled in its size. The conceptual designer Willie Williams felt that they were indeed on the top of the mountain: “In a way I think everyone else has given up. Apart from Pink Floyd, and the Rolling Stones, nobody else can do anything on this scale. It’s almost like a different art form. It’s certainly not a rock show—it is this mad performance art spectacle” (Jones 2012, 79). The final design was formulated by Mark Fisher and his architectural studio Stufish, with additional engineering expertise provided by Atelier One, a London-based structural engineering company. The construction was done by StageCo in a six-month period. And it is massive: the 180 tons weighing steel structure is assembled on the ground, and then the roof structure is gradually lifted up to 50 meters. The steel frame is covered with strong but lightweight polypropylene membrane cladding already on the ground. Each of the four legs has additional sound system, with seventy-two subwoofers providing bass at ground level. And there is even a collapsible umbrella system within the structure, for the case of rain (Kronenburg 2012, 185, 187). “The Claw,” as illustrated below in Figure 7.1, boosts our imaginations. Often described as a sci-fi cathedral, a gargantuan cyborg, a spaceship, space spider, insect, octopus, submarine full of lights, or, indeed, a claw, it seems to open imagination beyond its function as a rock band’s playing platform, and hence

The Technological Reach for the Sublime


Figure 7.1 Production drawing of The Claw situating its groundbreaking design with stadium space. © Stufish Entertainment Architects.

indeed calls for multimedia art displays and playful innovation (Luerssen 2010, 424; Jones 2012, 69). Willie Williams captures the ambiguity of his part-creation perfectly: “Everyone who sees it says it looks like something different. Tintin’s rocket. The War of the Worlds. Cactus. Octopus. Claw. Whenever it started to look like something  …  But it does look as though it has escaped from a giant space aquarium” (Kootnikoff 2012, 156–57). For Williams, of all stages he had been involved with during his relation with U2 he felt this was the culmination of their collaboration: this was their masterpiece (Jones 2012, 43). Apart from the band, especially Bono, the practical work for the tour was in the command of five people: the initial design team of Williams and Fisher collaborated with manager Paul McGuinness, tour promoter Arthur Fogel, LED technology visual expert Frederic Opsomer, and tour production director Jake Berry. These people were the conceptual godfathers of the whole tour, through its different periods of design and operation (Jones 2012, 50). This kind of pioneering structure does not appear out of nothing. The initial design elements came from a variety of sources, including an office toy called helix (Jones 2012, 24). It was, however, Bono who started the planning of the stage by placing some knives and forks on a grapefruit at the breakfast table. The conceptual design work started from that simple playful action (Jones 2012, 46–47). Bono later claimed—in Barcelona, for the Spanish press—that the design was inspired by Gaudi, but the real architectural reference point was rather the iconic Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (McGee 2011, 361; Kronenburg


U2 and the Religious Impulse

2012, 185). The designs don’t look exactly alike, but there is similar uncanny fourlegged otherworldliness in both. The most intriguing thing with this stage design is its roundness. What started as a grapefruit evolved into something that makes sublime experiences possible both near and far in the stadium space. Central “circus” area is surrounded by the larger circular walkway, and the lighting structures, as well as the pioneering cylinder screen than can extend down toward the band, have been suspended above it. This is all visually impressive, and allows unprecedented visibility to all directions. The center stage is connected to the outer ring by moving walkways. I was fortunate enough to be in the best audience space of the Helsinki concert, between the center stage and outer ring, and thus, as the walkway moved by my head every now and then, band members would be within less than two meters from me. According to Willie Williams, the idea was to have audience around the stage like a giant hand—there was also a lot of audience participation and even artistic recreation (Hamilton 2015, 124–25, 129). This level of intimacy at a stadium rock concert was highly impressive. Not only for the audience but for the band members as well: But the real point is that from the band’s perspective … the design elements all but disappear. What the musicians perceive instead is its openness, the in-theround trick that gives the tour its “360” name—you can spin around and see every seat in the house. (Hiatt 2011, 44)

Hence U2 had unlimited view to all directions. They created intimacy for themselves in this least intimate surrounding, by coming together at the center of the stage (Jones 2012, 98). This is something they utilized several times during the concert. This resulted to a coexistence of both the reach for the sublime and the reach for the intimate. But the whole idea of the design was also reach for the audience, be they in the inner circle or in the outer heights of the stadium. That is the ultimate expression of a need to communicate intimately in a stadium space—“to touch everyone at once” (Jones 2012, 32). The circular staging is of course, as such, an ancient innovation. “Theatre in the round” has been around since Ancient Greece. The altar space of a Gothic cathedral, fittingly, considering the focus of this book, is usually round and a bit central. The whole etymology of “Circus” comes from roundness of the central stage (Greek kirkos, round). The early circular rock stages include at least Elvis Comeback Special ’68 (1968), and Yes’s Tormato Tour (1977–1979).2 Obviously the round or at least central staging has later become something that has been utilized a lot in the arena surroundings, as in the arenas the PA speakers can be suspended from the roof (Kronenburg 2012, 183). Metallica, Peter Gabriel, Rod Stewart, Muse, and Def Leppard, to name a few, have all had their go at this. In the stadium space The Rolling Stones’s Bridges to Babylon Tour (1997–1998), another Mark Fisher design, had a smaller b-stage at the center of the stadium. The band would get there by specially designed hydraulic bridge that raises hydraulically from the main stage (see Kärki 2007, 2010b). Unsurprisingly, that was the “intimate” part of their concert, a throwback to their early London Rhythm and Blues club gigs.

The Technological Reach for the Sublime


The pioneering element in U2’s roundness is the sheer scale of things, unseen before, the combination of double circles, and the heavy suspended elements above. And both the visual and aural side of what has been suspended are impressive. This was the first transformable LED screen, using pantographic geometry, with half a million pixels on panels attached to the structure. It was designed by Fisher and kinetic structures specialist Chuck Holberman. The screen shows video throughout the show, and can change shape in the form of a huge central conical video display that moves up and down like a Slinky—and can expand vertically between six and eighteen meters. The screen provides four separate video shows, one for each direction of stadium (McGee 2011, 361; Jones 2012, 69; Kronenburg 2012, 187, 189). But it was the PA system, also suspended up there, projecting sound 360 degrees, that was especially fundamental for the success of the whole tour effort. A stadium is a huge space that is usually open to the sky above. There are also size and shape differences between stadiums, all of these create differences in acoustics. Architect Peter Zumthor has written about the importance of atmospheres in architecture, and considers the importance of sound design: “Interiors are like large instruments, collecting sound, amplifying it, transmitting it elsewhere. That has to do with the shape peculiar to each room and with the surface of materials they contain, and the way those materials have been applied” (Zumthor 2006, 29). Stadium concert architecture is dominated by the consideration on how to get the best possible sound for both near the stage and far away from it. The central location of the stage, and the placement of the PA both in the center and to each supporting leg, provided great sound. “The Claw” is the kind of design that is very close to perfection as a combination of successful artistic and financial elements. The associated costs were staggering. As is usual in the tours of this size, there were three Claws needed, each of them cost about $20 million. One would be built, one taken down, one ready to be performed on. This kind of leapfrogging makes it possible to create a touring schedule without wasted days. The staging would take $100 million to build and each claw requited up to 180 trucks to transport, with 250 speakers being part of the 200 tons of equipment—causing criticism on the enormous carbon footprint. Trees were duly planted. Round staging was also financially great idea, as the design added about a fifth more to audience capacity. The running of this whole circus cost the incredible sum of $750,000 daily (McGee 2011, 361; Jobling 2014, 338–39; Snow 2014, 219–20).

The Sublime Space Ritual at the Rose Bowl “Take me to church! I believe in the Kingdom Come!” Bono, during “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (U2360° at Rose Bowl, 2010) The staged and carefully sequenced technological ritual is what these stadium rock concerts are primarily about. U2 has added a conscious spiritual, even profoundly religious side to their live performances, perhaps nowhere more so than at their


U2 and the Religious Impulse

circular sci-fi cathedral of 2009–2011. The established conventions of the artists and the audience include the theatrical sequencing of the event with peaks and valleys: each concert offers carefully planned calmer moments in between the sublime technological climaxes. The rock ritual used to be more transgressive, more bodily exercise, but as the concert has become a profoundly technologically mediated experience, I would like to argue that the physicality has been overrun by carefully choreographed and digitally sequenced multimedia experiences, which should be analyzed as multimodal interactions between sound and vision—like life itself, these interactions can also be in opposition, dissonance, but they still intertwine and are equally important for the production’s intended experience (Chion 1994, 37–39; Cook 2000, viii). Bono’s theatrical gestures may be larger than life in a quiet ballad, in a way that might seem odd watching from a camera closeup, but in the stadium environment they become powerful statements that blend well with the enormity of the staging around. These multimedia events, these media spectacles, can be observed as organized and sequenced clusters of rituals. Songs and their narrative arc offer the grounding meaning for the ritual, but the songs are conceptually sequenced to form different parts of the concert. In a way a rock concert follows the Aristotelian idea of a dramatic arch, where the beginning, middle-part, and the end have their own dramatic value. What I chose to do in relation to U2 ritual is to take one such dramatic cluster of songs, around the moment of encore in U2’s concert in Rose Bowl Auditorium, Pasadena, California, on October 25, 2009 (U2360° at Rose Bowl, 2010). The songs before and after the encore pause are the Joshua Tree live favorite “Where the Streets Have No Name,” and the Achtung Baby closer “Ultraviolet (Light My Way).” I observe these as “thick description” of what the staging is intended to do as part of the concert, and close analyze the song cycle from this perspective, as a sublime techno-religious ritual.3 “American technological sublime” is a concept by David Nye, a prominent historian of technology. Technological sublime is a shared feeling of respect in front of technological innovations which cause awe, and speak to all of our five senses. Nye’s primary example of this kind of awe is watching the takeoff of a space rocket, but I would like to argue that U2 360° staging can be an equally impressive example of this kind of feeling of sublime. I just leave the “American” out from the concept, for obvious reasons (Nye 1994, xi–xx). I think that what has been captured on the Rose Bowl DVD is a landmark case of ephemeral architecture meeting heightened moments of technological sublime. The religious ritual has been mostly theorized as actions, from rites of passage to formal ceremonies for a deity or deities. Concert obviously could be seen as having the sacral space of the stage, and the profane space of the audience. Band could be seen as the clergy, concert as a service, a sermon, a liturgy—or, rather, leitourgia, as Beth Maynard (2012) analyzed U2 live performance. Audience has its own role, in clapping, responding to rhythms, lighting a match or the smartphone screen. They are the other end of the energy loop, that unique energy of sharing the power of music here and now, that energy that will take everyone at the concert higher. It is mostly Bono that is the master of the ceremonies, his exaggerated expressions

The Technological Reach for the Sublime


are tailor made for the stadium environment, ready to be mediated on the screen above. This technological mediation of a central performer is interesting, as it creates a blurring of reality and representation. As Eric Holding has written on Mark Fisher stage designs, “This serves ultimately as useful reminder of the nature of stardom or celebrity itself, as the archetypal ‘rock-god’ is, after all, part physical presence and part media construction” (Holding 2000, 87. See also Auslander 1999; Kärki 2015, 44). Especially the people in the far away positions will not most of the time observe tiny—from their perspective—Bono as he walks, runs, and sings, but instead receive their audiovisual sermon from LED screen and speakers. What can be perceived there are intensified media constructions, mostly pre-recorded and then sequenced into the live feed that, among other material—such as the fitting visitors from the International Space Station (during “In a Little While”), and the retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu (“One”)—features the true sci-fi cathedral version of Bono the media construction. If we take this idea of a media construction to the realm of ritual theory, I would like to argue that the notion of “liminal” beings (Turner 1970, 95), so central to anthropological discussion on ritual, gets fully new layers. Rock star becomes, for the climatic moments of the concert, the luminous and liminal higher being up there on the conical screen. The genius of U2 is that they provide a feeling of presence through all that technology, and Bono always also makes sure to reach out to the audience as a physical presence. If “Bono” is, then, a liminal media construction, the audience becomes “liminoid”; they partake to a ritual where they can exist outside their everyday life, and become liberated of their usual borders, singing along with tens of thousands of others, feeling “one” with them (Turner 1982, 33–56). For “One” (Achtung Baby 1991), Desmond Tutu pleads from the screen: “God will put a wind on our back … If we work as one … One!!!.” After the song ends, we are about to witness some of the concert’s key moments. Bono starts by singing the first verse of “Amazing Grace,” a Christian hymn from the eighteenth century: “How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” There is added emotion, as the voice cracks perfectly at “me.” When he comes to “I was blind that now I can see,” he repeats it, as the Edge starts “Where the Streets Have No Name” guitar arpeggio, which leads to the famous build-up of this fan favorite. This song has been a central emotional core song of the U2 concerts since it was published thirty years ago. Even the band members feel it has a special power to uplift and, as Bono mentioned for Los Angeles Times in 2004, when they play it, “I’s like God suddenly walks through the room” (Maynard 2012, 158). Hence, the choice to sing a Christian hymn as an intro fits perfectly to this idea of a sci-fi cathedral, an electric church of rock. The high-peak technological sublime moment comes, as always, in the moment when the drums, after a few tom fills, kick in to the full groove, and the central pylon axis of The Claw shines piercing light to all directions. An audiovisual moment of bliss, it’s just an extremely uplifting experience. For the song’s final moments, the band gathers around drummer Larry Mullen Jr, for what must be an amazing adrenaline rush, the self-evident paradox of being both intimate within the band and witnessing the 97,000 people jumping all around them. And, as the song ends,


U2 and the Religious Impulse

they say “goodbyes”—perfectly according to the ritual; everyone knows they will return—and make their way to the depths of the central circle. Darkness. This is precision work, playing with the audience expectations, a relaxation before an encore. And then, a UFO lands. The conical video screen cylinder lowers down on stage level, depicted as a little six-meter-high round spaceship. It brings “Babyface,” an old U2 space helmet baby mascot already familiar from Zooropa (1993) cover, to the frame, looking at the audience through a round window in the spaceship. The little space baby seems to be repeating some of the concert content that it has heard, observing from space: “What time is it in the world? Action, liftoff … We are those people … Turn on your radio … Baby baby … Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do.” First four refer to what has already been uttered during the concert, “Baby, baby” to what will follow (quoting “Ultraviolet” chorus), and “Space Oddity” by David Bowie was used as an intro song of the concert. This was like the first encounter moments from so many sci-fi films, but done in a gentle, innocent, childlike, cartoonish, and pop-trivia–embracing fashion. It was stripped off the bombastic, godlike descent that could have been actualized as a sublime moment. This is an interesting and brave solution—the moment that could have been one logical high point of the concert, a friendly visitor from space, is toned down to a small intermission number. This solution makes the band shine even brighter after they reappear. The lyric from “Space Oddity” is repeated several times. Slowly the little spaceman is muted and obstructed, as a shield lowers across the spaceship window. Then the window turns into an image of a neon red glowing round microphone which Bono is about to hold in some seconds. First chords of “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” are played. The microphone is at the end of a wire that comes down from the suspended structure above, and the wire is strong enough to support Bono’s weight, as he flies across the stage with his mic. In this classic Deus Ex Machina moment he is wearing a futuristic jacket which project little red laser beams to all directions, enhanced by the smoke released all around the central circus. If ever Bono looked like a Techno-Messiah, it was at this moment. “Light my way,” indeed.

Conclusion: Toward Innocence + Experience If their innovations had previously become industry standards, it is difficult to imagine anyone replicating this: the art of possibility disguised as a theme park. This was a show that could harness the heroic bombast of their anthemic Eighties, the mock decadence of their dark disco decade, and the full-circle dynamism and pop-smarts of the Noughties, and all points between and beyond (Jones 2012, 24). U2 360° Tour had a feeling of closing the circle, literally and figuratively. It successfully brought together all different eras of the band, blending spectacle with intimate, and entertainment with serious human rights messages—with one special focus being on solidarity for Myanmar’s democratically elected but

The Technological Reach for the Sublime


imprisoned leader Aung San Suu Kyi (Luerssen 2010, 424). It feels to me that this tour reached such a climax that it must have been hard to imagine what would come after that. In a way PopMart had been a similar experience of gargantuan size and logistics, at then nearly a financial disaster, and afterward U2 decided to scale things down considerably, for what would be the Elevation Tour. As PopMart wore them down, they actually considered not to play live at all in the future (Luerssen 2010, 419–20). This time the silence ended in 2014, with a new album inside every iPhone—a magic trick that did not make everyone happy. The tour that followed this release of Songs of Innocence, Innocence + Experience Tour, was again more modest, even if conceptually brave effort to continue being the biggest band in the live music business. This time the staging had a long walkway to the center of the arena, and the screens were suspended above the walkway, offering view to the audience situated to both sides of the walkway. What followed in 2017 seemed like a nostalgia tour for The Joshua Tree, but perhaps the divided and heated political situation in the United States will offer them artistic gunpowder to renew themselves for Songs of Experience (2017). One can think of Innocence + Experience staging as a logical evolution, going from round to a rectangular and round, connected by walkway, but it does not reach the effectiveness and symbol value of “The Claw,” something both complex and deadly simple. Besides, that basic staging idea—round and rectangular stages connected by a walkway—had already been staged by Peter Gabriel and Robert Lepage, for Gabriel’s Secret World Live Tour (1993, see Kärki 2010b). The moments of technological sublime in U2 360° are followed by moments of stripped-down intimacy, but also by a variety of strategies to mix these two polar opposites. This is helped by the central location, the roundness, the “usual” pyrotechnics, lasers, smoke, and light shows. But also by the pioneering kinetic moving of the pantographic screen, which shrinks and expands as the concert ritual unfolds (Kronenburg 2012, 189). It was a sci-fi cathedral of the twenty-first century, constantly evolving to incorporate new visions and sounds. The staging still offers a timeless example of mega-entertainment; in truly Baudrillardian sense it not only captures the overblown simulated craziness of the nearly global homogenous culture, but also uplifts the humanity of it all, criticizing its own premises as a media spectacle. “The Claw” reaches out to draw out the good in people and remind us of the need to help the poor and the oppressed; it supports the spread of democracy, and, yes indeed, it offers an entertaining and ephemeral vision of Christian faith at its core. The paradox is here: it is a gigantic statement about both ego and selflessness.4

Chapter 8 T H E “M OM E N T O F SU R R E N D E R” : M E D I EVA L M YST IC I SM I N T H E M U SIC O F U 2

Brenda Gardenour Walter

U2’s music can be a powerful spiritual experience, in part because of the haunting and transcendent nature of their unique sound, in part because of lyrics that speak of aporia and longing for an intangible wholeness. The spiritual quality of U2’s music has inspired sermons such as those included in Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching the U2 Catalog (Whiteley and Maynard 2003), as well as the adoption of the U2charist as part of the liturgy in the AnglicanEpiscopalian Church (Rothman 2014). While the liturgical use of U2 has become popular across myriad Protestant denominations, it has not taken hold in the Catholic Church, perhaps because it is seen as too secular and modern to be a part of a sacred and medieval ritual. This concern is magnified during the transubstantiation of the Host, that moment when bread and wine become the flesh and blood of Christ through the power of the spoken word, and the subsequent sacrament of communion, when Christ enters the tabernacle of the heart to transform soul and body from within. And yet it is this unmediated connection with and dissolution in the Divine—this moment of absolute surrender—that resonates throughout much of U2’s music. In their cathedral of sound, U2 creates a transformative space around and within their listeners that serves as a nexus between heaven and earth and invites them on a spiritual pilgrimage. Drawing deeply on the traditions of medieval Christian mysticism, U2 voices a longing for spiritual wholeness, a desire to be completely “melted away” in Christ’s love. In that “moment of surrender,” the listener, much like a medieval mystic, is transported to a metaphysical realm of radiant theophanic gold where there is, to borrow a U2 song title, “No Line on the Horizon,” where time and space no longer exist. Despite the beauty of this ecstasy, the soul must return to its physical husk—an emotional experience marked by both despair and a renewed desire to be united with the “one” U2 seems to signal as harmoniously unifying disparate people and experiences in its song “One.” U2’s music creates a luminous sonic bridge between human and Divine, one that ultimately guides the listener back to love, back to the “The Sweetest Thing,” and a collective hope for a peaceful and joyous future.


U2 and the Religious Impulse

U2’s Mystical Cathedral When U2 tours and presents its shows, it create a cathedral of sound to house the soul and body, the inner and outer senses, and offers a space for transcendence—a spiritual space, perhaps best made of all its tours in the cathedral-esque staging for the U2 360˚ Tour (Galbraith 2014). The heart of the 360˚ experience is a central stage, visible from all directions, that has been alternately described as a spaceship or claw. The structure has four columns that arch over the stage and meet at a central point that continues upward in a single column and is topped by a light, an architectural narrative that speaks of ascension toward the Divine, much like a gothic cathedral. With steps that lead up to a dais beneath a canopy, U2’s stage is also a modernist version of a medieval ciborium or baldachin, a structure erected over the altar in a cathedral as a means delineating the locus of the sacred within a larger sanctified place. Beneath the ciborium, the priest conducts the Mass and consecrates the Eucharist that will be shared with the congregation. Beneath the 360˚ ciborium, U2 performs their own version of the liturgy that inspires a “festive” communion of all those drawn into their cathedral of sound.1 Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody describes the experience of 360˚ as “a collective emotional and spiritual surrender of epic proportions” (Maynard 2012, 151). Beth Maynard argues that such a collective surrender is consistent not only with the modern conception of liturgy as ritual, but also with the ancient Greek idea of leitourgia—a public service that served as an “anticipatory manifestation of a just society” (2012, 153). As liturgy and leitourgia, U2’s 360˚ offers a space for communal transcendence; there, one might taste “the hope that things can be different” and might see that divisions between human souls and the Divine as powerful illusions that will one day pass away (Maynard 2012, 153–54). From their altar of song, U2 offers the faithful a glimpse of a future world of light and harmony, a place where heaven and earth are united and all are One. The structure of U2’s liturgical space is a reflection of medieval mystical embodiment. Like the set of 360˚, the mystic’s body might be imagined as a microcosmic gothic cathedral oriented toward heaven, a macrocosmic realm of Divine perfection marked by pure white light, translucence, and unity of will that existed high above the earth, beyond the moon and the fixed sphere of the stars (McDannell and Lang 2001). Much like the spires and lofty windows of a cathedral, both of which soared upward toward the light, the mystic’s mind contemplated the Divine through prayer in order to illuminate the darkness. Like the golden tabernacle upon the altar that cradled the blessed Eucharist, the human heart was a sanctuary for the soul, “the temple of God in which the divine mysteries are celebrated” (Lubac 2000, 139). While the mystic’s mind and soul were drawn upward toward the Divine, his or her physical embodiment routinely returned them crashing to earth—a dark place of carnal distraction, despair, and decay.2 Like the cathedral’s shadowy basement, the human body was grounded, tethered to a world of physical sensation and irrational emotion that interfered with the higher faculties and if uncontrolled served as a barrier to transcendence.

Medieval Mysticism in the Music of U2


The mystic’s body was not only drawn both upward and downward in keeping with a binary cosmology, but also “divided into at least two parts, inner and outer.”3 The outer body was associated with the five physical senses of sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smell; “through the senses of the body” the individual was bound to the material realm and “conformed to this lower, temporal world” (Dailey 2013, 18). The inner body housed the inner senses which were spiritual in nature. Largier argues that while the five inner senses “correspond to the five outer senses  …  they are not just to be seen as analogous or metaphorical,” but instead “constitute and construct a specific reality of the mind” (Largier 2003, 4–5). Unlike the outer senses that bound the body to earth, the inner senses were guided by the permeating “light of His countenance” and drew the soul upward toward eternal heaven to be “renewed to the recognition of God” (Dailey 2013, 18). For the medieval mystic, the inner senses allowed for the “creation of an inner space of ‘experience,’” a spiritual cathedral for the “‘exploration,’ and ‘amplification’ of the emotional as well as the sensory life of the soul” (Largier 2003), 5). The effect is one of nesting cathedrals—the gothic building houses the physical body and the spiritual cathedral within—a phenomenon echoed in the set for 360˚. There, the supplicant enters the arena, gathers around the ciborium, experiences the amplification of emotion through community and music (leitourgia), and enters an internal and spiritual set of 360˚—the sanctum of the inner senses. Whether in the liturgy of a concert, the solitude of one’s monastic cell, or through headphones, U2’s music resonates around and through the listener’s body and elicits both physical and spiritual transformation (Fluegge 2011). U2’s ability to excite the inner senses rests in part on their repeated use of the perfect fifth as a musical structure. A hallmark of sacred music, the perfect fifth is composed of triadic notes from which emerges a unified harmony—Platonic and pure—that draws the listener inward toward the spiritual and upward toward the Divine. “One,” “Beautiful Day,” “Moment of Surrender,” and “Where the Streets Have No Name” are all composed in the soaring perfect fifth. Heard through the inner senses, the U2’s perfect fifths draw the listener across a sonic bridge toward a “higher plane.” The very structure of U2’s music, therefore, acts as another sort of cathedral-space that lifts the listener, allowing them to soar through the harmony of the spheres and resonate with the Divine. Properly prepared by a symphony that “banishes all Dark obscurity,” the listener’s heart-temple might receive the logos through the song and become annihilated in the “higher love” of an utterly transcendent and otherwise unknowable God.4 The power of sacred music to calm the body and liberate the soul so that it might soar heavenward was known to medieval mystics. While prayer was the initial path by which the soul ascended to the “divine subline” and experienced, if only in part, “the presence of God in the darkness of one’s self,” its transcendent power was intensified by liturgical music (Largier 2003, 13). Sacred music was long held to have an intense “corporeal effect” as well as a spiritual one (Largier 2003, 9–10).5 For the twelfth-century mystic Hildegard of Bingen, music not only healed the body by rebalancing the humors but also brought the microcosmic body and soul into alignment with the harmony of the macrocosmic heavenly spheres to


U2 and the Religious Impulse

experience—if only briefly—a moment of prelapsarian perfection. In her Symphony of the Soul, she writes that music “banishes all Dark obscurity and makes pure and lucid those things that are obscure to the bodily senses because of the weakness of the flesh.”6 “Distilled from the outside in,” sacred music penetrated the physical ear; this outer sense of hearing, however, soon melted away, replaced by the inner sense of hearing, which opened the individual to angelic harmonies and allowed the “blessed in heaven to speak” to his or her heart (Fraeters 2012, 185). A similar phenomenon is described in the Sister Books, written by Lowland Dominican nuns in the fourteenth century, which draws parallels between liturgical singing and the “celestial melodies” created by angels and planets spinning beyond the moon. One sister heard with her inner sense the “sweetest heavenly harmony,” “the song of the spheres,” felt her “soul dance in her body,” and was “filled with sweetness and wonderful devotion” (Lewis 1995, 166). In this example, the singing of liturgical music flooded the sister’s inner senses and prepared her heart to receive God’s grace. Sacred music—be it Gregorian chant or the hymns of U2—might serve as a departure point for the soul’s pilgrimage toward the Divine.

U2 as Mystical Pilgrimage U2’s music is not explicitly Christian by industry standards, but because they are driven by “internal religious commitments,” they are able “to construct a sanctuary within the song, a chapel of love, as it were, where Christian communication can be conveyed” even without “privileging Christian testimony” (Trost 2015, 94). Stepping into this chapel, the heart hears sacred melodies that lift it heavenward as well as lyrical homilies on love, longing, and ardent desire. U2’s lyrics invite the listener’s heart on a spiritual pilgrimage to Divine union and back again, an emotionally fraught mystical cycle that would have resonated deeply with medieval mystics such as Hildegard von Bingen, Hadewijch of Brabant, and Mechthild of Magdeburg. In both U2 and the works of medieval mystics, the search for Divine light, the sweetness of Divine love, the experience of dissolution, loss, and intense longing for Divine union all lead the heart to a greater awareness of Love writ large and a renewed promise for the future joining of all souls into One—the holiest of communions. Search for the Divine Light The first step on the mystical pilgrimage of U2 is an awareness that communion with the Divine is possible; in this moment, the inner senses soar upward, searching and longing for Love. Several of U2’s songs speak of this stage of mystical awakening. For example, in “One Step Closer” from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb (2004), a heart “that hurts” and “that beats” finds itself in a moment of suspension. Unable to “go forward” or “turn back,” stripped bare, it must sit still with itself and listen to its own “drummer slowing.” In that moment of openness and vulnerability, the mystic’s heart is “one step closer to knowing” the Divine. In “It’s a Beautiful Day”

Medieval Mysticism in the Music of U2


(All That You Can’t Leave Behind 2000), the heart is softened by Grace and swells into a “bloom” that “shoots up from the stony ground,” a reference to the heart of stone, now transformed, as well as to the soul rising up from an earthen body that must once again return to dust. “Touch me,” the heart calls, “take me to that higher place,” a plea to ascend through the higher senses and to be lifted to God. These first steps on the mystical pilgrimage become a frenetic search for love in two songs from The Joshua Tree (1987). “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” follows the song’s protagonist on a physical and metaphysical quest across “mountains,” “fields,” and “city walls,” as well as heaven and hell in search of the Beloved (Trost 2015, 94–95). In “Where the Streets Have No Name,” the songster’s heart wants to “tear down the walls” of the living body that “hold” it “inside” so that it can “reach out and touch the flame,” the Divine light that permeates the heavenly realm “high on a desert plane, where the streets have no name.”7 In the Christian mystical tradition, the desert is a desolate place not only of tribulation and testing, but also of clarity and mystical revelation (Cassian 1997). Laid bare through musical prayer and Love, the heart wanders through the desert, yearning for the “shining fire,” the “Living Light” of God. Associated with the clarity and perfection of the heavenly Empyrean, light is a recurring image in mystical visions. Hildegarde describes Christ as a “splendid light,” a “shining fire,” and the “Living Light.” After receiving the Eucharist, Agnes Blannbekin “began to faint away sweetly and be rapt within into an indescribable light” within which she saw a vision of Christ emanating light (Cassian 1997). The thirteenth-century beguine, Mechthild of Magdeburg, also depicted Divine revelation and communion as illumination in her treatise The Flowing Light of the Godhead (1998). Taste the Sweetness of Divine Love With the heart properly prepared, it is open to taste the sweetness of Divine love. Ruusbroec writes that, in that moment when “the powers of the soul open themselves” and “the rivers of the grace of God flow forth,” we taste “God’s sweetness  …  incomprehensible and bottomless” (Hale 1995). Tasted with the inner senses, this sweetness becomes like a drug; the mystic longs for it in full awareness that it is fleeting, that it burns and aches upon withdrawal. U2’s song, “The Sweetest Thing” (Joshua Tree 1987) details this cycle of longing for a love personified as a woman. “I wanted to run but she made me crawl … I’m losing you, ain’t love the sweetest thing.” The protagonist realizes the ephemeral nature of this love, like an “eternal fire” that not only ignites desire and consumes the soul, but also turns the individual “to straw,” tinder waiting to be lit once again. In a collaboration with Robbie Robertson, the “Sweet Fire of Love” (Robbie Robertson 1987) is unifying and transformative. To breathe in the “shining in the light” is to become one with the Pentecostal fire and receive “salvation in the night”— no longer “alone,” “afraid,” or “the same.” Angela of Foligno wrote of this fiery sweetness that “Sometimes God comes into the soul without being summoned, and when he does, he instills in the soul both fire and love, and sometimes a sweet feeling of his presence” (Fanning 2001).


