U2... Baby Jesus Under the Trash

HOW U2'S ALL THAT YOU CAN'T LEAVE BEHIND CHANGED MY LIFE

Walk On cover

(It is the 20th Anniversary of U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind. here is why I am particularly fond of that record. This blog is more autobiographical for my own records. If you enjoy it then it is a bonus...)

 

During the year 2001 I was writing a book about U2. At that time Relevant Media were considering publishing books and somehow they asked me to write one on U2. 

As I was writing the book during 2000 it was probably only a Christian audience who might have been interested a book on U2. Oh they were still big but the Pop record and Popmart Tour had seen a little lull. As Bono would say at the early gigs after All That You Can’t Leave Behind came out, they were trying to get back to being the best band in the world. 

In 2000 they weren’t BUT Christians were still fascinated by the band’s faith. Did they still have one? Where was it in the songs?

I actually received two emails in one week. A guy I had never heard of from Relevant asked me what was on my heart? Another guy gave off about an article I had written about U2 that he had found on my website. He said they no Christian faith at all.  

I was intrigued by that first email. Enraged by the second. Having sussed that Relevant might be going into publishing, I answered the first by sending an email that read, “What do you mean? Are you thinking about a book?” I then started jotting down an answer to the second email and said to Janice, “Someone needs to write a book about the theology of U2. Like an apologetic.”

Well, the answer back from Relevant was that they were thinking of a book - had I ever thought of writing a book on U2?! Come on! I sent them the thoughts I had shared with Janice and that was that. I wonder if they thought I was Steve Turner? Maybe?

Anyway, as I got on with the book, U2 released the lead single Beautiful Day. Sales soared. I even had a daughter jasmine born on the day that song went to number 1 in the UK. When All That You Can’t Leave Behind came out to much fanfare the band were suddenly on the up. Then the Elevation Tour sent them even higher.

By the time Walk On; The Spiritual Journey Of U2 came out we were in a unique situation. Some might call it luck, others might define it as providence! No one had considered this resurrection of U2’s popularity. Certainly no publishers. As a result Relevant’s book with this unknown Irishman was all the fans had. Press U2 into your books search on Amazon in 2001 and Steve Stockman was what came up.

At one stage we were actually in the Amazon Top 100 books. Relevant did a great job too and soon Walk On was displayed on every book table in every major Record and Bookstore across America. We were suddenly being translated into many languages. 

The book opened up my life, way beyond Belfast. I was suddenly flying to America, first of all to speak at The Cathedral of  The Advent in Birmingham, Alabama and then at the first Festival Of Faith and Music at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I am thankful to Paul Zahl and Kenneth Heffner respectively.

As a result of those invitations, by two men who got my desire to unpack the spirituality of rock music, I have been going on little tours to America ever since, speaking at Universities and Churches. I even had the privilege of being Writer in Residence at Regent College, Vancouver. I have met many dear friends as a result.

Walk On also opened up opportunities in the wider world. I was on a panel about faith and music chaired by Melvyn Bragg in his famous South Bank studio. I was interviewed on Sky News after U2 won 5 awards at the 2006 Grammies. I got to narrate a radio documentary on BBC Radio Ulster on U2’s 1987 Joshua Tree Tour concert at The Kings Hall in Belfast.

I always say that many many people could have written Walk On. I  got the privilege to write it for a community of us. I also think that without the quality and radio friendliness of All That You Can’t Leave Behind and the Elevation Tour that followed it the book might not have been the success it was. However, perhaps Relevant Books’s foresightedness deserves recognition too. 

Whatever I consider myself so blessed for this particular chapter in my life and am very thankful for the role that all That You can't Leave Behind played in it. 


U2's SONG OCTOBER FOR CORONAVIRUS TIMES

U2 Oct alt

 

The title track of U2's second album might be their first moment of controlled and crafted genius, Edge’s piano changes the band’s soundscape entirely and brings to the early catalogue a song that is sophisticated, economical and deep; Eno before Eno!

Christian hymn writers have often used few words for impact – Taize would be a good example – but it is more likely that Bono, with his lyric boos stolen and the album deadline pending, simply didn’t have the time to elaborate. However, what might be nothing more than a sketch at the time begins to feel perfectly complete as the time goes by.

