Posts Tagged With: u2

U2’s Songs of Transcendence

Sunday evening I did something I haven’t done in close to 30 years: I went to an actual record store and bought a brand-new U2 album on vinyl, took it home, pulled out the turntable, put on my headphones, sat on the floor, and stayed up way too late reading the liner notes and listening to the songs over and over again.

Lord, how I’ve missed this particular ritual.

When I was a teenager, late Sunday nights were when I indulged my secret pleasure by listening in bed (clandestinely so as not to incur the wrath of my parents for being awake well past my bedtime) to the “King Biscuit Flower Hour” on WPLR, the classic rock station in New Haven that was one of two (the other being a horrendous pop-40 station) that came in clearly on the FM stereo in my upstairs bedroom.

I listened, religiously, every Sunday night for years, hoping to hear a song by one of the British New Wave bands of which I was fond, or, if I was particularly lucky, by my favorite band on the planet: U2.

Sometimes weeks would go by without hearing a U2 song on those late Sunday nights, my ear pressed to the transistor radio secreted next to the pillow on my twin bed. But then, like a bolt of lightning — I’d hear Bono’s voice or Edge’s guitar begin to keen. It was a wee bit magical, although in retrospect today I might call it sacred.

All the waiting and listening was worth it. Always.

There was an intimacy then to the conversation that transpired between U2’s music and my young heart. It was never about the sound alone — I didn’t care if it had a good beat or if I could dance to it — what touched me, leaving indelible fingerprints on my soul, were the stories, confessions, and prayers wrapped inside the sound.

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By the time I reached my room at the top of the unreasonably long, winding basalt staircase that led to the pensione‘s third floor late one night last month in Rome, I was out of steam and both my iPhone and iPad were out of juice. I plugged both devices and left them to charge while I took a quick shower to cool off after a day of hoofing it around the Eternal City in 90-degree weather.

By the time I’d finished my ablutions, put on my pajamas, and climbed into my narrow twin bed (one of the many charms of Roman hotel rooms), the pad and the phone were successfully resuscitated, the soft blue glow of their illuminated screens punctuated by texts and alerts that had queuing during the dormant hours after the batteries ran out.

Sitting cross-legged on top of the duvet, I scrolled through messages and Facebook alerts that announced a surprise: earlier that day in California, U2 had released its long anticipated new album, Songs of Innocence, and delivered it for free to a half-billion iTunes users worldwide.

It took a few moments for that news to compute in my mind. There was an entire album of new U2 music and it was just waiting for me to download it from the (great) Cloud (of witnesses) to listen.

Thanks be to God for a strong WiFi signal.

Thirty seconds later …

I was chasing down the days of fear
Chasing down a dream before it disappeared
I was aching to be somewhere near
Your voice was all I heard
I was shaking from a storm in me
Haunted by the spectres that we had to see
Yeah, I wanted to be the melody
Above the noise, above the hurt

I was young
Not dumb
Just wishing to be blinded
By you
Brand new
And we were pilgrims on our way

I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred
Heard a song that made some sense out of the world
Everything I ever lost, now has been returned
The most beautiful sound I’d ever heard

Cue the waterworks.

U2 had been working on this album for ages. Five years — the longest the lads have ever worked on one LP before gifting it to the masses. (By the way, I have no interest in wading into the shitstorm that ensued about how the new album was delivered, but I will say one thing: whinging about breaches of privacy over the free copy of Songs of Innocence in your iTunes library is a bit like calling the cops on Christmas morning to have Santa Claus charged with breaking-and-entering.)

To my ears (and heart) it was well worth the wait. So much so that I stayed up listening into the wee hours of the morning that first night in Rome before drifting into sleep with Songs of Innocence on repeat. When I awakened a few hours later to attend a papal audience with Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square, “Iris (Hold Me Close),” a song Bono wrote about his mother, Iris Rankin Hewson, who died suddenly of a brain aneurysm when the singer was 14, was playing.

Once we are born, we begin to forget
The very reason we came
But you
I’m sure I’ve met
Long before the night the stars went out
We’re meeting up again

Hold me close, hold me close and don’t let me go
Hold me close like I’m someone that you might know
Hold me close, the darkness just lets us see
Who we are
I’ve got your life inside of me

Next month will be two years since I lost my beloved father, Muzzy. Bono’s “Iris” viscerally expresses the untenable paradox between grief’s gaping maw and the expansive embrace of hope that I’ve yet to find adequate words for and probably never will.