U2 and the Religious Impulse

In the medieval mystical tradition, the inner taste of sweetness is associated directly with the reception of the Eucharist. Like sacred music, the Host was first perceived with the outer senses; the supplicant saw the bread consecrated upon the altar, felt the bread as it touched his or her lips, and tasted it upon the tongue. These outer senses soon gave way to the inner senses of touch and taste intertwined, and experience of “pure excitement” that eliminated “all distinction between subject and object” (Largier 2003, 10). The inner sense of the Eucharist in the mouth was like the kiss of the Beloved from the Song of Songs, sweeter than wine. The thirteenthcentury mystic Hadewijch of Brabant argued that Divine communion could be “tasted as something actual” and was often described as having the sweetness of honey: “With what wondrous sweetness the loved one and the Beloved dwell one in the other”; through this inner sense of taste, God’s love—commemorated in the sacrifice upon the altar—was like “honey in the mouth, song to the ear, joy to the heart” (Milhaven 1993, 83). The honeyed sweetness of ecstatic union permeated all of the inner senses. For example, in the thirteenth century, the mystic Agnes Blannbekin heard a voice with her inner senses that filled her with such sweetness that it flowed from her soul “out to the exterior senses” and spread “itself through the entire body” (McGinn 1998, 181). In her Memorial, the thirteenth-century Italian mystic Angela of Foligno repeatedly describes the taking of the Eucharist and union with Christ as an “intense sweetness” that was perceived through the inner senses and radiated throughout the body. For the medieval mystic, God’s love truly was “The Sweetest Thing.” Dissolution in the Divine While much of U2’s music resonates with the heart’s inner senses and the soul’s longing for God, the enigmatic song “Moment of Surrender” (No Line on the Horizon 2009) speaks directly to mystical union with the Divine. The song is about the horrifying beauty of devotion and the peace of letting go, be it in a human relationship, in the course of drug addiction, or in a spiritual epiphany. Through the lens of medieval mysticism, this epiphany becomes the moment in which the heart is suddenly flooded by Divine light and surrenders itself completely to God’s loving will. The song opens with a chain of perfect fifths and the somber sound of an organ, both of which seem to presage a sacramental communion. As the tension escalates, the lyrics describe elements of medieval mystical ascension. First, the heart is bound “with wire” and longs for the total loss of self in Pentecostal “fire” as it waits for the gift of Grace. The mystic’s heart knows that the Grace of God’s love cannot be coerced, cannot be rushed; it must be received freely as a gift, for “it’s not if I believe in love, if love believes in me.” This waiting is rewarded in the chorus, which depicts the “moment of surrender,” the eruption of Divine Light that brings the supplicant “folded to my knees.” In that moment, the physical world melts away: “I did not notice the passersby, and they did not notice me.” Throughout the song, Divine Union, or surrender, is signified by invisibility and the dissolution of the body in time and space; the face that was once reflected in the ATM is gone as the heart speeds through human time and the “Stations of the Cross” to reach

Medieval Mysticism in the Music of U2


the moment of Christ’s sacrifice and the union with God that is its promise. In this moment of “vision over visibility,” the “heart,” the “soul,” and “consciousness” are absorbed into “yes” and “released from control” as the self is annihilated in the will of the One. This transcension and dissolution in Love was made manifest during the 360˚ tour. “Moment of Surrender” was played as a “sending off piece, closing the show”; as the audience raised their cell phones, all other lights in the stadium were dimmed, resulting in a sea of twinkling stars, a “milky way” of souls united into a musical and spiritual whole, if only for one achingly beautiful moment (Hamilton 2015, 131–32). Dissolution in the Divine is replete in the works of medieval mystics. During an ecstatic experience, the mystic was at once engulfed in the loving light of the Beloved and dissolved into His being. “In the certainty of union,” Hadewijch writes, “I saw myself swallowed up. Then I received the certainty of being received, in this form, in my Beloved, and my Beloved also in me … we were one without distinction” (McGinn 1999, 216). Ultimately, her outer and inner senses slipped away completely, and she was annihilated in the Divine: “I was so much given over into my Beloved that I melted away in Him, and nothing was left of me.”8 Angela of Foligno equated the experience of Divine union with her “soul melting in God’s love” (1999, 44).9 Because this profound experience took place beyond the senses, it was nearly impossible for the mystic to describe it in human terms, often saying instead that it was uncommunicable. For example, when Adelheid Langmann saw Christ and heard the words that “so sweetly came out of His mouth,” her “poor sinful soul” was drawn up “into the Godhead—a vision I can never talk about” (McGinn 1998, 317). Angela of Foligno writes that her visionary experiences were such that she could “hardly find words for them,” for she could not “describe the sweetness and delight” that she felt.10 The moment of surrender is one of dissolution, followed by a loss of human language. In The Spiritual Espousals, Ruusbroec writes that “in meeting the light” through the “transport of love,” “the heart experiences so much delight and pleasure that it cannot contain itself but bursts out in a cry of joy … a joy that cannot be expressed in words.” For Angela of Foligno, mystical union was marked by a failure of words, an experience incomparable with any other. It is a “fullness of God of which I am not able to speak … this vision is not tangible or imaginable, but something ineffable” (1993, 187–89). Later, the Blessed Dominican Friar, Henry Suso would sink “so completely in God into eternal Wisdom that he was unable to speak of it” (Fanning 2001, 107). The loss of language that comes with illumination is writ large in U2’s “Unknown Caller.” The song begins with a chorus of “sunshine, sunshine,” a representation of God’s Leonine love, which seems to fading into the distance, receding, leaving the listener in the growing darkness “between midnight and the dawning.”11 Like a mystic alone in her cell, “in a place of no consequence or company,” we are left in the silence of the night, “on the edge of the known universe,” awaiting the dawn of God’s love once again. In the space between, in that experience of utter dissociation of “waiting for me,” an inner voice cries in the darkness. “Go! Shout it out! Right now! Escape yourself, and gravity. Hear me cease to speak, that I may speak, shush now.” This delirious rising up and


U2 and the Religious Impulse

ascension, this feeling of floating in the ethereal plenum of God’s love, is beyond human language. It exists in the voids between the words—a secret language that might only be heard through the inner senses of the soul. As Hildegard writes in the Scivias, “Let the one who has ears sharp to hear inner meanings ardently love My reflection and pant after My words and inscribe them in his soul and conscience” (1990, 536). Both Hildegard and U2 are expressions of the great paradox of mystical experience; Divine union cannot be described, cannot be compared to anything on earth—and yet the mystic is compelled to “shout it out,” to “speak” of that which cannot be spoken. Dark Night of the Soul: “One Step Closer” to Knowing The mystic is drawn between consumption in God’s love and an abyss of longing. U2’s “With or Without You” speaks to this experience. Set against an otherworldly electronic musical backdrop, Bono plays the role of the mystic in the throes of the dark night of the soul, longing for Union. The Beloved in this song might be imagined a Christ crucified. The “stone set in your eye” could refer to Christ as the stone, once rejected, who is now the “cornerstone” of salvation.12 The image of a “thorn” twisting in the side alludes to the lance of Longinus piercing the side of Christ who wore a crown of twisted thorns while he hung upon the Cross. Christ’s sacrifice was an act of the highest love in which he gave Himself away for the salvation of all. “You gave it all but I want more.” In humility and longing for love, the mystic waits “for you,” “without you” on a “bed of nails” with “hands tied” and “body bruised”—an act of imitatio Christi. The pain is both spiritual and physical. To be one “with” God fully is to be consumed in the flames of love; to be without him is to be cold and empty. “I can’t live” fully in this form “with or without you.” But, as Ruubroec remarks, it is “in the abyss of this darkness” that “the loving spirit has died to itself.” It is there that begins “the revelation of God and eternal life” (Fanning 2001, 114). Once joined, separation from the Beloved was unbearable. For Angela of Foligno, as for many other mystics, the sweetness and light of Divine union was so intense that, upon returning to her senses, she wanted to die: “Living then was more painful for me than the pain I felt at the deaths of my mother and my children,” and so she cried out, “Lord, have pity on me; don’t allow me to stay in this world any longer” (1999, 44). This period of exile from the Beloved, also known as the darkness of the orowete, was marked by intense desolation and spiritual yearning for reconnection. Like a lover awaiting the return of the Beloved, the mystic’s emotions were tumultuous, at once feeling “hope and hopelessness, as well as joy” as they yearned for the “sweetness of the divine” (Largier 2003, 5). Hadewijch compared the orowete to lovesickness; the lover waits “in the anguish or repose of the madness of love” with a sense of “tremendum, the terror of those who are ‘lost in the storms of love’” (McGinn 1999, 205). At once longing and rapt in love for the Bridegroom, the Beloved waited as if on a bed of nails for His return. Through prayer, liturgical music, communion, and love, the mystic began his or her spiritual pilgrimage toward the heavenly realm once again, searching for a holy

Medieval Mysticism in the Music of U2


light to illuminate the bodily cathedral and sacred music to resonate through the inner senses and sanctify the heart.

Communion In this suffering and sorrow, in this longing and loss, we are “one step closer to knowing.” Pain is an essential step on the pilgrimage to union; “the heart that hurts,” after all, “is a heart that beats.” The modern mysticism of U2 is a musical pilgrimage that calls us into the temple of Love, even when we are crawling and “can’t keep holding on.” Heard through the inner senses, U2’s music is a reminder that through Love, we will be rescued at last. Washed clean, we will one day “stand at the entrance to a new world  …  the ruins to the right of me will soon have lost sight of me.” Here in their cathedral of sound, the mystical experience echoes across the centuries, preparing the heart’s tabernacle for the reception of God, waiting in hope for the future and acting through love in the present.13 In the words of Bono, “It feels like God walking through the room, and it feels like a blessing, and in the end, music is a kind of sacrament.”

Chapter 9 “I N G O D’ S C OU N T RY ” : SPAT IA L S AC R E D N E S S I N U 2

Michael R. MacLeod and Timothy Harvie

In the documentary film From the Sky Down by Davis Guggenheim, Bono reflects upon one of his earliest musical memories. He describes being a small boy standing before the piano in his grandmother’s home. Too short to see the top, the young Paul Hewson reaches up, presses a key, and makes a sound. One note leads to another, and as he recounts, “this tiny living room became a cathedral.” This early revelation in Bono’s life finds resonance with the later experiences of many U2 fans and observers who describe how an average city arena or stadium becomes church-like—indeed, a religious experience—when this Irish foursome performs. The physical place is transformed into a sacred space, delivering a message of hope and even redemption for the participants. The music of U2 is a blend of intimacy and authenticity, of the political and the spiritual, where earthly, human frailty meets and is transformed by an encounter with the Divine. We argue in this chapter that such an understanding of space and its spiritual connections is essential in explaining and understanding the development of U2. Creating the music in the studio is itself a sacred experience, as the band has often noted. In 2002, as Bono accepted one of U2’s four Grammy Awards for All That You Can’t Leave Behind, he explained that “we depend on what Quincy Jones said, we depend on God walking through the room on our record” (Gumbel 2002). But U2’s relationship with the sacred goes beyond this as the band has found spiritual inspiration from various geographical locales and reflected it in their music. The band has been profoundly shaped by these places and used this to connect and create new spaces that reflect their experiences. From the influence of the streets of Dublin and the violent spaces of Northern Ireland in their youth, to the barrenness of the American desert, to the turbulent life of Berlin in the aftermath of the fall of the wall, U2’s music has developed from the spaces they inhabit and transformed the listener in a spiritual way. Just as a simple living room with a piano can become a cathedral to a child, U2 inhabits the streets of their youth, historic castles, barren deserts, urban centers, and concert halls in ways that allow the entry of the Divine to make such spaces sacred. These places are transformed into spaces of healing from personal wounds, prophetic protest, spiritual solace, and even religious community (Walsh


U2 and the Religious Impulse

2005). The type of art that illustrates the elevation of the artist and the fan to transcendence occurs only insofar as the discovery of sacredness is made in lowly, seemingly profane places. This kenotic approach—self-emptying to reveal the Divine—is what it means to be “lookin’ for baby Jesus under the trash,” as Bono sings in the 1997 song “Mofo.” Using insights from the aesthetic theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar and his description of kenosis, we will describe the relationship between place and U2’s work in terms of what we refer to as “lived spaces” and “lyrical spaces.” The former refers to the geographical locations and inhabited places that have been formative on the band’s development. Lived spaces illustrate the musical influences, personal experiences, and thematic content (such as political or economic realities) which have been drawn from the varied places U2 has lived or sought inspiration, and how the band has attempted to use locales to make connections with the listener and create encounters that mimic transcendence. Lyrical spaces refer of course to U2’s songs; we explore Bono’s lyrics as he utilizes metaphors of space as his words invite listeners to inhabit new places and be confronted with ways of being that take at face value the enormous beauty and stark misery within the world. Many of the band’s songs invite listeners to enter an intimate space where personal transformation takes place (or at least has the potential to do so) and to seek solidarity alongside those who inhabit the complex multiplicity of life’s many spaces. It should be noted that our examination of spatial sacredness in U2’s development focuses on what we believe are some of the key influences of space on the band and manifestations in their music and is not meant to be comprehensive. We begin first with differentiating place from space, two concepts that are often conflated as being the same but should be understood as separate though linked.

Conceptualizing Place versus Space The anecdote of Bono’s grandmother’s home reveals something important as to the relationship between the notions of place and space. The room, familiar to the child visiting his grandmother, is a particular locale with physical properties and a specific geometry. In enacting the artistic and musical possibilities of the room’s furniture, this place is transformed into not only an aural space but a spiritual one, too. This exhibits what Charles Withers has argued differentiating between “place” and “space”: the former refers to a particular location which invokes a locality defined in geographic parameters, whereas the latter is socially created via a “spatial turn” that expands place into “a social practice” (2009, 638–39). Similarly, Benedict Anderson argues that nation-states themselves, the ultimate division of place and territory in the world, are the end product of what he calls “imagined communities”—nations of people socially constructed through complex processes that create a new space for humans sharing common identities and interests 1991 to 2016 (Anderson 2016). While the relationship between place and social practice remains contested, the central idea here is that space gives meaning and sensibility

Spatial Sacredness in U2


to geographic places through participatory and interpretive communities, including in spiritual practice. Relatedly, the influential geographer David Harvey proposes three basic categories of space: organic space, perceptual space, and symbolic space (2009). Organic space examines the type of spatial experience which is genetically transmitted and thus the purview of biologists and ethologists (examining issues of territory, migration, habitat, etc.). Perceptual space, Harvey explains, “involves the neurological synthesis of all kinds of sense experience—optical, tactual, acoustic and kinesthetic” (28). It involves the role of memory and knowledge acquisition, including cultural construction, and is primarily sensorial. Finally, symbolic space is experienced through interpretive dimensions of language, symbolic representations, and mathematics. While Harvey argues that all three categories are related, for the purposes of this chapter the latter two are key. U2’s artistic endeavors have always been a confluence of innovative soundscapes and performative live shows. As the sound and evocative nuances of a song evolve, not only with time, but with context, stage, and audience in particular locations, the spatial possibilities in these venues and songs alter with the evolving spirituality evinced in new settings. This can be illustrated by comparing the performance of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” in America on the Rattle and Hum film (1988), which is full of anger and frustration, with the prayerful and soft lament of the same song on the U2: PopMart Live from Mexico City (1997) concert. This is an example of how perceptual space can be utilized to conceptualize U2’s evolving work. Likewise, symbolic space can be seen in the changing symbols and metaphors used in Bono’s lyrics and how identical lyrics can have multiple referents as these interact with audience, context, time, and place, to inaugurate new spatial possibilities as a social practice. It is through this experiential, social praxis that physical place is transformed into unique space. Indeed, Harvey argues that “social space is not isomorphic with physical space” (29). This relational space can be understood as being within objects insofar as all physical bodies are constituted and interactive with other physical bodies. In this sense, Harvey describes relational space as “ontological” (8), intended to signify the nature of a thing in its being and in its becoming.

Understanding Sacred Space The ontological space noted by Harvey is what historian and philosopher Mircea Eliade refers to in terms of the sacred. He states that “the manifestation of the sacred ontologically founds the world” (1959, 21). Eliade emphasizes the role of experience in understanding the dichotomy of space as sacred and profane (22). He argues that while all places may become sacred, only some actually do so due to the irruption of the sacred in a hierophany, or in the ancient Hebrew texts, a theophany (24–29). Eliade’s core insight that specific places are made sacred spaces through the hierophanic experience of a person or community can provide some theoretical groundwork for Bono’s phrase that the band’s music becomes special when “God walks through the room.”


U2 and the Religious Impulse

To help us make sense of this from the perspective of the Christian tradition specifically, the faith that inspires and undergirds U2, we turn to the work of a famous twentieth-century Swiss Catholic theologian. Hans Urs von Balthasar’s theology is vast in its scope and exhibits the complexities and difficulties of midtwentieth-century Germanic academic systems that engage extensive historical, philosophical, and theological materials to illustrate the expansive scope of a central thesis. His academic work is best seen in his sixteen-volume trilogy, specifically the volumes on theological aesthetics. For the purposes of this chapter, we will utilize primarily Von Balthasar’s insights in The Glory of the Lord to provide an understanding of U2’s work from the perspective of sacred space. The central claim of Von Balthasar’s aesthetics is what Louis Dupré calls “a simple idea.” That is, when Christians speak of the incarnation (God becoming human in the person of Jesus of Nazareth), this “transformed the very meaning of culture” (Dupré 1988, 300). This central idea is seen by Von Balthasar to run counter to the broader trend he sees at work in modern thought which, beginning with Descartes and through the Enlightenment, in both its Idealist and empirical manifestations, is a division between subjective knowledge in a rational self and the revelatory content of the world as it is taken up in the transcendent and exhibits the form of the Divine. This brings together the created, worldly order with the creator in ways that are transformatively beautiful alongside the other ideals of unity, goodness, and truth found in antiquity. Von Balthasar argues that “all finite things are only truly known and received when they are accepted as the gift of the infinite Giver, who wants to give Himself to them; yet only the person who is serenely surrendered is capable of that” (1991, 36). This infinite giving is manifested to finitude in love: “The mystery is the mystery of absolute love, the Love that created the world out of love in order to shine resplendent in it” (1991, 34). The embodiment of the Divine in the incarnation transforms all of creation into the image and form of God. George Steiner, in Real Presences, similarly argues that the artistic creator is in fact linking human place with spiritual space: “it is the enterprise and privilege of the aesthetic to quicken into lit presence the continuum between temporality and eternity, between matter and spirit, between man and ‘the other’” (1989, 227). In Von Balthasar’s reading, this brings together what has been separated since the late medieval era into the modern one. It brings together, in a concrete, even corporeal, way the physical locations of the world and transforms them into spaces where creatures participate with the creator. As such, this view offers a critique of Eliade. It is not simply that human experience creates and defines the nature of hierophany. Rather, human experience is defined by encounter with the world as it is and as it is transformed by the form of beauty. This beauty, in its technical, aesthetic articulation is an ongoing, creative process. As Aidan Nichols writes, “Beauty, like truth, goodness and unity, has an unfinished character to it” (2007, 58). For Von Balthasar, to understand beauty is to participate in it. This is the ontological grounding of the sacred in transforming particular places into revelatory spaces. How does this occur? Once again, the incarnation becomes the

Spatial Sacredness in U2


hermeneutical key to understanding this transformative trajectory. The incarnation indicates a descent of the infinite to the finite, rather than an ascent in the reverse direction. The classical Christian text is found in a letter of St. Paul to the ancient church in Philippi. Writing of Jesus, Paul quotes an early Christian hymn, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself ” (Philippians 2:6-7). This downward movement of self-emptying to participate in the muck and messiness of the world is expressed in the language of kenosis. Kenosis is technically defined as “self-emptying” and it is most often used in this Christological context describing the self-emptying by Christ of his Divine authority and power in becoming human. The idea of transforming places into sacred spaces involves a type of solidarity that does not allow for a stance that is removed from the world. It involves becoming intimately involved with the complex and diverse experiences of people where they live because Christ has already done so. It cannot be an ivory tower way of life. Throughout the existence of U2, the band has had a unique place among the top echelon of musical artists, explicitly pulling the listener into stories of authentic struggles, reflected in personal stories and in the political milieu of the time, and yet also attempting to be explicitly spiritually transformative in the process in a manner that reflects the kenotic described above. In the next two sections, we explore the spatial dynamics of this sacredness by focusing on the meaning of notable specific landscapes in U2’s development and music.

U2’s Lived Spaces The earliest sense of individual self is generated by the place in which you live, and the people occupying the space around you. In the 1970s, Ireland was experiencing the fruit of conflict that had arisen from its long history of struggle for emancipation, struggle against hunger, and its own internal economic, social, and religious struggles (Bew 2007). The country had just passed its nadir in terms of population decline (just under 3 million in 1961, down from a peak of over 8 million about a century earlier) but a strong influx of migrants in the 1970s (465,000 of mostly returning Irish-born citizens) exacerbated unemployment (Redmond 2000). In addition, the oil crises of the 1970s hit Ireland particularly hard, as did labor strikes and government mismanagement of the economy, and as inflation peaked at 21 percent in 1975 (the US rate that year was 9 percent, in comparison). Urban violence increased, with homicides hitting an all-time high in 1973 (2000). Thus, U2’s early sense of place emerged during a time fraught with difficult socioeconomic realities, and combined with increasing sectarian violence (“the Troubles”) between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland that bled into the politics of Ireland itself as well. It was out of this turbulence that the fictional “Lypton Village” became a new, dynamic, and creative space for the young lads. In the harsh reality of Dublin, this first artistic space was formed by a young Paul Hewson and his friends who also adopted alter egos such as the Edge, Guggi, Gavin Friday, and, of course, Bono.


U2 and the Religious Impulse

Lypton Village became a place of belonging, “a psychological retreat that allowed the young men to emotionally escape the intimidation of North Dublin” (Hess 2015, 63). This escape becomes a shelter from the harsh realities, both personal and political, for the young band members and a creative space to explore ideas, sounds, and ways of being. In the creation of a space that was removed from the onslaught of a world of economic hardship and personal tragedy (Bono’s mother passed away when he was fourteen years old) something new was allowed to take hold and be nurtured. Interestingly, this fictional village became the perceptual space by which the members who would form U2 could return to the streets of Dublin and give voice to the dynamisms of youth and change on the first album, Boy. Speaking of the sentiment that underlay their first album, Bono has commented that “[myself] and Guggi had made a pledge as kids that we would never grow up. We didn’t want to be like adults […] we meant it, and in a certain way we pulled it off, both of us […] our first album was perhaps trying to lay claim to the power of naïveté” (Bono et al. 2006, 21). In Boy’s closing song “Shadows and Tall Trees”—a title taken from William Golding’s Lord of the Flies—Bono reflects on how the physical place is shaping his sense of lived space: “Back to the cold, restless streets at night/I talk to myself about tomorrow night.” This evinces the feeling of youth struggling in an environment that is cold, difficult, and isolated. The spatial metaphors expand further to include the tedium experienced by neighbors and, in particular, the experience of women in this location: “Life through a window, a discolored pain/Mrs. Brown’s washing is always the same.” The shadows and tall trees of the title reference the early location on Cedarwood Road (Stokes 2009, 21) and are exemplary of the lived spaces that characterize the early music and message of the band. While Lypton Village and the streets of Dublin were mirror images of safety and creativity on the one hand with challenge and hardship on the other, this duality becomes expressed in a new sense of place as members of the band take part in the faith-based Shalom community. The small, charismatic Christian community becomes a place of both security and division for the group. For three of U2’s members (Bono, the Edge, and Larry Mullen Jr.) the charismatic community began as a place of spiritual solace, growth, and Christian commitment. For Adam, who did not partake in the life of the community, it signaled exclusion and separation from his band mates and compatriots. Moreover, as the involvement in Shalom continued an internal division occurred first with the Edge and then with Bono. They were unsure whether they could maintain Christian commitment while engaging such worldly pursuits such as being in a rock band. The Shalom community divided their lives into binary categories that were mutually exclusive and the members eventually saw these as false dichotomies. Larry says of the experience: The idea was to create a Christian community, where people would live and work under strict Christian standards. When you’re young and impressionable it all sounds ideal. But there was something terribly wrong with the concept … It was a really screwed-up view of the world and nothing to do with what I now

Spatial Sacredness in U2


understand a Christian faith to be. There was huge pressure to follow that path and what made it even stranger was that rather than it coming from the church leaders, it was coming from our friends. (Bono et al. 2006, 117)

The Edge’s own realization was commensurate with Larry Mullen’s. “I felt very clearly that this band had something unique and special, and it was completely bogus to suggest that you couldn’t have a legitimate spiritual life and be in the rock ‘n’ roll business” (2006). The false dichotomy created by the Shalom community reoriented the band’s sense of space, in particular how they would navigate their place in religious communities and in the wider world. In bringing both these places together (world and church) at this early stage, the band learned to navigate the spatial references of their lives and how these impact their social and spiritual maturation. This is analogous to what Hans Urs von Balthasar calls “Christian attunement.” Using a spatial metaphor, he describes the “two directions” from which Christian experience comes (1982, 235). First, Christian attunement entails being “grasped in relation to a totality of life which integrates within itself all the individual acts of faith, love, and also of feeling, and such integration allows the truthfulness of what is believed to emerge and come to prevail” (1982). The totality of life is an all-encompassing phrase that delineates the broad scope of our life’s experiences that reflect the spatial, temporal, and relational spaces in which we are located. This is expressed in openness to the world as a space of hospitality to the myriad experiences one has. It grows up from one’s life and nurtures a sensitivity to life’s dimensional realities of experience and relationships. Second, for Von Balthasar, Christian attunement is derived from experience “in terms of the power peculiar to what is believed which impresses itself upon the believer […] the first element of integrating totality cannot be made comprehensible without the second, namely the power of the object of faith” (1982). Here Von Balthasar argues that the totality of experiences requires an object which provides an anchor for one’s understanding of themselves and the world in light of God. Divinity here is not bifurcated from the world as the Shalom community was from the streets of Dublin. Rather, divinity as something separate from the world, as creator is to creature, yet nonetheless is experienced in immanence to the world and attunes the creature to the creative and eschatological dimensions that are opened to and within the world. The two sides of experience in Christian attunement have an aesthetic component. These two dimensions, what Von Balthasar calls “the ontic and the experiential” (240), coalesce to shape persons in their dramatic engagement with the world and with God. Ben Quash has argued that the dramatic component is manifest when the Divine “reaches out and claims the self-involved (lyric) person” (2004, 156). This claiming of the person opens the “possibility that the Trinitarian life establishes […] the possibility of living in the ‘space’ that is made for oneself by others” (2004, 152). The space of life that is open to and opened by God in the inhabited places of one’s life becomes an elevation of the human to the transcendental. Oliver Davies has argued that such an “orientation to the


U2 and the Religious Impulse

transcendental […] is an innate property of our own powers” in dialogue with the wholly other (2004, 137). This is what Von Balthasar calls “the ascendency of grace” within us (1982, 157). The ascendency of grace within a person is an encounter with the beautiful. He states that “[b]efore the beautiful […] the whole person quivers. He not only ‘finds’ the beautiful moving; rather, he experiences himself as being moved and possessed by it” (1982, 240). The sense of the unique, experiential places in the world being revelatory and the sense of ascendency captured in the aesthetic are notably seen in U2’s development on the first two albums produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. The Unforgettable Fire and The Joshua Tree mark a substantial change in U2 that is reflected in their relationship to lived spaces. After the relative success of War and the subsequent tour, the band’s members were experiencing the tensions balancing between public and private life, including buying their first homes and experiencing parenthood for the first time (Bono et al. 2006, 147). The choice to record Unforgettable Fire at Slane Castle, an historic and vast venue, seems fittingly symbolic of the tensions of being both a public monument and a private home (Charles 1989). Additionally, this period marked a turn in U2’s music as they began to embrace the romanticism and realism of America through a new expansive and atmospheric sound that, among other things, specifically references the American civil rights icon Martin Luther King, Jr. (who is the focus of two separate songs). The impact of expansive landscapes on the musical effect of the band becomes even more pronounced on The Joshua Tree. Rather than expressing the manifestation of the transcendent in the concrete struggles of notable figures, it more often becomes an expression of isolation and barrenness (Malpas 2006). On this album, the vastness first explored on The Unforgettable Fire matures and reflects the desolation in much of the lyrical content. The band described their intention with The Joshua Tree to create an album “where every song would conjure up a physical location” (Bono et al. 2006, 177). The opening synthesizer chords and iconic guitar notes as the first track begins evoke the vast desert landscape, the most pressing sense of place and space. In the desert, life is a desperate struggle yet it is there, Bono later reflected, that “we meet God. In parched times, in fire and flood, we discover who we are” (Wenner 2005). The listener is called upon to envisage the broad horizons and open sky of the desert, the perils and yet the promise of the desert experience. In this album, U2 also embraced fully the impact of America on their band’s development and worldview. From the cover photo itself (a Joshua tree, emblematic of the southwest desert landscape) to songs like “Bullet the Blue Sky” and “In God’s Country” that reference both the dark side of American policies and yet also the promise of freedom that America represents, the influence of that country— that unique and powerful place—on the band has now germinated beyond the seeds planted in Unforgettable Fire. After a brief trip by Bono in 1985 to Central America, he was moved to explicitly critique American foreign policy (specifically the US military intervention in El Salvador in the 1980s) in “Bullet” like “driving nails into the souls on the tree of pain” (the allusion of helicopters attacking with missiles), which has resonance with the emptying sacrifice of Christ being nailed

Spatial Sacredness in U2


to the cross (Vagacs 2005, 34). Yet the band was still enamored by the promise of America as a lived space at that time. In referring to the thirtieth anniversary release of The Joshua Tree, Adam Clayton said that the songs on album “take us through a version of America that certainly seemed true and possible at that time” (Greene 2017). For example, “In God’s Country” describes America as a place of “liberty” and “she comes to rescue me.” Indeed, the tension toward America in The Joshua Tree is also evident when we consider that one of the original working titles for the album was “The Two Americas” (Malpas 2006, 44). The songs on the album also reflect a growing awareness of the suffering of others in seemingly forgotten places at the hands of powerful political and economic forces. From the poverty and struggle witnessed by Bono and his wife Ali when they visited famine-ravaged Ethiopia in 1985, the opening song “Where the Streets Have No Name” reflects Bono’s attempt to capture what he saw and felt there, writing down thoughts “on Air India sick bags and scraps of paper, sitting in a little tent in a town called Ajibar in northern Ethiopia” surrounded by the desert (Wenner 2005). Even when the listener is transported out of the desert on other songs, the desolation of each new location impresses desperate needs. For example, in “Mothers of the Disappeared,” the band states allegiance to the suffering to the people of Argentina, specifically to a group (“Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo”) who daily protested the regime’s kidnapping, torture, and killing of thousands of men (their sons and husbands) from 1976 to 1983. In the 1990s, U2 leave aside the broad landscapes but not the inhabitation of challenging spaces. What occurs is something new and profound. The band divests itself of its 1980s earnestness into an exploration of irony, away from the desert experience and into the chaos of the urban city. The self-reflection in Achtung Baby in particular lay witness to the self-emptying of the band in light of internal divisions, personal losses, and internal self-doubt and conflict (Flanagan 1996). Choosing to record Achtung in the city that symbolized the Cold War, less than a year after fall of the Berlin Wall, and arriving the very same day as the formal unification of Germany, U2 was looking for the same inspirational spark they received from the American desert that so profoundly shaped The Joshua Tree (Brennan 2016). The band “set out to capture the spirit of a newly free […] Berlin but eventually settled on telling a scattered, haphazard, and altogether more interesting story” (2016). On Achtung Baby, Bono is at his most vulnerable lyrically. He is emptied of power and authority and enters into the muck of world. This emptying and exploration of solidarity rather than rallying typifies their 1990s work. It is the full acknowledgment that the conflict, compromise, violence, and depravity found in the world are always simultaneously reflected in our own humanity. This journey in solidarity requires a self-emptying of power and authority to enter into the difficult spaces of a broken world. The above examples are just some of the notable ways that U2 has entered and been transformed by lived spaces during its career. In each instance the band enters into these spaces, physically and spiritually. The spaces they inhabit are generative in the development of their sound and their themes. Not content to stand at a distance, U2 inhabits the spaces they explore and mutual transformation


U2 and the Religious Impulse

takes place, one that speaks of sacredness in the midst of crisis and difficult circumstances. We now turn to words and messages within U2’s songs.

