U2... Baby Jesus Under the Trash

BONO ON DESERT ISLAND DISCS - MY SURMISE

Bono Desert Island Discs

Bono on Desert Island Discs (June 26, 2022) was a beautiful radio show. 

He has that lazy north Dublin brogue. His deliberate diction has almost a poetic and sage-like authority, probably more poetic and sage-like than he actually is.

Bono’s honesty would probably have him agree with me. He doesn’t hide away from confessing his weaknesses laughing at his annoying gene. He is then honest about U2 and his part in it, even their tax decisions. 

He is even better when he opens up vulnerably about family, faith, his dad and the long secret of of a step son! Then there is his love and dependence on his wife Ali. His openness is always so refreshing. 

His choice of songs was very interesting. An Opera for his dad, Ali’s night time song of joy from Angelique Kidjo and his son’s very own song with his own band Inhaler suggests that Bono is without doubt a family man as well as rock ’n roll front man and activist.

Spiritually I was intrigued by the old hymn Abide With Me. I was even more fascinated at how he had sung Peter Frampton’s Show Me The Way at U2’s earliest gig. The nerd that I am knew he had but I hadn’t know why. I hadn’t seen it as the prayer that Bono made it for his teenage self:

 

Who can I believe in?

I'm kneeling on the floor

There has to be a force

Who do I phone?

The stars are out and shining

But all I really wanna know

 

Oh, won't you show me the way, yeah

I want you to show me the way

 

Of course! How I’ve been using music prayerfully since my own teens.

Best of all for me was his choice of Bob Dylan’s Every Grain Of Sand. I’ve also loved this song since the very first time I heard it. For me it is Dylan’s finest moment poetically and easily the best song he wrote in his Christian trilogy of albums between 1979 and 1981.

Bono speaks about stopping in to St Paul’s Cathedral on his way to the interview and seeing William Blake’s most famous lines on the wall:

 

To see a World in a grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour 

 

Bono suggests that Dylan must have had this in his mind as he wrote Every Grain Of Sand. 

 

I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there's someone there, other time it's only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand.”

 

I had narrowly locked this inspiration into “the every sparrow falling” line of Jesus from Luke 10 but Bono’s observation widens the lens. 

In the end this is the song that Bono wants on his Desert Island. I can understand. It is an encompassing song of the inner life and spiritual pilgrimage. We all need to confess our mistakes and admit our hanging in the balance of faith and life. From there all we can is trust. Every Grain Of Sand is hymn-like in its use of language and image:

 

“Oh, the flowers of indulgence and the weeds of yesteryear
Like criminals, they have choked the breath of conscience and good cheer
The sun beat down upon the steps of time to light the way
To ease the pain of idleness and the memory of decay.

I gaze into the doorway of temptation's angry flame
And every time I pass that way I always hear my name
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.

 

Great choice. Great show.


U2: A CELEBRATION

U2 Celebratoion

In October 1981 I used birthday gift record tokens to buy U2’sOctober album. Someone told me that they were Christians. I remember putting the needle down on the opening song Gloria and… BOOM!

By the time they released the 7” single A Celebration in March 1982 U2 were my band.  I loved the energy and exhilaration of their sound BUT beyond that they really did articulate something of my relatively new Christian faith. That a rock band could do that. My spiritual life had a soundtrack. A soundtrack that would travel with me through the rest of my life. I had found companions for the road.

A Celebration could feel rather hard done by. It has been, it would seem intentionally, hidden away in the annals. It’s first release on CD was 27 years later on the extra disc with the deluxe remastered October album. Even there it is hidden at track 9. In the sleeved notes Edge calls it “our attempt at a stop gap single”. He goes on, “It’s a little fraught, and shows the signs of being put together in the middle of a touring cycle.” 

I am not going to debate the songwriting or recording technique qualities  of A Celebration. Regardless, I will always love it for what it was at that stage of their career. It is the link, musically and spiritually between October and the band’s third album War. 