October is a haunting piece that sits in the vortex of change and a change that is not a welcome. Bono often speaks of having the title first and of thinking that the hopeful spring of the sixties had given way to a colder, bleaker time in 1981.

As well as that global vortex of change the band were in their own personal vortex. Camped out with the Shalom Christian community on Portrane beach just north of Dublin, Edge and Bono were wrestling with rock stardom or not; was it compatible with the intensity of their Christian commitment. The trees were bare in their own souls and it worked its way into this piece of lament. 

Holed up in a caravan, fasting, praying and reading the Bible it was inevitable that Scripture would creep into the creative process. October is very much in the lament tradition of the Psalms or other Old Testament books, that would find their way into their next album War. October is Psalm-like while 40 on War would be an actual Psalm.

Isaiah would feature a couple of times on that follow up album too. In October’s lament comes hope; in the midst of tossed about confusion comes truth; in the midst of negative change comes the constant to be trusted in.

This song is more relevant today than it was when it was written. We live in days when the next news broadcast actually changes what we can and cannot do. Never in my lifetime have we known such uncertainty. Everything is in a state of flux. There is mental anxiety from living in isolation and the fear that we might be locked down again any minute. The economy is fragile. Jobs are being lost. Even church is strange, if meeting in the traditional way at all.

In the middle of all the fragility and fear and perhaps the danger of loss of hope  the Old Testament prophets, writers of the Psalms, and it seems U2, proclaim that God doesn’t change. The seasons do, the pandemics of history do but God... “you go on and on.”

 

“October
And the trees are stripped bare
Of all they wear
What do I care
October
And kingdoms rise
And kingdoms fall
But you go on.”


U2 AT SLANE CASTLE, 2001 - My Review in Walk On

U2 at Slane

(this is taken from my book Walk On; The Spiritual Journey Of U2 (Relevant Books)

 

U2 Go Home; Live From Slane Castle, Ireland is the visual recording of a unique moment that can never for many reasons ever be repeated in the history of U2 and the lives of the four individuals in the band. The passionate performance that results makes this an indispensable document.

U2 have always built an emotional power house from what is going on around them. The newspaper headlines or their lives or their faith or their country all tend to blend into a Molotov cocktail that explodes into a great rock n roll spectacle. Maybe never have there been so many such things to blend as in the two gigs that ended the European leg of the ‘Elevation Tour’. Two days at Ireland’s most famous open air venue had seen 160,000 tickets selling like hot cakes in a population of 3.5 million. This was as major a homecoming as U2 had had in a long time. National pride was evident everywhere and is coincidently added to on the September 1st concert when the national soccer team qualified for the World Cup Finals with a 1-0 victory over one of the world’s most powerful soccer nations, Holland. The match and Jason McAteer’s goal was shown on the big screen before the gig. Bono even joked in the link between Elevation and Beautiful Day that “It’s now two nil” and later that he was Jason McAteer.

Then there is the venue and the obvious historical significance to U2 who played at Slane Castle as support for Thin Lizzy exactly two decades before and Bono introduces one of their first songs ‘Out Of Control’ as if it were indeed that day “We’d like to think Phillip Lynott for letting us to open the show. We are a band from the north side of Dublin. We are called U2 and this is our first single. We hope you like it.” Ireland’s premier rock writer Stuart Bailie adds a little more on the historicity in his brilliant inner booklet notes by saying how many vintage U2 t-shirts there were in the crowd. Yes, many would be seeing the band for the first time, getting hooked on the All That You Can’t Leave Behind mania but some were here at Slane in ’81 and even before that!

Bono would reflect on that day and the dream of becoming the biggest band in the world. He would speak of how they promised that they would not only make it but that they would not be relocating to do it. They were going to remain in Dublin. This was their tribe! The roar that greeted such a strong nationalism was not the usual going through the motions of the expected concert protocol. The Irish genuinely appreciated U2’s commitment to home and there was a national awareness of how much it had done not only for music but the country as a whole that a major world power resided and invested in the country that had since that decision was made experience the Celtic Tiger of economic prosperity. The Irish were grateful and proud of this band. ‘Elevation’ had been a return to the top of the world for U2 and here they were returning to their own. This wasn’t ‘a sort of’ homecoming, this was the real thing.