U2’s Lyrical Spaces Geographical, physical locations are not the only embodiment in which notions of spatial and spiritual connectedness are manifest. For U2, this dynamic is also found in the lyrical worlds created in the songs in which both the band and listener are invited to inhabit. This happens when spatial metaphors are used in lyrical content, but even more powerfully, it occurs when the singer creates habitable spaces and invites the listener to journey with him or to remain still in solidarity. The Christian idea of kenosis is commensurate with the understanding of the world as revelatory space explored above. Von Balthasar understands the kenosis of Christ to be a dramatic movement from glory to isolation as God becomes human and moves toward the cross. It is not a surrender of Divine attributes so much as the apex of divinity being revealed in this human person and in the suffering of crucifixion as the second person of the Triune God lives in solidarity with creation. This section will explore two kenotic aspects of space found in U2’s lyrics: the tension between natural and urban spaces in their early work and the tensions between the suffering and redemption experienced in the world as reflected in later U2 music. Writing of Von Balthasar’s dramatic form of kenosis, Graham Ward states, “[the] kenotic economy is an economy of life through death, eternal resurrection through eternal crucifixion, and eternal giving of thanks through an eternal brokenness” (1999, 53). This reorients humans as participants in the Divine action of love in unifying with and, in doing so, redeeming the world. For Von Balthasar, the incarnation is a twofold movement of becoming human and moving toward the cross and these two cannot be separated. Speaking of Jesus of Nazareth, he argues, “[as] a man, not only does he tend to the same condition […] as other human beings. He goes further, in obedience, by stopping lower still, down to the death of the Cross” (1990, 24). This Divine movement toward creation also entails a reception of divinity on the part of creation. The activity of creator and created are not equivalent in their role, but the acceptance of transcendence in the coming of the son in the Trinity is an act that manifests community in freedom (1990, 99).1 This formation of community entails both an interior and an exterior aspect. The interior is dispositional in nature and speaks to the manner in which a person opens one’s life, moral posture, and one’s relational capacities to others and to the world. The exterior is indicative of the working out of one’s interiority in action through one’s public actions. Von Balthasar puts the matter in the following way: “The opening of the heart is the gift of what is most interior and personal for public use: The open, emptied out space is accessible to all […] It is at once and the same time space, altar, sacrifice, meal, community and the spirit of them all” (1990, 131). The interior and exterior aspects seen in human relations receive their primal form from the original kenotic movement of God toward the suffering of the cross.

Spatial Sacredness in U2


The dramatic nature of this relationship is highlighted clearly for Von Balthasar: “This primal kenosis makes possible all other kenotic movements of God into the world; they are simply its consequences” (1994, 331). The notion of a primal kenosis (Ur-Kenose) maintains the ontological distinction between divinity and creation, but notes the dramatic interplay between the two. This distinction is what Ward calls the hiatus. According to Ward, “[h]iatus fosters desire by opening the space for creativity, the stage for action, the yearning for unity […] There cannot be true kenosis without hiatus, without true difference” (1999, 44). The distinction found in the hiatus wherein kenotic action takes place transforms the world as a fixed place which is either sacred or profane into a creative space wherein redemption occurs. This space sacralizes the world, not by elevating oneself above it, but rather by entering into it and suffering with it. In doing so suffering is transformed and redeemed even in the midst of the tragedy of the cross, the isolation and unknowing found in the abandonment of Holy Saturday, and found anew in resurrection. This entering into death “was above all a saving event: the deployment of the effects of the Cross in the abyss of deadly perdition” (Von Balthasar 1990, 177). The tension between urban places and sacred spaces expressed in metaphors of the natural world in U2’s early work receives some clarification when understood under the rubric of the hiatus. In the album Boy, the constructed, urban places all seem suffocating and closing in on themselves. “Useless is the castle wall/Useless is the metal wall/He’s gonna jump.” The spaces constructed by human hubris and the institutions that express that pride are not life-giving. These constructed spaces are isolating for young people in a city fraught with religious tensions and economic hardship. These places were made by adults but are symbols of loneliness for the youths expressed in the songs. “I was on the outside/ when you said you needed me […] I was on the inside when they pulled the four walls down.” The young voices expressed in the songs long for “another time, another place” where they might encounter transcendence and freedom. These come to be expressed in the sacredness found in unconstructed, natural places. “The ocean, the ocean/ washes my feet.” The new life expressed in the expansive openness of the ocean brings to mind the kenotic journey of solidarity with cross and resurrection in baptism. It is the longing of freedom that comes from escaping enclosure, after being hemmed in with consumerism and being told by others how to develop their interiority. Bono quips, “I thought of ‘Stories for Boys’ as just simple escapism” (Stokes 2009, 14). The drama of kenosis is perhaps felt most keenly years later in the band’s 1990s work. The dialectic of suffering and redemption in our spaces becomes evident in the kenotic journey listeners are invited to take and the spaces in which they are invited to inhabit the sacred. There is a reversal of expectation and experience that occurs with the indwelling of the sacred. In “Acrobat,” “[d]on’t believe what you hear/don’t believe what you see” cautions the singer who is suspicious of finding divinity in religious monuments cordoned off from the world. The metaphor of building walls is revisited, and once more the walls that are built separate people from each other and from the world. This includes those enclosures built as places for worship or the imaginative walls emblematic of movements and communities


U2 and the Religious Impulse

like Lypton Village: “And I’d join the movement/If there was one I could believe in/Yeah I’d break bread and wine/If there was a church I could receive in.” Such places that once might have offered solace now become oppressive. The solution to the difficulties of seeking sacred space is found in the kenotic movement of self-emptying of one’s power and pretense through entrance into the world in solidarity with it. Achtung Baby opens with the singer leaving secluded places and going out into the challenges and complications of the world in all of its complexity. “Zoo Station” is a move away from protective enclaves and a divestment of the authority and protection such enclaves offer. “I’m ready, ready for the laughing gas/I’m ready, I’m ready for what’s next.” There is a recognition that it is only in the bustle of solidarity with others that meaning and transcendence might be made manifest. “I’m ready, ready for the gridlock/I’m ready to take it to the street.” There is a relinquishing of control that comes with kenosis. Just was Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane asked his father, “if it is possible take this cup from me, yet not my will,” Bono imbibes the same spirit: “Ready to let go of the steering wheel/I’m ready, ready for the crush.” The imagery is visceral. As buildings, walls, and vehicles divide one individual’s space from another, or divide the sacred from the profane, the kenotic movement recognizes the crippling effects of such places. They evoke a claustrophobia that cannot be healed by attempts to retain spiritual security in familiar environs. Rather, a complete divestiture of security is necessary to move out into open spaces. The most poignant moments in U2’s lyrics that exemplify the kenotic hiatus expressed in Von Balthasar’s thought occurs in the absence between the end of their 1990s work and the start of the new millennium. Throughout Pop (1997), which is an often overlooked album of spiritual desperation, Bono’s lyrics explore the mundane spaces as sacred. He is looking for theophany in urban places and encounters solidarity with those who suffer. Divine images are found in low places, as in “If God Will Send His Angels”: “See Father Christmas with a begging bowl.” Despite struggling to find God and the child Jesus in that same song—“It’s been a while since we saw that child/Hanging ‘round this neighborhood”—the intuition remains that it is among the lowly and suffering that he will be found. Once more, the urban imagery of crashing buildings and walls exhibits a golden thread in U2’s work that places of division are violent and eventually crumble under the weight of their own profanity. Bono sings, “September, streets capsizing/Spilling over, down the drain/Shards of glass, splinters like rain.” Eventually the singer, now in the midst of the world, having entered the drama of kenosis cries out to Jesus in a place of isolation, “I’m alone in this world/And a fucked up world it is too.” However, he does not try to hide from the world, but listens to it anew: “Listen to the words […] Listen over the rhythm that’s confusing you.” There is a sense of expectation created where moving into the world recognizes it as sacred space where Jesus might be “just around the corner.” The admixture of loss, isolation, and expectation mirrors the kenosis of Good Friday and Resurrection in the isolation and loss experienced by the disciples on Holy Saturday between cross and resurrection.

Spatial Sacredness in U2


If the songs on Pop express the downward kenotic journey to the cross, the opening line of the next album All That You Can’t Leave Behind evokes the new life of the removed stone before the grave: “The heart is a bloom/Shoots up from the stony ground.” As in many of the songs on Boy, in “Beautiful Day” images of nature are employed to denote sacred space. We are encouraged to contemplate “the world in green and blue” and the “canyons broken by clouds.” In this redemptive imagery even human culture, politics, and industry can be redeemed in the new world after the deluge. The imagery from the biblical myth of Noah’s ark is key: “See the bird with the leaf in her mouth/After the flood all the colors came out.” It is in entering into the conflicts and complexities of the world, in giving up on pretense and religious seclusion, that the world becomes the theater of redemption and revealed as sacred space.

U2: Transforming Ourselves, Transforming the World The relationship between space and the sacred in U2’s music is multifold and complex. The band itself is open and explicit about expecting “God to enter the room” when it records its albums and U2 concerts are, to many of its fans, often considered to be “like going to church.” But there are other elements of spatial sacredness that speak to the deeper foundations of the band, rooted in both the influence of specific notable places in U2’s development and in the way that words of the songs reflect the power of speaking truth and the hope for transformation. The “lived spaces’ of U2 include the desperate Dublin streets, the barren American desert and the chaotic urbanity of a newly free Berlin, all of which impacted the U2 band members” lives and the help create the soundscapes of their music. The “lyrical spaces” found in U2’s songs are the creative worlds in which stories are told of places of struggle and doubt but also new spaces created of solidarity and hope. Woven into all of these spaces in U2’s development is an encounter with the Divine. Through the kenotic process of self-emptying, and the transformative engagements that take place where God meets us in our depths and reorients us, we are moved from lowly places into new sacred spaces full of hope and beauty. Throughout the almost four decades that U2 has existed, it has been much more than a typical rock and roll band gaming for attention and popularity. The members of U2 have been so changed by their connections to specific places, and so open in their music as to how and why these changes occurred, that we have been privileged to see a rare (in modern art) depth of an authentic and inspired faith being worked out in their lives. And for listeners and audiences of U2, some of us never cease to be amazed by how intimate, how transformatively, the band transmits their stories of the sacred spaces they describe in their songs. God’s country is indeed full of “sad eyes, crooked crosses” but it is also where we are “burned by the fire of love” and made new again.


Chapter 10 “YOU D O N ’ T SE E M E BU T YO U W I L L” : J EW I SH T HOU G H T A N D U 2

Naomi Dinnen

When Leonard Cohen wrote, “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” (“Anthem,” The Future, 1992), he was invoking the Jewish prophets who wrote that God intended the Jews to be “a light unto all nations” (Isaiah), even though those who practiced Judaism were then—and currently are—a minority. U2 has acknowledged Cohen as a source of inspiration, and he is by no means the only Jew to have influenced U2. The band regularly uses the Old Testament—or Hebrew Bible, which Jews call Tanach—as a source of their lyrical and musical inspiration. Biblical verses and inferences are scattered throughout U2’s extensive catalog, from their first album Boy (1980) to Songs of Innocence (2014). Three of the band members (Bono, the Edge, and Larry Mullen) have often publicly acknowledged their faith in and commitment to the Christian values of forgiveness, equality, and social justice, and these are concepts that have their basis in Judaic thought and tradition. Considering U2 from a Jewish viewpoint allows the symbols and motifs used by U2 to be broadly understood in more inclusive terms and reveals its music to be layered with not only Christian but also Jewish religious symbolism. Christianity and Judaism are two of the world’s most followed monotheistic religions, which share common roots and have the same values. One of the most notable differences between the two religions is the way that Christians and Jews understand God and the Tanach. The manifestation of this difference is expressed in practice, worship, and essential theological perspectives and worldviews. For example, Orthodox Jews believe that Five Books of Moses (the Torah) were given directly by God to Moses, while Christians understand that the words are inspired by God; Jews believe the Messiah has not yet arrived and that the Messianic age predicted by the prophets is still to come; Christians believe Jesus was the Messiah and the son of God, and that there will be a Second Coming. Belief in the coming of the Messiah is central to Jewish thought, and every day in the prescribed formal prayers Jews pray to God to hasten the Messianic age. “Resurrection” in Jewish thought refers to the “resurrection of the dead” which will occur after the Great Day of Judgment, and does not include the central Christian eschatological view that the Messiah will be resurrected.


U2 and the Religious Impulse

In this chapter I will analyze a selection of U2’s work from a Jewish perspective, referencing the commentary on Psalms by the Jewish sages, as well as teachings by: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom); the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902–1994), the seventh leader of the influential Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty; the revered Jewish philosopher Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon aka Maimonides (1135–1204); and others. I have used the Artscroll edition of Tehilim (Psalms), Stone Edition of the Chumash, and the Tanach online with Rashi’s commentary from Chabad.org as the primary biblical source texts. The translations in these editions are directly from Hebrew to English, rather than from Greek or Latin and then to English as many common Christian translations are. The point of this exercise is not to ignore or diminish the Christian messages in U2’s work but to examine and extend such interpretations by adding another perspective. The influence of biblical writing, and particularly the Psalms, on U2’s music has been documented by various writers, including Vagacs (2005, 9) who specifically links U2’s involvement in social justice by referencing the authors of the Christian scriptures such as Paul. U2 also uses messianic indicators which have their genesis firmly in the Judaic concept of messiah and the world to come, for example in the line “I believe in the kingdom come” in “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (The Joshua Tree, 1987) and the title of the song “Until the End of the World” (Achtung Baby, 1991). Many of the biblical themes in U2’s body of work cannot be fully interpreted by simply matching words and phrases in their lyrics to Bible verses in the “biblical narrative” as is described by Stephen Harmon (2009). According to Jewish tradition there are four ways to read the Bible: “Pshat” (literal), “Remez” (different hints and allusions, e.g. the numerical value of letters, words, and phrases), “Drash” (compare and contrast different passages), “Sod” (hidden meaning). Within these four ways there are literally millions of ways each passage, line, and word can be interpreted, and accordingly every biblical reference in U2’s body of work can be interpreted in these different ways. Rabbi Sacks, in his 2001 Faith Lecture “Revelation—Torah from Heaven,” says that Tanach and the Christian “Old Testament” are completely different books, even though they have the same words. Jewish thought and tradition are based on learning, and the Jewish view of the Psalms is that they express a conversation with God, challenging and arguing. In Jewish tradition, argument is not merely a way of expressing anger but is a means of questioning and seeking to understand. One of U2’s most recognizable references to the Psalms is “40,” the closing track on 1982 album War. The songs start with the line “I waited patiently for the Lord/ He inclined and heard my cry/He brought me up out of the pit/Out of the miry clay,” which is taken directly from Psalm 40. In U2 by U2 Bono recounts that the song was a last minute addition to the album, and the words of the psalm were literally chosen because under pressure they “opened up the bible and found Psalm 40” (U2 and Neil McCormick, 2006, 68). According to Jewish thought nothing in this world happens without meaning or without the hand of the Almighty. The use of Psalm 40 has been widely cited as the proof that U2 is a Christian band, but it also indicates that the lyricist Bono—like King David who wrote and compiled

Jewish Thought and U2


the Psalms—believes in the intrinsic Godliness present in all of humanity. One of Judaism’s best-known scholars is Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1040–105), who wrote an extensive commentary on “pshat” (the literal reading of the Bible), uncovering the plain, contextual meaning of the text. It was said by Rashi that Judaism encompasses three inseparable forms of love: Love of God, love of the Torah, and love of the Jewish people and all of humanity. Taken literally, Psalm 40 is an example of David’s commitment to Judaism, and it is fitting that it has found a new life as a modern anthem by a band that is similarly committed to faith and God. While “40” might be the only U2 song that takes recognizable lines directly from an individual Psalm, the band’s early lyrics are peppered with ideas and beliefs that are from the Psalms. On tour Bono has a fondness for using quotes from Psalms, and U2gigs.com. Andres Axver and Matthias Muehlbradt (2016) have documented his use of Psalms 116, 23 and 51 during live performances. During the 2015/6 Innocence + Experience Tour the performance of “Until the End of the World” climaxed with pages from the Bible and other books being released from above, showering down on the audience. This “confetti” included loose pages containing Psalms from The Message by Eugene Petersen, a modern Christian interpretation of Psalms, which Bono has described as hugely influential on him personally. The audience were invited by the band to look up, to try to catch the words as they fell. The gesture was laden with symbolism: it conjured up propaganda leafleting commonly used in modern-day warfare to communicate with civilians and forces under attack; it evoked the destruction of books in the authoritarian regimes of Pol Pot, Stalin, and Mao; it signaled the apocalyptic end of days. Most of all this gesture conveyed the message that U2 wanted their audience to take notice of written words. Although the pages used for the confetti were from books by renowned Christians such as C. S. Lewis and Peterson, they also contained words originally written by Jewish leaders. The use of the pages of different Psalms and other literature inspired by the messages of Psalms physically but subtly links the title “Until the End of the World” to Psalm 19: “Their music carries throughout the earth, their words to the end of the world.” In a conversation with Eugene Peterson about his translation of the Psalms in The Message Bono discusses the need for the “lyric poetry of the Psalms,” proposing that the only honest way to approach God is through metaphor and symbolism (Fuller Seminary and Forth Line Films, 2016). Judaism teaches that God has no physical form and that He defies description, so it is only through metaphor that we approach him directly, with the Psalms forming the basis for considerable Jewish collective and individual prayer. According to commentary in the Artscroll edition of Tehilim, King David holds a special place within Judaism, not just as King but also as a leader who transcended the “narrow limitations” of a personal point of view. He is said to have understood the full range of human emotions and viewed life from a “universal vantage point” and this is what inspired his writing. It is said that his “universal soul blended and merged with the spirits of all men—past, present and future” (Artscroll Tehilim, xliv), and that he wrote Psalms for all people, to elevate the


U2 and the Religious Impulse

spirits of those who read them. The joyousness of David’s commitment to God and all people is expressed through singing and music, his success attributed to his skills as music maker (Cunio 2008, 6). He is referred to as “the sweet singer of Israel” (Samuel II, 23.1). U2’s mission as music makers is the same as David’s as is their method: their lyrics and song inspire, bring people together as one, and lift them up even when they are melancholy, as David did for King Saul when he was said to be depressed. By referring to Psalms throughout their body of work— as both musicians and social justice activists—it is apparent that the things that motivated and inspired the Psalmist King David have inspired U2: love of God, love of humanity, and a desire to bring healing to the world through faith, music, and song. From U2’s more recent catalog both the lyrics and the title of “Song for Someone” from the album Songs of Innocence (2014) can be perplexing unless viewed through this paradigm of love for all of humanity. Songs of Innocence tells stories of the band’s evolution and the band member’s individual and collective growth. When introducing “Song for Someone” during the 2015/6 Innocence + Experience Tour, Bono spoke of the song being written for his wife, marking it as a song about love between two people. However, the virtual reality video made for “Song for Someone” presents it as a story of love for humanity, featuring diverse people and of many different nations singing it, in their own voices, and in their own homes including in Israel, the biblical land. This again speaks to the duality of meaning in U2 songs, a duality that is often not realized by the casual listener but is played out through the props and media U2 use to illustrate core themes and messages that demonstrate faith and belief in God. Again we see covert references to Psalms in the title “Song for Someone”: the great prayers of the Jewish tradition are variously referred to as the “Song of Songs,” the “Song of the Sea,” and the “Song of the Day.” U2’s “Song for Someone” might not fit the elevated status of being integral to ritual prayer, but its title, along with that of the album Songs of Innocence, is a nod to the spiritual and lyrical connection to ancient texts and traditions and their incorporation into daily life. The Jewish sages teach that expression of faith through music is one of the primary pillars of Jewish expression. Nahmanides (Rabbi Moses ben Naḥman Girondi, Bonastruc ça (de) Porta 1194–1270), was a leading medieval Jewish scholar who wrote, “no other art form is as ethereal and intangible as music” (Artscroll Tehilim, xli). The Lubavitcher Rebbe, one of the most significant Jewish sages of the Common Era, said a song brings together all those who sing and hear it. He taught that when words are spoken we hear them according to our own perspective, but that in song “we are all united in a single pulse and a single melody.” This is why “All the world will sing a new song, in the messianic era coming very soon upon us—a song of the essential oneness expressed throughout our world” (Freeman 2016b). Rabbi Sacks suggests that “music is the language of the soul” (Sacks, n.d.) and notes that when Jews pray they sing, and that different tunes and melodies are used for everyday prayers and for those recited on the high holy days. Music makers and their instruments are described in detail in the Tanach. Of the twelve tribes

Jewish Thought and U2


of Israel each had their own specific purpose in Temple worship, and the Levities alone were nominated as the musicians. This special place given to the musicians ensured that they were revered, cared for by collective financial support, and that their skills in creating and playing music were passed down from generation to generation. While U2’s music might not bear any direct relationship to the music of the time of the Temple where religious Jewish music was first performed, their lyrical inspiration is drawn from the same source as the ancient Jews: that is the Tanach. Through using sacred words and seeking to move the human spirit, U2 similarly uses the combination of music and words to create songs and performance that can affect the mood and soul of the listener.

“I Will Follow”/“Gloria”: Forgiveness The Psalms of King David are not the only source of biblical reference in U2’s work. “I Will Follow” (Boy, 1980) uses images that we can see in the story of Ruth (Book of Ruth), a convert who follows her mother-in-law Naomi back to the country of her birth after the death of Naomi’s husband. Describing “I Will Follow” Bono has said he is singing from the point of view of a mother, noting it is “a song about unconditional love, which is what a mother has for her child. If you walk away, I will follow. No matter what you do, you cannot separate yourself from my love” (U2 and Neil McCormick, 2006). While not genetically related, Naomi and Ruth became inseparable through the bonds of marriage and family and became refugees together. In the Jewish thought the motifs in the Book of Ruth are kindness (known as hessed) and social justice. The message of the story of Ruth’s is one of seeing common humanity across our cultural and religious divides (Sacks, 2005, 110). Again these are regular themes for U2 from “The Refugee” (War, 1983b) to Bono’s pleas to Europeans and Americans alike to embrace refugees during the 2015 Innocence + Experience Tour. Without the story of Ruth (“the stranger”) and the kindness shown to her by Boaz, Ruth’s descendant King David would not have been born, the Psalms would not have been written, and U2 would not have had their Divine inspiration. There are other seemingly Divinely inspired concealed messages in “I Will Follow.” The line “if you walk away” implies there was transgression either on the part of the protagonist or the subject, for which there is a need for forgiveness. Why else do people walk away from each other? Rabbi Sacks writes that the first time “forgiveness” is introduced in Tanach is in the weekly portion known as “Vayigash” (Genesis 44:18–47:27), the story of Joseph, whose brothers literally walk away from him leaving him to perish in a deep pit. This, says Sacks, is also when the concept of “guilt” and of “repentance” emerges through three stages: admission of wrongdoing, confession, and acting differently next time. In “I Will Follow” Bono admits wrongdoing, confesses, and says he will act differently next time. What follows after confession and repentance is forgiveness, because being needed is fundamental to human existence; therefore, if we are all flawed then we all need forgiveness. There is also a connection between the line “I was looking at


U2 and the Religious Impulse

myself/I was blind, I could not see” and the last verse “Your eyes make a circle/I see you when I go in there.” In Judaism the circle is symbolic of the interconnectedness of every individual to God. Life is a circle, as is the wedding ring. Birth and death, prayer, the seasons, and the annual completion of the cycle of Torah reading and the immediate start again—all are circular. In Jewish tradition the bride circles the groom seven times before the wedding ceremony. This act represents the daily binding of tefillin on a man’s arm as he wraps it seven times to pray. So too are a Jewish man and woman bound through marriage and the strength of their love for each other and their love of God.

“One”: Universal love The U2 songs that are most obviously about love, such as “All I Want is You” (Rattle and Hum, 1988), “With or Without You” (The Joshua Tree, 1987), “One” (Achtung Baby, 1991), and “Ordinary Love” (2013) can all be interpreted as being about love between two people and/or universal love. “One” provides an example of how a Jewish perspective can help in seeing U2’s work as deeply spiritual with many layers and meanings. “One” is a song that some listeners interpret it as being of joy and commitment (partnership and “oneness with another”); others see it as a reflection on the imperfection of humanity and a call to action to heal the world. In Hebrew “One” is echad (ָ‫)אחֶד‬. According to the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, echad “represents the fusion of diverse elements into a harmonious whole.” One/echad is plural, is infinite, and symbolizes God (Tauber, 2016). U2’s “One” epitomizes echad: “We are one but we are not the same/we get to carry each other” symbolizes the plurality of one as it relates to humankind. “One” is not about two individual people but all people (“sisters, brothers”). The universal message is essentially born of the Jewish concept that all living beings are one with God. The word echad is central to daily Jewish prayer in the Shema (“Hear o Israel the Lord your God the Lord is one”). The numerical value is of echad is 13, so “One” also represents the thirteen principles of faith formulated by Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon 1135–1204), the great Jewish philosopher and medical doctor of the twelfth century who lived in Morocco and Egypt and composed the wideranging code of Jewish law. Maimonides’s thirteenth principle is the belief in the resurrection of the dead. Bono speaks to all of us in “One” with the line “Have you come here for forgiveness/Have you come to raise the dead?” asking us to consider what our mission is individually and collectively. Are we here to help the world, to heal it and bring forgiveness? According to Judaism we need forgiveness because of the sin that Adam and Eve committed in the Garden of Eden, which caused death to come to the world. Until Adam and Eve sinned there was no evil, and when their sin is forgiven all death will disappear and all the dead will be raised. This is one of the signs of the Messianic age. (The next line in “One” refers to Jesus, and I will not presume to analyze it here except to say that “playing Jesus” can be read as referring to our ability to choose good over evil.) Judaism does not call this the “original sin” as Christians understand it, but teaches that because of Adam

Jewish Thought and U2


and Eve’s actions people were able to choose evil. There is no concept of “eternal damnation” in Judaism—instead Jews are taught actions are evil, not individual people. According to Judaism all the dead will be forgiven and resurrected at the end of time, without exception.

“Beautiful Day”: Tikkun olam/social justice Like all of U2’s work, the song “Beautiful Day” (All That You Can’t Leave Behind 2000) has many layers, both lyrically and musically. Taken at face value it is a song about seeing beauty in the everyday—any day can be a “beautiful day,” but given that we know there is so much pain, and sorrow and evil in the world it raises questions about how we can accept the moral failing of others. How do you see good in the world when you also see bad? “Beautiful Day” references the biblical story of Noah (Genesis): “See the bird with the leaf in her mouth/After the flood all the colors came out.” The story of Noah is one of the most accessible in Tanach as a tale of punishment and reward. Noah was a good man in a time of moral decay, when the earth was “corrupt” and full of “robbery” (Genesis 5). The evil that existed at this time caused God to regret his creation and vow to destroy the world through flood. Before the destruction God gave 120 years’ grace, instructing Noah to use this time to build an ark to save himself and two of every species. The “bird with the leaf in her mouth” is a sign of the positive—the dove heralding the rebirth of the world after the flood removed all evil. “Beautiful Day” can of course be taken as a warning about the damage that humans are doing to the earth and themselves, but it is also a lesson in rejuvenating the world after devastation and destruction. “Beautiful Day” presents a visual impression of what needs in the world needs to be healed. It shows positive in the negative. The first line of verse is positive; second is negative positive. U2 wants us to “see” what humans have done to the earth: “See the canyons broken by cloud, See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out/ See the Bedouin fires at night, See the oil fields at first light.” Rabbi Sacks (2001) proposes that while the dominant view during the enlightenment was that first we see and then we believe, the opposite is true when understanding faith from a traditional Jewish Orthodox view, and that in order to have faith and know God we must believe and then we will see. There is another theme contained in “Beautiful Day”: that while there is beauty in the world, there are also flaws that must be recognized so that the world can be repaired. This repair will come as the descendants of Noah (all humankind), follow God’s commandments and adhere to the Noahide Laws, which are the universal principles of belief in God, the holiness and sanctity of human life, and respect for the environment. Noah was known as a tzadik (righteous man) who faithfully followed God’s instruction in building the Ark. In Jewish folklore he is regarded as flawed. In Yiddish he is known as a “tzaddik im peltz” (“a righteous man in a coat”) because even though he did the right thing he only looked after himself, like a tzaddik im peltz who wore a cloak to keep himself warm, rather than lighting a fire that kept others warm too. According to Rabbi Sacks, the story of Noah is a


U2 and the Religious Impulse

lesson about collective responsibility. Noah built the Ark and saved himself and his family but did not save the rest of humanity, so while Noah is righteous, he is not perfect. Despite this imperfection God still gave Noah a role in repairing the world. Bono, like Noah, acknowledges his own imperfections but this appears to have not deterred him from playing a part in seeking to influence and enlighten humankind, but rather the opposite. The Jewish mystics of the medieval period taught that without the flaws we have no purpose, there is nothing for us to heal, which is why God created an imperfect world. So not only does “Beautiful Day” refer directly to Noah, it is also a message of social justice and healing, a reminder that we are all flawed and that we should constantly strive to do better. The Christian Eschatological paradigm (Vagacs 2005, 62–63) understands that the rainbow referred to by U2 in the line “after the flood all the colors came out” symbolizes the promise God made to Noah that “never again will a flood destroy all life.” Jewish eschatology is concerned with the preparation for the Messianic age (Jewishencyclopedia.com, 2016), so within Jewish tradition the promise is part of the biblical story, but the meaning of the rainbow relates to the rebuilding of existence that happened after the flood and is a marker that the Messiah will one day come. This rebuilding of existence is known as tikkun (healing). Tikkun olam has become one of the central concepts of modern Jewish practice. The phrase is literally translated as “healing the world.” The way Jews think of tikkun olam today is credited with beginning with Rabbi Yitzchak Luria of Safed, also known as the Ari (1534–1572), an early Kabbalist who taught in esoteric terms (Freeman 2016a). His “Lurianic Kabbalah” is viewed as the basis for all the mystical ideas that came after him. The Ari’s idea of tikkun encouraged Jews to see themselves as active players instead of “passive servants.” He taught that we are able to repair the damage humans have done to the world through good deeds known as mitzvot, which include prayer, charity, and kindness. Rabbi Sacks writes that this healing is the responsibility of every Jew, and that individually and collectively the deeds of Jews have impact on the whole. Within Jewish thought here are many ways tikkun olam can be achieved. According to Rabbi Gutnick, Orthodox Judaism’s view is that the healing of the world and the coming of the Messiah will occur when all humanity recognizes humankind’s equality before God and God’s sovereignty over the universe; Jewish mysticism teaches that the world can only be repaired through prayer; reformed Judaism understands tikkun olam as a commitment to social justice for and by all people. U2’s belief that communal commitment to social justice can heal the world is clearly evident through their ongoing public participation in social action through the ONE and (RED) organizations, the Jubilee campaign, and a myriad of other causes and activities that affirm their love of God and humankind.