October was all personal spiritual ecstasy, almost worship. War was a band of young men, three of them Christians, trying to make sense of the world outside their home city and indeed fellowship group. They were starting to caress and collide their faith and the world.

Here on A Celebration they are still celebrating the liberation of Christ, as seen in the video that was filmed at Dublin’s famous Kilmainham Gaol. They are still invoking prayer and praise to the transcendent but they are now becoming aware of world wars and atomic bombs. Yes, the lyrics are a little generic in this “stop gap”song but they are taking more shape than the articulate speech in Bono’s heart on October

Author Philip Yancey, now a friend of the band, once described Christian growth from a verse in Isaiah 40 (v31),

They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Yancey points out how this seems to be the wrong way round. Should we not walk first? Yancey suggests that the early days of Christian faith is full of idealistic naivety. We believe we can make the world perfect overnight. We fly out of the blocks. Yet, later we watch friends get sick and die, we watch the TV news and realise that despite our faith all is not well with the world. We land with a thud. We are still running but later we are even walking because this faith journey is tough.

The repetition of  “I believe” in Celebration sounds like John Lennon’s song God, from his Plastic Ono Band album, where the Beatle sings about what he doesn’t believe in (including Beatlesactually!).  U2 would further develop this responsive conversation with the late Lennon on Rattle And Hum’s God Part 2

It doesn’t seem too contrived, to rush up the road and five years hear… “I believe in the kingdom come… but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

A Celebration is the perfect hinge between the flying and running in the spiritual life and U2’s next few records, maybe their entire career, would continue to live out Yancey’s commentary on Isaiah 40… a verse U2 would actually use on Drowning Man, a song on that next record War.


ROBERT ROWEN - A TRIBUTE

Robert and Winnie

I am so sorry to hear of the passing of Robert Rowen. Robert lived what seems like a pretty anonymous life in the Dublin suburbs but because he took the Scriptures seriously and loved his neighbour he in many ways blessed the entire world.

Robert and his wife Winnie had 10 children! As if 10 were not enough, when the wee boy across Cedarwood Road lost his mother, the Rowens took him in.

The wee boy across the road in number 10 was Paul Hewson, later known as Bono. He became best friend with Derek Rowen, better known as Guggi who became the main focus of two U2 songs - One and Cedarwood Road. 

Other Rowens became part of the story of the wee boy’s rock band. U2’s first album Boy and indeed their third album War had Peter Rowen's face on the covers. Peter went on to be a photographer himself and the band have used some of his photos.

Guggi wasn't the only brother with two U2 songs written about him. Both Bad and Raised By Wolves were written about Andy Rowen, who got caught up in UVF bombs in Dublin while out delivering with his dad, Robert. Read Andy's amazing story here

Anyway, it was Robert and Winnie who took Bono to Christian meetings. The Rowens were from the conservative Brethren and Robert was a stern, at times over stern disciplinarian.

Robert reminds me of Andrew in the New Testament Gospels. It was Andrew who introduced his brother Peter to Jesus. Peter became the one with the widest influence but Andrew was the “gateway to the sun” as Bono sings of Robert's cherry blossom tree in the song Cedarwood Road!

I am always inspired by the very ordinary but tangible everyday way that Robert and Winnie Rowen loved their neighbour has changed millions of lives around the world. Quite an example to us all! 

In the sleeve notes to Songs Of Innocence, an album about U2’s childhoods. Bono mentions the Rowens from number 5. He calls them an “Old Testament tribe.” He is so right. I have had the privilege of getting to know some of this family. I think I once made a plea to be adopted as a 60 year old brother! They are Old Testament in size and their deep roots of faith and the drama of their lives. 

As well as Guggi’s friendship for life, Bono got so much more from Robert and Winnie Rowen. In the liner notes of Songs Of Innocence Bono writes about those Christian meetings with the tribe! 