Bono says Songs of Innocence is the most intimate album the band’s put out in its 38-year history. That’s certainly how it felt and continues to feel to me. That’s why I bought the album on vinyl even though I already had a free copy on all of my iDevices.

I wanted to touch it, to hold it in my hands, feel the weight of the heavy white vinyl albums, and smell that new-album-smell that in a split second transcends the time-space continuum and transports me back to my teenage self, completely enraptured by the music.

Escape. Refuge. Prophet. Solace. Friend.

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Midnight, on the floor of my home office as Sunday became Monday, reading the Songs of Innocence copious (and fascinating) liner notes. This passage from Bono’s essay “Flashbacks 4 Songs of Innocence” slayed me:

We can spend our whole lives searching for cohesion, and in not finding it, turn the world into the shape of our disappointment. Or not. There is no end to grief…that’s how I know there is no end to love.”

Sometimes we have to take inventory of where we’ve been to realize where we are, and where we’re heading. Songs of Innocence does just that. We the listeners accompany Bono, Edge, Adam, and Larry as they trace the path of their youth in 1970s Dublin with its sectarian violence, unbearable losses, the blossom of young love, and unexpected spiritual awakenings that transpired largely outside any traditional house of worship.

My impression is that U2 wasn’t trying to do something new with this album. Rather they sought to create something true — authentic and honest, real and raw. The band seems like it wants to draw its fans close, perhaps closer than it has since its hungry early days, before Live Aid and Zoo TV, before the multi-continental stadium tours and the incessant demands of superstardom created space between us and them.

The photograph on the LP more than hints at this notion. Pictured is a shirtless Larry Mullen Jr., ever the most private and reserved member of the band, embracing his 18-year-old son, Elvis, whose face we cannot fully see but only glimpse in the downy beard of a boy becoming a man.

The image is at once reminiscent of U2’s early albums Boy and War, where an adolescent boy (Peter Rowen, the younger brother of Bono’s lifelong best friend, Guggi) appeared on the LP covers, and a real-time portrait of where and who the band mates are today.

They started this journey together as teenagers (on my sixth birthday, Sept. 25, 1976, by the way.) Now all four men are in their 50s. All are fathers. They’ve grown up but not old. Not yet.

Sonically, Songs of Innocence sounds like no other U2 album. The inimitable roar of Edge’s guitar is largely absent, replaced by more acoustic, intimate guitar styles and keyboards. The influence of some of the artists U2 pays tribute to lyrically on the album — The Ramones, The Clash — can be heard, as well as whiffs of world music, trance dance, and the sacred echoes of African music and other audible exotica.

Among U2’s 13 studio albums, Songs of Innocence is unique.

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If I’m completely honest about it, Songs of Innocence had me at Joey Ramone.

The first track on the album “The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)” is Bono’s telling of his musical epiphany which arrived the first time he heard Ramone sing.

“I sang like a girl … that felt uncomfortable until the Ramones happened to me as they must happen to everyone,” Bono writes in the liner notes. “Joey Ramone sang like a girl, he loved all the great sirens … you could hear Motown, Dusty Springfield, Ronnie Spector. You could hear an echo of your pain in his voice…that’s why you believed him, surfing to the future on a sea of noise.”

In the last verses of the song itself, Bono sings:

I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred
I get so many things I don’t deserve
All the stolen voices will someday be returned
The most beautiful sound I’d ever heard

I found this particularly moving because in my life story, Bono is my Joey Ramone. It’s a story I’ve told in a book or two and that I tell often when I’m asked to speak publicly about grace, but it bears repeating.

One afternoon in the autumn of 1982, when I was in seventh grade, I went to my friend Rob’s house after school. He had older siblings who introduced him to music that the rest of us would have to wait until college to hear. We both loved music and he was eager to share a new band with me.

“They’re Irish, but they’re Christians,” he said, as he took the vinyl LP from its sleeve and put in on the turntable of his parents HiFi. (The “but” still cracks me up, btw.)

The album was October, U2’s second. The song — the first cut on the record — was “Gloria.”

I can remember it vividly. Drums faded in, a bass guitar thumped, and a man’s rogue tenor voice the likes of which I’d never heard before started howling, “Gloria, glo-reeeee-aaah TWO, THREE, FOUR!” as a guitar began to wail.

I try to sing this song
I…I try to stand up
But I can’t find my feet
I try, I try to speak up
But only in you I’m complete

Gloria…in te domine
Gloria…exultate
Gloria…Gloria
Oh Lord, loosen my lips

I try to sing this song
I…I try to get in
But I can’t find the door
The door is open
You’re standing there
You let me in

My soul did a backflip.