“Yahweh”: Speaking to God If we understand that U2 is speaking to God, then does it matter whose God? As previously noted, one of the tenets of Judaism is the love of humanity. Similarly, there is no exclusivity in U2’s music or lyrics and their message equally applies

Jewish Thought and U2


to all people, not just Christians. This is explicitly expressed in the band’s use of the word “Yahweh” as the title of the closing track on their 2004 album How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. U2’s “Yahweh” is a transliteration of ‫ י‬- ‫ ה‬- ‫ ו‬- ‫ה‬ (Y-H-V-H), which together are the most sacred four letters in Jewish text. Jewish tradition does not use a direct translation of the word in speech to ensure that by using the name of God a Jew cannot profane or “destroy” the name. In spoken or written text, including prayer, the names most commonly used are “Hashem,” “Adonai,” or “Elohim.” Eugene Peterson in conversation with Scott Calhoun proposed that Orthodox Jews might be offended by the song “Yahweh” “because they normally don’t use the name, out of reverence” (Calhoun, 2006). However, it is because of precisely this point that Orthodox Jews do not take offense, as they do not pronounce the name of God in the way that U2 do. In Judaism the name Y-H-V-H has an explicit meaning and use assigned to it, and “Yahweh” misses its mark as a song of faith and devotion by using one of the names of God in a way that is not “holy.” There are two names for God used in Tanach: Elohim and Y-HV-H, and both have separate meanings. Elohim is used first in Genesis (“In the beginning Elohim created …”) and means “existence giver.” Elohim is said to represent the manifestation of God in time and place, in nature, and is the aspect of God that is also judgment. Y-H-V-H is the God of mercy, the God that forgives and represents what was, is, and always will be. It is God as He transcends creation. The sages tell us that in the beginning God created the world with Elohim, saw that it would not survive, and so included Y-H-V-H. The Rabbis teach that Elohim (“justice”) is the name through which a child is born, so the line “Always pain before the child is born” refers explicitly to God/Elohim’s punishment for the sin committed by Adam and Eve God (“in pain shall you bear children” Genesis 3:16). Y-H-V-H the God of mercy is represented in images of “waiting for the dawn” and the “sun is coming up” which in Jewish thought are metaphors for the Messianic age. U2’s use of the word “Yahweh” (pronounced by U2 as “Yah-way”) is not considered Jewish, but it does provide evidence that the God Bono sings about is the God of Tanach, the God of the Hebrews. There are many signals in the lyrics of “Yahweh” that reflect the messages and themes of Tanach. For example, “Take this city/A city should be shining on a hill/Take this city/If it be your will” is a reference to Jerusalem from Ezekiel’s messianic prophecy that the “city shining on a hill” is where the Third Temple will be rebuilt when the Messiah comes. The world’s three monotheistic religions coexist in Jerusalem, each with its claim to the city, each tolerating the others because it is true, as Bono writes, “what no man can own, no man can take.” The messianic prophecy applies to all humans equally; therefore, it is not possible for any one person or people to “own” Jerusalem. The metaphors in “Yahweh” match the generic concepts of the Hebrew and Christian God as being one who can make us whole, and through whom we can look beyond the physical to a deeper connection to our own souls. “Take this soul/stranded in some skin and bones” represents the human body as frail and imperfect, and yet because of God the soul is able to come down into this imperfect vessel and “make it sing.” It also refers to the fundamental premise of Jewish thought that even though we


U2 and the Religious Impulse

are imperfect and are made of finite “skin and bones,” each of us can contribute to healing the world through our individual and collective good deeds.

“Magnificent”: Glory of God Speaking to God is a constant thread throughout U2’s repertoire. As Steven Harmon notes (2009b, 82) “Gloria” (October 1981) incorporates the opening words of a number of Psalms in Latin: “In te do-mine” which translates as “In you, O Lord” (Psalm 31) followed by “exultate,” which Harmon translates as “Rejoice” referencing Psalm 33. “Loosen my lips” is from Psalm 51: “Lord, You shall open my lips, and my mouth will recite your praise.” Harmon’s version is based on the Latin translation of these opening lines of the three Psalms. There are subtle changes in meaning caused by translating from Hebrew to Greek to Latin and then to English as was the case with the King James Bible and other common Christian versions of the Old Testament. The Jewish Bible Society’s Artscroll Tehilim provides a direct English translation of Psalm 31 as “In you Hashem I took refuge, let me not be shamed, ever. In your righteousness provide me escape” (Psalms 31:2). David is said to have written Psalm 31 when he was fleeing King Saul’s persecution and was alone with only God. The use of the expression in te domine (“in you o lord”), coupled with the line “only in you I’m complete,” shows that “Gloria” is about Bono’s intimate relationship with God, and the song echoes David’s Psalms. Given that “I Will Follow” is one of U2’s earliest singles, it is fitting that Bono beseeches God to loosen his lips so that he can sing his praise. More than three decades later, the themes of God’s glory and U2’s belief is still strong in “Magnificent.” Greg Garrett (2009, 123) ascribed an explicit Christian meaning to “Magnificent” (No Line on the Horizon 2009) but identified the “you” as being “One God.” From a Jewish perspective we can say that when Bono sings “I was born to sing for you” the “you” is both universal and singular. He was born to sing for us, and he was also born to sing for God. This is a neat way of explaining the phenomenal success of U2 and their message of faith, hope and humanity. Bono again evokes King David with the lyric “I didn’t have a choice but to lift you up.” Judaism teaches that God gave us free will and the ability to make choices. The greatest Jewish leaders— David, Abraham, Moses and the Prophets—were given specific attributes and roles by God, and they had a choice to use these. Similarly, having chosen their path, U2 are obligated to lift us up as to do anything else is to fail in their mission. Rabbi Moshe Gutnick, expert in Jewish law (halacha) and member of the Sydney Beth Din, says that in Jewish thought “space and time” is connected to Y-H-V-H who transcends space and time, sees the eternal soul, and shows compassion (Gutnick, M. personal communication, Dec 4, 2016). Y-H-V-H relates to the principle of reward and punishment and the concept that a person’s actions have cause and effect. It is said that through Y-H-V-H everything is at it appears to be, including our punishable actions. None of us “have a clue” as to what God has in store for us, but by loving the “magnificent” and doing good in our time we can heal the marks and scars created by our wrongdoing.

Jewish Thought and U2


“Invisible”: Revelation In the live concert rendition of “Invisible” (2014) during the 2015/6 Innocence + Experience Tour, U2 performed in an elevated cage, shrouded in secrecy. Only slivers of the band members were seen through projected shards of light, like the visual representation of radio waves. After the intermission, the music started at barely audible levels, so quietly in fact, that many in the audience seemed to not immediately realize that the band was performing, or where in the arena it was performing. As the song built to the crescendo “I am here” U2 was fully revealed on a stage suspended in the middle of the arena, in pure white light and without any other props or distractions. It was just the band members—only them— and the light in an otherwise darkened room. “Invisible” can be read as a battle between good and evil, between dark and light. In Jewish thought this is the battle between the “Godly” soul and the “animal” soul, the premise that we are all born pure and can choose between good and evil. The first verse of “Invisible” is about the Godly soul or the good self—in Hebrew the yetzer tov. “I finally found my real name,” that is, the “real” soul. Bono announces he’s leaving the “invisible world,” addressing the yetzer hara, the evil inclination in the third verse. He declares he doesn’t need the “frozen days” and “frozen ways” and he can banish them by revealing the truth in his own soul: “I’m more than you know/A body and soul/ You don’t see me but you will/I am not invisible/I AM HERE.” One of the most powerful expressions of faith in Tanach is ‫ יִנֵּנִה‬which translates as “I am here.” In Genesis, God tests Abraham’s faith by instructing him to prepare his son Isaac for sacrifice. Abraham builds the altar and then binds Isaac but as he takes out his knife to kill his son, an angel calls him from Heaven. And Abraham answers, “I Am Here.” It is God’s answer when Abraham questions him, and is associated with the concept of “revelation” (Genesis 22). God tells Abraham “all the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your offspring because you listened to my voice” (Genesis 22:14-24). This reminds us of power of the voice and of words, of believing what we hear, and being present to receive the voice and the word of God. Bono sings, “You don’t see me but you will,” emphasizing that he is both spiritual and physical, a body and soul. A core belief of Judaism is that the body and soul are one. The founder of Chabad Chassidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman (1745–1812) wrote in Tanya—his fundamental philosophical text—“the foundation and root of the entire Torah is to raise and exalt the soul over the body” (Levin 2016). He described the struggle between the spiritual and physical as being both in man and in creation. The refrain “There is no them, only us/only you and only me” speaks of the Jewish understanding of prayer being directly between the individual and God. Bono has sung about his disdain for organized religion, “I’d take bread and wine if there was a church I could believe in” (“Acrobat,” Achtung Baby 1991), so the idea that he is speaking directly to God without the interference of “them” is appealing. Monotheism began with Judaism, as did the belief that God listens to each and every person. In Jewish thought prayers are strengthened when they are delivered by the collective, represented by a minyan, which at a minimum is made up of ten


U2 and the Religious Impulse

men over the age of bar mitzvah (thirteen years old). The concept of “us” and “one people” has already been discussed in reference to the song “One,” and we can see that the lines “we are one but we are not the same” (“One”) and “there is no them only us” (“Invisible”) are drawn from the same principle of unity and equality. In the Jewish Tanach this type of justice is tzedek, meaning social justice. As Rabbi Sacks notes (2015), “The Judaic tradition shaped the moral civilization of the West, teaching for the first time that human life is sacred, that the individual may never be sacrificed for the mass, and that rich and poor, great and small, are all equal before God.” Before we had the Commandments and the Noahide laws there was no concept of “universal equal justice and responsibility.” This very Jewish idea that we are all equal and that we are a collective “one,” even if we are flawed, is expressed in “Invisible.” The themes of refuge, rejoicing, and mercy are as enduring throughout U2’s catalog as they are in Tanach and the writings of the Jewish scholars through the ages. There are many covert and explicit references to God, belief, and messiah peppered throughout U2’s songs, yet the group has remained relevant and inspirational, even to individuals of different faiths who don’t subscribe to Christian eschatology. Rather than making people uncomfortable, U2 has managed to deliver messages of universal, inclusive faith that reaches beyond the constructs of organized religion.

Chapter 11 “L I K E FA I T H N E E D S A D OU BT ” : U 2 A N D T H E T H E I ST / N O N T H E I S T D IA L O G U E

Angela Pancella

Introduction Even many casual U2 fans will be aware that band members embrace the Christian faith, though Bono will say he feels “unworthy of the name” Christian (Cocks 1987, 75). Biblical metaphors are strewn throughout U2’s lyrical catalog, and— particularly in recent years—straightforward presentations of the Gospel have shown up in interviews, especially interviews with the band’s lead singer. U2 fans who have paid close attention (as many do) to extra-musical elements— magazine articles, books, and the like—will also have seen statements like Larry Mullen’s in 1987: “I have more in common with somebody who doesn’t believe at all than I do with most Christians” (Cocks 1987, 75). Fans recognize the names of some of those who “don’t believe at all” with whom the band has had close associations—producers Brian Eno and Steve Lillywhite, and fellow musician and activist Bob Geldof. Journalist Neil McCormick, himself agnostic, also a friend of the band who records many conversations about God with Bono in his book Killing Bono, once painted a vivid picture of a moment in the friendship between Bono and Geldof that shows both their differences in belief and the strength of their bond regardless. The two activists had just visited the Vatican as part of the Jubilee 2000/Drop the Debt campaign: Dining alfresco beneath a full moon in Rome, the core members of Jubilee 2000 toasted the health of the Pope and the success of their visit. True to form, Geldof provided a lone dissenting voice, casting doubts on whether their goals were realistically achievable. But with the wine flowing freely, even his pessimism was considered grounds for another toast. Bono draped an arm over Geldof ’s shoulders as his friend rattled on in typically belligerent fashion about the impossibility of having faith in these Godless times. “When you come out with all that stuff it makes me laugh, because you are so close to God,” Bono warmly admonished him. It was the only time I saw Geldof lost for words. (McCormick 1999)


U2 and the Religious Impulse

The current cultural moment, when “Christendom” is no longer a useful concept (Muggeridge 1980, 9), when many forces have converged so that once-dominant religious institutions have lost influence in Europe and America (Pew Research Center 2015), and when religion journalists have noted an increase of nontheists “coming out of the closet” (Newhall 2015), is a good time to consider what Bono specifically and U2 in general model. They are believers engaged in dialogue across difference. Both U2’s popularity far beyond an exclusively Christian audience and their ability to maintain long-lasting friendships with Eno, Lillywhite, Geldof et al. demonstrate that their approach is one worth investigating.1 What would it look like if other theists (especially those of the cultural majority, as Christians are in the United States) cultivated a willingness to find friendship with nontheists, both to find areas of common ground and to allow for chances to engage in challenging conversations?

Employing “Theist” and “Nontheist” as Blanket Terms This chapter discusses dialogue across religious difference, but there are many ways to create binary categories: “believers” could be contrasted to “atheists,” or “religious” to “nonreligious.” Most of the participants in the conversations referenced here are Americans, where Christians remain the cultural majority, and members of U2 have made clear that they identify as believers in the Christian conception of God. It would be more specific, then, to say that one side of this dialogue is Christian. But the main point of difference in these dialogues is not Christianity; it is belief or nonbelief in the existence of any God.2 Terms are proliferating to describe a variety of ways people are living outside of a faith identification. “Atheist,” “skeptic,” “freethinker,” “humanist”—no one term encapsulates the experience. I have chosen “nontheist” for the sake of convenience, knowing the terminology is still in flux.

Origins of Personal Interest in Dialogue Interest in theist/nontheist dialogue was sparked in me after a friend deconverted from Christianity to atheism. I have been Catholic all my life, and am happy to remain so, but after his announcement I became more aware of recent trends in the West concerning belief and religious affiliation. The rise in popularity of the men dubbed “The Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse” (Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett [Hoffman 2014]), the reports that 20 percent of the US population do not claim any religious identification (Pew Research Center 2015), the increase in humanist chaplains at colleges and universities (Oppenheimer 2017)—these had not caught my attention until I was personally affected. To learn more about the nontheist perspective, I looked online for gatherings that would attract individuals who were atheist, agnostic, skeptic, or humanist. I

U2 and the Theist/Nontheist Dialogue


found FIG, the Free Inquiry Group of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, and made plans to attend their next event. When I stepped into the monthly meeting, I did not announce my religious affiliation. This made for moments of irony, because the evening’s theme was “Being mistaken for someone you are not.” Attendees gave testimonies about times their acquaintances or coworkers assumed they were Christian.3 They related what it was like to find themselves edged out of conversations when they were not using the right sort of vocabulary to fit in as those around them talked about their kids’ youth groups or their friends’ prayer requests. They talked about losing jobs, or marriages, when they came out as nontheist. As they spoke, I kept getting distracted by remembering my own outsider status in this gathering, knowing that, if anyone was giving me any thought at all, they too were mistaking me for someone I was not. Then I realized I was being a cultural tourist. For everyone else in the room, navigating ostracism and ignorance was everyday reality. With that realization, I began wondering what it would be like to participate in facilitated conversations between theists and nontheists. I approached the president of the FIGs, Shawn Jeffers, and together we planned and co-facilitated a gathering that featured fifteen theists, all Christian, and fifteen nontheists from the Free Inquiry Group. The gathering was centered around a discussion of “the common good”—areas where all participants could agree on positive change in the community we lived in. Two subsequent gatherings happened after that— another discussion, this time hosted by another nontheist group, the Tri-State Freethinkers, and facilitated by a local nonprofit, the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, and a volunteer outing where theists and nontheists worked together at an ecological nonprofit. As I reflected on the experience of seeking common ground across religious difference, it struck me that my interest in it could well have been influenced by my U2 fandom. I am one of those fans that pays close attention to the interviews and articles written about the band, not just to their recorded output. I had noted the longtime collaborations with Brian Eno and the long-standing friendship between Bono and Bob Geldof. I thought of U2’s style of engagement, emphasizing the value of listening to many distinct perspectives while retaining one’s own core values, as a key to their success and a model worth following.

The Mystery of “Belief ” in U2 Lyrics Bono has made clear articulations about his beliefs—see, for example, his “Little Book of a Big Year.” This was an alphabetized essay he released on January 1, 2015, and J was for Jesus: At this time of year some people are reminded of the poetic as well as the historic truth that is the birth of Jesus. The Christmas story has a crazy good plot with an even crazier premise–the idea goes, if there is a force of love and logic behind the


U2 and the Religious Impulse

universe, then how amazing would it be if that incomprehensible power chose to express itself as a child born in shit and straw poverty. (Bono 2015)

A video of an interview of Bono with veteran Irish broadcaster Gay Byrne, from his program “The Meaning of Life,” includes an exchange oddly echoing the renewal of baptismal vows that take place in some Christian churches at the Easter Vigil: Bono:

Byrne: Bono: Byrne: Bono: Byrne: Bono: Byrne: Bono: Byrne: Bono:

I find it hard to accept that all the millions and millions of lives, half the earth, for two thousand years, have been touched, have felt their lives touched and inspired by some nutter. I just—I don’t believe it. So therefore it follows that you believe [Jesus] was divine. Yes. And therefore it follows that you believe that he rose physically from the dead. Yes. I’ve no problem with miracles. [Laughs] I’m living around them. I am one. So when you pray, then, you pray to Jesus. Yes. The risen Jesus. Yes. And you believe that he made promises which will come true. Yes. I do. (The Meaning of Life 2013)

Since Bono is the chief lyricist for U2, one might assume that his faith would make its way into U2’s songs. It certainly has, although not in the way one might expect. Many allusions to biblical ideas, sometimes wholesale lifting of phrases from English translations of the books of Isaiah or Psalms, have been featured in the U2 catalog over the years (Pancella and Neufeld, 2017). Yet there are often what seem to be ambiguities or contradictions built in. A prime example is “Wake Up Dead Man,” the final song on 1997’s Pop, addressed directly to Jesus from the first line. The title chorus creates a mystery—is the singer saying Jesus is dead and thus unable to help (U2 Pop)? Tracing a single word through U2’s catalog—the word “believe”—highlights the mystery. It starts appearing very early—its first use on an album is in “Tomorrow” from 1981’s October, where it is a strong assertion (U2 1981). Over time, though, “believe” often appears paired with words like “can’t,” “never,” or “don’t”: 1. “I don’t believe anymore”: “Raised by Wolves,” from Songs of Innocence (U2 2014) 2. “You, my love, I could never believe”: “Please,” from Pop (U2 1997) 3. “Don’t believe what you hear/Don’t believe what you see”: “Acrobat,” from Achtung Baby (U2 1991) If faith in God, as expressed through the Christian conception of God, is a core element of Bono’s identity, why are the lyrics he writes so filled with protestations

U2 and the Theist/Nontheist Dialogue


about belief? I did not expect to answer this question through this project. I thought, rather, to use it as an entry point into conversation between theists and nontheists.

Faith and Doubt in U2’s Lyrics: A Theist’s Perspective First I polled religion journalist Cathleen Falsani about these lines to hear the theist perspective articulated. Falsani is knowledgeable about U2; she included Bono in a book of interviews with “culture shapers” called The God Factor (Falsani 2005) and her writing has been featured on U2’s website (Falsani 2015). Speaking about “I don’t believe anymore” in “Raised by Wolves,” Falsani placed it in the context of the religious tensions where U2 grew up, in the Ireland of the 1970s. [Bono] grew up in a milieu where religion was identity, but it had very little to do with actual faith. It was a label so you knew who the enemy was. You got these messages that the other was the enemy, less than human, wrong, not chosen by God, bent on destroying you, apostate. Think about a home like Bono’s [which included a Protestant mother and a Catholic father] in the midst of a culture telling him your parents should be enemies. (Falsani 2016)

In this context, Falsani does not think a line like “I don’t believe anymore” “was a disavowal of his belief in God.” It was more, in her opinion, a way of telling religious or political authorities: “I don’t believe all this stuff you’re saying, these religious labels that make enemies out of neighbors” (Falsani 2016). When we discussed the “I could never believe” line in “Please,” we talked about how the use of the words “my love” brought in a possible romantic connotation— that the song might be referencing the loss of trust between a couple. That led Falsani to reflect on how someone who has deconverted can go through stages of grief akin to someone experiencing divorce, and on good communication practices in that situation. I think, as in actual marital divorce, trying to avoid taking sides is always a good path to take … Whether someone doesn’t believe in the existence of God because they got hurt or angry or because it doesn’t make sense or doesn’t have a place in the vocabulary of their life, a defensive posture [on the part of the theist] is not helpful. This is my own bias, but I think the onus is on the person who believes to not be an asshole. It’s not helpful if you’re arrogant or condescending or if you’re trying to mansplain the deity. (Falsani 2016)

For “Acrobat,” Falsani zeroed in less on the line about belief and more on the chorus: “I must be an acrobat/to talk like this and act like that” (U2 1991). Again, she saw a lesson for theists seeking to engage in dialogue—avoid hypocrisy:


U2 and the Religious Impulse

If you’re not being your authentic self, nothing else you say is going to matter. Trying to be something you’re not to argue or romance someone into a relationship with the divine–people see right through masks. People see right through overstatement or understatement.

The lesson, she said, can apply to whole churches. When a corporate body of people who have a relationship with God try to create an image of what they think they should look like in order to attract people who don’t believe—just even saying it out loud sounds hollow … We all do and say things we shouldn’t do or say. That doesn’t mean we aren’t forgiven, that grace isn’t available. We’re really screwed up and we have moments of grandeur. Let’s stop pretending we’re not broken and hold each other up and get out of the way of other people so they can see the light and bask in the love and grace too  …  How do you talk to an atheist about God? You talk about “Acrobat.” (Falsani 2016)

Faith and Doubt in U2’s Lyrics: A Historical Critique of Theism from Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche We can take these three poetic expressions about unbelief and imagine three situations of encounter with a nontheist. The first, as shown through Falsani’s reading of “Raised by Wolves,” is based around a political critique of religion. It takes root in a society where love is preached but in actual practice religious identity is used to create an “us” and “them” world, where bombings are taking place with sectarianism as an excuse for the violence. This calls to mind Karl Marx’s critique of religion, which, as philosophy professor Merold Westphal points out, was essentially political: Marx himself saw the move from religious critique to political critique as inevitable in the sense that it was required by the realities of the situation. Religion is essentially political. As he wrote to his friend Arnold Ruge, “… religion has no content of its own and lives not from heaven but from earth, and falls of itself with the dissolution of the inverted reality whose theory it is.” (Westphal 1998, 135)

The religious expression that is rejected by “Raised by Wolves” functions less like a painkiller and more as an active participant in injustice, so at first glance Marx’s claim that religion is “the opium of the people” (Marx 1844) does not seem to connect. Yet both Marx and Bono are speaking of a religion that fails to confront injustice. This line of critique is important, according to Westphal: Even if there is a God, or better, especially if there is a God like the one described in the Bible, when religion functions as Marx describes, killing the pains of

U2 and the Theist/Nontheist Dialogue


injustice rather than challenging its right to exist, it deserves the diatribes he directs against it. (Westphal 1998, 139)

The line from “Please,” the second encounter between a theist and a nontheist, connects us to deeply personal feelings in the wake of the loss of relationship. “You, my love, I could never believe,” Bono sings, keeping ambiguous the identity of the speaker and the “love.” We could view this relationship-shattering declaration in light of Sigmund Freud’s critique of the religious impulse. According to Freud, no one is able to be truly believed due to “the evil in the constitution of human beings.” He writes, Do you not know that all the transgressions and excesses of which we dream at night are daily committed by waking men? What does psychoanalysis do here but confirm Plato’s old saying that the good are those who are content to dream of what the others, the bad, really do? (Strachey 1974, 15:146)

If such darkness is present in everyone, “You, my love, I could never believe” seems the best possible response. Finally, in “Acrobat,” which faces hypocrisy full on, we have an encounter between a theist and a nontheist that examines territory similar to Friedrich Nietzsche’s critiques. Westphal explains it this way: In [Nietzsche’s] view, “Actions,” including the act of believing, “are never what they appear for us to be!” because “there come into play motives in part unknown to us, in part known very ill, which we can never take account of beforehand.”  …  Therefore, the philosopher “has a duty to suspicion today, to squint maliciously out of every abyss of suspicion.” (Westphal 1998, 220–21)

Faith and Doubt in U2’s Lyrics: A Nontheist’s Perspective So far, we have examined U2’s lyrics from the point of view of a theist and through the lens of commentary on the works of several famous nontheists; that commentary itself was written by a theist primarily for theologians. If we are truly serious about encounter and connection, we need to speak directly with a nontheist. Cass Midgley is a Humanist Chaplain and one of the co-hosts of “Everyone’s Agnostic,” a podcast often featuring stories of people who have deconverted. He spent the first thirty-nine years of his life as a Christian, discovering U2 during that time. (He was adhering to a form of Christian devotion in which he listened to only Christian music, so he only considered U2 worth investigating because their album was reviewed in a Christian music publication.) In an email conversation, I invited him to consider the lines from “Raised by Wolves,” “Please,” and “Acrobat,” asking, “Is Bono capturing feelings you can relate to as a non-theist in these moments?”


U2 and the Religious Impulse

For “Raised by Wolves,” he wrote, What I hear is a rejection of factionary religion. Ignorance, blind faith, sectarian hostility—all cultural monstrosities that produce a society that is similar to being raised by wolves. He doesn’t believe in that anymore … This brings up the universality of atheism—everyone has gods in whom they don’t believe. (Midgley 2016)

Midgley’s commentary on “Please” echoes some of Freud’s reflection on how religion creates categories by which we can torment ourselves and others: I think this song speaks to the tricky nature of interpreting “love.” Theistic religions have a twisted way of defining love. The first line of the song sets up the religious paradigm of love: “You never knew love until you crossed the line of grace.” Religion creates a problem (that doesn’t exist). and then solves it, and we’re supposed to be grateful … Religions concocted this twisted version of love that is a form of gas-lighting: the subject feels loved when slapped because of their sinful self-image  …  This sickly love produces fear, panic, insecurity, and infantilism in its adherents … And Bono is right to say “love is not what you’re thinking of,” and “leave me out of this please.” (Midgley 2016)

Finally, Midgley turned to “Acrobat”: My interpretation of this song is that the Church has some good stuff (bread and wine), but is now something dead (no new ideas), and illegitimate (bastards). His advice is don’t listen to them, don’t believe them. He’s giving permission to see the Church as the wolf in sheep’s clothing and that rejection is not only an option, but the moral high ground. This is the reason I’m an atheist today. The most “Christian” thing I ever did was leave Christianity. I often use the word “gymnastics” or “acrobatics” to describe what Christians have to tell themselves to stay true to the contradictory nature of today’s Christianity. (Midgley 2016)

Other Spaces of Dialogue Investigated In addition to in-depth interviews with Falsani and Midgley, I made arrangements to connect with two gatherings of people: one virtual, the other in person, where theist/ nontheist dialogue could take place with U2’s “believe” lyrics as discussion prompts. The first was The Crystal Ballroom, a Periscope broadcast hosted by Tim Neufeld, a writer for the fan site @U2. Neufeld bills The Crystal Ballroom as a “U2 chat community.” It began as an online hangout after shows on the Innocence + Experience tour and has continued on a semi-regular basis to serve as a platform for U2-related conversations. As a guest on the broadcast in May of 2016, I invited its 337 viewers to share their perspective on U2’s “believe” lyrics. Neufeld and

U2 and the Theist/Nontheist Dialogue


I made it clear that we especially wanted to hear from participants who were nontheist, but there was no requirement that anyone identify their faith affiliation before answering the questions (although most volunteered this). As a result, the gathering itself functioned as a place where theists and nontheists could dialogue around common interests; although there was a range of perspectives on the question of God, everyone in the “room” was a U2 fan. Early on, as we discussed the relationship of faith to doubt in the song “Hawkmoon 269” which provides the title for this essay (U2, Rattle and Hum, 1989), it became clear that the word “doubt” can be used to refer to two distinct experiences. Neufeld said, U2 has very uniquely, I think, maintained a tension in their music and their work between faith and doubt … Usually people think faith is on one side of the spectrum and doubt is on the other side of the spectrum and you either believe or you don’t believe. And I don’t think U2 is using that spectrum actually. (Crystal Ballroom 2016)

The experience of doubt Neufeld outlined here can be expressed through a phrase like “I don’t believe,” yet it is still held within the context of a life oriented toward theism. Theists may talk about doubting God as an aspect of their overall relationship with God. As Bono has said in reference to the religious poetry of the Psalms, Abandonment, displacement are the stuff of my favorite psalms. The Psalter may be a font of gospel music, but for me it’s despair that the psalmist really reveals and the nature of his special relationship with God. Honesty, even to the point of anger. (Psalms 1999, viii)

The second experience sometimes termed “doubt” and expressed through saying “I don’t believe” is a life lived outside of a theistic conception of the world. It may be called “doubt” if the nontheist does not wish to convey ultimate certainty about his or her position, but this doubt is distinctly different from the first. “I don’t believe,” in this sense, is an assertion about whether evidence presented seems credible to the speaker. This needs to be sharply distinguished from the first sense, where it is as if the speaker is saying “I don’t believe you,” and is having a fight with a relational partner, a fight which may or may not result in a breakup. Participants in the Crystal Ballroom discussion brought many different perspectives to the question, “How do you hear U2’s lyrics that reference lack of belief?” One person said she had never seen the band or their songs as “overtly” religious, while another drew a quick distinction between religion and faith. A third participant said that before coming to a group like the Ballroom where the lyrics may be discussed in more detail, he had never reflected on them at the level necessary to answer the question. Another fan speculated that U2 may keep their lyrics somewhat ambiguous in order to stay appealing to a general audience—not clarifying the sense of “I don’t believe” that is being employed so that the listener can bring his or her own experience into the line’s interpretation.


