U2’s Prophetic Rage ‘N’ Roll: Rethinking “Sunday Bloody Sunday” Next To “Raised By Wolves”

June 1, 2015

If pushed to list the top 10 U2 songs from their expansive catalog, I would be hard pressed not to put “Sunday Bloody Sunday” at or near the top spot. The song converted me to the passionate crusade for justice that is a U2 trademark. It’s military drum cadence embodies what, in the evocative coinage of Joe Marvelli’s analysis, is an “aggressive pacifism.”

This song too cannot be divorced from the theater that is live rock n roll and Bono’s skills as a rock ‘n’ roll frontman. Their mastery of the performative in rock’s transcendent scope is why U2 is the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band to date. Their soaring belief in the power, as they sang, of “a red guitar, three chords, and the truth” allows them to harness this transcendent reach of rock ‘n’ roll in way that no other band does with the same consistency.

They are masters of the theatric and the performative and have spun their experiences into a body of work with an audacious reach beyond the limits of the present. No doubt, it sometimes misses in overreach. But when it connects one can be transported out of oneself to consider something bigger, grander, and “to come” in the biblical sense of an eschatological horizon akin to a “New Year’s Day.” But seeing this horizon is difficult in the midst of the raw matter of human life together. It is in this real context that U2 has been able to plumb rock’s depths of expressing anger, hope, and redemption. With its plaintive cries for a future beyond our destructive selves, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is such a song.

In a 1987 World in Action documentary for Irish television, the Edge observed that “a lot of people think rock ‘n’ roll should be escapist, but why shouldn’t it face what is actually happening?” For a group of four young men coming of age in the midst of “The Troubles,” this question was both urgent and daunting. 1983′s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was a bold answer. It teems with raw fury capturing the zeitgeist in which the post punk Irish quartet emerged. In the same documentary, Bono admits that, “We wrote ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ in a rage.”  The rage is palpable in the pounding drum beat and the exasperated exhaustion of the opening line. And yet, it balances its analysis of the human condition (“trench is built within our heart”) with a horizon of hope (“tonight we can be as one”).


The song aural evocations are certainly strong but it is in the live performance that the song’s sound and fury are fully incarnated. For their often endless tinkering in the studio and the occasional brilliance that results, it is their adept handling of rock as performative theater in concert which signifies their greatness. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is an illustrative case study. The iconic performance remains the one from the Under a Blood Red Sky concert film. Around the three minute mark near the end of the Edge’s guitar solo, a jackboot shod Bono emerges from the background with the white flag atop a huge pole, high-stepping to Larry Mullen, Jr.’s militaristic drumbeat.   He forcefully plants the flag and entreats us to “let it fly,” leading the call to nonviolence by declaring “no more!”

The flag is a universal symbol of the cessation of hostilities and maybe a particular reference to the Irish Catholic priest, Edward Daly, who waved his white handkerchief aloft as others carried the unarmed wounded to safety in 1972′s horrific killing of 14 protestors in Derry, Ireland by an elite British paratroop regiment. U2′s use of the sonic and the visual connect concertgoers to a broken world. This version has a youthful exuberance that buoys the edginess of the song. There is a generational pushback that proclaims a prophetic NO to the cycle of violence. It embodies the headiness of youth spurred by dreams of changing the world.

But, as the lyrics lament, “how long must we sing this song?”  As young people navigating our enlightenment with our restless energy, we can be tempted to think that our attention alone is enough to wrest history from the violent. Yet this song is a staple of the band’s canon and a fixture within their live shows.  heir continuing relevance as four (now aging) lads bearing the self-professed mantle of “three chords and the truth” emerges as they successfully prevent the song from being a nostalgic greatest hits performance.  Instead, the performance evolved with the band’s own expanded gaze.  Birthed from “The Troubles,” it has come to speak to Beirut and Nicaragua, Soweto and Sarajevo, Baghdad and Tehran, and beyond.

In 2015′s Innocence and Experience tour, a stripped down “Sunday Bloody Sunday” has been paired with “Raised by Wolves,” displaying its ongoing, evocative weight.  I am moved by the bare tone in this new haunting rendition. It is different than the militant exuberance of their 20-something selves. As a middle aged adult myself, it strikes me as the song of those who have lived long enough and seen too much to be naive about the human condition yet refuse to release their white knuckled grip on hope, vowing to “kick the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.”