He writes, “In their company I saw some great preachers who opened up these scary black bibles and made the word of God dance for them, and us.” In Cedarwood Road he sings, “Cymbals clashing, Bibles smashing/Paints the world you need to see.”

Brushing Lou Reed and the Rowen family together, Bono concludes, “Lou Reed, God rest his soul, said you need a busload of faith to get by. That bus was full of Rowens and I was on it.”

Robert and Winnie with other members of the Tribe came to an event I was doing in Dublin at the time of Songs Of Innocence. Another brother Jonny was singing for me at the event. 

I was nervous as I shared the family’s story in front of them. If anyone could shout, “Rubbish, he’s making it up” it was them. Afterwards I sat for a time with Robert. We had a good yarn and then he says, “You know I took Bono to Bible Clubs!” Yes I do Robert. You’re the reason so much theology got out across rock music. Even after I’d preached his successful ‘Love thy neighbour’ he was still too humble to let it sink in.

People often ask me what I spoke about the short few minutes that I had with Bono after one of the Belfast gigs on the Songs Of Innocence Tour. The answer is the Rowen family, specifically Robert, Winnie and Andy.

To Winnie particularly we send our love and prayers today. May Jesus be proved right when he called the Holy Spirit a Comforter. To all the brothers and sisters that I know and those I don’t plus grandchildren and great grandchildren, may God bless each one of you with peace beyond understanding. Robert Rowen stood firm until the end.

Thank you sir…


STOCKI DEFENDS BONO AGAINST BONO

Bono 5

I was not surprised or shocked by Bono suggesting in a recent podcast that he hates his voice and that he turns the radio off when U2 songs come on. This is nothing new. Bono has been talking about his voice for years and about how he had to learn how to sing over decades. 

As for songs, the band talked a lot around the time of Songs Of Innocence about trying to write songs. They released 5 of the songs on that record in acoustic form. I think that was to highlight their sing-ability. I have often said that Every Breaking Wave off that record was their most perfectly constructed song. Song For Someone that morphed into 13 (There Is a Light) on Songs Of Experience is very much another song. Songs. 40 years into their career!

In all honesty I can kind of understand Bono's critique. 

I mean if I think melodies that can fill radio shows I am thinking The Beatles. So catchy that my children were singing a long from a very early age. They didn't get into U2 so quickly. In fact it was Songs Of Innocence before I heard my daughters paying any attention to U2.

If I think poetic lyrics I am thinking Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell or maybe Jackson Browne. U2 worked on wordy sketches in their early years. They lost the lyrics for October and felt Pop was lyrically rushed.

If I think about best rock voices I am thinking Rod Stewart around 1972 or in a contemporary sense Hozier. Bono was a front man before he learned to be the singer! I don't talk about his voice in the early gigs as much as I talk about him climbing up amplifiers!

So, I can get where Bono is coming from. Their best work has been about experimental soundscapes and creating anthemic atmospheres. My 40 years fandom with U2 has not been so much with songs or vocal accomplishment as theological content and spiritual experience.

My first listen to a new U2 record is always about content. I am always listening for what they are trying to say. As what is called a Theo-musicologist I am listening for spiritual nuggets and prophetic statements. No one else has ever contributed God into the rock song conversation like U2. I love that they took a Gospel song to number 1 in the US charts:

"You broke the bonds/Loosed the chains/Carried the cross and my shame/ You know I believe it..."

To be fair that's a theologically succinct lyric and when the choir were added on Rattle And Hum it was quite the song! 

Similarly live, they create this spiritual energy. I remember standing at Croke Park as the band played Moment Of Surrender and Bono stands centre stage with his hands open and eyes to the sky and the hairs on the back of my soul are standing to attention.

Bono should get over his weaknesses and stand over his strengths. I am imagining he knows!

There is something maybe even more significant about Bono hating his songs and his voice. It is typically self deprecating. That I say 'typically' might surprise people. Many people have an opinion of Bono that he is arrogant and egotistical. I believe such an opinion to be lazing and founded upon caricatures, never minding missing the irony at work in U2.

