U2: CEDARS OF LEBANON - NLOTH song by song

U2 cedars

As someone who loved the spoken word out takes of the Joshua Tree and was delighted when they got a more dignified place in the 20th Anniversary Deluxe version of that album I love the mood of Cedars Of Lebanon. Another of Bono’s third person lyrics it finds a journalist in war zone thinking of home and life and death; and eventually God and enemies. Some have pointed out that the underpinning track might be a straight lift from Eno's ambient album The Pearl, a collaboration with Harold Budd back in 1984. Whatever, the history of the music, the lyric leaves us with a few questions.

The last song on a U2 album is always carefully chosen. Track listings are never carelessly thrown together. So, what was the reason for this track closing out NLOTH? Cedars Of Lebanon takes us into the Bible. There is no way that Bono’s use of the phrase is coincidental. Their time at Fez during the Sacred Musical Festival might not have seen them use sufi prayers or chants but it certainly gave them the inspiration and courage to make a seriously spiritual record. Cedars of Lebanon are used in various ways in the Scriptures. However, what does Bono mean by its use here. A quick glance across Wikipedia and you find a plethora of Biblical uses for the Cedars Of Lebanon;

Jewish priests were ordered by Moses to use the bark of the Lebanon Cedar in circumcision and treatment of leprosy. Isaiah used the Lebanon Cedar as a metaphor for the pride of the world. According to the Talmud, Jews once burned Lebanese cedar wood on the Mount Of Olives to announce the new year. Kings far and near requested the wood for religious and civil constructs, the most famous of which are King Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem in David's and Solomon's Palaces.”

Bono might be simply talking about the size of the Cedars and how God is bigger but where can he be found? The journalist might be journaling his objective feelings of the war zone and asking where God is or he might be seeking a more subjective interaction with God in his own life’s fraying threads. Or Bono might be asking if God can be found in his Church, that the Old Testament tells us Cedars were used to build? Or is it Isaiah’s use as a symbol of pride that he is highlighting? Where is God in the deluded egos that go to war or in the self indulgent personal ego of a man wrestling with home and all that that means?

NLOTH ends with another cryptic clue of spiritual wisdom. Bono goes off philosophising about the importance of who you choose as your enemies. What is he trying to say? In subsequent interviews Bono has talked about the enemies that U2 have chosen, “we chose interesting enemies. We didn't choose the obvious enemies - The Man, the establishment. We didn't buy into that. Our credo was: no them, there's only us.” In a song about war Bono then turns inside for the enemy, “"What that means is that we picked enemies that were more internal - our own hypocrisy...They are nearly always of a psychological, if not a spiritual, nature. The spectres that hold you back, they were our enemies.”

Back in the context of the third person war journalist song had the journalist mistakenly and fatally made home and God his enemies? Or is Bono remembering his old mate George W? He chose his enemies post 9/11 and his entire legacy will be based around that choice. Even now, when his friends are all gone to other arts and parts and he is on his ranch in Texas, all alone, that relationship which Bush had with his enemies defines him in the recent annals of history. If we glance back at the video For The Saints Are Coming we see the alternative enemy that Bush’s administration could have fought, the natural disaster effecting their very own people on the Gulf Coast. How different would the definition of Bush have been had he chosen the right enemy?

This brings us into the provocative question at the end of the cryptic clues. Who have we made our enemies? What are the internal battles that we need to fight in order to fulfil our human vocations to the pinnacle of their potential? And as local communities, society and for the nation what are the right wars to fight. I guess if we stop to become aware of the battles that we fight without even thinking we could then spend some spiritual wisdom prioritising what needs fought and what doesn’t. The personal or national pride that Isaiah named as humanity’s Cedars of Lebanon might be a good place to start.


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