The Blackout as the opening song on U2’s SOE Tour was not accidental. This was an album and tour birthed in a world falling apart. The Songs of Experience album was delayed by a near death experience of Bono’s and the election of Donald Trump in America along with the Brexit vote in the UK.
Surely The Blackout was one of the songs written and most affected by those events. It is a menacing doom laden sound. Heavy in every kid of way. It was a perfect song to prologue an evening in a local government-less Belfast that would interrogate Trump and Syria and throw European Union flags all over the backdrop.
Two years after The Black Out’s release and a year after that gig in Belfast, a live version from Belfast has just been released to U2.com subscribers. As I listen afresh I find it expressing perfectly the suspect fragility of twenty first century democracy:
Statues fall, democracy is flat on its back, Jack
We had it all, and what we had is not coming back, Zach
A big mouth says the people, they don't wanna be free for free
The blackout, is this an extinction event we see
There might be an over drama in words like extinction. It’s a little western decadent to feel the world is ending when a vote doesn’t our way or we get a bad leader or when economics deals seem shaken. A viewing of some recent videos of Syria at U2 concerts would suggest that other human beings are in real end-of-the-world scenarios and we have a nerve to be alarmed at our situation - decadent apocalypse!
Yet, there is no denying that we in Northern Ireland are in unknown territory. Democracy has got questions to answer. The future is precarious, for some people in my community that is a worse prospect than it is for me.
As always with U2 there is more than gloom in the song. The chorus might be a good statement of intent for how we might respond to whatever happens with Brexit.
When the lights go out and you throw yourself about
In the darkness where we learn to see
When the lights go out, don't you ever doubt
The light that we can really be
Songs Of Experience have to live with the harsh realities that maturity brings. Yet, U2 are pointing to a strength of experience where we don’t succumb to the darkness in The Blackout but learn in the vortex. When the lights of our democratic leadership go out, we need to find other lights, within ourselves to deal with The Blackout.
I have no idea how much the Bible inspired Bono in these lyrics. It certainly influences most of what he does. The Bible calls God’s people to find “the light that we can really be”. The Bible is written by and for people in worse scenarios than Brexit. Slaves in Egypt, exiles in Babylon, a new faith community under oppression from the Roman Empire.
The people of God have always learned how to respond and have been called to shine a light. Across the hundreds of years of Biblical history one lesson is that Empires rise and fall and that all political alliances are fragile and time limited. What we do when the lights go out, as we are guaranteed they will in a broken world, is the test of belief.
Love and faith when the lights go out is the call of following Jesus.