When Bono put on a gold lame suit and preened himself in front of the mirror he wasn't being egotistical. He was being ironic, pointing out the ridiculousness of the rock star. In some of those songs that he might not like he is constantly talking about the trouble with a big mouth or that his wife is the best thing about him. Bono comes across arrogant but has always held a humility alongside it.

 

 

 

 

 

 


U2: ACHTUNG BABY - 30 YEARS ON

Achtung Baby

It was the days when U2 albums went on sale on the stroke of midnight on Sunday night. U2 fans could never have waited until 9am on a Monday to grab the new record. I had already bought Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum at midnights in Belfast. In July 1993 I would buy Zooropa at midnight in Cork. In 1991 it was Virgin Records on The Quays in Dublin. I had moved to Dublin just two months earlier, probably inspired by U2. 

When I got back to the car and put it in my portable CD player I can still remember that first sound of Edge’s guitar riff on Zoo Station, like pneumatic drills bouncing off the Berlin wall. Of course we were already slight bemused having already heard The Fly, but that first listen to Zoo Station was and still is something other.

What is this? Where did this come from? What have they done? It was way more disorientating than a Ballymena Presbyterian moving to Dublin City. It was only seconds in before Bono was declaring “I’m ready for what’s next?” Was everybody else? Reviews over coffee the next morning were varied.

Ten year later, while researching Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of U2 it hit me, probably for the first time, just how great Achtung Baby is. Though Joshua Tree is perhaps more iconic I was forced to conclude that Achtung Baby was actually the band’s greatest artistic achievement. 

Achtung Baby is simply astounding, perhaps even because it comes in the slipstream of Joshua Tree. U2 are the biggest band on the planet and then they dream it up all over again. Achtung Baby sits up, out of the pack, raised by its originality onto a new plateau. 

In some of the presentations I have given on U2 I play a piece of the Rattle and Hum movie filmed in 1989 and then move straight into the video for 1991’s The Fly. My word! The transformation in mood, in colour, in sound, in image, in every kind of way. 

To get another visual glimpse of the change just look at the panoramic scenes from the Joshua Tree packaging and then the disc label on Achtung Baby where Anton Corbijn focuses in on graffiti on some door somewhere; from widescreen to as close in as possible. 

It is a reflection of the content. Joshua Tree had songs about justice issues that spanned the world but Achtung Baby zoomed in on a band wrestling with art and identity and one of its members going through a heartbreaking divorce. 

U2 had only dabbled ever so briefly with love songs in their first decade but here they were starting their second ten years with a whole record on the subject. That the sounds of Achtung Baby are massive and the topic of the material microscopic adds to the fascinating, brilliance and utter originality.

Thirty years after I found sonic disorientation on the road home to Shankill on a Dublin night, Achtung Baby might not be the record that holds most of my favourite U2 songs. However as an an album, no other rock band has ever reinvented with such a quantum shift. To do that and make an even better album than what was considered your life’s work is even more astonishing. 


HOW U2 PASTORED AMERICA POST 9/11

Bono American flag

(this is an edited extract from book Walk On; The Spiritual Journey Of U2)

 

America was in shock and mourning. Rock concerts were cancelled. It was no time for celebration or partying. U2 had another leg of the ‘Elevation Tour’ planned. What should they do? If U2 were about celebration and partying then they would have had the sensitivity to forget the tour. 

But U2 are about much more than that. The goal is indeed soul and there were souls in need of healing. U2 were confident enough to believe that they had something that might be of help for this particular moment. So they put tickets on sale and on October 10th they were back on US stages. 

Bono would tell Rolling Stone that he felt incredible and humbled to be on tour in the US at this time. For the band it was a message to the world that they would not be frightened off. There was also a belief that music could change things. Songs reinterpreted in the light of the event was one thing but how would the band reinterpret those songs in the live setting to move from the band prophetically raging against American arms in the summer to throwing their arms around that same country with pastoral compassion in the fall.