On a longer wider history of the entire island this place on the Boyne river is the site of a fulcrum swinging event in the Irish politics that Bono and the band have immersed themselves in. 300 years after the Protestant King William of Orange defeated the Roman Catholic King James on the very river that the stage backs on to and the majestic Slane Castle sits upon. This is also U2’s first Irish gig since a more recent tragedy in that historical conflict, the Omagh bomb of 1998 when 29 people lost their lives in the worst of all the heinous deeds of the Irish troubles. Tonight during ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ Bono with his voice cracking with emotion reads out all the names of those killed. The “no mores” in the song have always been a powerful venting of Bono’s anger at the political divisions on his island which sadly have manifested them in the death and devastation so common place in the eighties and early nineties. In ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ he calls for compromise and sends the song as this whole tour has sent the entire concert into prayer. Walking into the crowd around the heart he chants: - 

“Put your hands in the sky
Put your hands in the air
If you’re the praying kind
Make this song into a prayer
Put your hands in the sky
Put your hands in the air
If you’re the praying kind
Cos we’re not going back there”

As well as band and national history this is a concert about the band’s individual stories. In that blurb about the band’s beginnings Bono would thank each set of the band’s parents for the financial support they needed to go off to London and record their first demo. This gathering was family as well as tribal. Bono’s daughter Eve would even join her father on stage to take the part of the belly dancer in ‘Mysterious Ways’. It added to the emotional intensity. The over whelming emotional detonator is the recent death of Bono’s father. Bob Hewson had been ill for sometime and every night on the European tour Bono would leave the stage and catch a plane to his father’s bedside where he would spend the night before flying off to the next city. On the week before the first gig at Slane he passed away and Bono buried his father just two days before.  

The emotion of ‘Kite’ as he dedicates it to his father has a poignancy that it never had before or is likely to have again. Bono is often criticized for taking on the big questions, trying to change the world and there is no doubt that that is exactly what he is trying to do. What cannot be lost in his addressing of the universal is how much emphasis he puts on the personal. ‘Kite’ is about how his children look at him and he them and later how he looks at his father and him he! At its end he simply says “talk to each other” and we have the wisdom of a man whose heart is still raw from loss and the realization that all he can say to his parents has now been said. It is powerful advice in the micro-political in the midst of all the macro-political stuff that makes up a U2 concert. The “this is not goodbye” has to be believed. 

‘Bullet The Blue Sky’ is back to its original intention. As the song is about to begin the words USA, UK, France, Russia and China are emblazoned on the back drop. Edge’s guitar roars into war zone turmoil and we get a howling frustrating rant against those who fire the arms industry that not only did its damage in the central America of the mid-eighties that inspired this rage but has resourced the murdering terrorist groups in counties within hearing distance of where the song is bring sung. As the song nears crescendo Bono’s anger has rarely been so demented. The song ends with some sense that justice will prevail and that these nations will be brought to task for the atrocities handed down. Their doom seems justly assured. It is September 1st and in just ten days time a cowardly and criminal response would change the New York skyline and our world forever. It is a very haunting juxtaposition.


FOR BONO'S 60TH BIRTHDAY - THANK YOU, MY FRIEND

Us and Bono

October, trying to speak up

I set the needle down

A whole new life exploded

You let me in the sound

From the changing the world in me

To me trying to change the world

Finding words to cuss at God

And how to love my girl

 

The melodies grew older

We were ready for the shove

What we believed and didn’t

Devil’s hand and tongues of love

Our innocence and experience

Our differences can be as one

The bulb of faith still swinging

And I am holding on.

 

We know by now

You’ll never be my friend

But as a companion

You’re always so willing to lend

A song

To comprehend every twisting bend

And defend me at my soul’s wits end

To send a pilgrim strength as I ascend

Thank you my friend.

 

Bono is 60 today. It is hard to take that in. 

Bono and I are not friends. I have written and talked about him so much that some people think we are. When I denied it once, the guy said, “Oh you should pretend”. I don’t.