The words were familiar—a psalm, a chant from the liturgy, an image of Christ standing at the door (of our hearts) and knocking. I recognized them all from church. But somehow they’d never had that kind of effect on me.

As the next tracks played, one after the other filled with biblical imagery and declarations of spiritual yearning, I was  transfixed by the extraordinary mix of faith with rock ‘n’ roll—a forbidden fruit at my house, where we were supposed to be “in the world but not of it.”

Who were these guys? How were they doing this? And could I do it, too?

Hearing U2’s album October for the first time set my life on a trajectory that continues to this day: finding God in the places some people say God isn’t supposed to be; looking for the truly sacred in the supposedly profane; discovering the kind of unmatched inspiration and spiritual elation elsewhere in culture that I had found that day in Rob’s living room.

It was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard.

And it still is.

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Mourning Madiba: Ndiyakuthanda, Tata

mandela-smileI stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you, the people.

~ Nelson Mandela

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Cry of a Tiny Baby: Merry Christmas, Everyone!

“The idea that there’s a force of love and logic behind the universe is overwhelming to start with, if you believe it,” he told me in his raspy brogue, sipping black coffee out of a Styrofoam cup. “But the idea that the same love and logic would choose to describe itself as a baby born in shit and straw and poverty is genius. And it brings me to my knees, literally. To me, as a poet, I’m just in awe of that. It makes some sort of poetic sense. It’s the thing that makes me a believer, although it didn’t dawn on me for many years.”

- Bono on Christmas and the Incarnation from The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People (p. 10) by Cathleen Falsani. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006. Kindle Edition.

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U2’s Joshua Tree: 25 Years in God’s Country

Desert sky
Dream beneath the desert sky
The rivers run, but soon run dry
We need new dreams tonight

~ from “In God’s Country” by U2

On March 9, 1987, U2 released The Joshua Tree, its fifth studio album and one that would catapult the Irish rock quartet from popularity to international superstardom.

Twenty-five years later, today The Joshua Tree is one of the most bestselling albums in history — with more than 25 million copies sold — and is considered to be among the best rock albums of all time.

Upon it’s release in 1987, Rolling Stone Magazine critic Anthony DeCurtis wrote:

“The wild beauty, cultural richness, spiritual vacancy and ferocious violence of America are explored to compelling effect in virtually every aspect of The Joshua Tree — in the title and the cover art, the blues and country borrowings evident in the music … Indeed, Bono says that ‘dismantling the mythology of America’ is an important part of The Joshua Tree‘s artistic objective.”

The Joshua Tree also happens to be my favorite record, the one I’ve played more than any other and have worn out on at least three different audio media (vinyl, cassette tape and CD) since I waited in line to purchase the LP the day it went on sale when I was a 16-year-old junior in high school. (God bless my longsuffering parents.)

Its spiritual and socio-political heft has, for me at least, only grown more powerful over the years. As I listened to it again today, the soul-shaking music and lyrics sounded even fresher in our current nervous times than they did to my teenage ears in the twilight of the Reagan era.

Perhaps as iconic as the songs on the album itself — “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Where The Streets Have No Name,” “With or Without You,” “In God’s Country,” etc. — are the black-and-white photos of the bandmembers Bono, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr., and Adam Clayton taken in the California high desert by photographer Anton Corbijn.

Corbijn, U2’s longtime shooter, immortalized a scruffy-if-fresh-faced band in the barren backdrop of the Mojave desert. A single tree in particular — a yucca palm (Yucca brevifolia) or Joshua tree located in the middle of Death Valley National Park. The trees are unique in that their trunks are comprised of thousands of fibers and therefore contain no growth rings. It is believed that many Joshua trees live hundreds if not a thousands of years.

The yucca trees got their colloquial name from Mormon settlers in the 19th century who thought their outstretched, arm-like branches resembled the biblical character Joshua reaching his hands heavenward in prayer. When Bono reportedly learned that story of the Joshua tree name’s provenance, he was pleased about the spiritual significance and persuaded his bandmates they should name their album after it.

The Joshua tree that’s pictured in the original album artwork died (presumably of old age) and fell in 2000. But that hasn’t stopped scores of U2 fans from all over the world making the pilgrimage to the way-off-the-beaten-track desert locale to pay their respects to the famous fallen tree. There’s even a bronze plaque at the site that reads, “Have you found what you’re looking for?”

@U2 Staff’s Pilgrimage to the Joshua Tree

Happy anniversary to The Joshua Tree and U2, who created it “from the sky down.”