U2 and the Religious Impulse

The Crystal Ballroom gathering engaged the voices of U2 fans from a range of theist/nontheist perspectives in an online conversation. In contrast, the in-person discussion at the FIG meeting in July of 2016 attracted nontheists exclusively (with the exception of myself), who had a range of perspectives on U2. Of the ten nontheist participants, two were fond enough of the band to own an album or two, two were familiar with Bono’s activism, one was aware of U2’s reputation as a socially conscious group, one had never heard of the band, and another had dismissed them when he learned they had a spiritual bent. The rest said they would most likely recognize their hit songs but had no strong opinions on them. After a quick introduction, everyone read along from lyric sheets (with the “don’t believe”/“could never believe” lines highlighted) as “Raised by Wolves,” “Please,” and “Acrobat” played. We paused between each song to discuss initial impressions and specific reactions to the lines about belief. I provided context about the car bomb in Dublin that had inspired “Raised by Wolves” and the peace process in Northern Ireland that was the backdrop for “Please.” The discussion of “Raised by Wolves” quickly centered around the idea of loss of faith due to personal tragedy. One participant said he could not relate to that; he had never discovered in himself a capacity for belief in what other people call “God.” Moreover, he said, “I haven’t known people who have faith to lose faith.” Tragedy created space for a questioning of God for theists, he said, but it did not seem to destroy their core capacity for belief. Something like a car bombing “shakes their belief in humanity, not God.” Other participants, however, said they had known theists to lose faith sometimes because of tragic circumstances. “I’ve heard people say they couldn’t find an answer to the question of human suffering,” as one put it. Another gave an example of someone slowly losing faith, while a fourth person chimed in, “I did. I grew disillusioned over time.” “Please” struck a strong chord with its chorus of “Get up off your knees.” “Do something!” was one response evoked, speaking to persons claiming a theistic worldview but seeming to be uninvolved with any “active humanitarian” ends. Unlike “Raised by Wolves,” there was full agreement among the group that the sentiments expressed here were relatable from their nontheist perspective. As we moved on through “Please” and “Acrobat,” one participant seemed more and more puzzled, finally blurting out, “Are you sure Bono is a believer?” This led to conversation about the ability of artists to empathically inhabit spaces otherwise foreign to them. “Acrobat” caused several members of the group to think about how political and religious movements create spaces of belonging; they serve a social function alongside other aims. “All of us are looking for some place to fit in,” one participant said, adding that in contexts where she is the only nontheist, “I’m on the outside. I don’t feel embraced. That’s what brought me here [to the Free Inquiry Group].” At evening’s end, FIG president Shawn Jeffers remarked on everyone’s deep engagement with the lyrics and their potential meanings by exclaiming, “This was like an atheist bible study!” We may not have been poring over texts that are considered sacred, but we had let the words we were pondering open up stories we might not otherwise have encountered.

U2 and the Theist/Nontheist Dialogue


Conclusion This project began by asking whether U2 were good models for dialogue between theists and nontheists. Books, and magazine and newspaper articles provide a few glimpses of interactions they have had with nontheist friends and peers, but that has not been where we have focused our attention. Their work, their lyrical output, has proven to be an excellent starting point for dialogue across difference. U2’s lyrics have enough space in them to spark nuanced, illuminating conversation. U2’s chief lyricist has made reference to how questions about belief inform his writing. Speaking at one point about the album Pop, which includes “Please” and “Wake Up Dead Man,” he said, There are a lot of arguments with God on this record … But it does not chart my loss of faith. I think even the most mediocre minds can figure out that if you’re rattling on and on about how much you don’t love somebody, it is evidence of passion. You can’t be having an argument with God if you don’t believe there is one. (U2 and Neil McCormick 2009, 266)

Here, again, is the idea that there are multiple ways to interpret a phrase like “I don’t believe.” In the context of an argument, it shows a relationship still exists in some form. However, Bono went on, There has been some very serious and scholarly work done on Pop Art and what it meant in the world. Someone described Pop as the death of God, suggesting that if there’s no eternal, all we had left was the moment, the snapshot, the surface. So it is an album about the death of God. I’m just allowing myself to express those big questions. Even though they weren’t particularly mine, I felt they were in the minds of a lot of people around me. (U2 and Neil McCormick 2009, 266)

Bono is having it both ways, because here it sounds as if he is talking about actual loss of faith, not just about a passionate argument with God—what we earlier described as the second experience commonly described by the phrase “I don’t believe.” That ambiguity, however, is precisely why U2’s lyrics are helpful as conversation starters in these dialogues across difference. Everyone, theists and nontheists alike, can relate to assertions like “I don’t believe anymore” and “You, my love, I could never believe.” Any given listener may or may not have the deity in mind when making these assertions. “I don’t believe” may be said in a moment of wrestling with God. It may also be said as one disengages with the idea of God altogether, or as one disengages with a political philosophy or says goodbye to a relationship with a fellow human being. The struggle to trust and the often-wrenching decision to turn away from what one has previously trusted are experiences with universal resonance. In the midst of differences, theists and nontheists can find common ground here, if they are willing to look for it.4

Chapter 12 F I N D I N G W HAT T H EY ’ R E L O O K I N G F O R : EVA N G E L IC A L T E E N FA N S A N D T H E I R D E SI R E F O R U 2 T O B E A C H R I ST IA N BA N D

Neil R. Coulter

The Band and the Fans: Bookends of Outspoken Faith The Band U2’s career has been bookended by periods of clear engagement with Christianity. Early in the band’s career, the three Christian members—Bono, the Edge, and Larry Mullen Jr.—were outspoken about their faith. In a 1981 presentation to a UK conference about Christians and music, a then 21-year-old Bono was clear about his sense of the band’s mission: “[We] have quite a responsibility if we know the truth and we are not using it or we are not getting involved in the battle. We are actually useless  …  [W]hat the Lord wants is 100% or he doesn’t want it at all. [W]e have to be involved in the battle” (Bono and Edge 2005). The following year, the American magazine Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) profiled U2 in an article called “U2: Rockers Finally Speak Out About Their Rumored Faith.” Bono and the Edge discuss their Christian faith, careful not to position U2 as a “Christian band.” The Edge says that “they try to make Bible study and prayer a regular part of their ‘winding down’ process after shows,” and “I really believe Christ is like a sword that divides the world and it’s time we get into line and let people know where we stand” (Mattingly 1982). Their 1981 album October includes Christian-infused songs such as “Gloria” and “Tomorrow,” in which Bono sings “Open up, open up, to the Lamb of God/To the love of He who made the blind to see.” More recently, Christian faith has again become a recurring theme. In 2016, Bono appeared alongside theologian Eugene Peterson in a short film about the Psalms (Clarke 2016). Fans weren’t surprised to see Bono discussing the Bible and his own experiences with Christianity, because in recent years he has been very open about his Christian faith, referencing it in lyrics on U2’s albums and speaking publicly to church audiences. He penned the introduction to a book of Psalm selections (Bono 1999); maintained a relationship with Willow Creek


U2 and the Religious Impulse

Community Church (Bono 2016; Lawrence 2016); appeared on Focus on the Family’s radio program (Focus on the Family 2013); candidly conversed with journalist Michka Assayas about his Christian faith (Assayas 2005); and even gave the keynote address at the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. (Bono 2006). U2’s other members are not as talkative in public as Bono is—and there’s a distinction between what Bono says and does and what U2 is. But there has been little direct contradiction of Bono’s upfront image as a Christian, even by bassist Adam Clayton, who has never publicly affirmed a personal Christian faith. In a 2002 interview, the Edge said, “I still have a spiritual life, but I’m not really a fan of religion per se  …  It’s not a doctrine that is connected to any church or any religious group. It’s very much my own personal thing” (Tyaransen 2002). In 2010 he reaffirmed that “[i]t’s a very personal kind of faith. I don’t have a particular set of theological beliefs” (Tyaransen 2010). The Edge’s comments exemplify U2’s distinction between faith and religion, in which religion is often viewed as an unnecessary hindrance to personal faith. This theme recurs throughout the band’s career and Bono’s public discourse. In his National Prayer Breakfast address, for example, Bono said, “I’ve avoided religious people most of my life … One of the things that I picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God; for me, at least, it got in the way” (Bono 2006). In a 2005 interview, he said, “I’m wary of faith outside of actions. I’m wary of religiosity that ignores the wider world” (Wenner 2005). In these words, I see the distinction between what Mike Maus terms believers and behavers (1990). Bono and U2 are consistently impressed with “behavers,” but much less so with mere “believers.” This distinction gives a push-and-pull rhythm to band members’ comments over the years about their faith. In the 1982 CCM interview the Edge wanted to “get into line and let people know where we stand,” but three years later he was more cautious with People Magazine: “I have absolutely no interest in the political or doctrinal side of Christianity” (Levin 1985). Bono, too, refuses to be tied exclusively to one identity. An enthusiastic statement about his Christian faith is quickly tempered by another comment that pushes the Christian identity to a further remove: “Because my faith is something I don’t feel comfortable talking about, I try to serve it … I’m not somebody who can wear that badge, and you’ll easily catch me out. I’m not a very pious person. But I believe in those values of service” (Charlie Rose 2016). With such a significant Christian influence in the band’s biography—and much of it in the open and available, for those who want to find it—it may seem odd that their Christian faith has sometimes been an issue of debate, contention, or confusion. In 2014, Joshua Rothman wrote in the New Yorker about U2 as “a wildly popular, semi-secretly Christian rock band” (2014). By that point, “semi-secretly” was a nearly absurd descriptor. U2 is also a headliner on websites with titles such as “11 Bands You Might Not Realize Are Christian” (Perpetua 2013). It seems that questions about their faith have been around nearly as long as the band itself, and will continue to be asked into the future. For anyone who grew up listening to U2 in the 1980s, these recent references feel like echoes of an earlier era, in which

Finding What They’re Looking For


debate about their Christianity became a linchpin in whether, or how much, a person appreciated them—and appreciation of U2 became itself an important part of teenage identity and faith. The Fans I began this project with the intention of looking at U2’s evangelical American teenage fans in the 1980s. And then I asked myself, “Who is that group?” and things became more complicated. People often use the term “evangelical,” but a precise definition is not simple. Billy Graham was once asked, “What does the word ‘evangelical’ mean?” “Actually,” he replied, “that’s a question I’d like to ask somebody, too.” He affirmed that evangelicals “preach salvation through faith in Jesus and believe all the doctrines in the Nicene Creed—especially in the resurrection” (Mattingly 2013). LifeWay Research’s 2016 survey project, “The State of American Theology,” regarded respondents as evangelicals if they “strongly agreed” with these four statements: 1. The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe. 2. It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior. 3. Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin. 4. Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation. (LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries 2016a, 55)1

Similar foundational belief statements make up most definitions of “evangelical.” David Bebbington (looking at British evangelicalism), for example, adds activism to the conversionism, biblicism, and crucicentrism highlighted above (1989, 2). But the concept of “evangelicalism” wasn’t born in the twentieth-century United States. Steve Wilkens and Don Thorsen, in their survey of what evangelicalism is and isn’t, remind readers of evangelicalism’s different characteristics in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. “[O]ne is struck,” they write, “by what we do not find for most of its story” (Wilkens and Thorsen 2010, 15). Biblical inerrancy, premillennialism, and Calvinism have not always been primary foundations of evangelical identity. Instead, the movement as it developed in the eighteenth century,2 through preachers such as George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and the Wesleys, was at the forefront of social justice issues: education for women and African Americans; women’s suffrage; abolition. They took these and other social ideals around the world as missionaries, seeking to improve living conditions everywhere (Wilkens and Thorsen 2010 14). Evangelicals were not always wealthy, white, conservative, Republican Americans, though by the 1980s the movement had acquired those identity markers. It was in this kind of environment that many evangelical teenagers were raised. They may not even have known that the history of their faith was much messier and more varied than the experience they were seeing daily. One person


U2 and the Religious Impulse

I talked with summed up her childhood understanding of Christianity: “Believe or go to hell in a fiery way.” She also referenced the focus on “end times,” saying that she “was told that if I wasn’t saved, and didn’t behave myself in every way according to the church, the second coming would occur and take my mom while she was driving the car and I would be left behind to die a horrible death.” These feelings represent how a lot of evangelical teens at the time understood the core of Christianity. Wilkens and Thorsen say that defining evangelicalism precisely is difficult because of this messy history, “the sort of messiness that makes it impossible for any one doctrinal distinctive, theological tradition, or social orientation to stake exclusive claims to naming rights” (2010, 15). In the end, then, a broad concept of “evangelical teenager in the 1980s” suited my research aims well, and interviewees and respondents to a questionnaire I distributed represent a wide, complicated range of Christian experiences in the 1980s. These factors became important in my interviews and surveys: 1. Some experience with a Protestant Christian church congregation. 2. An interest in U2’s Christian identity. 3. Experiences with U2 that were of a different magnitude—emotionally, theologically, socially—than experiences with other music groups, a deeper personal connection to U2. This sounds broad, but that was fine for the purpose of this chapter. I interviewed, talked with, or surveyed eight people in-depth and interacted with others in online forums.

The Question and How to Find Answers Growing up in the 1980s, these teenagers would have been surprised by the current openness of U2’s members about their Christian faith (for Bono, at least). Bono starring in a video about the Bible? Speaking in churches? These are the kinds of signs that some of those fans were looking for (but still hadn’t found). With no possibility of a “quick Internet search” to find copies of interviews such as CCM’s in 1982, discussions about the band were mostly local, informed only by what fans happened to see on their own. Debates continued in church youth groups and in schools, focused on the question: Is U2 a Christian band? Like fans of any band, these fans wanted to place U2 within a story, to know how best to relate to them, how much and in what way to enjoy them. This question of U2’s Christian affirmation was what we might today call a mediapheme, a “quick encapsulation” that works as “the most common unit of communication in massmediated iconographic modes of remembering” (Weglarz 2011). Its potency is in “[o]nce a story, person, or event is translated into mediapheme form [it] ricochets through the channels of mass mediation with ease” (Baty 1995, 60). Often a mediapheme is a story that entraps a band or celebrity, such that they remain in the

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public eye only as long as that mediapheme is interesting to the public; when interest in the mediapheme dissipates, so does the fame. And although U2, as Fred Johnson writes, “inevitably risks encasement in limited mediaphemes” (Johnson 2015: 86), clearly that’s not happened after being in the public eye for over forty years. Their evangelical Christian teen fans didn’t want them to be nothing more than a Christian band (though they certainly didn’t want them to be anything less than a Christian band, either). They searched (as we’ll see, a valued personal attribute) for indications of the band’s faith, and U2-as-Christian-band was, for many of them, the dominant, most desired mediapheme, the story they wanted to believe in. They were looking for a mediapheme based not simply on the mediated image of U2; they also sought assurance that it was based on a genuine faith commitment. In this chapter I don’t want to examine whether or not U2 is, by any definition, a “Christian band.” Little more can be said about the band members’ faith than is indicated in the brief overview that opened the chapter, and even Bono is cautious in what he reveals. Instead, my question is why U2’s faith became an important discussion point for evangelical Christian teens in the mid-1980s. In bringing together some of the pieces of that story, I look to my training as an ethnomusicologist. While spiritual biographies of the band (Garrett 2009; Stockman 2001, for example) have conveyed what can be known through outside research, ethnographic biography indicates other routes still fresh for exploration. Ethnomusicologists Jesse D. Ruskin and Timothy Rice point out the cyclic nature of the research process, moving between ethnography—the study of human cultures, a macro-level perspective—and biography—the story of an individual human, a micro-level perspective. The categories of biography and ethnography “begin to blur and ethnomusicologists direct biography toward culture and society, and channel ethnography into the life experiences and perspectives of individuals” (Ruskin and Rice 2012, 316). Thus, understanding U2 requires moving the researcher’s gaze between the individual stories of the band and its fans, and the wider sociocultural context. Band and fans reflect their surrounding context at the same time that they create a new context. As Virginia Danielson says in her biography of Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum, One wants to account for the impact of exceptional performers … on the culture of their societies without losing track of them as participants affected by their societies. Large numbers of people responded to them avidly. They were (and in some cases still are) strong symbols … one wants to grasp not only the life behind the myth, as many journalists and biographers try to do, but the myth at the heart of the life. Examining these myths offers a way of understanding what is shared between stars and their audiences. (1997, 15)

In looking at U2, their faith, and their fans, I want to look for the “myth at the heart of the life”; why did the band’s Christian commitment become the dominant myth for some fans? Rice earlier suggested a tripartite model of ethnomusicology: historical construction, social maintenance, and individual adaptation and experience. In


U2 and the Religious Impulse

such an approach, “the analysis of music  …  is demoted to a lower level of the model, while people’s actions in creating, experiencing, and using music become the goal of the enquiry” (Rice 1987, 479). That model resonates with me, and it seems appropriate to the study of U2. Other writers have produced insightful analyses of U2’s musical product (Wright 2015) and lyrical content (Hurtgen 2012).3 My primary interest here is not the musical product itself but the actions of individuals and communities creating, experiencing, and using music socially. I want to understand what the members of U2 were responding to and influenced by as they created their public image and rose to international stardom through the 1980s, and also look at these sociocultural influences in the lives of their Christian teen fans. “Music,” writes ethnomusicologist Mark Slobin, “is at once an everyday activity, an industrial commodity, a flag of resistance, a personal world, and a deeply symbolic, emotional grounding for people in every class and cranny the superculture offers” (Slobin 1993, 77). Bono’s plea to “Let me in the sound” is thus not an escape from the real world, but rather a full embrace of it—a perspective shared by teen fans, about whom Allan Bloom wrote, “nothing else excites them as [music] does; they cannot take seriously anything alien to music” (Bloom 1987, 68). Like any biography, the story of U2, their fans, and Christianity in the 1980s is multifaceted (Danielson 1997, 1). In this chapter I’ll briefly glance at two of those facets: televangelism, and American Christianity’s mass-mediated image, and the development of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), and specifically Christian rock. In my conclusion I’ll suggest that “Is U2 a Christian band?” was but the first part of a longer question for Christian teen fans in the 1980s. It was a gateway to a different way of living, and to an “imagined community” in which most fans would “never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion” (Anderson 2016, 6).

Responding to Televangelism Back to 1981: Bono talked about a turning point for U2 during their first tour of the United States. “I’m very wary of what’s going on in America in particular,” he said, “and the image that our God is getting, which is very emotional, not at all logical”4 (Bono and Edge 2005). In America, the band had turned on the TV and seen The Old-Time Gospel Hour, Jerry Falwell’s evangelistic program.5 Each episode of the program featured performances of gospel music and ended with a sermon by Falwell or a guest preacher, recorded at Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church. Bono’s problem with the program wasn’t Falwell’s preached message— “in fact, he tells them the truth, he tells them about Jesus Christ”—but with the subtext running throughout the show: fund-raising. “[H]e’ll say, ‘We interrupt this broadcast for a message from our sponsors … If you felt the Lord was leading you to send in a lot of money to church,’ and he gives the address. And this comes on four or five times in the program” (Bono and Edge 2005). This combination of

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the commercial and the spiritual startled the young band; that experience seeing Falwell’s broadcast has reverberated throughout the band’s career. “I can’t tell the difference,” says Bono in 1988’s live recording of “Bullet the Blue Sky,” “between ABC News, Hill Street Blues, and a preacher on The Old-Time Gospel Hour, stealing money from the sick and the old. Well, the God I believe in isn’t short of cash, mister” (U2 1988). At the National Prayer Breakfast, Bono again recalled that early exposure to American televangelists, “seeing God’s second-hand car salesmen on their TV cable channels offering indulgences for cash” (2006). The members of U2 seemed particularly repulsed by Falwell’s connection between evangelism—which U2 at that time did not object to—and consumerism. While “Evangelicals have always kept the faith partly by giving it away through every available medium” (Schultze 1990a, 24), U2 was put off by how the message was apparently sold, not given away. “In America,” writes Quentin Schultze, “Jesus is often little more than promoter or product. Like a toothpaste or mouthwash, he is a means to the ends defined by the culture  …  Hope springs eternal in a consumer culture, where identities are purchased in department stores, displayed on the streets, and stored in mothballs” (Schultze 1990a, 27). For U2, raised poor in Dublin, any notion of a wealthy Christianity was already foreign, even suspect. But this flashy, luxurious, money-focused televised ministry was unfathomable. Even at that young age, relatively inexperienced internationally, U2 intuitively understood that televangelism was potentially dangerous. In looking back, it’s important not to oversimplify the American situation, assuming that evangelical Christianity, or even Christianity’s media presence, was a stable, monolithic entity. Few televangelists built national empires. Falwell, Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Oral Roberts, and Pat Robertson were among those few who became household names beyond their local areas. Many more pastors who appeared on television did so only within a very limited range—on local channels and at non–prime time hours. And more preachers than that were broadcast only by radio, not television.6 U2’s assumption about televangelism’s influence in America, or the extent to which televangelism accurately reflected Christianity, was likely somewhat inaccurate. Some Americans shared U2’s concern about the connection between evangelism and consumerism evidenced on a program such as The Old-Time Gospel Hour. Rather than blindly accepting rampant consumerism, they struggled to discern what, if any, was the “right” amount of consumerism within televangelism and the church as a whole. An ongoing discussion among Christians questioned how a Christian radio station might increase advertising revenue without “selling out” to the paying sponsors. Even where Christians wanted evangelical radio stations to be attractive and draw in new listeners, there was a fear of the station becoming too popular, forced to take on a different identity from its original intention (Schultze 1990b, 192–93). Some American Christians tried to discern the “signs that the marketplace is beginning to set the agenda and determine the course of evangelical radio” (Schultze 1990b, 192). In addition, what neither U2 nor their fans could have known in the early 1980s was how soon that brand of televangelism would be challenged—and by


U2 and the Religious Impulse

the actions of some of its own leading practitioners. Scandals involving Bakker in 1987 and Swaggart in 1988, along with Robertson’s unsuccessful presidential bid in 1988 and Falwell’s disbanding of the Moral Majority in 1989, signaled an end to that era of televangelism. U2’s reaction against the uniquely American phenomenon of televangelism was caused in part by the members’ unfamiliarity with American culture. As Schultze observes, “[m]ost non-Americans are repulsed by the televangelism that flows from the United States. They see in it the worst of commercialization of religion and call for someone to chase the money changers from the temple” (2003, 181). In the early 1980s, U2 was seeing the culmination of years of development within American evangelicalism that made televangelism “make sense,” at least to some Americans. Issues related to consumerism and Christianity are, of course, hardly a uniquely twentieth-century American phenomenon. Schultze suggests that though televangelism didn’t create these issues, it allowed them to “reach their zenith” in the American church (2003, 174). While U2 was stunned by the disconnect between what they viewed as “authentic” Christianity and the televised version that they saw in America, they would come to realize that “[t]elevangelism’s sins  …  are also the sins of American culture” expressed in a Christian context, and that “televangelism reflects the spirit and direction of a land of materialism, hedonism, consumerism, and ethnocentrism” (Schultze 2003, 248). Regardless, many evangelical Christians felt an urgent need to dig in and fight the “culture wars” in America. That inward focus, on display in televangelism’s rise during the 1980s, inspired U2’s contrary response, consistently pushing Christians to look beyond their own security and stability and reach out to help the whole world. This was a huge contributor to U2’s attractiveness to some Christian teen fans, and the ways that it contrasted American Christianity’s mass-mediated image led directly to questions about U2’s own Christian identity. Those fans were also worried about the “image that our God is getting.” One person, representative of others, said, “I find televangelism to be legalized robbery preying on the elderly and the weak, both then and now.” Fans who shared the critical stance toward televangelism wanted to know whether U2’s response was mere criticism, or if perhaps they were offering an alternate pathway in the Christian journey. Especially in the wake of the scandals in 1987–1988, U2’s fans wanted honesty. “I think that’s been a huge part of their success,” wrote one fan. “People want honesty. We’re all tired of hypocrisy.” Another person suggested that a rock band doesn’t “earn” the right to speak about Christianity, but rather “It’s just a matter of integrity. Does Christianity line up with the purpose of their act?” Fans also talked about disappointment with the church and its leaders as a motivation for drawing nearer to U2. “There were certain church leaders who were condescending, opinionated, abrasive, and judgmental  …  There were a handful of people who probably never should have been given leadership roles.” This comment wasn’t about televangelists in particular, but those criticisms match many comments about televangelists of the 1980s. Other fans also saw the church as judgmental, saying, “Get rid of the fire and brimstone. Get to the love instead of the intense fear.”

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U2 would later learn to temper their criticism and work with people who are neither “all good” nor “all evil,” but simply humans, doing the best they know how. In 2005, commenting on his efforts to mobilize the American church toward social justice, Bono said, “I asked for meetings with as many church leaders as would have them with me … Amazingly, they did respond. It almost ruined it for me— ’cause I love giving out about the church and Christianity. But they actually came through” (Wenner 2005). And again, These religious guys were … making it really hard for people like me to keep our distance—ruining my shtick. I almost started to like these church people … The Church was slow but the Church got busy on [HIV/AIDS], the leprosy of our age  …  This is what happens when God gets on the move: crazy, crazy stuff happens. (Bono 2006)

In the current generation of televangelists, then, it may be easy to look critically at a preacher such as Joel Osteen and see only the glamour, prosperity, and positive thinking. But one is also confronted by Lakewood Church’s commitment to welcoming people of all ethnicities and walks of life (see Sinitiere 2015). And occasionally, the church as an institution behaves in a way that allows God’s “crazy, crazy stuff ” to happen.

Responding to CCM and a New Industry Discussing the Psalms with Eugene Peterson led Bono to reflect on the current state of Christian music. The psalmist is brutally honest about the explosive joy that he’s feeling and the deep sorrow or confusion. And I often think, “Gosh, well, why isn’t church music more like that?” … Why I am suspicious of Christians is because of their lack of realism. And I’d love to see more of that—in art and in life and in music. (Clarke 2016)

These comments were picked up by The Huffington Post and other publications (Kuruvilla 2016) and inspired a response from CCM magazine. That author suggested that Bono was reacting against the industry of Christian music rather than the full breadth of contemporary Christian music itself (Peterson 2016). These questions of authenticity, honesty, and industry lead us to the next social context in the 1980s: the CCM industry. U2 and the Christian music industry were both born in 1976. As with any historical era, of course, it’s difficult to pinpoint the precise origin of CCM. But according to Google’s Ngram Viewer (goo.gl/hc0Ni8; 2012 corpus, smoothing of 3), the first occurrence (in a book) of the phrase “Christian music industry” was 1976—the same year Larry Mullen Jr., posted a now-legendary notice on the Mount Temple High School bulletin board.7


U2 and the Religious Impulse

People often date CCM itself, however, from 1969, the year of Larry Norman’s first solo album, Upon This Rock. “Upon This Rock,” said Norman, years later, was written to stand outside the Christian culture … I chose negative imagery to attempt to deliver a positive message … My songs weren’t written for Christians. No, it was not a Christian album for those believers who wanted everything spelled out … I was saying, “I’m going to present the gospel, and I’m not going to say it like you want. This album is not for you”. (Rumburg 2016)

During the 1970s, Norman became an icon of Christian rock and a countercultural image of Christianity in America. Upon This Rock was released in England in 1972, so it’s possible that the members of U2 could have encountered Norman at some point during their first years together. They definitely knew him by 1981, when both Norman and U2 made surprise appearances at England’s Greenbelt Festival. According to Norman’s brother Charles, U2 was “totally inspired” (Taylor and Israelson 2015). They tried to meet Norman during the The Joshua Tree tour in 1987, and eventually did meet later. Norman was pleased with Bono’s efforts for Africa in the early 2000s. When Norman died in 2008, Bono sent flowers to his family. There are a number of other intriguing connections between Norman and U2.8 The Christian music movement that began at the same time as Norman’s career began developed through the 1970s into a countercultural response to institutional Christianity. That early contemporary Christian music was as likely to be gritty as “churchy.” Social justice was a recurring theme,9 calling the church to restore justice and peace in the world, and calling non-Christians into the church. In the 1980s, the tone of CCM changed as it became an industry. In some ways its image was sanitized, its purpose perhaps less about challenging the church toward social justice and more about affirming the doctrine of the evangelical church. Instead of being led by long-haired “hippie” musicians—Norman, or Rez Band’s Glenn Kaiser—or musical iconoclasts such as John Michael Talbot, the rising stars were the very clean-cut Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant. The idea of “crossover”—a Christian musician achieving success and recognition in the regular music market—became an elusive prize. In Andrew Beaujon’s words, “Christians completely freak out when the outside world takes notice of one of its products. There may be a good deal of carping when a Christian band makes a run at the mainstream, but if one has any measure of success, it is feted like Napoleon returning from Egypt” (Beaujon 2006, 156). Amy Grant had the most successful of the crossover attempts and she achieved this, in part, by crafting pop songs that were very “safe.” The revolutionary, countercultural image from the 1970s was less visible as the “industry” took shape in the 1980s. This shift is discussed by Jay R. Howard and John M. Streck in Apostles of Rock. They elucidate three distinct and different perspectives of CCM: separational, integrative, and transformative (chapters 2–4). Separational musicians are motivated toward evangelism, worship, and exhortation. They use current trends from secular music to attract listeners away from the secular world and into the

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Christian life. For these musicians there’s a clear distinction between “secular” and “sacred” in the world, and though the music mirrors popular culture, the lifestyle and “world” it creates is something entirely distinct. Integrational musicians want to create wholesome entertainment and “shine a light” into the secular music industry. They reach a mainstream audience by highlighting aspects of Christianity that fit in well with mainstream culture and perhaps neglecting more complicated things. In the 1980s Amy Grant became the exemplar of integrational CCM, reaching a wide audience with songs that her separational colleagues sometimes felt didn’t challenge listeners adequately with biblical teaching. Finally, transformational CCM is concerned with aesthetics, honesty, and music as “art.” These musicians wrestle with the “paradox of being made perfect through grace while at the same time living sinfully in the world” (Howard and Streck 1999, 118). The Choir’s Steve Hindalong says, “That’s the irony, the question, if it is finished, why are we still … [such] unhappy people? Why isn’t there peace” (quoted in Howard and Streck 1999, 119)? These musicians are not content with “Sunday school answers” to life’s hard questions. They’re also often uncomfortable with the “Christian” descriptor, feeling that music ought to strive for the highest quality, regardless of the faith of the musician; bad music shouldn’t be excused by the “Christian” label. Obviously the transformational perspective is the most relevant to U2. Though photographed in the 1980s in stark black and white, they pursued the difficult questions of life, and they rejected being labeled “Christian.” “We don’t talk about being Christians in the press,” said Bono, “I think it’s a personal witness, it has to be. And our main effect in being a band is … just the three of us being Christians” (Bono and Edge 2005). Bono declares that any band must consider, “What sort of a band is it that you’re in,” and it’s remarkable how clear U2’s early vision was, and how consistent it’s remained ever since. They were a transformational band who achieved greater mainstream success than any CCM musician. Fans interested in U2’s Christian faith likely weren’t attracted to the certainties of separational CCM or the safety of integrational CCM. They related instead to searching and doubting. Though one person mentioned hearing that Adam Clayton “was a drug user, which was incompatible with my understanding of Christianity at the time,” generally these fans were intrigued by what they saw as realistic ambiguity. “I think Bono has confused me in a lot of good ways,” wrote one fan. “I found Bono’s honesty unsettling, but I was also very encouraged by it. I realized it was OK to voice my doubts. It was OK to say, ‘I believe in this, but I don’t have all the answers.’” Another respondent echoed this, saying, “I understood their doubt. Having doubts, in my opinion, makes you think more about faith, and God.” Some writers have looked at The Joshua Tree’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” as the moment when a lot of Christian fans parted ways with U2: after all, if U2 was still searching for salvation, then what did they have to offer? But for the fans I spoke with, this wasn’t the case at all. “I thought that searching was a good thing,” wrote one. Another said, “The doubt is what keeps me closer to God. [The Joshua Tree] was great; it told the truth about a man of faith having questions.” And another: “I understood that doubt was an important and essential part of faith. I related to the search.”