Someone did say, however, when Tom Petty passed away that Tom didn’t know it but he was a good friend.

For almost 40 years Bono has been a companion on my journey of life, faith and activism.

So, today on his 60th birthday I send out a thank you. 

 

There is a light

We can't always see

If there is a world

We can't always be

If there is a dark

That we shouldn't doubt

And there is a light

Don't let it go out.

 

Thank you... and Happy Birthday!


STOCKI'S BONO'S 60TH BIRTHDAY PLAYLIST

Bono 1980

A playlist of Bono solo... to celebrate his 60th Birthday...

 

IN A LIFETIME - with Clannad

(from Macalla)

 

FALLING AT YOUR FEET - with Daniel Lanois

(from Million Dollar Hotel)

 

DREAMING WITH TEARS IN MY EYES

(from The Songs Of Jimmie Rogers; A Tribute)

 

THE STARS GO BLUE - THE CORRS

(from VH1 Presents The Corrs (Live In Dublin)

 

CAN’T FALLING AT YOUR FEET 

(from Honeymoon In Vegas)

 

I AM THE WALRUS

(from Across The Universe)

 

CHILDREN OF THE REVOLUTION

(from Moulin Rouge)

 

HALLELUJAH

(from Tower Of Song)

 

SILVER AND GOLD - with Keith Richards and Ron Wood

(From Sun City)

 

IN THE NAME IF THE FATHER 

(from In The Name Of The Father soundtrack)

 

JOY - with Michael Jagger

(from Goddess In the Doorway)

 

AMERICAN PRAYER

(from 46664 Concerts)

 

STAY AWAY (FAR AWAY, SO CLOSE) - with Craig Armstrong

(from As If To Nothing)

 

TOMORROW

(from Common Ground)

 

SUMMER WINE - with The Corrs

(from VH1 Presents The Corrs (Live In Dublin

 

I’VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN - with Frank Sinatra

(from Duet; 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)

 

I WANNA BE AROUND - with Tony Bennett

(from Tony Bennett Duets)

 

LUCY IN THE SKY WITH DIAMONDS

(from Across The Universe)

 

NEVER LET ME GO 

(from Million Dollar Hotel)

 

IF YOU WEAR THAT VELVET DRESS - with Jools Holland

(from More Friends: Small World Big Band Vol 2)

 

46664 (Long Walk To Freedom)

(from 46664)

 

AMANDLA - with Edge, Anastasia, Beyonce, Dave Stewart

(from 46664)

 

ONE - with Soweto Gospel Choir

(from African Spirit)

 

MISS SARAJEVO - with Luciano Pavarotti 

(Luciano Pavarotti and Friends Together For The Children Of Bosnia)


WE ARE NOT THE SAME

Steve-stockman-Jim Deeds

When I am with a family who are grieving I usually try to speak a pastoral word to them about the fact that they will all grieve differently. To know this will help them when some of them show more emotion than others, when some go quiet and others want to talk, when the speed of the process is quicker for some than the rest.

I encourage them to be patient with these differences. To graciously understand. To be alongside each other in the differences.

I think this advice has something to say into our Coronavirus Times. 

I have shared before that I quite enjoy the new dispensation. Though I can hold a crowd of a few hundred every Sunday, I am an introvert by nature. I am an only child who enjoys his own company and finds constant socialising to be hard work. That part of this lock down I am dealing with well.

However, I have friends, like Jim in the photo with me, who are not dealing with the isolation well. They buzz around other people. They need that socialising to feel good. For these friends isolation can be a mental health issue.

Indeed, even within our own homes mental health is being stretched in all kinds of different directions. Some of the family are anxious while others are calm. We might be needing different levels of interaction or aloneness. We might be seeking different activities to make it through. That can pull at the seams of family relationships. We need to allow for each other.

Some of you might know where I am going. I didn’t intend to. Yet, it is obvious. U2’s song One. When different melodies played over one another to harmonise, Bono started to sing:

 

“We're one, 

but we're not the same

We get to carry each other”

 

It is a good song for Coronavirus Times. In our homes let us play One and then as the apostle Paul exhorts us, in Philippians 2 verses 3 and 4:

 

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

 

Let us be mindful. We will not all deal with Coronavirus the same. Let us carry each other. 