Juxtaposing it with the raw, new track “Raised by Wolves” serves as forceful reminder of the harsh context in which this hope must be spoken and lived with a vulnerable courage.  It is a world in which the fervor of our beliefs can be twisted in on ourselves and spring outward in a bloody “purification” of those who oppose us.

It is a world in which the cry from the new song, “I don’t believe anymore…” is both an expression of exasperation at nihilism and a prophetic refusal of causes and crusades no matter how religiously infused.  Thirty two years on from its first performances, this song is still “not a rebel song,” but is a call to all of us to face the human condition without blinking and with sober, relentless hope.  It is not resignation to the inevitable but a call to action.  As Bono invited in U2 Go Home: Live from Slane Castle, “…if you’re the praying kind, turn this song into a prayer.”  It is lament. How long? It is petition. No More! It’s shrill and stilling focus on violence somehwere remains a prayer for an end to violence everywhere. Amen.

-Rick Quinn

Rainbows Over Dublin, U2′s Gay Pride in Arizona, & the Arc of Bono’s Activism

May 26, 2015

When Ireland became the first country to legalize same-gender marriage by popular mandate, double rainbows appeared over Dublin, and an Irish rock band transformed their Arizona concert into a gay-rights celebration. Almost 30 years ago, Bono endured threats from angry Arizonans for his support of the US national holiday for the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. But on Saturday, Bono invoked King as peacemaker as U2 celebrated the victory of love, turning the song “Pride (In The Name of Love)” into an anthem for gay pride.

U2 had begun expressing their strong support for #VoteYes on their website and social media outlets in the days leading up to the vote, even though they were on tour in North America. This victory for Ireland was a particularly poignant moment for Bono to be his most audacious activist from the arena stage on an issue local to Ireland–and not on the talking-points handout from the ONE campaign–as important as those issues remain. Bono’s speech on Saturday in Arizona during “Pride” profoundly united his faith, poltics, and belief in love in profound and eloquent ways.


Bono shared, “This is a moment to thank the people who bring us peace. It’s a moment for us to thank the people who brought peace to our country. We have peace in Ireland today! And in fact on this very day we have true equality in Ireland. Because millions turned up to vote yesterday to say, ‘love is the highest law in the land! Love! The biggest turnout in the history of the state, to say, ‘love is the highest law in the land!’ Because if God loves us, whoever we love, wherever we come from… then why can’t the state?’”

This victory for same-gender love being likened by Bono to God’s love provides us a powerful moment to reflect on the evolution of U2’s faith and activism. Back in the 1980s, after albums like War, The Unforgettable Fire, and The Joshua Tree, Bono and U2 epitomized the progressive activism of anti-war and anti-apartheid positions, particularly criticizing the Reagan administration’s interventionist intrusions in Central America with a track like “Bullet The Blue Sky.” Because the band’s activism expressed their faith in Jesus Christ, the lord, savior, and peaceful liberator, they took hits in the secular cynical rock press for being messianic crusaders. Come down from the cross, the critics chastised Bono, we could use the wood for kindling.

In the 1990s, Bono dealt with his Jesus-complex by dressing up in drag or like the devil. The trio of albums that chopped down the Joshua Tree mythos were Situationism on speed, the pop culture capitalist rock star Spectacle turned inside-out and turned up to eleven. This Bono was still liberal in a sense, but with a buzzed irony we couldn’t quite grasp. A lot of people didn’t get it. Of course the band maintained its activism during the Zoo years, speaking out against the resuregence of hate groups and about the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

By the 2000s, crusading Bono was back in full swing, and his bandmates went along, always faithfully yet sometimes begrudgingly, as he worked on issues related to ending global poverty with a new passion. Bono also injected his faith into the conversation more than ever before, turning his public speaking gigs into real opportunities to preach the gospel of good news for the poor, such as at the White House prayer breakfast or the NAACP awards. The singer’s ability to move a crowd with goose-bumps and the gravity that generates actions is not limited to his songs, as his speeches are just as stunning.

This new on-fire Bono brought unprecedented attention to the causes he championed and unfettered backlash from the political left. His own personal wealth that puts him at the tippy-top of the 1% and his band’s corporate and tax practices have resulted in a drumbeat of negativity towards the superstar and his bandmates. His strategies for ending poverty, no matter how effective or ineffective, have been judged for their association with neoliberalism. But that didn’t stop Bono from working nonstop on what he believed would benefit the most people.