“From inaccessible mountain range by way of desert untrod by human foot to the ends of the unknown seas, the breath of the everlasting creative spirit is felt, rejoicing over every speck of dust that hearkens to it and lives.”

~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. She edits the God’s Politics blog, where this post first appeared. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl.

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Jack Heaslip: “What if God is even greater than we think?” (Oh, Yes.)

Apologies for the dodgy photo, Jack. The only one we could find is your Interpol mug shot (apparently.)

Our wonderful friend Jack Heaslip (possibly the coolest man alive) gave the church my family attends, Little Church by the Sea in Laguna Beach, Calif., the most marvelous of gifts last weekend: His presence.

Jack, who hails from just north of Dublin in Howth, County Fingal  (by way of County Mayo), Ireland, was our guest at the weekend at on Sunday, blessed us by delivering two poleaxingly beautiful sermons at the morning services. An ordained Anglican clergyman, for the last 15 years of so, Jack has been the chaplain for the band U2, traveling all over the world with Bono, the Edge, Larry and Adam, ministering to the band and their small city of 500 crew members who build the sets, hang the lights, move girders, construct the huge Claw for the 360 tour and help put the show on for untold thousands of fans.

Jack had a few days of leisure in Los Angeles before U2’s shows at Angels Stadium in Annaheim this coming weekend, so graciously agreed to join Little Church for worship and teach us a thing or two about this God of Grace of ours.

Unfortunately (the devil was, apparently, in the details) the audio recording from the church sound board went wonky and didn’t record Jack’s sermons for the usual MP3 posting on the church Web site. So (with apologies to Joe O’Herlihy) the only audio we have is from my iPhone from the 8:30 a.m. (read: early) service. I’ve tinkered with it a bit and the sound quality is passable, but you’ll have to excuse hearing every breath, snort and chortle of mine as the phone picked all of them up from its perch on the pew next to me.

Here is what Jack, with his inimitable good humor and wisdom, shared with us. May his words bless you as much as the did those of us lucky enough to have heard him in person.

(The passage Jack preached from, Ephesians 3, is reprinted below the audio link.)

Jack, thank you for … you. And for your generosity of time, spirit and friendship. Laguna misses you already. You have a home here, spiritual and otherwise, anytime you want it.

JACK HEASLIP AT LITTLE CHURCH BY THE SEA, LAGUNA BEACH, CA, SUNDAY JUNE 12, 2011>> Jack Heaslip Teaching 6/12/11

Ephesians 3

from The Message (MSG) Para-translation by Eugene Peterson

Ephesians 3

The Secret Plan of God

 1-3This is why I, Paul, am in jail for Christ, having taken up the cause of you outsiders, so-called. I take it that you’re familiar with the part I was given in God’s plan for including everybody. I got the inside story on this from God himself, as I just wrote you in brief.

 4-6As you read over what I have written to you, you’ll be able to see for yourselves into the mystery of Christ. None of our ancestors understood this. Only in our time has it been made clear by God’s Spirit through his holy apostles and prophets of this new order. The mystery is that people who have never heard of God and those who have heard of him all their lives (what I’ve been calling outsiders and insiders) stand on the same ground before God. They get the same offer, same help, same promises in Christ Jesus. The Message is accessible and welcoming to everyone, across the board.

 7-8This is my life work: helping people understand and respond to this Message. It came as a sheer gift to me, a real surprise, God handling all the details. When it came to presenting the Message to people who had no background in God’s way, I was the least qualified of any of the available Christians. God saw to it that I was equipped, but you can be sure that it had nothing to do with my natural abilities.

 8-10And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!

 11-13All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus. When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go. So don’t let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud!

 14-19My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

 20-21God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

   Glory to God in the church!
   Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
   Glory down all the generations!
   Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!

Categories: LURKING IN THE NARTHEX | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

People of the Second Chance: U2&Faith Quiz Extended Until TUESDAY 9:30 a.m.

Wow.

I guess it really is a tough quiz.

By the time the quiz expired this a.m., only 10 of you had taken it and the score to beat so far is 65 percent.

Meh.

So…in the interested of fair play and harmony in the community, I’ve extended the quiz until TUESDAY AT 9:30 A.M. PST

If you haven’t tried, try again. If you tried and got spanked, try again.

I’ll even up the ante: Grand Prize is a copy of U2: The Complete Encyclopedia and an authentic back-stage pass (mine) from the first leg of the No Line on the Horizon tour.

TAKE THE QUIZ BY CLICKING THIS LINK

Good luck to all!

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