There is no doubt that on the stage at that first gig in Notre Dame University, South Bend, Indiana there is cautiousness to particularly Bono’s approach. The only gig on the entire ‘Elevation’ jaunt that did not begin with ‘Elevation’ the band looked nervous and uncertain as they came on stage…

Bono leads a few repetitive lines of the heart is a bloom and shooting up through the stony ground before Beautiful Day finally comes in. It is the opening prayer for this leg of the tour. The band are indeed on the stoniest ground on earth. American streets are rough terrain and many of the nations loved ones have just been buried beneath it. What the prayer must be is that the heart is eternal and can burst through to bloom again. 

Bono often walked around in sober steps like the priest has entered the Wake. He is gentle in his eye contact. He looks with sympathy and sadness. It is a man who wants to say “sorry for your trouble” to an entire nation and bring some comfort. There are more eyes raised to heaven in search of belief, more head in hands of disbelief. 

‘Until The End Of The World’ comes across as a battle of good and evil and ‘New Years Day’ is about new birth, the heart a bloom, breaking though to live in hope of another a brand new time. America and the world needs born again.

A cover of The Three Degrees ‘When Will I See You Again’ with its waiting and suffering took on new spiritual depth and power as it introduced ‘Stuck In A Moment’. It is faltering in emotion, Bono’s voice breaks. There is recognition of the plight and hopefulness of the time passing. At the end Bono says, “Wow” as the crowd cheers. He looks pensive in poignant mood and for Bono speechless. 

As he is about to make comment he thinks better of it and asks Edge to start Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’. It is perfect for U2; political, spiritual and personal. With the too many people dying and crying and a conclusion of war not being the answer it was another song that hauntingly could have been written for the time. U2 use it well as an intro to ‘New York’. 

‘New York’ was a beast of a song. It already had a few heads and another ascended out of Ground Zero on that Tuesday morning. Originally this is a song of a man sorting out life’s priorities. The placing of it in the first leg of elevation between ‘Gone’ and ‘I Will Follow’ bares this out. 

It is a song about the speed and madness of the city but ironically it is also a song about Bono purchasing a bolt hole right there in the eye of it’s deafening and blinding hurricane. The fact that he bought a place in New York was now not a wealthy boast, that could be interpreted by a resentful fan paying over the money for a concert ticket, but an action that made Bono one of the mourners. He was one of them. It was a statement of pride. This is my city. These are my people. I want to celebrate the wonder of a city that others could dare try to destroy. Against their violent hate I stand strong and proclaim my love as an act of no surrender. There would be a paraphrase, “In New York you can’t forget just how strong the city’s will.”

It is the U2 song that changes most post 9/11. There is a specific change in lyrics to mention September’s and summer’s love turning to winter’s rain and the Titanic lifeboats are no longer a personal carrier for Bono but invoke thoughts of real panic stricken emergency and the new New York heroes the fire fighters who gave their lives to try to save lives. 

The earlier mention of cell phones also becomes more poignant, no longer a negative image for a world where all communication has to be frantic and immediate but as a means to reach those who we love and find out if they are alright or even send a last message of love before we jump from the 93rd floor. The lines of diversity between races, religions, religious nuts and political fanatics are given a new take too. It is no place now for the fanatics but still a place for abounding tolerance.

By the the tour reached New York the hesitancy of South Bends had been left behind and they were in full flow again, aware that they were indeed bringing something soothing to a nation in raw grief. ‘What’s Going On’ and ‘New York’ are pushed back towards the end of the set. They follow ‘Bullet The Blue Sky’ which was dropped for the first Notre Dame concert but returns altered to remove the rage but to retain the provocation. America has been attacked and badly injured so the pastor stops pointing fingers but in the embrace there is still the warnings of revenge and war and their continued if not increased futility.