In his many visits to the United States, Bono became committed to tapping the missional spirit among evangelical Christians with hopes they would be active in the movement to end poverty. These friendships have been well-documented and the partnerships with religious conservatives in the fight against poverty wildly successful. This has led to many powerful alliances with contemporary Christian musicians and ministers and many conservative US politicians. His friendships and collaborations with the likes of Billy Graham, Bill Frist, George Bush, and Rick Santorum were fodder for his critics on the left. Even as recently as 2013, he gave an interview with the arch-conservative organization Focus on the Family.

During the Vertigo tour, the War on Terror was on everyone’s minds. Bono repurposed the Nietzsche quote about not becoming a monster in order to defeat a monster and turned it into a prayer. He talked about Islam, Judaism, and Christianity being Abrahamic kin and wore his “COEXIST” blindfold as he dramatized torture during “Bullet The Blue Sky.” The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights was recorded and made a regular part of the show. But Bono stopped shy of any Code Pink-type tactics or even overt statements against the war in Iraq. He dedicated “Running To Stand Still” to the troops.

Is Bono progressive, conservative, moderate, or what? Does his faith make him some kind of evangelical free agent? So this much is clear: a person doesn’t necessarily become a religious conservative by hanging out with religious conservatives? Some things consistent about Bono are his passion and work-ethic, which are always in full-effect, at full-volume, for what he believes are the greatest goods, whether his fans or critics agree with all his political maneuvers or not.

Surely, education and cultural change on same-gender love have been so effective worldwide that more and more people, liberal and conservative, now support marriage equality. What Bono made clear in Arizona last Saturday, though, is that God is love and when love is the law, love can change laws.

On Songs of Innocence, the message of U2 comes full circle. With “Raised Like Wolves,” problems of violence and religious intolerance trouble the lyricist channeling his younger self. Back on albums like War with its white flag of hope and surrender, Bono was one of the first Christians I heard call himself “spiritual but not religious” because of the damage that religious dogma can do. In the new shows, “Bullet The Blue Sky” has been completely revised yet again, as the younger Bono lectures the older Bono and vice-versa. A barricade exists within the self between the agitator and the negotiator. Then, before the song ends, Bono adopts the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” pose and is rapping about the racial strife in Ferguson. All these are good reminders to Bono and to us, as we look at the long arc of his career in activism and art.

In 2000, the late Coretta Scott King, widow of the slain civil rights leader to whom U2 dedicates two songs, said, “I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.” What is true in Ireland today is true in 37 states of the United States. The pending Supreme Court decision on cases brought by gay couples in states without marriage equality may come as soon as next month, when Gay Pride parades are celebrated throughout the US and while U2 are still on tour here.

–Andrew William Smith 

Check out the video of Pride from Saturday, May 23: https://youtu.be/TuYr7dfyCn0

Photos: (in story) from U2′s Instagram leading up to the Ireland vote on gay marriage.

On the front page of Interference: Bono photo by Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Rainbow picture: @karltims on Twitter




Sacred Stables, Sacred Stadiums: Lifting the Veil on “Zooropa” at Christmas

December 19, 2013

During the “Zooropa” section in the U2 360 live set, the stage got cloaked in shimmering lights like a Christmas tree, obscuring the band, blurring the land where technology-meets-humanity that the song invokes. A rugged tapeloop litters the mind with “WTF” random blips of spoken media babble.

In the book U2 by U2, Bono reflects that Zooropa was “our attempt to create a world rather than just songs, and it’s a beautiful world. The opening was our new manifesto: I have no compass, I have no maps, and I have no reason to go back. . . . The opening was the audio equivalent of Blade Runner’s visuals. If you closed your eyes you could see the neon, the giant LED screens advertising all manner of ephmera.”


Something got hidden away in the starry starburst of rising young rockstars. God gets lost in man chasing mammon. God gets lost from man. Like God hiding from Moses in the rocks, this is rock that hides God only to reveal God. Bono recalls, “I wanted to get away from the weight of where I was going. I wanted to fly. . . . And I have no religion, I don’t know what’s what. There is a line in the New Testament [John 3:8] which says that the spirit moves and no one knows where it comes from or where it is going. It’s like a wind. I have always felt that about my faith. Religion is often the enemy of God because it denies the spontaneity of the spirit and almost anarchistic nature of the spirit.”

At its dirty Christmas core, the Christ story is an anarchic breaking through. The veil of colored lights gets lifted, and we get lifeblood. The dirty story of Christmas finds this unmarried teenager and faithful fiancé finding the unfound, unfettered scandalous incarnation of a baby king.