LOVE OR ROMANCE? - A LENTEN QUESTION FOR MAN AND WIFE

Bono and Ali

SONG: U2 - A MAN AND A WOMAN

 

I could never take a chance

Of losing love to find romance

In the mysterious distance

Between a man and a woman

 

The marriage of Bono and Ali is a wonder of rock history. Bono and Ali have baffled the celebrity press for a long time. They have held family values to the fore in the midst of the madness of a rock star lifestyle. In the press around the time How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb was released this album’s release the tabloids had a “Six In a Bed” headline that had nothing to do with super models but about the bigger bed Bono and Ali had to buy to fit their whole family in to their sleeping arrangements. 

Bono would tell Irish tabloid Sunday World, “Ali is the most extraordinary woman. I still can’t figure her out. I still feel I don’t know her. She’s a very mysterious woman and she’s very independent.” Hence the mysterious distance of a man and a woman.

What the song does nail is the Holywood lie of romance. In the world that revolves around Bono, catalogued best by gossip columns of the celebrity glossy magazines, marriages fall apart in just a couple of years. Pre-nuptial agreements are more vital than the vows. No one seems to intend to keep them. They have become no more than some romantic day out. 

‘A Man And A Woman’ challenges the core of such shallowness. Bono declares that he could not risk love for romance. In ‘Miracle Drug’ he has already said that he’s had enough of romantic love and here he is saying that there is something deeper, more important, and much more satisfying. 

Bono admits it is a personal song but it is also a raging antidote to all the examples of love that his peers pump into the minds of teenagers and those much older than that. 

Listening to this song in Lent drew me to Ephesians 5: -

 

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

 

These verses have been abused, and women with them, for centuries. They have been used to stop women being leaders in Church and society. They have been abused by those who wanted Biblical support for the most oppressive marriages. 

As I read them in Lent, I hear words of self denial, for both the man and the woman. Submission to one another. Christlike cross carrying love. Marriage is tough. It is a revolution. If our wedding vows are to be followed through on and fulfilled then it will take Lenten like self denial. It will take a discipline that puts the sacrificial servanthood love of Jesus over the Hollywood feely weely romantic. Not that I, or Bono, don’t believe in romance but love is a tougher and I believe in the end the more satisfying decision. 

Lenten love is not just vertical or horizontally social. I must love the one whose ring I wear. 


U2 OCTOBER - HOW IT CHANGED MY LIFE

U2 October

Thirty eight years ago this week I turned 20. I had just started University a few weeks before. With birthday present Record Tokens (my very favourite present still!!!!) I made one of the most meaningful LP purchases of my entire life; U2’s October album.

There was quite a buzz about U2 in Ireland at that time. They had played my new Queen’s University’s McMordie Hall (now known as the Mandela Hall) at the start of that year and I had caught a little of the footage when shown on BBC TV, though I was far more interested in Stiff Little Fingers who were shown in the same series. There were also rumours that they were Christians which seemed pretty cool to me, a recent convert myself!

I can remember deciding to buy October in Boots on Royal Avenue. I brought it back to my room in Union Theological College, a room I would live in for six years and I actually do remember setting the needle down on side one. The sound of Gloria filled that wee room and, it has to be said, my heart, my mind and my soul. I guess my life would never be the same again.

These songs cut right into my spiritual journey, into my vocation as a communicator of Christianity, in a plethora of settings. I was plunged into a deep well of quotes, images and ideas and twenty years later I would get the privilege of writing one of the best selling and received books about the band; Walk On; The Spiritual Journey Of U2.

It all started with October. Gloria, Tomorrow, With A Shout (Jerusalem) all grabbed the attention of my soul. I arrived at Queen’s University to study theology having had my life turned around by a God encounter a couple of years before. I was twenty years old and this music opened up ways that I could communicate that faith, initially in the privacy of my college room. 

October vibrated with a faith that was committed and yet vulnerable, honest in frailties but confident in hope. Words like Rejoice and Jerusalem, ideas of worship and theology were not common in mainstream rock music. U2 were not in some Christian ghetto but as Steve Turner would say at Greenbelt some years later were involving themselves in the conversation of the rock world. Turner would go on to say that they didn’t only get involved in such a conversation but began to change the very vocabulary of the conversation; Simple Minds song Sanctify Yourself just one example of such.