It is ‘One’ though that takes centre stage in New York. It has been muscling up the entire second leg. It is where Bono has been doing his preach about how his passionate Third World debt campaign and desire to eliminate poverty is intrinsically linked to the events of the past weeks. He has been likening the religious fanatics who hijacked the planes to the IRA terrorists of 70s and 80s Ireland. 

Just as U2 were Irish that did not mean they were terrorists, so we should not look at every Muslim as a killer. ‘One’ moves from some heart breaking love song to a song of world peace of the carrier and the carried, everyone together getting us out of this moment and walking on.

As they sang ‘One’ in New York the names of the 9/11 victims are scrolled across the big screens in an emotional realization that these are not statistics but human beings who lived right here in this city. He ends with a conversation with God, “did you hear them coming Lord…” which is a perfect lead in to ‘Walk On’ with it’s place in the waiting room between earth and heaven. At the end of the third night at Madison Square Gardens 50 fireman walk on stage to dance and take the applause of their fellow New Yorkers. Bono has been going on about real heroes, how selfish pop stars are not and how firemen have shown us who really is. With all things U2 this entire exercise lives on the thin line between sickly cash in caricature and cathartic healing. There are some who would be repelled by it but they were few and far between. Once again U2 do the emotional not for show but for a deeper healing.

If those attending gigs were reached during the tour then the entire nation was given an invitation to the wake on Superbowl Sunday. The first achievement of this night was to create the buzz of a concert in 3 songs; half a minute into ‘Beautiful Day’ –job done! As a result of the brevity of the performance they pumped the celebration in that one song before turning on lament in the mournful MLK as the names rose into the Louisiana sky. 

Then it was the hopeful yearning of a place where the streets would have no name. This was a microcosm of the tour. Bono would make a lot of America being a soul nation during ‘Beautiful Day’ and here into the heart of it U2 pastored the flock. It was never the intention when the tour set out almost exactly a year previously but it had been effectively achieved from the only band who could possibly have reached deep enough inside to deal with the hurt of so many.


MARTIN GARRIX - WE ARE THE PEOPLE (Feat. BONO & EDGE)

U2 and Garritz

We are out driving to a dog walk when I hear a familiar voice. A verse and chorus in and I realise that it is Bono Vox. Ah that must be that song that Bono and Edge feature in. Something to do with the Euros. It was telling that it was out almost two months before I got round to listening. My die hard U2 soul might be weakening. 

However, going home and listening to We Are The People reminded me of why I love this band. Not that this is a U2 song. It goes under the moniker of DJ Martin Garrix. It is only featuring Bono and Edge. Yet it is a perfect blend of electronic pop and the accessible sounds of Songs Of Experience. You can almost hear it as a U2 encore!

My very first listening had me thinking of a Damian Gormanism. I have learned so much from poet Damian Gorman since working with him at the 4 Corners Festival. One of his most interesting ideas is about writing words that he can then walk into. 

Let me explain. In his book As If I Cared Damian is very honest about his relationship with his father. It was not an easy relationship, sometimes violent. Yet, the last words in the book are “I love you dad.”

When I suggested to Damian that this sounded like a coming to terms with his relationship with his dad, Damian said that these were words that he wanted to walk into. He hadn’t fully reconciled his thoughts about his father but he wanted to. So he wrote those last words very intentionally so that he hoped he could walk into them.

I started to see this as the aim of the prophets. Their call to holiness and justice were words to walk into. I started to see my preaching as this encouragement to others. The call to be like Jesus is a call to follow him into the words he shared with prophetic hopefulness.

So, back to We Are The People. The U2 lyrical nerds, like myself, will see recurring themes. 

 

Broken bells and a broken church

Heart that hurts is a heart that works

From a broken place

That's where the victory's won

 

There was a victory won, by Jesus actually, way back on Sunday Bloody Sunday. In the more recent Cedarwood Road from Songs Of Innocence we hear “A heart that’s broken is a heart that’s open.”