The “Zooropa” narrative of human-techno hybrids in hope and fear throws back a couple of millennia to the divine-human dangerous idea of messianic and revolutionary Jesus. Bono sings, “Let’s go to the overground/Get your head out of the mud baby/Put flowers in the mud baby/Overground.”

Jesus Christ is the flower in the mud, the flower in the gunbarrel of history, saying love still wins. The author of Love Wins, Rob Bell, in his followup treatise What We Talk About When We Talk About God, rips the veil even further.

Referencing Hebrews 10:20, Bell suggests the Christ-event ripped open history and lifted the veil. Bell proclaims, “[T]his ripping was a picture of how, because of Jesus, we can have new, direct access to God. […T]he curtain ripping also means that God comes out, that God is no longer confined to the temple as God was previously. God, of course, was never confined by a building. The point of the story is that our understanding of God was.”

Perhaps Bell and Bono of the post-Zoo period are onto the same thing: ripping away the veils between secular and sacred dualities, human and divine dichotomies. When the veil of lights lifted from the 360-stage to reveal the band again, the new setting set fires in souls.


Massive pop-culture spirituality runs the risk of all kinds of sacrilege. Bell warns us of that muddy random mess where everything is “common, average, ordinary, and mundane.” At its best, rock music reconciles the wretched and the wicked with the wondrous otherworldly message of hope. Bell asserts, “This is why the Jesus story is so massive, progressive, and forward looking in human history.”

The 360 tour transformed football stadiums and entire downtown areas into sacred spaces. Headphone downloads and YouTube videos are transformative transmissions. There’s risk in all of it, but the risky for the anarchic holy spirit begun with Zooropa continues today and will hopefully smash more paradigms with the forthcoming record.

Then the next U2 rock show, whether in stadiums or back to arenas, can be again, like Bell writes, a place to say: “You are on holy ground wherever you are, and Jesus comes to let us know that the whole world is a temple because we’re temples, all of life is spiritual, all space sacred, all ground holy.” Even stables of the first century, even stadiums of the 21st century. –Andrew William Smith, Editor


U2 & the Holy Ghost iPod Shuffle

July 23, 2013

 Did you ever have the random shuffle on your music player speak to you in a profound way? We’re honored to have author & preacher Jonathan Martin share a U2 story about what he calls the “Holy Ghost iPod Shuffle,” an excerpt from his new book Prototype.

Like many people of my generation, I’ve spent far too much of my life with headphones on my ears.  I have a big DJ-style pair that I use every day, because I love to be immersed in music—I love songs big enough to swim around in.  That’s one reason why I’ve had a lifelong affinity for the Irish rock group U2.  I know it’s a huge cliché for a thirtysomething pastor to be a massive U2 fan.  But I don’t care.  I was listening to their album Zooropa on endless repeat on my boom box long before I cared anything about ministry.  They have always spoken the language of my spirit – and, thankfully, our communicative God is conversant in all of my dialects.  More than once, He has used the music of U2 to touch me and guide me.


There was a particularly dark day several years ago when I was convinced that the life I had built for myself was crumbling around me. I had never felt more hurt or confused.  Not knowing what else to do on that Saturday, I decided to go to a nearby gym to try to work off some of the tension I felt.  As I stepped onto the elliptical machine, I turned on my iPod and set it on “shuffle.”  (I’ve always liked that feature because it’s like having your own personal radio station – except all the bands are awesome and there are no commercials.)

As I began to work the elliptical machine, the anthem “Beautiful Day” came on.  Being a U2 buff, I knew the history of that song: Lead singer Bono once said in an interview that he was inspired by the teaching of Christ that you have to lose your life in order to find it.  It’s a song about losing everything you held dear, and yet somehow finding that you’ve gained everything that really counts:

Sky falls, you feel like

It’s a beautiful day,

Don’t let it get away

As I was listening to the music that day, something inside me broke.  I felt a distinct inner confirmation – a virtual witness deep within me — that I was experiencing the truth of that song through my particular circumstances

What you don’t have you don’t need it now.

What you don’t know you can feel it somehow.

I had felt as if I was going to lose everything, but I was suddenly overwhelmed with the certainty that it was actually the beginning of something new and unspeakably beautiful.  I didn’t know how to articulate it at the time, but I now believe that the distinct vision of the church we planted in Charlotte was birthed in that moment.