U2 and the Religious Impulse

Multiple respondents mentioned that they liked U2 because they weren’t “preachy.” When asked if they had wanted U2 to be more outspoken about their faith, people said that “It was enough that it was in their songs. The lyrics were enough,” and “I liked them fine the way they were!” The “search” that fans mentioned seems to have also been true of appreciating for U2 themselves. It seems that the quest to understand U2’s faith was a desired end, perhaps even more than definite answers to the questions. These fans didn’t necessarily want U2’s Christianity handed to them in certain terms. This is a major contrast between the faith of these fans and the demands that other brands of evangelicalism were making of music. Televangelist Jimmy Swaggart reflects a separational ideal, writing, “The lyrics on many so-called religious songs seem perfectly vague and meaningless. In some cases, Jesus is not mentioned at all. The emphasis now is issues of the day. All of this, of course, is done in the name of reaching people at their level without ‘turning them off ’” (Swaggart and Lamb 1987, 77). This lack of directly preaching the gospel then leads him to a more general conclusion, that “For someone to suggest that rock and roll is the same as biblical ministry has to be the most far-out statement that could ever be uttered” (Swaggart and Lamb 1987, 40). In fact, the U2 fans I spoke with understood the distinction between U2 performance and CCM—“The [CCM] acts I knew about—Carman, DeGarmo and Key, Stryper—were overtly trying to convert people. U2 wasn’t”—and it didn’t bother them. Some fans even felt that the evangelizing CCM bands were less authentic than U2. One fan “completely felt that way,” that Christian bands were inauthentic, and “didn’t listen to it.” Another fan believed that CCM performers “all seemed so obnoxious and fake,” but that, because U2 “doesn’t hide behind the CCM banner … it doesn’t bother me.” U2’s commitment to remaining a faithful example within the secular rock world was important to some fans, who said they “felt it was more authentic because it wasn’t about preaching to the choir.”

Conclusion A short journey through ethnography and biography has revealed some of the significance of these two cultural happenings—televangelism and CCM—in the lives of U2 and many of its Christian teen fans in the 1980s. I believe each was dissatisfying in some ways for those fans, and they were searching for other ways forward. What attracted them to U2 was a desire to find that different pathway. The question “Is U2 a Christian band?” was important not because fans wanted the definite answer, but because they wanted to know that the kind of Christianity U2 was offering was trustworthy, reliable, and orthodox. Having grown up in a Christian culture that cautioned them against being deceived into following the way of “the world,” these fans wanted to ensure that U2 passed the test of orthodoxy. For many fans, then, the central question “Is U2 a Christian band?” may have had an unspoken second part: “Because if they are, then I want to follow what they’re being and doing as Christians.” Evan Eisenberg writes, “the rock musician mediates not as musician, but as alter ego” (Eisenberg 2005, 53), and

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Howard and Streck affirm that “Christians buy music not only for its artistic value or religious utility but also because it serves as an identity marker” (Howard and Streck 1999, 217). These fans in the 1980s were buying into an identity that they believed in as an authentic, orthodox alter ego. I see two specific ways (at least) that U2 was attractive to Christian teen fans in the 1980s. First, U2 was showing other Christians a glimpse of a Christianity that was in some ways more connected to evangelicalism’s origins than the current evangelical Christian identity in America.10 Where American evangelicalism in the 1980s debated “its ties to secular culture, the role of intellectualism in the evangelical life, and the appropriate emphasis to place on social concerns and systemic sins” (Howard and Streck 1999, 209–10), U2 pointed the way to different ideals. These fans wanted something meaningful to do in the world. For some, this impulse was partly satisfied (and fueled) by exposure to stories about missionaries and “heroes of the faith,” and the thrill of “undercover” evangelism behind the Iron Curtain. Pioneering the presentation of the Gospel to remote parts of the world was, for them, a noble and righteous goal. For other fans, the church was not so welcoming or giving. They were left feeling that their local congregations were not adequately addressing the world’s wounds. In U2 they found a rock band that cared about those wounds. They learned about healing work being done through Amnesty International, Live Aid, Artists United Against Apartheid, and, over the years, many more aid organizations. U2 seemed to make a connection between Christianity and “good work” in the world that wasn’t carried out exclusively by Christians. Howard and Streck write that during the twentieth century, evangelicals grew suspicious of Christians who argue that social agendas are as important as spiritual ones  …  Social actions such as feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and caring for widows and orphans are no longer held to be marks of the true Christian; rather, one’s identity as a Christian is dependent upon one’s agreement with particular doctrinal positions … as well as participation in selected spiritual activities … and nonparticipation in others. (1999, 209)

For some Christian fans, this division between caring for the created world and its people and affirming doctrine seemed artificial. And though it may be “very difficult to use popular music to transform society,” and “rather than being a force to change society for the better, music may merely displace the energies necessary to do so” (Howard and Streck 1999, 126), U2 was one key that showed fans a way to reconnect stewardship and doctrine into a more historically authentic evangelicalism. As one fan wrote, “if it was not U2 that introduced me to [social] issues … it was that faraway, so-close Irish band that made it seem cool to care about those same issues” (McPherson 2015, xv). It is in some ways a less clearly defined way of being-Christian and being-in-the-world—and Bono himself regularly receives criticism for perceived failures to live that life with integrity (for example, Browne 2013)—but fans found it attractive as a hopeful, if complicated, alternative way forward.


U2 and the Religious Impulse

The second way that U2 was attractive to its Christian teen fans was its invitation to community and togetherness. In talking about U2, many fans mention a sense of pride when the band does well. “I rooted for U2 in a way that an adolescent roots for a sports team they ‘discovered,’” said one person. “When they won Grammies for [The Joshua Tree], I felt rewarded for choosing well.” Another fan also looks back to The Joshua Tree’s success: I distinctly recall sitting in the TV room [at college] with many students watching music videos, when suddenly the video for “With Or Without You” made its debut. The kids in the room were hushed and mesmerized by it! I thought quietly to myself, “Behold, people. This is what real music looks, feels, and sounds like”  …  Suddenly “my band” was becoming everyone’s band, and I was incredibly proud of them. (Scharen 2013, 108)

And a similar story from another author: I first heard U2 in 1985 in a dorm room  …  I distinctly remember the ceremonial feeling as the cassettes were passed over to me, as if I was being indoctrinated into a cool club. It was a club I had never heard of, one that made space for love of rock music and God to come together. (Scharen 2013, 108)

During the 1980s, Christianity became an increasingly private experience. Televangelism and the “electronic church” opened the door to a solitary worship setting: home alone, observing church on TV, rather than leaving the house and being immersed in a church congregation. American Christians sought their religious experience less and less in a local congregation, looking instead to parachurch organizations and the electronic church (televangelism broadcasts, radio programming, CCM recordings, and concerts). In this “splintered” (to borrow Howard and Streck’s term) experience of Christianity, some of U2’s teen fans sought a real community in which they could connect meaningfully with other people. They found that community as U2 fans and in attending U2 concerts. In 1989 Bono said, “I don’t know why, but we always had this belief that there was something sacred about our music, that it was almost holy  …  We believed we could make a difference” (Block 1989). Fans reflect this idea of sacredness when they talk about U2 concerts, often regarding them as more of a “church” than any actual church. “All were welcome,” said one fan. “It felt transcendental.” Another fan affirmed that in the 1980s he “would have felt more comfortable at the concert [than at church]. Why? Because I didn’t feel like half the people there would rather be somewhere else or were lying about what they’d been doing the night before”— again, the concept of “authenticity” as a priority for the fans. Responding to criticisms of 1988’s Rattle and Hum, Dave Marsh wrote that “It’s as if, living in a mediocre period, people believe it’s the obligation of a young band to live down to these standards” (qtd. in Hilburn 1988). In U2, Christian teen fans found a band that “took them higher,” pushed them to live better. It was a different message from what they were hearing from other secular and Christian bands, and

Finding What They’re Looking For


the question about U2’s Christian faith was a seeking after those higher standards, that better life in the midst of a complicated world.

Postlude: An Unexpected Purpose of This Chapter I was one of those evangelical Christian teen fans in the 1980s. In this research project I was eager to look back and consider what that historical moment meant. Discussing U2’s Christianity was a big deal to me back then; I didn’t expect that it would be hard to find the members of that former imagined community. I was surprised, but perhaps I shouldn’t have been. We grew up, went to college, started careers and families. Some fans lost touch with U2 during the 1990s. Some Christian fans moved away from the faith and no longer “need” U2 to be Christian; one fan wrote that he was raised in a churchgoing family, but “pretty much rejected the church when I started thinking for myself!” Although the Internet offers chat forums on nearly every topic, I didn’t find an online home specifically for this community. The imagined community is now a disappearing community. For me, that gave this chapter an additional purpose: memorializing the community. Growing up Christian in the 1980s with U2 was good. It was also strange and confusing, working through the inherited culture of evangelicalism and finding our way through a unique, mass-mediated, American Christianity, rock music (secular and sacred), and just growing up. I hope this chapter respects that community and those years with all their messiness, reminding people in the future of what U2 fandom was like for one group of people in the band’s early years.

Chapter 13 U 2 A N D T H E A RT O F B E I N G H UM A N

Mark Peters

How can we make sense of U2 and religion? Well, it’s complicated. Each one of the chapters in this book attests to that, as scholars from various disciplines probe U2’s music and history to better understand their relation to “the religious impulse.” The complexity, depth, and focus of the arguments reflect the seriousness with which scholars are approaching U2 and religion, a seriousness seen also in publications such as Christian Scharen, One Step Closer: Why U2 Matters to Those Seeking God (2006); Mark A. Wrathall, ed., U2 and Philosophy: How to Decipher an Atomic Band (2006); and Scott Calhoun, ed., Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll? Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2 (2012). My contribution in this chapter, however, responds to trends in earlier writings about U2 and religion which did not offer such subtlety and depth. To be fair, these publications were generally not intended for a scholarly audience, and I admire in them the urge to take on the question, “How can we make sense of U2 and religion?” My criticism is of the tendency in some such writings to link U2’s lyrics very closely to particular Christian traditions or doctrines. This tendency is explained in this volume’s chapter by Neil R. Coulter “Finding What They’re Looking For: Evangelical Teen Fans and Their Desire for U2 to be a Christian Band.” As Coulter demonstrates, Evangelical Christian teens in the United States in the 1980s desired to understand U2 as a Christian band, and, I would add, as a Christian band whose practices and beliefs were consistent with Evangelical Christianity in the United States. Such an impulse remains strong today: Bono’s relationship with Eugene Peterson, including their joint interview with David Taylor, professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary, was seen by many as cementing Bono’s—and by implication, U2’s—connection with Evangelical Christianity. And I take some caution reading Steve Stockman’s excellent book Walk on: The Spiritual Journey of U2 (2005), which implicitly assumes Evangelical Christianity as the measuring rod for U2 and spirituality. I have similar concern with two other very fine books on U2 and theology: Robert Vagacs’s Religious Nuts, Political Fanatics: U2 in Theological Perspective (2005) and Greg Garrett’s We Get to Carry Each Other: The Gospel according to U2 (2009). While Vagacs offers many keen theological insights into U2’s lyrics,


U2 and the Religious Impulse

I find his use of Walter Brueggemann’s theology as a framing concept for U2’s career to be forced. Likewise, Garrett’s We Get to Carry Each Other is fascinating as theology, but less convincing in its implication of a comprehensive systematic theology, as “A Gospel according to U2.” In this chapter, I begin from the assumption that U2 intentionally does not identify with a particular Christian tradition and that any effort to crystalize a systematic “theology of U2” is a fruitless endeavor. U2 is creating art; they are not in the business of systematic theology. I instead seek to understand U2’s music through the lens of the philosophical and artistic tradition of religious humanism. I recognize the irony that in exploring religious humanism as a framework for understanding U2’s music, I risk doing what I criticize in these other approaches. However, I believe there are some important differences in my approach: (1) I do not argue that U2’s members have studied, or are even familiar with, religious humanism, but rather that religious humanism can be a helpful framework for us as listeners to think about the band’s music; (2) religious humanism itself resists systemization—it is a way of thinking about the world, expressed in art, that is constantly reinterpreted in light of cultural change; (3) as a way of thinking that is grounded in the arts, religious humanism provides a framework for considering both lyrics and music, as opposed to most attempts to systematize U2 and theology that focus almost exclusively on song texts. In proposing religious humanism as a broader and more fitting lens through which to view U2’s work than any single Christian tradition, I fundamentally argue that U2 has been less interested in asking “What do you believe about God?” than “What does it mean to be human?”1

Gregory Wolfe on Religious Humanism There is no ‘school’ of religious humanism, no centralized office or publication that represents it to the worlds of politics or the media, no platform with readily identifiable political planks. However, there are subtle but powerful threads that link many of the most distinguished minds of our time. (Wolfe 1997, xxii) To seek to define religious humanism is counterintuitive. Religious humanism is a way of thinking about the world that values faith, but does not seek to present a comprehensive system of belief. Many religious humanists have been Christians— whether Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or Protestant—and others Islamic or Jewish. So religious humanism is compatible with, and even grounded in, faith, without limiting such faith to checklists of doctrines and beliefs. Furthermore, religious humanism is a way of thinking that is expressed in art rather than argument, and, as such, reflects deep respect for imagination, creativity, beauty, subtlety, paradox, mystery, and wonder. For my attempt in this chapter to employ religious humanism as a framing concept by which we can understand U2’s music, I have chosen one of the principal proponents of religious humanism active in North America today, Gregory Wolfe.

U2 and the Art of Being Human


Wolfe is founding editor of the quarterly arts journal Image (1989–present) and serves as Writer in Residence and Director of the MFA in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University and as Senior Fellow at the Institute for Catholic Thought & Culture at Seattle University.2 While Wolfe’s writing on religious humanism has focused primarily on the literary and visual arts, the principles of religious humanism he presents are certainly applicable for other art forms, including music.3 Wolfe has not sought to present a systematic understanding of the arts or of religious humanism. Wolfe tends to write about religious humanists rather than religious humanism: key figures to whom he often returns include Dante, Erasmus, Thomas More, Nathaniel Hawthorne, T. S. Eliot, Flannery O’Connor, and Walker Percy. Wolfe also identifies contemporary artists he sees as heirs of this tradition, including Annie Dillard, Ron Hansen, Makoto Fujimura, Denise Levertov, Marilynne Robinson, and Richard Rodriguez. The fact that all these figures are writers and artists reflects the important conception that religious humanism is expressed in art rather than dogma and that art in this way fundamentally reflects what it means to be human. Wolfe states, “Erasmus the humanist preferred caution, nuance, and ambiguity—the accumulation of many small truths, rendered beautiful by art, to the monolithically proclaimed truth” (2011, xii). For Wolfe, then, faith and art are inseparable, as both explore the mysteries of humanity: “Religion and art share the capacity to help us renew our awareness of the ultimate questions: who we are, where we have come from, and where we are going. In their highest forms, religion and art unite faith and reason, grace and nature” (2003, 17). Such faith must be embodied, just as art is formed out of the fundamental stuff of the world—language, sound, matter (see Wolfe 2015, 48–50): “the encounter with God does not annul our humanity, lifting us into the ether, but restores us to ourselves” (Wolfe 2015, 60). My analysis of religious humanism is built on four of Wolfe’s books, published from 1997 to 2015. The first is The New Religious Humanists: A Reader (1997), a collection of essays by various authors edited by Wolfe. Wolfe’s Introduction to the volume not only provides a helpful starting point for considering religious humanism, but also offers an overview of key themes and persons related to religious humanism across history.4 The remaining three books are also collections of essays, but essays all written by Wolfe. Intruding upon the Timeless: Meditations on Art, Faith, and Mystery (2003) collects thirty-four of Wolfe’s Image editorials, so it appears as a collection of short essays on varied topics. Wolfe explains, “The meditations collected in this book are attempts to probe the ways that art and faith, poetry and prayer, can nourish and sustain one another” (14). Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age (2011) includes a prologue and twenty-one essays organized in five parts. The first two parts especially address religious humanism: “From Ideology to Humanism” and “Christianity, Literature, and Modernity.” Each of the remaining three sections presents case studies persons Wolfe sees as heirs of the tradition of religious humanism: “Six Writers,” “Three Artists,” and “Four Men of Letters.”


U2 and the Religious Impulse

Finally, The Operation of Grace: Further Essays on Art, Faith, and Mystery (2015) is a sequel to Intruding upon the Timeless, presenting a collection of Wolfe’s Image editorials. Wolfe clearly structures the volume in six parts, the first four of which speak directly to major themes of religious humanism: “Art Speaks to Faith,” “Faith Speaks to Art,” “Art and Faith in the Public Square,” and “Christian Humanism: Then and Now.” From these four books, I have identified four “powerful threads” (Wolfe 1997, xxii) of religious humanism: (1) imagination and creativity; (2) beauty and wonder; (3) mystery, paradox, and ambiguity; and (4) engaging the world. For each thread, I offer an introduction to Wolfe’s understanding of it followed by some representative examples of how I perceive it expressed in U2’s music.

Imagination and Creativity [T]he imagination itself is the key to the cultural and spiritual renewal we so desperately need. (Wolfe 2011, 20) We sense that creativity lies at the heart of what makes us human, and that without it, our lives would be spiritually and materially impoverished. (Wolfe 2011, 96) A defining feature of religious humanism, and one that makes it particularly valuable as a framework for understanding music, is that it is expressed through the arts, not through argument. To consider religious humanism is to consider the arts, which is why Wolfe primarily discusses literary and visual artists as defining the tradition. It is no surprise, therefore, that the foundational ideas of religious humanism include imagination and creativity. In opposition to our human tendency toward static, safe conceptions of theology, religious humanism engages faith, God, and the world with imagination. Wolfe recognizes what he calls “the risk of imagination,” but argues that such a risk is crucial to faith: “The risk of imagination, like the risk of faith, instills fear in those who believe we can only be saved by rational propositions. But the paradoxical truth is that unless we learn how to live in that risk-taking leap of faith, we will lose touch with the meaning of those propositions” (Wolfe 2003, 99). Wolfe attests that such an imaginative, risky, faith-filled approach is key to how people of faith should engage the world: “Image was founded on the premise that Christians have an obligation to nourish the culture of their time, and to enrich their faith by deepening and extending their imaginations” (Wolfe 2003, 33). A key concept for Wolfe is that art gets our attention; it wakes us up and helps us see the world in new ways. But Wolfe emphasizes that such seeing returns us to the great truths of theology, humanity, and the world. It is a sense of newness that grounds us in true faith and meaning, in who we already are as humans and what we already know, or should know: “True art achieves a ‘fresh idiom’ by twisting and posing its materials in such a way that meaning flashes out and we suddenly learn something new (which is usually something old) about the world” (Wolfe 2003, 112). Imagination and creativity are thus central to Wolfe’s conception of religious humanism, to our human experiences of art and faith.

U2 and the Art of Being Human


Such focus on imagination and creativity has been central to U2’s career, as they have constantly reimagined their musical style. U2 has never been content simply to write new songs in an existing style or perform only established favorites. With a commitment to musical creativity, experimentation, and variety, they have constantly pushed themselves to new creative ventures. While some such experiments have been better received than others, all have reflected the band’s impetus to ever newly create, a clear reflection of religious humanism’s urge to “make it new” (Wolfe 2015, 14). A full account of U2’s commitment to imagination and creativity would essentially trace the band’s entire career—album by album, and even song by song—and their constant striving for new modes of expression. Such striving is evident in U2’s early albums (Boy 1980; October 1981; War 1983; The Unforgettable Fire 1984), in which we hear the energy and excitement as the band strained to figure things out and establish their own voice. Examples of such a spirit are evident already on Boy, from the energetic cacophony of “I Will Follow” to the tighter, more polished layering of “Out of Control” to the ethereal effects of “A Day Without Me.” Additional examples abound on these early albums, including the opening two tracks of October, “Gloria” and “I Fall Down”; “Seconds” and “Drowning Man” from War; and The Unforgettable Fire’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)” and “Bad.” Having explored and established that early voice, U2 made a breakthrough with The Joshua Tree (1987). For a sense of the creativity and musical variety of this album, one need only listen to “Where the Streets Have No Name” juxtaposed with “Running To Stand Still” or other pairs of songs which appear side by side on the album: “With or Without You” and “Bullet the Blue Sky,” or “Exit” and “Mothers of the Disappeared.” And while Rattle and Hum (1988) has received criticism for its eclectic nature, I hear it rather as a creative celebration of imaginative music making in which U2 has found their voice (or, more accurately, their many voices) and is enjoying trying out some others. Paradigmatic of U2’s commitment to imagination and creativity, to their constant striving to create new music, was their reaction to the successes of The Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum. At the height of their newly established fame, Bono stated: “[T]his is just the end of something for U2. And that’s what we’re playing these concerts—and we’re throwing a party for ourselves and you. It’s no big deal, it’s just—we have to go away and … and dream it all up again” (Bono 1989). The result was a whole new musical style for the 1990s, heard on Achtung Baby (1991) and subsequently on Zooropa (1993) and Pop (1997), albums on which every track feels like an imaginative sound experiment. A few that I hear as particularly noteworthy in this regard include “Even Better than the Real Thing,” “The Fly,” and “Acrobat” (Achtung Baby); “Babyface,” “Numb,” and “Lemon” (Zooropa); and “Mofo,” “Staring at the Sun,” and “If You Wear That Velvet Dress” (Pop). U2 redefined their style once again with All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000), creating a new and imaginative musical approach while at the same time reaching back to The Joshua Tree. And while U2 has continued a similar approach


U2 and the Religious Impulse

on subsequent albums, they have clearly been committed to creating new and imaginative songs. Once again, examples abound, including “Elevation,” “Wild Honey,” and “New York” (All That You Can’t Leave Behind); “Vertigo,” “Love and Peace or Else,” and “A Man and a Woman” (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb 2004); “Moment of Surrender,” “Get on Your Boots,” and “Stand Up Comedy” (No Line on the Horizon 2009); and “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone),” “Sleep Like a Baby Tonight,” and “The Troubles” (Songs of Innocence 2014). As evident in this brief overview of U2’s musical style, the band is committed to striving for imaginative artistic expression. They are never content to remain musically static, but continue to create new sounds. In keeping with the tradition of religious humanism, U2’s primary goal is not to preach doctrine, but to create new art. They seek “the accumulation of many small truths, rendered beautiful by art” rather than “the monolithically proclaimed truth” (Wolfe 2011, xii).

Beauty and Wonder The end of art is not the mere repetition of reality through imitation, but the creation of beautiful objects that enable us to see through nature to deeper meaning. (Wolfe 2011, 73) Art begins and ends in wonder—it promotes a deeper sense of the mystery that bounds our experience. (Wolfe 2011, 220) In religious humanism, the concepts of imagination and creativity are intertwined with those of beauty and wonder. For one key aspect of imaginative artistic creation, an aspect that historically been seen as central to the arts, is beauty. And in the presence of beauty, we as humans respond with wonder and awe, recognizing that there is more to our world than can be seen, observed, or concretely expressed. In the face of a modern Western society in which concepts of beauty are often skewed and of a modern Western art world in which such concepts are generally dismissed, Gregory Wolfe presents beauty as crucial within the tradition of religious humanism. Beauty, Wolfe attests, is real and perceivable, and it demands our attention. Of the three transcendentals—truth, beauty, and goodness—Wolfe identifies beauty as the element most often ignored, but most capable of reaching us in our modern state (see Wolfe 2011, chapter 1). It is the element that we can experience most directly and which we perhaps have the least ability to callously resist: “Beauty can sail under the radar of our anxious contention over what is true and what is good, carrying along its beam a ray of the beatific vision. Beauty can pierce the heart, wounding us with the transcendent glory of God” (Wolfe 2015, 12). Religious humanism thus values beauty as that which gets our attention and helps us to see and experience the world as it really is. But beauty is also not easy. It does not simply please our senses. Beauty wakes us up, helps us (for once) to see the world as it really is (see Wolfe 2015, 13–14). Beauty does not remove us from the world. It helps us fully engage the world and to see it aright in new ways. Art

U2 and the Art of Being Human


shakes us out of the everyday, the mundane, in order to wake us up to the truths of the world: At its best, art transfigures the world around us for a brief time, strives to let the radiance of truth, goodness, and beauty flash out for an instant. Art wakes us up, trains our perceptions, and reminds us that when we try to build rigid structures around presence we inevitably lose what we attempt to keep. The purpose of art is not to strand us in an alternate world, but to return us to the realm of the ordinary, only with new eyes. (Wolfe 2003, 118)

As with the previous discussion of imagination and creativity in U2’s output, the consideration of beauty focuses more on the band’s music than on their lyrics. A value of employing religious humanism as a framing concept is that it allows for, even demands, a consideration of art, creativity, and beauty, not only textual meaning. While the next section (Mystery, Paradox, and Ambiguity) focuses more on the artistry of U2’s lyrics, I focus here on the simple fact that U2 creates beautiful music. Religious humanism provides a way to assign value and import to that beauty itself. Any attempt to define the beautiful in music surely demands a much more detailed argument than I can provide here. But for the sake of naming a few of what I consider to be U2’s most beautiful songs, I will assume some shared characteristics of what has broadly been considered in the Western world as beautiful music, at least since the nineteenth century. Such characteristics include a prominent, tuneful melody that is not overly complex and is in an accessible singing range; a fairly straightforward rhythm that is secondary to the melody and in a relatively slow tempo; harmonies that are primarily consonant; and a prominent solo voice supported by vocal harmony, as well as string and/ or keyboard instruments. Consider, for example, “Grace,” the final track of U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind (2000). Although it lacks the backing vocals common in so many of U2’s other songs, “Grace” exemplifies the rest of these characteristics of beautiful music. It weaves together prominent, tuneful melodies from guitar, bass, and solo voice. The vocal melody is lyrical, memorable, and fairly simple, in an accessible singing range. The rhythms are interesting, but repetitive and simple enough to not draw our attention away from the melody. The harmonies are pleasing, consonant, and fairly simple, heard in the combination of voice, guitar, and bass, with straightforward chords on synthesizer. In this particular song, the beauty of the music also reflects specific textual content: “Grace makes beauty out of ugly things/Grace finds beauty in everything.”5 Other songs that I hear as beautiful based on the above criteria include “Into the Heart” (Boy 1980), “Scarlet” (October 1981), “40” (War 1983), “MLK” (The Unforgettable Fire 1984), “Mothers of the Disappeared” (The Joshua Tree 1987), “All I Want Is You” (Rattle and Hum 1988), “One” (Achtung Baby 1991), “The First Time” (Zooropa 1993), “If God Will Send His Angels” (Pop 1997), “In a Little While” (All That You Can’t Leave Behind 2000), “One Step Closer” (How to


U2 and the Religious Impulse

Dismantle an Atomic Bomb 2004), “Magnificent” (No Line on the Horizon 2009), and “Song for Someone” (Songs of Innocence 2014). While I hear in these songs clear examples of U2’s striving to create beautiful music, I would not limit a consideration of beauty in U2’s music to songs that fit the above criteria. I feel U2 has surely not limited their striving for beauty in music to songs such as these, and I hear much beauty in their harder rocking songs in faster tempos, as well. I will not attempt to theorize such beauty here, but rather simply offer some additional songs that I find to be beautiful but that do not match all the above criteria, including: “With a Shout (Jerusalem)” (October 1981), “Two Hearts Beat as One” (War 1983), “Pride (In the Name of Love)” (The Unforgettable Fire 1984), “Where the Streets Have No Name” (The Joshua Tree 1987), “Angel of Harlem” (Rattle and Hum 1988), “Even Better Than the Real Thing” (Achtung Baby 1991), “Babyface” (Zooropa 1993), “Staring at the Sun” (Pop 1997), “Wild Honey” (All That You Can’t Leave Behind 2000), “Love and Peace or Else” (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb 2004), “Magnificent” (No Line on the Horizon 2009), and “California (There Is No End to Love)” (Songs of Innocence 2014). U2 has sought throughout their career to create beautiful music. A consideration of U2 from a particular theological perspective or religious tradition may or may not provide a lens through which to consider such beauty. Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christianity, for example, have long and ongoing traditions of theological perspectives on beauty. Many Protestant Christian traditions, however, have been ambivalent, or even antagonistic, to considerations of beauty. Once again, I see a great value in instead considering U2 through religious humanism, a philosophical and artistic tradition which values beauty and takes seriously our human responses to beauty.