In many ways, for me, this juxtaposition is where I have lived ever since and of course U2 have travelled down three decades of spiritual growth along with me. Perhaps everything of my faith is still articulated in U2 records, live shows and interviews. Perhaps Walk On is my own spiritual memoir through U2 songs!

As Bono wrote the almost half baked lyrics of October he was struggling with his faith and vocation and thus aware of his own fallibility. It is a humble way to carry the conviction of faith also present. Conviction of Creed can very easily cause an arrogance of faith that becomes Pharisaic and no friend of Jesus. Here in the full flush of belief U2 are caught in a vortex of struggle which keeps them grounded. These songs fly naively and land with a thud sometimes in the very same songs.

This is also the album most infused with the Shalom Fellowship that Bono, Larry and Edge were very involved with in their early days. There were many such fellowships in Ireland, north and south, at that time. Most of these kinds of groups are forged in a youthful idealism. Such groups broke away from traditional Churches and attempted to return to the spirit of the fledgling house churches of the New Testament.

It is no coincidence that such a phenomenon appears just a few years after the hippy sixties. The freedom of that decade caressing with the charismatic movement birthed an exuberant, communal and organic form of Christian fellowship that in most of its incarnations burned pure and bright for a short period before either falling apart as Shalom did or became a little more mainstream as many others did.

When I spoke to school friend of U2 and fellow Shalom member William MacKay, as I researched Walk On, he spoke of the spontaneity of the October recording sessions. William spoke of how the studio was filled with other members of Shalom and how the sessions would break into worship.

When Neil McCormick, another school friend, but not Shalom member, wrote the CD booklet notes for the Remastered October release in 2008, he mentioned how the rehearsals for the songs were done in their old school Mount Temple and I wonder if this is what William has memories of. Whatever, October is a document of that phase of Christian history. Nowhere else in mainstream music is there a record that best records the Charismatic House Church movement.

In the big picture of U2’s career October is the least important album. It sits between one of the best debut albums ever made, Boy, and the album that would begin U2’s conquering of the world, War.

It was an album strewn with difficulties; it was rushed, the aforementioned spiritual turmoil and the fact that Bono lost the lyrics. The songs come across almost half finished though Van Morrison’s spiritual streams of consciousness lyrics of the same era throws them some forgiveness. Whatever, it is not U2’s greatest artistic moment but in its uniqueness, exuberance and Christian context it is an essential place in U2’s story and very important in the story of many of the rest of us; me in particular!


OCTOBER - U2 USHER IT IN WITH A PSALM

U2 October NOT

“October
And the trees are stripped bare
Of all they wear
What do I care
October
And kingdoms rise
And kingdoms fall
But you go on.”

Perhaps U2’s first moment of controlled and crafted genius, Edge’s piano changes the band’s soundscape entirely and brings to the early catalogue a song that is sophisticated, economical and deep; Eno before Eno! Christian hymn writers have often used few words for impact – Taize would be a good example – but it is more likely that Bono, with his lyric boos stolen and the album deadline pending, simply didn’t have the time to elaborate. However, what might be nothing more than a sketch at the time begins to feel perfectly complete as the time goes by.

October is a haunting piece that sits in the vortex of change and a change that is not a welcome. Bono often speaks of having the title first and of thinking that the hopeful spring of the sixties had given way to a colder, bleaker time in 1981. As well as that global vortex of change the band were in their own personal vortex. Camped out with the Shalom Christian community on Portrane beach just north of Dublin, Edge and Bono were wrestling with rock stardom or not; was it compatible with the intensity of their Christian commitment. The trees were bare in their own souls and it worked its way into this piece of lament. 

Holed up in a caravan, fasting, praying and reading the Bible it was inevitable that Scripture would creep into the creative process. October is very much in the lament tradition of the Psalms or other Old Testament books, that would find their way into their next album War. October is Psalm-like while 40 on War would be an actual Psalm. Isaiah would feature a couple of times on that follow up album too. In October’s lament comes hope; in the midst of tossed about confusion comes truth; in the midst of negative change comes the constant to be trusted in.