I had heard that song hundreds of times before, but that time I heard it differently.  It was as if something had come to life inside me and was getting out, like the creature that bursts from the chest cavity of the guy in the first Alien movie.  I felt so silly on that elliptical machine in the middle of a crowded gym on a Saturday morning.

This experience took place over the span of about four minutes.  As the song was winding down, I was still overcome, but my emotions were starting to settle — that is until my iPod, still set on “shuffle” and crammed with thousands of songs to choose from, played a live version of “Beautiful Day” right on the heels of the studio cut.  At that point, I really began to weep.  It was as if the voice of Love was saying, “In case you didn’t recognize me the first time . . . . “

There may well be a rational explanation to the timing and sequencing of those songs on my iPod that day, but even if that were true, it wouldn’t change or diminish the impact of what I heard.  My response was not irrational, but it transcended my capacity for reason.  I wasn’t just hearing U2 play a rock song.  I was hearing an ancient song.  I was hearing the music of God’s love in the same way I believe David heard it in the field as a boy.  It was the wonder that called me back to who I really am, that called me forward to who I am meant to become.  That’s what music does; that’s what wonder does.  God uses these things to remind us of who we really are. –Jonathan Martin

From Prototype by Jonathan Martin, pages 34-36. Reprinted by permission of the author. Please check out his church homepage: http://renovatuschurch.com

Transgressing Theology: Locating Jesus in a “F—ed-Up World”

June 25, 2013

For many fans, POP marks the moment when U2 went too far.  The word “excess” is often associated with the album and the tour that promoted it.  The auricular experimentation amounts to a sonic assault, a breaking of the sound barrier, a soniferous boom and bust.  The album offers too much glitz and glitter; it’s an immersion in the momentary; it seems a celebration—or it is a seamy celebration—of the transient.   As the authorized lore goes, U2 regrouped after POP, returned to their roots, and started writing recognizable songs again.  In short, they came to their senses.

I see it differently.  For me, POP is that extra push over the cliff, as Nigel Tuffnel once remarked.  On this album, U2 “go up to 11.”

While I think this album challenges and breaks all sorts of musical boundaries for the band (supersonic guitar expeditions, funkified percussion, techno dance rhythms, drum loops, bits of sampled and synthesized esoterica, the short wave distortion fading in and out of “Wake Up Dead Man” to intimate Araby, etc.), I find most endearing (and enduring) the theological leap, the “leap of faith,” as it were, that U2 take on POP.

U2 Pop Mart Tour 97

In the tradition of Ronald Reagan and Pink Floyd (in very different contexts), U2′s songs amount to the plea: “tear down the wall.”  Within the framework of Christian doctrine, U2 put forward a “transgressive theology.”  In these POP tunes, U2 transgress the borders between spirit and flesh, sacred and profane, high and low.  On this album, the “Popmart” as medium of pop culture in the context of commercial exchange becomes hallowed ground.  To be extreme about it:  God is Pop.  This is the revelation U2 disclose and pursue through the 12 songs that constitute their 1997 album.

The POP album opens in the tradition of David—the songwriter who danced suggestively before the ark of the covenant—with an invitation to dance.  Over an entrancing beat and the relentless assault of electric guitars, Bono implores:  “Let go!  Let’s go:  Discotheque!”  This impulse to dance, to surrender to the moment, permeates the album.  And as in the biblical tales of David, God is not far removed from the scene.  Out there on the dance floor, the dancer is engaged in a search for “the One.”  Who precisely this one might be remains an open question here at the beginning of the album.  It could be the search for self; it could be the search for romance with an Other; it could even be the search for a savior—a messiah of some sort or other—who can effect the mystical union in which the seeker becomes the song.

Take for another example the dance tune “Mofo.”  At first listen, the song sounds like a paean to “mother sucking rock and roll” or something even more profane as the slang of the title suggests.  Still, the song is also driven by the same kind of quest enunciated in “Discotheque”—and articulated in the opening stanza:

Looking for to save my save my soul

Looking in the places where no flowers grow

Looking for to fill that God-shaped hole….

In “Mofo,” this pursuit includes the search for “baby Jesus under the trash”—that is, in the midst of the muck and mire of human existence, once again challenging the dividing line between sacred realm and the earth-bound.   Locating Jesus under the trash is not the same thing as positioning him “at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,” to quote a doctrinal formulation.  Indeed (as Bono will sing in a different but related context in the song “If God Will Send His Angels”):  “the High Street never looked so low.”  Still, there’s something hauntingly familiar about this dislocation to “the places where no flowers grow,” to the realm of the discarded, to the barn out back after permission to enter the inn has been withheld.