Mystery, Paradox, and Ambiguity The imagination leads ultimately not to human certainties but to an intuition of the glory within the complex mystery of the world. (Wolfe 2011, 170) Mystery thus lies at the intersection where reason, intuition, and imagination meet and only the both/and language of paradox seems capable of uniting everything that otherwise seems hopelessly either/or. (Wolfe 2015, xi) At the top of each title page of Image appear three words: “Art, Faith, Mystery.” As detailed so far in this chapter, art and faith are central to Gregory Wolfe’s understanding of religious humanism. But the third word, “mystery,” is also crucial, for it clarifies the experiences of art and faith that religious humanism promotes. This is not a simple vision of either art or faith, and certainly not of their relationship. For this is a faith that respects, and even requires, mystery, paradox, ambiguity, and even doubt, a faith that recognizes that questions are often as important as answers. In religious humanism, an imaginative faith is a faith that embraces mystery, that “refuses to collapse paradox on itself ” (Wolfe 2011, 42). Wolfe writes of a

U2 and the Art of Being Human


yearning “for a deeper understanding of mystery, that borderland where reason fails and only faith and imagination can go. These two faculties reach out beyond rigid and divisive ideological categories into paradox and ambiguity. In the end, the mystery of mysteries may be that only in paradox and ambiguity can truth be glimpsed” (Wolfe 2003, 12). Far from rejecting orthodox belief, religious humanism recognizes in orthodoxy a respect for mystery. Writing of the long tradition of Christianity in the West, Wolfe attests: But the genius of the Judeo-Christian tradition is that its central dogma are mysteries, from the covenant with Abraham to the Trinity, Incarnation, and Resurrection … Dante, Bach, Rembrandt, Hopkins, and T. S. Eliot believed in the mysteries preserved and enshrined by the dogma of the Church. That those mysteries were paradoxical and many-faceted they never doubted. (Wolfe 2003, 53)

In embracing mystery and paradox, religious humanism embraces our humanity by affirming doubt: “Genuine doubt is not weakness but strength” (Wolfe 2015, 37). To speak of religious dogma is not to attest that one has all the answers. Wolfe quotes Flannery O’Connor: “On the contrary, dogma is an instrument for penetrating reality. Christian dogma is about the only thing left in the world that surely guards and respects mystery” (2011, 65). Religious humanism embraces paradox, those seemingly contradictory truths which are nevertheless true, for example, the Christian doctrine that Jesus Christ is both Divine and human. Religious humanism also respects another paradox, that the believer may live a life of faith while still holding doubt. The admission of doubt is fundamentally the admission of humility, that there is a limit to what we as humans can know about God and the world, that we need faith: “Faith is openness to divine mystery, an openness that requires humility and a vivid awareness of the fragility and contingency of our human formulation” (Wolfe 2015, 82). Ideas of ambiguity, allusion, and even contradiction are abundant in U2’s lyrics: especially beginning with The Joshua Tree, U2’s songs are richly poetic, employing devices such as metaphor, allusion, exaggeration, and irony. The fact that U2 rarely states something directly is not only good poetry, it is also consistent with the tradition of religious humanism. In this section, I consider examples of mystery, paradox, and ambiguity in three categories: [(1) “paradox: faith and doubt,” (2) “textual allusion,” and (3) “musical allusion.”] Paradox: Faith and Doubt While other paradoxes are present in U2’s lyrics, a primary one is that of the presence of both faith and doubt for the religious believer. The paradigmatic statement of this paradox is in “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (The Joshua Tree 1987): “You know I believe it. But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” While these statements have been taken by some as faulty religion, they are, in fact, a faithful, even orthodox, Christian expression, dating back as far as the


U2 and the Religious Impulse

Gospel of Mark and a father’s cry to Jesus: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9.24, New Revised Standard Version). In religious humanism, faith does not mean the absence of doubt. One may faithfully declare “You know I believe it,” while continuing to state “But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” Many examples of paradox, including other examples which explore the relationship between faith and doubt, appear in U2’s lyrics. See, for example, “Shadows and Tall Trees” (Boy 1980), “40” (War 1983), “Bad” (The Unforgettable Fire 1984), “With or Without You” (The Joshua Tree 1987), “God Part II” (Rattle and Hum 1988), “Until the End of the World” (Achtung Baby 1991), “Acrobat” (Achtung Baby), “The Wanderer” (Zooropa 1993), “If God Will Send His Angels” (Pop 1997), “Staring at the Sun” (Pop), “The Playboy Mansion” (Pop), “Please” (Pop), “Peace on Earth” (All That You Can’t Leave Behind 2000), “Original of the Species” (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb 2004), “Yahweh” (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb), “Moment of Surrender” (No Line on the Horizon 2009), “Stand Up Comedy” (No Line on the Horizon), and “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” (Songs of Innocence 2014). Textual Allusion In this section, I use the term “textual allusion” very broadly to refer to beautifully evocative poetic language in which the meaning of the text is intentionally unclear, in which the poet uses metaphor and imagery to allude to or evoke meaning and/ or mood. Once again, examples of such textual allusion abound in U2’s richly poetic language, language which recognizes that communication is much more than content. A consideration of U2’s lyrics in the context of religious humanism cannot simply focus on what texts mean, but must consider the imaginative use of language that communicates much more than prose text can. U2’s textual allusions are often beautifully poetic, with rich, and even fairly clear, meaning, as in the following examples: “You gotta cry without weeping, talk without speaking/scream without raising your voice” (“Running to Stand Still,” The Joshua Tree 1987); “Who’s gonna ride your wild horses?/Who’s gonna drown in your blue sea?” (“Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses,” Achtung Baby 1991); “The heart is a bloom, shoots up through stony ground” (“Beautiful Day,” All That You Can’t Leave Behind 2000); “One day she’s still, the next she swells/You can hear the universe in her sea shells” (“No Line on the Horizon,” No Line on the Horizon 2009); “I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred/Heard a song that made some sense out of the world” (“The Miracle [of Joey Ramone],” Songs of Innocence 2014). In some songs, U2’s lyrics are intentionally ambiguous in order to allow for multiple meanings and interpretations, or simply to avoid straightforward meaning. For example, “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” (Achtung Baby 1991) is a richly evocative love song, but its multiple metaphors and perspectives conceal a clear meaning. More important than specific meaning is the beauty of the language itself and the ways it reveals and conceals a relationship both beautiful and troubled. Similarly, is “The Playboy Mansion” (Pop 1997) a place to be desired

U2 and the Art of Being Human


(perhaps prefiguring heaven) or a false edifice of commercialism? U2 offers us both, not either/or. Other songs intentionally incorporate more than one layer of meaning. For example, “Heartland” (Rattle and Hum 1988) is both a song to an individual lover and “a love song to [America]” (Stokes 2009, 86). Similarly, “Love and Peace or Else” (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb 2004) is both a love song and a prayer for peace in the Middle East. While U2 employs many richly beautiful textual allusions, they also at times employ hyperbole, often to the point of the ridiculous, as in, “Yeah I dreamed that I saw Dali with a supermarket trolley/He was tryin’ to throw his arms around a girl” (“Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World,” Achtung Baby 1991), and, “Coming from a long line of travelling sales people on my mother’s side/I wasn’t gonna buy just anyone’s cockatoo” (“Breathe,” No Line on the Horizon 2009). Other songs that employ hyperbole include “When Love Comes to Town” (Rattle and Hum 1988), “Discotheque” (Pop 1997), “Miami” (Pop), and “I’ll Go Crazy if I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” (No Line on the Horizon 2009). Such employment of hyperbole is closely related to the use of irony, another device valued by religious humanists and by U2. Wolfe identifies irony as “a way of piercing through the ambiguities of daily life to a fleetingly-glimpsed truth” (Wolfe 2003, 107). Such irony is particularly evident in Achtung Baby (1991), Zooropa (1993), and Pop (1997). Zooropa, for example, begins with the title track’s litany of commercial advertising, including such advice as “be all that you can be” and “eat to get slimmer.” However, U2 is clearly criticizing commercialism in the song and throughout the album. Likewise, the next two tracks on Zooropa intentionally say the opposite of what they mean. “Babyface” appears to be a love song to mass-mediated pornography, which U2 is clearly speaking against. And “Numb” presents a seemingly endless litany of negative commands (don’t … don’t … don’t …), while the song is actually urging us to be individuals and to rebel against these societal strictures. Musical Allusion That such examples of allusion, hyperbole, and irony abound in U2’s lyrics is not surprising. They are writing poetry, after all, and such is the language of poetry. However, U2’s employment of allusion and irony is not limited to their lyrics. While not as widespread or obvious, musical allusion and irony also abound in U2’s work. For example, the textual irony of both “Babyface” and “Numb” (Zooropa 1993) is emphasized by musical irony: “Babyface” is in the style of a beautiful love ballad; “Numb” sits on a single note, emphasizing the lack of life in one who would obey the text’s commands. Furthermore, all three of U2’s albums from the 1990s present musical irony through U2’s twisting of “pop” style on such tracks as “Zooropa” and “Lemon” on Zooropa and “Discotheque” and “Mofo” on Pop. But the band’s use of musical allusion is both subtler and more interesting than only irony. U2’s most obvious use of musical allusion is their invocation of African-American musical styles on Rattle and Hum (1988).6 As U2 explored the United States and the roots of rock and roll, they immersed themselves in a


U2 and the Religious Impulse

wide variety of African-American music. Examples on Rattle and Hum include their collaboration with The New Voices of Freedom to transform “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” into a Gospel style, their invocation of a Bo Diddley rhythm in “Desire,” and the twelve-bar Blues of “God Part II.” U2 likewise engages Rhythm & Blues in “When Love Comes to Town,” performed with legendary Blues musician B. B. King. “When Love Comes to Town” also references the AfricanAmerican spiritual “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” attesting, “I was there when they crucified my Lord.” U2 employs musical allusion in a much subtler manner on No Line on the Horizon (2009). An obvious example is “White as Snow,” which is modeled on the twelfth-century Advent hymn “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”7 The hymn melody amplifies the religious content of the text: “Who can forgive forgiveness where forgiveness is not? Only the lamb as white as snow” (“White as Snow,” No Line on the Horizon 2009). And I cannot listen to “Unknown Caller” (No Line on the Horizon 2009) without hearing the early twentieth-century Gospel hymn “My Savior’s Love”8: the song’s closing instrumental section quotes the first six measures of the hymn’s eight-measure refrain. The “My Savior’s Love” refrain melody is anticipated at 4:26, then clearly stated at 4:38. At 4:43, the Edge picks up and transforms the theme to start his guitar solo, while the opening of the hymn melody continues to be heard in the background as the solo continues. Likewise, I believe the possibility of self-allusion in U2’s music is worth exploring further. For example, I cannot hear the ascending perfect fifth followed by an ascending major sixth in “Yahweh” (the vocal melody for the chorus, on the words “Yahweh, Yahweh,” heard first at 1:04) without connecting it back to the same ascending perfect fifth followed by an ascending major sixth (in a different key) heard in the solo guitar at the very beginning of “Miracle Drug” (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb 2004). Considering U2’s songs in relation to religious humanism provides a richer and more complex framework from which to think about both their music and lyrics in light of mystery, paradox, and ambiguity. Within the tradition of religious humanism, we can take seriously not only what U2’s lyrics mean, but also how they are artfully communicated poetically and musically. In fact, I believe we could state about U2’s music Gregory Wolfe’s words about Desiderius Erasmus’s The Praise of Folly: “In its love of paradox, ambiguity, and indirection, it affirms the role of art as an indispensable medium through which the transcendent can be known” (Wolfe 2015, 129).

Engaging the World Yet another paradox of religious humanism is that it combines a tragic sense of life—an awareness of our fallenness and the limits of human institutions— with a strain of persistent hope … The religious humanist refuses to give in to apocalyptic fears, believing that grace is always available. (Wolfe 1997, xxii–xxiii)

U2 and the Art of Being Human


The film director Akira Kurosawa said that the “artist is the one who does not look away.” The artist maintains her gaze at human neediness and dependency, and through the honesty and beauty of the form she creates, enables us to connect that need with its true source and lasting fulfillment. (Wolfe 2015, 50) While art is often dismissed as disengaged from “the real world,” religious humanism requires an art that fully engages the world, that “does not look away” (Wolfe 2015, 50). Wolfe attests that art does not separate us from reality and action, but rather more fully prepares us to engage the world, “to send us back [to the realm of action] wiser and more fully human” (Wolfe 2011, 22). Religious humanism engages the world, both the good and the bad. It seeks beauty in the created world and in human culture. It also seeks to identify what’s wrong with the world, the things in creation and culture that are not as they should be. It names evil, speaks out against injustice and oppression, and seeks restoration, healing, and reconciliation. Religious humanism requires that artists “depict the human condition in all its fullness” (Wolfe 2011, 23), which means that such artists do not deny the brokenness of the world but instead recognize “the tragic sense of life” (see 2015, 18–21; 2011, 12). For the religious humanist, such a tragic sense of life leads not to despair, but rather to faith and action. In fact, Wolfe presents tragedy as key to humanity, faith, and the arts: From Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides to Dante, Milton, Shakespeare, and Racine, tragedy only makes sense when we can ask the questions that theodicy asks: why does suffering often seem to be out of proportion to guilt; where are the gods, or God, in what seems to be an unjust cosmos; how is it, to use Lear’s words, that we are “more sinned against than sinning”? (Wolfe 2015, 19)

Wolfe thus attests that a tragic sense of life is essential for faith “to remain true to experience and not become a sentimentalized blindness” (Wolfe 2015, 21). He cites T. S. Eliot’s ambition to “discover how grace could be found in a fractured culture” (Wolfe 2011, 53) and states, “If grace means anything, it must be the presence of the divine within a fallen creation” (Wolfe 2011, 67). So religious humanism both names tragic realities and affirms “the mysterious presence of grace in suffering and adversity” (Wolfe 2011, 115). Such an approach is clearly characteristic of U2’s music, as the band has constantly asked both “What’s wrong with the world?” and “What can we as humans do to fix it?” The band’s words and actions calling for social justice and equality and seeking to aid those who experience oppression and injustice are well known.9 And U2’s many songs addressing injustice, oppression, and tragedy— individual, societal, or global—are likewise well known. I will present here just a few examples as representative of this characteristic of U2’s music. I offer four categories in relation to which U2 names what is wrong with the world: historic events, present societal injustices, particular individuals, and a broad conception of the world and its people as a whole.


U2 and the Religious Impulse

First, I consider songs that speak to brokenness, pain, tragedy, or injustice in historic events. First, it is no surprise that many of U2’s songs speak into the tragic realities of Ireland’s history in relation to Great Britain in the twentieth century. Perhaps U2’s best-known song addressing tragedy in Ireland is “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (War 1983b), which invokes massacres of 1921 and 1972; and the band famously recorded a live version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” in response to the Enniskillen massacre, November 8, 1987 (Stokes 2009, 35–37). U2 continued to mourn and protest violence in Ireland also through songs such as “Peace on Earth” (All That You Can’t Leave Behind 2000) and “Raised by Wolves” (Songs of Innocence 2014). Another significant historic event U2 has repeatedly addressed is the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the subject of one of their best-known songs, “Pride (In the Name of Love)” (The Unforgettable Fire 1984). And while the lyrics specifically address the tragedy of Dr. King’s murder (“Early morning, April four/Shot rings out in the Memphis sky”), they focus on Dr. King as one who spoke out for love and against injustice: “Free at last, they took your life/They could not take your pride.” This spirit of hope permeates a second tribute to Dr. King on The Unforgettable Fire, “MLK”: “Sleep, sleep tonight/And may your dreams be realized.” U2 has similarly crafted tributes to those who stood up in the face of injustice and oppression in songs such as “Mothers of the Disappeared” (The Joshua Tree 1987) and “Walk On” (All That You Can’t Leave Behind 2000). A second category in relation to which U2 names brokenness in the world is present societal injustices. One example of such a song is “Bullet the Blue Sky” (The Joshua Tree 1987), protesting US involvement in Latin America, particularly El Salvador and Nicaragua (Stokes 2009, 66). U2 also addresses the effects of Western capitalistic greed on the people of Africa in “Silver and Gold” (Rattle and Hum 1988) and “Crumbs from Your Table” (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb 2004), as well as the need for peace in the Middle East in “With a Shout (Jerusalem)” (October 1981) and “Love and Peace or Else” (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb 2004). The third category moves from large societal events and injustices to the single person. Many of U2’s songs attest to the brokenness of a single person, often one known personally by the band members. Such songs may likewise be considered in several categories. First are songs mourning death, which include those in which Bono reflects on the loss of his mother, Iris Hewson (including “I Will Follow,” Boy 1980; “Tomorrow,” October 1981; and “Iris [Hold Me Close],” Songs of Innocence 2014; Stokes 2009, 7, 28; Rolling Stone 2014); the tragic death of friend Greg Carroll (“One Tree Hill,” The Joshua Tree 1987; see Stokes 2009, 71); the likely suicide of Michael Hutchence (“Stuck in a Moment,” All That You Can’t Leave Behind 2000; Stokes 2009, 136); and attempted suicide by Sean d’Angelo (“A Day without Me,” Boy 1980; Stokes 2009, 16–17). Closely related are songs mourning addiction, such as “Wire” and “Bad,” both from The Unforgettable Fire (1984). And U2 is also honest in writing songs that recognize the brokenness within each individual person, that is, within themselves. Such songs include “God Part II” (Rattle and Hum 1988) and “Acrobat” (Achtung Baby 1991).

U2 and the Art of Being Human


Finally, U2 names the brokenness, the need for peace and healing and reconciliation, of the whole world and all its people. U2’s songs addressing specific events, injustices, and persons tend to be ambiguous enough to be broadly applicable to other events, injustices, and persons. But some songs go even further by expanding the particular to the universal, stating the need for peace for all the earth’s people. Such a perspective underlies the final track of Pop (1997), “Wake up Dead Man,” a song that calls out to God to act in a world, and for a self, that is so broken. Here U2 stands in the traditions of Judaism and Christianity by echoing the psalmist: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” (Psalm 22.1, NRSV; see also, for example, Psalm 109). Two other songs that likewise name brokenness and tragedy and call out for the peace of the whole world are “Peace on Earth” (All That You Can’t Leave Behind 2000) and “Love and Peace or Else” (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb 2004). While such engagement with the world is important in many religious traditions, it is always central for the religious humanist: this is a faith that leads to action, that seeks to bring healing to a broken world (see Wolfe 2015, 92). U2’s posture of engaging the world reflects the tradition of religious humanism by speaking words of justice within, and speaking grace into, “the gnarled complexity of history and the inherent ambiguity of human motives and desires” (Wolfe 2015, 109). As Wolfe states, “At the heart of Christian humanism is the effort to achieve a new synthesis between the condition of the world around us and the unique ways in which grace can speak to that condition” (2011, 23–24).

Conclusion: Being Human: We’re All in This Together In the well-wrought artifact, the active joins the contemplative; human making leaves room for mystery. But a mystery that is shared. (Wolfe 2015, 135) [T]he effort to be fully human cannot ultimately be undertaken in solitude. (Wolfe 2015, 42) For communication is at the heart of every art form: we as humans probe the mysteries of life, explore what being human really means, and express our questions and (tentative) answers through art. Wolfe explains: Transformation is what faith and imagination have in common: they take the stuff of ordinary life and place it in the light of the ultimate questions of sin and redemption. Faith and imagination reach out to explore the mysteries of heaven and earth and then return to the community with the symbols and stories that help us know who we are. (2011, 60)

Such transformation also calls us to empathy: “The imagination calls us to leave our personalities behind and temporarily to inhabit another’s experience, looking at the world with new eyes. Art invites us to meet the Other—whether that be our neighbor or the infinite otherness of God—and to achieve a new wholeness


U2 and the Religious Impulse

of spirit” (Wolfe 2011, 22). Wolfe continues, “The passion to find reconciliation and redemption is one of the inherently theological aspects of art” (2011, 22). And I believe this is what U2 is fundamentally doing in their music. U2 yearns to communicate through their songs, creating poetry and music that help us understand ourselves, our neighbors, and the world we together inhabit. And they see this as a shared project, one we as humans undertake together, and for the sake of each other and for the sake of the world (see Wolfe 2011, xiii, 101). In sum, I propose that this project of religious humanism is exactly what U2 is up to and that we can well understand their music within this tradition. Through their songs, U2 invites us to probe the mysteries of the world and of faith, to engage deeply in the created world and with human culture, to support each other as one human community, to be fully human in all the wonder and beauty and messiness this entails. As Wolfe concludes, “If art cannot save our souls, it can do much to redeem the time, to give us a true image of ourselves, both in the horror and the boredom to which we can descend, and in the glory which we may, in rare moments, be privileged to glimpse” (2011, 8). U2 offers us just such an art.

NOTES Foreword 1 http://www.selahgospelchoir.com. 2 http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/u2-finds-what-its-looking -for-19921001 (accessed June 15, 2017). 3 Paul Walker, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For: God for Agnostics (O Books, 2006). 4 Debra Dean Murphy, “‘Beautiful Day’ or ‘Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’? The Wisdom of U2charist in Congregational Worship,” Liturgy, 28 (2013): 25–32.

Introduction 1 See the U2 Studies Bibliography at http://u2conference.com/u2-bibliography.

Chapter 1 1 Spirituality is a much-debated topic in the U2 literature. As the title suggests, Steve Stockman’s biography Walk On. The Spiritual Journey of U2 (2005) is an example of this. Concerning spirituality, Bruce Springsteen is quoted in the book with this remark about the band: “In their music you hear the spirituality as home and as quest. How do you find God unless He’s in your heart?” (Stockman 2005, 241). 2 For instance, William Goodman documents the thorough influence of the Psalms and other biblical texts, references, echoes or “voices” (2012a, 111) in U2’s song catalog, offering “a mixture of assured praise and anguished lament which intertwine and are held together in tension” (Goodman 2012a, 109). This includes two early songs “Gloria” (October) and “40” (War). In terms of lyrics, October has been designated as an “overt expression of their [i.e. the band members’] faith,” although with the exception of one song, “Stranger in a Strange Land” (Bowler and Dray 1993, 93), hence being “a record of emotional spirituality” (Bowler and Dray 1993, 91). 3 The word “spiritual” conveys the most adequate description of the mental dimension of early U2, even though the word displays “well-worn” (yet “friendly”) stereotypes of “Irish music […] attribute[d] […] to the band” (McLaughlin 2014, 191).



4 Quite unusually, this Christianity originally contained elements from both Protestantism and Catholicism, since The Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Dublin which all four future members of U2 attended, had been set up as an experiment to bring children of Catholic and Protestant beliefs together (Connolly 2015). For instance, Bono grew up with a Protestant mother and a Catholic father. 5 From 1978 until shortly after the release of October, Bono, the Edge, and Larry Mullen Jr. were members of a local Christian community, The Shalom Fellowship, together with a number of friends and peers, including members of another Dublin band, Virgin Prunes. For a short while in late 1981, the three U2 members considered their future in rock, since the assumed hedonistic way of living did not meet the expectations of being a Christian according to the Fellowship. Especially the Edge had doubts (Gardner 1994, xiv–xv) and considered leaving the band (Flanagan 1996, 45). The story is unfolded in extenso in Dunphy (1987). 6 For an(other) analysis of the Edge’s guitar style, see Johnson (2015). 7 It is beyond the scope of this chapter to do a decidedly campanological study of this technique, even though it would undoubtedly contribute to shedding light on the matter. 8 From the stage, on the Vertigo Tour in 2005, Bono addressed how he and his fellow band members had encountered the Edge: “We just stood with our mouths open as this spaceship landed on the north side of Dublin. And a door opened and out walked this extraordinary looking man with an Explorer guitar” (Calhoun 2012, 241). 9 A power chord can be defined as two notes plucked on the guitar at the same time, at the distance of a perfect fifth (I-V) or a perfect fourth (V-I), usually on the lowest strings E and A, creating a thick “rock” sound. This practice is very common in rock, not least in punk and heavy metal-related genres. 10 This practice is called detuning and is a commonly known practice in heavy metal, in which the strings of the guitars and basses involved are typically tuned to a minor third, major third, or a perfect fourth down from the E-A-D-G-B-E standard tuning, resulting in an adequate lowering of the overtones of the notes and creating a much darker and doomier soundscape. The practice is sometimes used in other genres as well. 11 This includes “I Will Follow,” “Twilight,” ”Stories for Boys,” “The Ocean” (Boy), “Gloria,” ”Fire” (October), “Seconds,” “Like a Song …,” “Drowning Man,” “Surrender” (War), “Wire,” and “Indian Summer Sky” (The Unforgettable Fire). 12 This includes “I Fall Down” (October), “40” (War), and “Bad” (The Unforgettable Fire). 13 This includes “Rejoice,” “Tomorrow,” “October,” “With a Shout (Jerusalem)” and “Stranger in a Strange Land” (October), “New Year’s Day” and “Red Light” (War), and “4th of July” (The Unforgettable Fire).



14 This includes “An Cat Dubh,” “Out of Control,” “A Day Without Me” and “The Electric Co.” (Boy), and “Scarlet” (October). 15 This includes “Two Hearts Beat as One” (War) and “The Unforgettable Fire” (The Unforgettable Fire). 16 Of course, the Edge could do this by using a capo placed on any fret he likes, but it would affect the sustainability of the tones and make the guitar sound less “natural.” 17 This, as well as the following references, refers to the studio versions of the songs on the aforementioned four studio albums. 18 These songs include “An Cat Dubh,” “Into the Heart,” “Out of Control,” “Stories for Boys” (Boy), “With a Shout (Jerusalem),” “Scarlet” (October), “Seconds,” “New Year’s Day,” “Drowning Man,” “Surrender” (War), as well as “Wire,” “The Unforgettable Fire,” “Promenade,” ”4th of July,” “Bad,” and “Indian Summer Sky” (The Unforgettable Fire). I would like to thank Glenn Alf Larsen for providing valuable information during the writing of this paragraph. 19 In addition, the Edge also used harmonics as an essential part of his one-off collaboration in 1983 with Jah Wobble and Holger Czukay on the mini-album Snake Charmer, especially on the track “Hold On to Your Dreams” which the Edge cowrote. 20 These songs include “The Ocean,” “The Electric Co.” (Boy), “Fire,” “Stranger in a Strange Land” (October), and “4th of July” (The Unforgettable Fire). It should be added that the use of harmonics on the bass—a feature which Adam Clayton has made use of from time to time, as mentioned above—are featured in the early work of A Certain Ratio, a band which, according to music critic Jon Pareles, might have inspired songs like “With A Shout” and “Is That All” from October ([The Editors of Rolling Stone] 1994, 4), since the production of these songs resembles slap bass playing by Jeremy Kerr of A Certain Ratio might also have inspired Adam Clayton in his use of slap bass in songs like “Gloria” (October) and “Wire” (The Unforgettable Fire). sound textures performed on A Certain Ratio’s debut album To Each …, released five months prior to October, in May 1981. In addition, the funk-related signature. 21 For a rather basic analysis of Adam Clayton’s bass playing (which does not include the use of harmonics), see Wright (2015). 22 The ring modulator is a long-established effect pedal, which actually can emulate sounds that resemble ambiguous bell pitches—but this device was never used on early U2 recordings. 23 Neither the Edge nor Adam Clayton were native Irish, though. U2 is discussed in relation to Irishness, in Hess (2015), Cogan (2007), and, to a limited extent, O’Flynn (2009). 24 U2 has often been labeled as an essentially “anthemic Dublin rock band,” creating a “shrill, sloganeering, evangelically tinged rock bombast” (Sheppard 2008, 367,



26 27



30 31



qtd. after McLaughlin 2014, 177). The anthem-like, (quasi-)religious approach to song writing, arrangement, and production was part of the zeitgeist in the early 1980s in British, Scottish, and Irish rock and synthpop. U2 were certainly not alone in pursuing such an approach, sharing this focus with acts such as Simple Minds, Spandau Ballet, The Alarm, and others. As this chapter attempts to show, though, U2 were in their own way instrumental in creating an adequate musical equivalent to the spiritual components of the lead singer’s voice, the use of religious lyrics, and so on with the use of bell-like guitar techniques. According to the website Guitar, the Edge would by 1981 use a rig with two 1960s VOX AC30 Top Boost amps and two Electro Harmonix Memory Man Deluxe pedals, and with two guitars: the Gibson Explorer and a Fender Stratocaster (https:// www.guitar.com/rigs/edge-u2-1981-rig-and-gear-setup ). In 1983, he would more or less stick to the same rig, but with one amp replaced with a Roland JC-120 combo amp and with a few other effects pedals (https://www.guitar.com/rigs/edge-u2-1983 -rig-and-gear-setup). I would like to thank Ivan Lopez Garrido and David Kampmann for valuable information during the writing of this paragraph. Tim Darling has claimed that the Herdim picks make up “a huge part of the chime sound on War” (personal e-mail correspondence with the author, conducted February 2, 2016). Big Country rose to fame in 1983 with their debut album The Crossing. The band’s signature sound was the bagpipe-like guitar playing by Stuart Adamson and Bruce Watson, which can be seen as an organological pendant to the Edge’s bell-like soundscapes and other guitarists of the time. In 2006, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, U2 (in collaboration with Green Day) made a cover version of “The Saints Are Coming” from this album, suggesting that the members of U2 knew it well. http://tours.atu2.com/opening/comsat-angels (accessed September 18, 2016). Concerning the inspiration from The Comsat Angels, it is worth noting that the intro and other instrumental parts of the opening song “The Eye Dance” from Sleep No More has a strong resemblance to “Surrender” (War), released one and a half years later. As a unit, U2 was inspired by artists like Public Image Ltd., The Skids, The Clash, Wire, The Stranglers, Stiff Little Fingers, Patti Smith, and David Bowie; Irish bands like Thin Lizzy and The Undertones; and according to friend Gavin Friday also The Jam, The Associates, and The Skids (Stokes 1996, 17); before the recording of The Unforgettable Fire Simple Minds’ 1982 album New Gold Dream (81-82-83-84) (Kline 2009), and not least Joy Division. Apparently, these influences did not directly impact the elements of the Edge’s guitar playing, which are in question here. This might also be the case with the Edge’s personal inspiration from Television (Klein




35 36 37


2009). In an article for The Observer, Tim Sommer pointed out the huge inspiration and replications of songs, which U2 in general drew from bands like Wire, Stranglers, The Skids, and others (Sommer 2016). The Edge was, however, presumably the only one among his peers to have used this quest for specific spiritual purposes. His style is thus a means to realize the potential of a greater goal: the search for and praise of God. The lengthy subtitle of the book reads as follows: “Wherein is laid down plain and easie Rules for Ringing all sorts of Plain Changes. Together with Directions for Pricking and Ringing all Cross Peals; with a full Discovery of the Mystery and Grounds of each Pals. As Also Instructions for Hanging of Bells, with all things belonging thereunto. by a lover of that ART.” These works were originally recorded on the Arvo Pärt’s albums Tabula Rasa (1984), Arbos (1987), and Alina (1999). http://www.u2.com/music/Singles/4023/Gloria (accessed September 7, 2016). See also Dunphy (1987, 182–83). With War, the Edge “turned to playing a more traditional rock guitar, setting himself the daunting, but exciting, challenge of reinterpreting a style that had been dominant for twenty-five years or more and extracting fresh life from it” (Bowler and Dray 1993, 125). In an interview from 1986, he said about this stylistic change: “Eventually we made a decision to leave out the echo on War, and the guitar became much more dry and forceful” (Hutchinson 1986).

Chapter 2 1 What this chapter does not do, however, is outline what specifically U2’s spiritual faith is. While it most likely has a Judeo-Christian slant to it, the specifics of what the band members believe in are not relevant to this analysis and are beyond the scope of this project. 2 These examples presented here are my own personal transcriptions of the studio versions of the songs. In some cases, the notated rhythms and pitches are approximations of the recordings. I used digital lossless audio files in Sound Studio (Version 4.8.101) for playback and Finale 2014.5 for the notation software. 3 From billboard.com. Available online: http://www.billboard.com/archive/ charts/1987/hot-100 (accessed March 13, 2017). 4 Bono is on record describing The Joshua Tree as an “uncertain” record and ISHFWILF as an “anthem of doubt more than faith” (Stokes 2009, 64), which of course, is a logical and sensible interpretation. However, there are musical characteristics that support a different interpretation, one that is framed from a more positive perspective. The song’s major tonality, for example, as well as melodic




7 8


and harmonic conclusiveness at the end of each line, indicates a positive spin on theme of doubt, as if the song’s protagonist is comfortable knowing that the search (for God, spiritual fulfillment, enlightenment, etc.) is a lifelong process. This is the perspective from which I approach this song. The group of three notes with the intervallic construction of a descending second and descending third is present in the refrain of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” on the lyrics “haven’t found.” However, because of the location in the middle of both a lyrical phrase and a melodic line, this group of notes is not classified as an example of the Motive because of its lack of salience. “Interverse” is a term I coined to replace the semantically problematic term “bridge.” From Christopher Endrinal, “Burning Bridges: Defining the Interverse Using the Music of U2,” “Interverse,” Music Theory Online 17 (3). From grammy.com. Available online: https://www.grammy.com/artist/u2 (accessed February 20, 2017). From riaa.com. Available online: https://www.riaa.com/gold-platinum/?tab_active =default-award&ar=U2&ti=ALL+THAT+YOU+CAN%27T+LEAVE+BEHIND (accessed February 20, 2017).

Chapter 3 1 My thanks to Kayli Taylor, for her research assistance. Data from tours.atu2.com (accessed January 16, 2017). 2 What follows has the limitations of participant observation. These include singularity, first being the only 360° concert I attended and second, by where I was located to observe the performance. My claim is not that this is the sole or authoritative interpretation of MW. I am following Tate, who argues that “no two readers are identical; neither are we ever individually the same reader twice … each reader has an individual imagination and as such fills out a text in individualistic ways” (Tate 1991, 162). 3 http://www.u2gigs.com/show1596.html (accessed December 16, 2010). The six songs were “Breathe,” “Get On Your Boots,” “No Line on the Horizon,” “Magnificent,” “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight,” and “Moment of Surrender.” 4 Author transcription of lyrics, based both on participation and then analysis of video recording of the concert, available on YouTube. Use of “s/S” is used to indicate ambiguity over whether or not to capitalize an audio transcript. 5 “God is generously hospitable, present to the world in a freedom that allows created reality to be itself, attentively delighting in its otherness” (Fiddes 2013, 15, summarizing Kelsey 2009, 174–75).