This song is more relevant today than it was when it was written. At least for those of us living through Brexit, backstops and mutterings of border polls. That aforementioned book of Isaiah lets us know throughout that any alliance with a neighbouring power can be fragile and temporal. In the middle of all the upheaval and uncertainty and potentially difficult consequences the Old Testament prophets, writers of the Psalms and it seems U2 proclaim that God doesn’t change. The seasons do, the politics of history does but God... “you go on and on.”


HOW U2 RESPONDED TO THE OMAGH BOMB

Bono Slane

Tears started running down my face. U2 tugged my emotions. I was in a lecture theatre at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They had a screen that filled the entire wall of the theatre. The sound was great. I was showing U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday from the U2 Go Home: Live From Slane Castle film. 

The obvious reason for the tears was that this was filmed in Ireland. I had only been away from home for a few days but there is nothing like seeing home in a faraway place to feel that yearning. 

Bono was playing all the moves. Sunday Bloody Sunday is, of course, all about Belfast and our Troubles. In 2001 when they played Slane Castle we had had three years since the Good Friday Agreement but politicians were still in talks as to whether they could make our peace deal work. 

Bono use the concert to encourage the “brave men” to compromise for peace. He then literally turned the song into a prayer. Bono walks out across the Elipse stage into the middle of this Irish audience and chants:

“Put your hands in the sky
Put your hands in the air
If you’re the praying kind
Make this song into a prayer
Put your hands in the sky
Put your hands in the air
If you’re the praying kind
Cos we’re not going back there”

On that big Calvin College screen, this was epic. This is about home. This prayerful hope sung across a vast crowd. The screams of “No more!” Wow!

Then, as if that wasn’t enough Bono turns the thoughts of this Irish crowd to the events of August 15th 1998. Just three years earlier the Real IRA, opposed to the IRA ceasefire, left a bomb in the centre of the market town of Omagh, on a Saturday afternoon. When it exploded 29 people lost their lives. The island went into shock and grief.

Slane Castle was U2’s first gig after Omagh. As Sunday Bloody Sunday ends Bono starts to name every victim, one at a time. With the band pumping out the beat of Sunday Bloody Sunday the emotion is palpable. Bono’s voice cracks.

Then with Bono sitting down the band move into a stripped back Wake Up Dead Man. Oh my. This is the most perfect location that that song ever had. Right there. After Sunday Bloody Sunday. After the names of the Omagh victims. The grief, the anger, the confusion, the grapple for faith. It has the catharsis of the blues, the protest of folk and the power of stadium rock. Tears… 

This wasn’t actually U2’s first public reference to Omagh. On November 20, 1998 RTE’s Late Late Show broadcast an Omagh Tribute Special that also included The Corrs, Bob Geldof and President Mary McAleese. 

U2 sang two songs on that show. North and South of the River, written along with Irish folk legend Christy Moore, came cross as almost a grown up Sunday Bloody Sunday. 

In this co-write there is an awareness that religion has led minds astray, and there is yearning for repentance, reconciliation and mutual understanding without any need for surrender, a reference to the clarion call of Ulster Protestants: “No Surrender!” The lines that became most powerful and poignant as U2 performed the song for the TV special were those that suggested the loneliness of hurting your own. There are also fragments of hope in the midst of the evil that love is not lost and has its place in the future.

The band also played All I Want Is You which, in this context, metamorphosed from a yearning for love, in a romantic sense, to a lament for those who lost loved ones in the bombing. It was again powerfully emotional.

On the album that the band were actually promoting at that 2001 Slane Castle concert, All That You Can't Leave Behind had already started reading out the victim's names on a song that wrestles with God the Christmas after Omagh about the angel's song about Peace On Earth:

They're reading names out over the radio
All the folks the rest of us won't get to know
Sean and Julia, Gareth, Ann and Brenda
Their lives are bigger than any big idea

Today, 21 years on and I will make a little playlist of these 4 songs, as I remember those lost in that horrific afternoon and indeed everyone who lost lives or limbs, or their sight, or mental health or whatever else as a result of our terrible Troubles.