While “Mofo” is about the yearning to draw near to God or mother, or both, “The Playboy Mansion” concerns itself with the desire to pass through the “Narrow Gate” which, in the religious imagination, in any case, leads to “mystical ecstasy, absolute knowledge, or faith.”  Mention of the gate brings to mind the passage in the Gospel of Matthew (7. 13-14) that warns:

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide

and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and

there are many who take it.  For the gate is narrow

and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are

few who find it.

Mention of the mansion, meanwhile, recalls Jesus’ saying from the Gospel of John:  “In my father’s house, there are many mansions.”  These suggestions of the New Testament are brought into contact with what might be called a survey of contemporary values—or at least, a catalogue of product trademarks.

“If coke (rather than or in addition to bread and wine?) is a mystery…” begins the theoretical givens upon which contemporary culture appears to be established.  If Michael Jackson’s 1997 album can be declared “history” (and only “book 1″ at that); “if talk shows [are] confession,” then what symbol represents “the good,” or the noble, or the “true,” in a culture such as this?  Where does one find eternal bliss?  U2′s answer, though given away in the song’s title, is held in suspension until almost the end of the song:  “the Playboy mansion.”

But then the judgments one must endure to secure passage into the mansion are finally thrown into eschatological relief.  The song fades into the distance with a heavenly choir repeating words from the Book of Revelation:

Then will there be no time of sorrow

Then will there be no time for pain

Then will there be no time of sorrow

Then will there be no time for shame

U2′s listeners are thus left to judge this ambiguous song.  Is it a satire on contemporary values?  Or is it an anthem for the dawning of the millennial age?

After many references to Jesus throughout the album, POP concludes with a direct address to Jesus, a prayer in the form of the song “Wake Up Dead Man.”  The person praying calls upon Jesus for help in sorting out his sense of being caught between two worlds:  the fallen world (the song uses the somewhat less theological “F-word”) and the world suggested in stories about eternity.  Here we return to a familiar theme that figured prominently in the song “The Playboy Mansion.”

The refrain employed in this song, “Wake up, dead man,” has been pointed to by some reviewers as evidence that U2 was flirting with blasphemy and entering into a post-Christian phase with POP.  But the demand that God “Wake up” and come to the troubled one’s rescue has pious precedents in the Psalms.  Not only that, but in the New Testament the command “Wake up” is an invitation to return to life from the dead; it is the call to healed; to be fully alive.

The middle section of this song advances the perspective that has been presented throughout the POP album:  it is in the common, the profane, the mundane that the uncommon breaks through, becomes recognizable.  I interpret this section to be a sort of response to the despair of the pious one who is caught in categories like “fallen” and eternal.

“Listen over the rhythm that’s confusing you” for the antidote to death, comes the reply—from within?  From without?  The distinction does not seem to matter.  Creation itself is meant to be engaged.  This reply is not the last word of the song, however.  The despairing voice reasserts itself as the song and the album come to the end.  Thus in the tradition of the Psalms, “Wake up Dead Man” invokes God’s presence by denouncing God’s absence.

A casual confession is uttered in POP‘s first song:

You know you’re chewing bubble gum

You know what that is but you still want some

You just can’t get enough of that lovey-dovey stuff

U2 may be creating bubblegum music on POP.  But POP can also be read in forward and reverse:  a palindromic testimony.  Perhaps in the midst of pop music, that “lovey dovey stuff,” the grand transgression occurs.  To recall a line from the Rattle and Hum era:  “I’ve seen love conquer the great divide.”  Bono asks his Jesus in “Wake Up, Dead Man”:

Is there an order in all of this disorder

Is it like a tape recorder

Can you rewind it just once more?

Read backwards and forwards, POP becomes a theological assertion.  It claims the commercial realm as God’s realm.  At the risk and the resort to profanity, it names the commercial realm “Abba, father,” that is to say:  “POP.” –Ted Trost

Ted Trost teaches religious studies at the University of Alabama.  During the 2013-14 academic year, he will be Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Leeds.  The Interference webzine staff met up with Professor Trost at the recent U2 Conference in Cleveland, Ohio, where he presented a version of this essay. http://u2conference.com/

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