Chapter 5 1 See the various documentaries on U2 2007: “Lemon for Sale”; “The Road to Sarajevo,” and “A Tour of the Tour.” The 2-disc DVD set now serves as the main record of PopMart. 2 The first of thirteen such broadcasts was July 17, 1993, Bologna. They ended on August 12 after the bleakest of them all in London, when Bono was asked, “What are you going to do? … Excuse me but I think nothing.” See Carter (2011), which includes the first broadcast, and also the reflections on the broadcasts in Carter (2004: 170–263), especially the first (214–18) and last (259–63). The book also includes a reflective coda about the Sarajevo concert itself (315–21). 3 For the business case see the gloomy retrospective comments of manager Paul McGuiness in Bono et al. (2006: 282–83). More generally note Endrinal (2012: 72): “Pop in particular has received an inordinate amount of negative criticism,” and the particularly antagonistic account of Marsh 2003. 4 A useful account of the kind of Christian approach troubled by the album, and especially its closing song, is Holm-Hudson (2007). 5 See also Bono and Peterson (2016). Eugene Peterson is the author of The Message translation of the Bible. 6 It may be noted that Vagacs’s book (2005) originated as a Master’s thesis under Walsh’s supervision. 7 See more generally his book-length study (2012b). 8 This “apologetic” agenda, in the sense of offering an apologia, is particularly noticeable in Stockman (2005). 9 It is from a series of poems charting the tale of a “Woman Young and Old.” For a haunting rendition of this very poem one may turn to The Waterboys’ musical version of it (2011). 10 The recovery of coherent forms of this strangely non-modern view of life has required some considerable theological rethinking. In addition to McFadyen (2000) see especially McFarland (2010) and Crisp (2015). 11 In Trost’s theologically perceptive reading of Pop (Trost 2015) the boundaries between God’s realm and the commercial realm (the “sacred” and the “profane”) are collapsed (“transgressed”) as the album exemplifies a “leap of faith.” I think Trost is right to see this collapse as key, but I am less persuaded that Pop maintains its theological grip on the “God’s realm” side of the map.



Chapter 6 1 See Bono’s comment about people who “even if they don’t like our band” have “an involuntary reaction” at U2 concerts (Maynard 2012, 152). 2 Drawn from a cursory survey of @u2’s comprehensive concert set lists U2concerts. 3 To be found in her 1946 anthropological study of Japan in The Chrysanthemum and the Sword—Patterns of Japanese Culture (Houghton Mifflin).

Chapter 7 1 On the concept of “media event,” see Dayan and Katz (1996: 1–24), Couldry (2003: 55–74) and Couldry and Hepp (2010: 3–13). I am more in favor of calling these stadium concerts “media spectacles,” a central concept in my PhD thesis on arena rock spectacles. See Kellner (2012: 76–80) and Kärki (2014). 2 Bill Bruford, the former Yes, King Crimson, and Genesis drummer told me in IASPM UK 2017 in Brighton that the experience with that Yes staging was actually rather uncomfortable, that one could not see much anything because of the bright stage lighting (Bruford to Kärki, informal discussion September 8, 2016). 3 On close analysis, see Richardson (2012: 13–14) and Kärki (2014: 55). On thick description, see Geertz (1973, 5–7). 4 I would like to thank Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Library and Archive (Cleveland, OH) for valuable help and resources during writing of this chapter.

Chapter 8 1 For a discussion of Charles Taylor and the “festive” element in secular/sacred music, see Scharen (2013). 2 Bernard of Clairvaux: As long as we are in the body, we are in exile from God, not indeed that this is the body’s fault, but it is the fault of the fact that it is still a body of death, or rather that the flesh is the body of sin in which good does not exist but rather the law of sin. Quoted in McGinn (1999, 73). 3 For the Augustinian roots of the inner and outer senses, see Dailey (2012, 264). Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite likewise argued that the soul was divided into two senses, the “passionate” stimulated externally and the “passionless” which was primarily passive and internal. See Pseudo-Dionysus (1980). For more on the binary cosmology inherent to medieval Christianity, see Grant (1996).

Notes 4 5 6 7


9 10 11

12 13


Hildegard von Bingen (1990, Book 3); “Vision 13: Symphony of the Blessed.” Largier (2003, 9–10). For more on the healing power of music, see Horden (2001). Hildegard of Bingen(1990, Book III), Vision XIII. On the idea of union as the “sweet fire of love,” see “The Sparkling Stone” of John Ruusbroec, a fourteenth-century mystic: “By standing before God in this way the spirit feels within itself an eternal fire of love. In this fire it finds neither beginning nor end and feels itself to be one with this fire of love. The spirit remains constantly on fire within itself, for its love is eternal; it also feels that it is constantly being consumed in the fire of love, for it has been drawn into and transformed by the Unity of God.” Ruusbroec (1985, 159). On purification through utter destruction in this flame, see John of the Cross (1987, 287). Walter Simons, “Religious Life” (2003, 108). For the late-medieval theological controversy on whether the human soul was actually a part of the Godhead and returned to that unity in ecstasy or whether it was a substance separate from the Godhead, see McGinn (1999). Angela of Foligno (1999, 44). Angela of Foligno (1999, 45). On God as Leo and the Sun, see Ruusbroec’s (1985). See also Hildegard’s (1990): “We live in the world and you in our minds we embrace you at heart as if we held you. A ferocious lion, you shattered the sky and came down to the Virgin’s palace; you vanquished death and build life in the golden city.” Acts 4:11: “He is the stone that was rejected by you builders, which has become the cornerstone.” (ISV) On a hopeful future, see Calhoun (2012, 24–59). On the call to act ethically in the present, see Keuss and Koenig (2012).

Chapter 9 1 Here Von Balthasar unhelpfully uses gendered stereotypes, which have been criticized. See Kilby (2012).

Chapter 11 1 Brian Eno’s published diary provides good evidence for a sustained friendship which does not shy away from differing faith perspectives. He references a discussion where he and Bono compared philosophical systems, with Bono pointing out positive aspects of Judeo-Christianity (Eno 1996, 120), and pokes fun at Bono’s driving by saying it “suggests he really believes in an afterlife” (123).



2 The complicated relationship a nontheist may have to the Christian message is shown by an aside a nontheist made to me when he learned I was Roman Catholic: “I like that Pope Francis. He seems to really know Jesus.” 3 It would seem a safe assumption, since three out of four people in the United States claim a religious identity, and of those, 94 percent identify as Christian (Pew Research Center 2015). 4 I would like to thank Bart Campolo and journalist John Waters for the interviews they allowed me to conduct with them on this topic. This essay is dedicated to D.H.

Chapter 12 1 According to the study’s results, 36 percent of Americans strongly agree with the first statement, 28 percent with the second, 40 percent with the third, and 33 percent with the fourth (LifeWay Research and Ligonier Ministries 2016b, 25–26). 2 Some scholars and evangelicals would trace evangelicalism all the way back to the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation, from Martin Luther’s use of “evangelical” (from the Greek euangelion, “good news/Gospel”), and given John Calvin’s particular influence in evangelicalism, especially in the twentieth century. 3 And of course such analyses necessarily also touch on the social relationships of the band and its music. 4 An interesting statement from a songwriter reliant on emotional communication through song. 5 The program began in 1956, first on radio and soon after on television. 6 Schultze points out that “[b]y and large, religious radio was independent of religious television,” so there was not necessarily a unified aesthetic governing the different media that evangelists were using (1990b, 175). 7 Coincidentally, the beginning of Jimmy Carter’s term as President of the United States led Newsweek magazine to declare 1976 the “Year of the Evangelical,” in an October 25, 1976, cover story. 8 Including that both Norman and U2 composing a “God Part 2” song in response to John Lennon, and in 2014 the Library of Congress selected albums by both Norman and U2 as part of a list of twenty-five albums for preservation in the National Recording Registry. 9 For example, Rez Band’s 1979 song, “Afrikaans”: “I hear the gunfire, see the blood run, smell the fear/You lock your minds up, shut the curtains, you close your ears … And in the judgment, He will remember the ones you robbed/Without the Lord’s love, this injustice will prevail/Until Jesus is the only Master, we’ll never break the bars of jail.”



10 And note that concern for social justice is not one of the four qualifications of being evangelical in LifeWay Research’s 2016 project.

Chapter 13 1 Thank you to Jared A. Peters for assisting my research for this chapter. I presented a preliminary report on this research for the panel Liberal Arts Snapshots at Trinity Christian College, November 4, 2016. Thank you to Kate Meyrick for her collaboration on that panel. I developed the themes in this chapter out of two earlier presentations: “Signifying (the?) Gospel: U2’s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’,” Annual Meeting of the Society for Christian Scholarship in Music, Yale Institute of Sacred Music, February 14–16, 2013; and “‘I Am Someone’, But Who? U2’s Appropriation of Black Music on Rattle and Hum,” Madison Music Lecture, James Madison University School of Music, March 6, 2014. 2 See Gregory Wolfe website, http://gregorywolfe.com/ (accessed February 28, 2017). 3 Wolfe sometimes employs the phrase “religious humanism” in his writings and other times “Christian humanism.” For the present chapter, I have chosen to consistently use the broader term “religious humanism,” of which “Christian humanism” is a strain. 4 A condensed version of this Introduction appears in Intruding upon the Timeless as “Religious Humanism: A Manifesto” (71–79), and sections of it also appear in chapter 4 of Beauty Will Save the World (29–46). 5 All lyrics quoted in this chapter are taken from www.u2.com. 6 These musical examples are representative of U2’s larger project on Rattle and Hum, to invoke and evoke “American” themes, images, and musical styles. I have explored these themes more fully in my Madison Music Lecture, “‘I Am Someone’, But Who? U2’s Appropriation of Black Music on Rattle and Hum,” James Madison University School of Music, March 6, 2014. 7 Daniel Lanois identified this as an intentional allusion in an interview with The National Post (qtd. in Stokes 2009: 173). 8 Text and music by Charles Hutchinson Gabriel (1905). See Hymnary.org http:// www.hymnary.org/text/i_stand_amazed_in_the_presence (accessed March 7, 2017). 9 In addition to the many news articles and blog posts related to U2’s social activism, see, for example, Stockman 2005; Garrett 2009 (esp. chapter 3); and Edwards 2012.

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INDEX “40” (U2 song) 31, 68, 89, 103, 149, 193, 196, 203, 204 360˚ Tour 6, 43, 48–52, 54–6, 58–60, 103, 107–12, 114–16, 118–19 1960s 7, 63–73, 108, 206 n.25 “A Celebration” (U2 song) 11 abuse 92, 98 Achtung Baby (U2 album) 2, 33, 43–4, 46, 84–5, 97–8, 100, 102, 110–11, 116–17, 139, 142, 148, 152, 157, 162, 191, 193–4, 196–7, 200 “Acrobat” (U2 song) 166, 168, 191, 196, 200 Adams, Henry 108 Africa (-an) 44–6, 53–4, 180, 200 African-American music 45, 197–8 “All I Want Is You” (U2 song) 73, 152, 193 All That You Can’t Leave Behind (U2 album) 35–6, 76–7, 101–2, 125, 131, 143, 153, 191, 193–4, 196, 200–1 Altamont 73 “Amazing Grace” (U2 song) 1, 100 Ancient of Days, The 43, 50–1, 57 Angela of Foligno 125–8, 211 n.10 “Another Time, Another Place” (U2 song) 14, 97 apologetic 6, 79, 84, 209 n.8 Apple 2, 112 Ari, The (teacher/prophet) 154 Atelier One 112 atheist xii, 160, 164, 166, 168 attunement 44, 57–9, 137 augmentation 38 Averill, Steve 47 “Bad” (U2 song) 196, 204 n.12 Baudrillard, Jean 108–9 Beatles, The (band) 65–8, 73 “Beautiful Day” (U2 song) 30, 35, 39, 143, 153–4

beauty 3, 121, 126, 132, 134, 143, 153, 188–9, 190, 192–4, 196 behavers 172 believe xi, xii, 2, 5–6, 11–12, 16, 51, 67, 70, 78–80, 96, 101, 109, 115, 126, 132, 137, 141–2, 147–9, 153, 157, 159, 160, 162– 9, 171–5, 177, 180–4, 188, 190, 195–6, 198, 202, 207 n.1, 211 chp.11, n1 bells 11–12, 14–18, 20, 22–5, 80, 207 n.34 belly dancer 43, 46–53, 55–6, 58–9 Berlin 45, 52, 111, 131, 139, 143 Berry, Jake 113 Bible, The 66–8, 79, 90–1, 148–9, 164, 171, 173–4, 209 n.5 Blake, William 43, 55, 57 Blannbekin, Agnes 125–26 Blues (musical style) 25, 69, 72, 98, 198 Bowie, David (musician) 118, 206 n.32 Boy (U2 album) 11, 14–15, 18–21, 24–5, 27, 63, 96–7, 102, 136, 141, 143, 147, 151, 191, 193, 196, 200, 204 n.11, 205 n.14 “Breathe” (U2 song) 55 broken (-ness) 82–4, 97, 139, 140, 143, 153, 164, 199, 200–1 “Bullet the Blue Sky” (U2 song) 43, 71, 138, 200 Byrne, Gay 162 Calvinism 173 Carter, Bill 75, 209 n.2, 212 n.7 cathedral 108, 112, 114, 116–17, 119, 121–3, 129, 131 celebration 11, 30–3, 36, 38, 76, 82, 191 celebrity 32, 34, 35–6, 39, 40, 65, 117, 174 Chabad-Lubavitch 148, 157 chimes 12, 22, 25, 58, 93 chorus (-uses) 14, 34, 37, 45, 68, 73, 118, 126–7, 162–3, 168, 198 Christian humanism 190, 201, 213 n.3 Christian rock 64, 172, 176, 180



Christianity 6–7, 11–12, 16–18, 27, 66, 69, 81, 147, 160, 166, 171–4, 176–85, 187, 194–5, 201, 204 n.4, 210 n.3, 211 n.1 church bells 11, 16–17, 25 “City Of Blinding Lights” (U2 song) 36, 39, 54 Claw, The 112–13, 115, 117, 119 Coakley, Sarah 44, 49, 50, 52, 59 Cohen, Leonard 147 communion 72, 121–2, 124–6, 128–9, 176 community 2, 7, 18, 65, 123, 131, 133, 136–7, 140, 161, 166, 172, 176, 184–5, 201–2, 204 n.5 consumerism 111, 141, 177–8 Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) 7, 176, 179, 180 contour 29, 30, 34–5, 39, 40, 79 Corbijn, Anton 48, 54 Cowper, William 98 creativity 49, 98, 136, 141, 188, 190–3 cross (religious symbol) xi, 2, 56–7, 89, 96, 100–2, 126, 128, 139, 140–2, 173, 207 n.34, 211 n.7 Crystal Ballroom (Periscope Show) 166–8 darkness 2, 43, 68–9, 76, 84–5, 89, 97, 118, 122–3, 127–8, 165 Darwin, Charles 91 David (Jewish King). See King David desert 46, 63, 66, 77, 92, 125, 131, 138–9, 143 desire 5, 50–1, 80, 84, 91, 121, 124–5, 141, 150, 182 Deus ex Machina 108, 118 dialogue 46, 52, 59, 138, 160, 163, 166–7, 169 disorientation 77, 84 dissolution 121, 124, 126, 127, 164 Divine light 124–6 doubt xii–iii, 7, 69, 70, 93, 96, 139, 143, 167, 181, 194–6, 207 n.4, 208 n.4 Dublin 22, 44–5, 64, 99, 131, 135–7, 143, 168, 177, 204 n.4, 205 n.24 ecstatic union 6, 126 Elevation Tour (U2) 48, 76, 119 Eliade, Mircea 133–4 Eliot, T. S. 189, 195, 199 “Elvis Presley And America” (U2 song) 97

Enchantment 78 Eno, Brian 49, 52, 85, 97, 100, 138, 159, 160–1, 211 n.1 Erasmus (of Rotterdam) 189 eschatology 89, 96, 154, 158 ethnography 175, 182 ethnomusicology (-logist) 175–6 Eucharist 122, 125–6 evangelical (-ism) 7, 100, 173–5, 177–8, 180, 182–3, 185, 205 n.24, 212 n.2, 213 n.10 Evangelical Christianity 117, 187 “Even Better Than The Real Thing” (U2 song) 34, 35, 38–9, 191, 194 Everyone’s Agnostic (podcast) 165 exorcism 68–9 failure 65, 68, 76, 81–4, 92, 127, 183 fallenness 97, 198 Falsani, Cathleen 163–4, 166 Falwell, Jerry 176 “Fez-Being Born”(U2 song) 53, 55 Fez, Morocco 46, 48, 52–6, 59 Fiddes, Paul 44, 52, 56–9, 60, 208 n.5 Fisher, Mark 108, 111–12, 114, 117 flageolets 13 Focus On The Family 172 Fogel, Arthur 113 forgiveness 93–5, 100, 102, 147, 151–2, 198 Free Inquiry Group (FIG) 1612, 168 Freud, Sigmund 164–6 From the Sky Down (film) 131 gesture (compositional/performance concept) 6, 28–9, 31, 34, 38–9, 40, 55–6, 65, 71, 116, 149 “Get On Your Boots” (U2 song) 54–5, 101, 192, 208 n.3 “Gloria” (U2 song) 14, 24, 30–2, 68, 156, 171, 191, 203 n.2, 205 n.20 gospel music xi, 68, 167, 176 “Grace” (U2 song) 77, 193 Grant, Amy (musician) 180–1 Guggenheim, Davis 131 guilt 78, 81–2, 84–5, 90–6, 100, 151, 199 Gutnick, Rabbi 154, 156 Hadewijch of Brabant 124, 126–8 harmonics 6, 11, 13–17, 19, 20–2, 24–5, 67, 205 n.19

Index Harvey, David 133 “Hawkmoon 269” (U2 song) 167 “Helter Skelter” (U2 song) 65, 67–8, 71 Hendrix, Jimi (musician) 45, 71–2 Hengel, Martin 96 Herbert, George 56–7 Hewson, Iris 200 Hildegard of Bingen 123–4, 128, 211 n.4, 211 n.6 Holberman, Chuck 115 Holding, Eric 117 How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (U2 album) 36, 54, 102, 124, 155, 192, 194, 196–8, 200–1 humiliation 92, 96, 102 Idir (Hamid Cheriet, musician) 53 “If God Will Send His Angels” (U2 song) 82, 142, 193, 196 imagination 80, 112, 188, 190–5, 201, 208 n.2 “In God’s Country” (U2 song) 138–9 Innocence + Experience Tour (U2) 48, 98, 110, 119, 149, 150–1, 157, 166 interval 15, 21, 23, 28–9, 30, 32–3, 38–9, 40, 208 chp.2, n.5 interverse 25, 208 n.6 inversion (musical concept) 38 “Invisible” (U2 song) 37, 39, 157–8 Irishness 16–18, 85, 205 n.23 irony xi, 33, 76, 83, 111, 139, 161, 181, 188, 195, 197 Israel 95, 150–2 “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (U2 song) xi–iii, 33, 35–6, 38–9, 63, 96–8, 102, 115, 125, 148, 181, 195–6, 198, 203 fwd. n.3, 208 n.5 “I Will Follow” (U2 song) 14–15, 18, 20–1, 151, 156, 191, 200, 204 n.11 Jerusalem 155 Jewish Tradition 76, 148, 150, 152, 154–5 Joshua Tree, The (U2 album) 33–4, 40, 44–5, 47–8, 63, 77, 80, 96–7, 102, 110, 116, 119, 125, 138–9, 148, 152, 181, 184, 191, 193–6, 200, 207 n.4 joy 5, 7, 37, 67, 87–9, 93–4, 96–7, 100–3, 126–8, 152, 179 Judaism 78, 147, 149, 152–7, 201


Kabbalah 154 Kenosis 132, 135, 140–2 King David 148–9, 150–1, 156 King, Jr., Martin Luther 32, 64, 138, 200 “Kite” (U2 song) 99 Langmann, Adelheid 127 Lanois, Daniel (musician) 45, 52, 138, 213 n.7 leitourgia 110, 116, 122–3 Lennon, John (musician) 65, 68, 70, 212 n.8 Lepage, Robert 119 Lewis, C.S. 96, 149 Lillywhite, Steve 18, 20, 37, 159, 160 “Love Rescue Me” (U2 song) 98 Lubavitcher Rebbe 148, 150, 152 Lypton Village 135–6, 142 “Magnificent” (U2 song) 30, 37, 39, 55, 77, 156, 194 Maimonides 148, 152 Manson, Charles 65–8 Mark Fisher Studio, The 111 Marx, Karl 164 Maynard, Beth 3, 53, 54, 110, 116–17, 121, 122, 210 chp.6, n.1 McCormick, Neil 159 McGuinness, Paul 24, 113 McLuhan, Marshall 72, 110 “Meaning of Life, The” 162 Mechthild of Magdeburg 124–5 media spectacle 107–8, 116, 119, 210 chp.7, n.1 mediapheme 174–5 Middle East (-ern) 53, 197, 200 Midgley, Cass 165–6 “Miracle Drug” (U2 song) 54–198 “Mofo” (U2 song) 75, 80, 82, 197 “Moment Of Surrender” (U2 song) 1, 55, 89, 100–1, 112, 126–7, 196 Moroccan music 52–3, 56, 59 Morrison, Van (musician) 68, 88 Moses 142, 156 “Mothers Of The Disappeared” (U2 song) 139, 191, 193, 200 Mrs. Dalloway 11, 17, 25 “Mysterious Ways” (U2 song) 43, 45, 48, 52 mysticism 121, 126, 129, 154 myth 8, 65, 70, 82, 143, 175



narrative 28, 40, 56, 82, 116, 122, 148 National Prayer Breakfast 172, 177 Neufeld, Tim 166–7 Newton, John 100 Nietszche, Friedrich 165 No Line On The Horizon (U2 album) 52–3, 55, 88, 100–2, 111, 121, 198 Noah (Biblical character) 143, 153–4 nontheist 7, 160–1, 163–9, 212 chp.11, n.2 Norman, Larry (musician) 180 Nye, David 116

PopMart Tour (U2) 7, 48, 75–6, 80–8, 108, 110–11, 119, 209 n.1 postmodern 75–6, 78, 107, 111 post-punk 12, 19, 20, 23–4 prayer 2–3, 24, 49, 50–2, 58–9, 60, 89, 101, 122–3, 125, 128, 133, 147, 149, 150, 152, 154–5, 157, 161, 171, 189, 197 “Pride (In The Name Of Love)” (U2 song) 32, 64, 191, 194, 200 Psalms xii, 68–9, 76–9, 100, 148–9, 150–1, 162, 167, 171, 179, 203 chp.1, n.1

O’Connor, Flannery 189, 195 October (U2 album) 11, 14–15, 18–19, 20, 24–5, 30–1, 102, 156, 162, 171, 191, 193–4, 200, 203 n.2, 204 n.5, 204 n.11, 204 n.12, 205 n.14, 205 n.18, 205 n.20, 212 n.7 “October” (U2 song) 36, 204 n.13 Olympia (film) 111 “One” (U2 song) 100, 117, 152, 158, 193 Opsomer, Frederic 113 “Ordinary Love” (U2 song) 152 organological (-ly/-ologist) 12, 16 Orientalism 46–7 “Original Of The Species” (U2 song) 99, 102, 196 original sin 81–4, 152 orowete 128 Osteen, Joel 179

“Raised By Wolves” (U2 song) 54, 164, 168, 200 Rashi 148–9 Rattle and Hum (U2 album) 7, 44–5, 47, 64–5, 68–9, 70–1, 73, 98, 102, 133, 152, 167, 184, 191, 193–4, 196–7, 200, 213 n.1, 213 n.6 religious humanism 8, 188–9, 190, 192–6, 198–9, 201–2, 213 n.3, 213 n.4 Research in Motion (RIM) 111 retrograde (musical concept) 38 rhythm 13, 28–9, 30, 34–5, 40, 52–3, 57–8, 114, 116, 142, 172, 193, 198, 207 chp.2, n.2 Riefenstahl, Leni 111 Robertson, Robbie (musician) 125 Rolling Stones, The (band) 73, 110, 112, 114 Rowen, Andy 99 Ruusbroec, Jan 125, 127, 211 n.7, 211 n.11

paradox (-ically) 5, 76, 87, 89, 97, 110–11, 117, 119, 128, 181, 188, 190, 194–6, 198 Pärt, Arvo (musician) 22, 207 n.35 peace xii, 5, 7, 65–6, 68, 70, 73, 83, 95, 109, 126, 168, 180–1, 197, 200–1 Peterson, Eugene 149, 155, 171, 179, 187, 209 n.5 Petro, Christina 48–9 pilgrimage 2, 65, 85, 121, 124–5, 128–9 “Please” (U2 song) 166, 168–9, 196 pneumatology 44, 49, 50–2, 55, 60 poetry 77, 80, 97, 149, 167, 189, 195, 197, 202 polygenesis 23–4 Pop (U2 album) 34–5, 75–9, 80–1, 83–6, 102, 109, 110–11, 142–3, 162, 169, 191, 193–4, 196–7, 201, 209 n.3, 209 n.11

Sacks, Rabbi Lord Jonathan 148, 150–1, 153–4, 158 sacrament 1–3, 8, 121, 126, 129 Sarajevo 7, 75, 85–6, 108, 209 n.1, 209 n.2 Sartre, Jean-Paul 92 scale (musical concept) 17, 22, 29, 30–4, 39, 81 scale degree (musical concept) 29, 31–2, 34, 39 “Scarlet” (U2 song) 24, 31, 33, 36, 38–9, 193, 205 n.14, 205 n.18 Schultze, Quetin 177–8 sci-fi 112, 116–19 semitone (musical concept) 13, 23, 29 sermons 2, 121 sexy music 45–7, 50

Index “Shadows And Tall Trees” (U2 song) 136, 196 Shalom Community (Fellowship) 27, 39, 136–7, 204 n.5 shame xi–ii, 7, 87, 89, 103, 156 simulacrum (simulacra) 108–9 social justice 7, 73, 147–8, 150–1, 153–4, 158, 173, 179, 180, 199, 213 n.10 “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own” (U2 song) 99 “Song For Someone” (U2 song) 150, 194 Songs of Experience (U2 album) 119 Songs of Innocence (U2 album) 2, 54, 88, 96, 99, 102, 112, 119, 147, 150, 162, 192, 194, 196, 200 Song of Songs 98, 126 soundscapes 11–13, 15–25, 33, 34, 45, 53–4, 56, 143, 204 n.10, 206 n.28 “Space Oddity” (song) 118 spectacle 107–9, 110–12, 116, 118–19, 210 chp.7, n.1 spiritual (-ity) 3, 12, 17, 25, 27, 29, 30–7, 39, 40–1, 58, 72, 133, 187, 203 chp. 1, n.1, n.2 stadium rock 6, 107, 109, 110, 114–15 “Stand Up Comedy” (U2 song) 101, 192, 196 “Staring at the Sun” (U2 song) 102, 111, 191, 194, 196 “Stay (Faraway, So Close)” (U2 song) 98 “Stories For Boys” (U2 song) 15, 205 n.18 “Stuck In A Moment” (U2 song) 99, 200 subdominant (musical concept) 29, 31, 38 sublime 6, 107–9, 110–11, 114, 116–19 submediant (musical concept) 30 suicide 91, 99, 200 “Sunday Bloody Sunday” (U2 song) 18, 70, 85, 89, 133, 200 supertonic (musical concept) 30 Suso, Henry 127 “Sweetest Thing” (U2 song) 97 technological sublime 116–17, 119 televangelism 176–8, 182, 184 temple 122–3, 129, 151, 155, 178


texture (musical concept) 18, 20, 28, 31, 205 n.20 “The Fly” (U2 song) 84 “The Ocean” (U2 song) 15, 204 n.11, 205 n.20 “The Playboy Mansion” (U2 song) 34, 35, 37, 39, 102, 196 “The Refugee” (U2 song) 151 The Unforgettable Fire (U2 album) 11, 19, 21, 25, 64, 97, 102, 138, 191, 193, 194, 196, 200, 204 n.11, 204 n.12, 204 n.13, 205 n.15, 205 n.18, 205 n.20, 206 n.32 theist xi–iii, 7, 147, 155, 159, 160–1, 163–9, 212 n.2 tikkun olam (concept of healing the world) 154 tintinnabuli (musical concept) 22–5 tintinnabuli, electric (musical concept) 24–5 Tolleson, William Bart 110 “Tomorrow” (U2 song) 18, 162 tonality 28, 207 n.4 tonic (musical concept) 29, 31, 33, 35, 38–9 Torah (Tenach) 4, 147–9, 152, 157 Torrance, James 50 transposition (musical concept) 38 Trinity (Christian concept) 44, 50, 57, 140, 195 “Trip Through Your Wires” (U2 song) 97–8 Triumph des Willens (film) 111 Turner, Steve 1, 45, 100 Tutu, Desmond 117 two-note chords (musical concept) 13, 20, 25 U2charist 121, 203 n.4 “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” (U2 song) 98, 116, 118, 196 Under a Blood Red Sky (U2 album) 11, 14, 71 “Unknown Caller” (U2 song) 55, 101, 198 “Until The End Of The World” (U2 song) 148–9, 196 uplift 2, 7, 88–9, 108, 111, 117, 119 urban 131, 135, 139, 140–3

236 Vertigo Tour (U2) 43, 48, 204 n.8 Von Balthasar, Hans 132, 134, 137–8, 140–2, 211 n.1 vulnerability 92, 97–8, 124 “Wake Up Dead Man” (U2 song) 83 War (U2 album) 11, 18, 20, 24–5, 111, 113, 138–9, 148, 151, 191, 193–4, 196, 200, 203 n.2, 204 n.11, 204 n.12, 204 n.13, 205 n.14, 205 n.18, 206 n.27, 206 n.31, 207 n.37 Webb, Stephen 56 Westphal, Merold 164–5 “When Love Comes To Town” (U2 song) 69, 197–8 “Where The Streets Have No Name” (U2 song) 63, 82, 116–17, 123, 125, 139, 191, 194 “White As Snow” (U2 song) 198 Williams, Peter “Willie” 110, 112, 113–14 Willow Creek Community Church 171

Index “With A Shout (Jerusalem)” (U2 song) 15, 194, 200, 204 n.13 “With Or Without You” (U2 song) 33, 63, 128, 152, 184, 191, 196 Withers, Charles 132 Wolfe, Gregory 188, 192, 194, 198, 213 n.2 Woodstock 66, 71 Woolf, Virginia 116 World Festival of Sacred Music 53–4 “Yahweh” (U2 song) 54, 89, 155, 196, 198 Yeats, William Butler 78, 80 Zalman, Rabbi Schneur 157 “Zoo Station” (U2 song) 142 Zooropa (U2 album) 77, 98, 102, 118, 191, 193–4, 196–7 ZooTV tour (U2) 43–4, 48–9, 51, 59, 75, 107, 110 Zumthor, Peter 115