As someone who shares the Christian faith of Bono and Edge it is not contriving anything to see “that broken place” as Jesus death on a cross.

The over riding message is of this anthemic mantra is -

 

We are the people we've been waiting for

Out of the ruins of hate and war

Army of lovers never seen before

We are the people we've been waiting for

 

Again, U2 over the years have put their faith in their audience as well as in God. They have always seen the best in people, always sung about the positives in humanity. Where my theology might leave my glass half full in such hope, U2's glass has always been almost bubbling over with what might be a naive hope that people have the power. Bono came on stage on the last tour to Patti Smith’s People Have The Power.

Yet, these might be words with Damian Gorman’s purpose of walking into. There is no better ambition to incite in the minds, hearts and souls of a Europe united around and celebrating the beautiful game in the European Football Championships. Let us all sing together words to walk into. 

Poets like Damian Gorman do it. The Old Testament prophets and Jesus did it. Preachers like me should be doing it. U2 have always done it.

 

We are the people of the open hand

The streets of Dublin to Notre-Dame

We'll build it better than we did before

We are the people we've been waiting for


EDGE IN CONVERSATION WITH PÁDRAIG Ó TUAMA - The Corrymeela Podcast

Edge podcast

The calm and charm of poet, author, peacemaker Pádraig Ó Tuama shooting a gentle breeze with U2's guitarist Edge. What a beautiful conversation. That was my initial reaction to this unique podcast.

Let me confess something. Having spent two decades of my life, writing a book and talking about U2 all around the world, keeping up with all the songs and interviews. Every album or tour or whatever I am deluged with messages asking my opinion. I am a little U2 weary. 

As a result I probably wouldn't have given this a listen if it hadn't been Pádraig or a Corrymeela podcast. But it is and I am glad. I enjoyed it very much.

Pádraig has a way with conversations and it is obvious from the outset that he has already worked up some trust with Edge. U2's guitarist sounds like a man at ease with the process and he is not always the first in his band to give himself away in public.

The human that Pádraig is, he doesn't abuse the trust. He draws out Edge's early years as a Welsh Presbyterian moving to Catholic Dublin. He almost shows Edge how music was his way to communicate as he found identity in a new space.

Faith and reconciliation are obvious subjects in a Corrymeela podcast and Edge speaks honestly about his questioning faith and how in reconciliation he sees compromise as a strong need week virtue.

The most interesting bit of all for me is the post interview chat which asks quick answers to Short Story Questions. In this we hear about his early love of The Jam, his love for American poet, former slave, Phillis Wheatley and what got me most excited of all naming Roger Casement as his very favourite Irishman.

My friend David Dark always suggests that if you meet a hero you should have a question ready so that you don't look stupid. If Edge ends up with me in a lift we'll be talking about an ex Ballymena Academy knight of the realm who was hanged for gun running for Irish revolution! 

Maybe it is just me but having written extensively on U2 I have an ear to every article or interview wondering if they'll say something that proves my writings wrong. There is thankfully nothing here. What is here though are things I didn't know which is not always the case. My hard drive is so crammed with U2 that it is hard to hear anything I haven't heard.

Pádraig does draw out such insights. As I said earlier about that early identity checking in his move to Dublin. He also opens out the song Van Diemen's land which has me off researching John Boyle O'Reilly.

Most wonderful and intriguing of all is Edge's take on Irish Presbyterianism. In his youth he found it dull most interestingly compared to his Welsh Presbyterianism.

Later he was fascinated when his mother would go north with her Church to visit Northern Presbyterians. She and he were rather stunned that when Mrs Evans asked their thoughts on a united Ireland, as they found Dublin a wonderful place to live, that there was just blank faces and no response.

How interesting. As his the entire podcast. Top job Pádraig and Corrymeela.

https://www.publictheologyireland.com/podcast


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.”