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Old 03-12-2002, 08:59 PM   #1
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I Will Follow - a reflection

In the “When you look at the world” thread, Deb D. said she hoped I would go forward with my idea of tracing the image of Jesus’ gaze from its beginnings in “your eyes make a circle” through the rest of U2. Well, I didn’t do that. What I did do is finally put to paper some assorted thoughts about “I will follow” that have been floating around my mind this year. So here they are, for what it’s worth.
==

“I will follow.” The way it begins, with the odd muffled echoes, the gradual drum crescendo, always conjures up to me the image of something coming at you down a hall, approaching nearer and nearer. It is something bright and powerful, but not entirely safe, and the sound makes you wonder if you are ready for it to arrive.

Listening to those opening bars, before the guitar bursts out into the open, to me evokes an experience described by one of Bono’s favorite writers, C.S. Lewis, who wrote of his feelings before his own hard-won conversion, “You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet.”

I have struggled to name the energy in “I will follow” for years. The manic glockenspiel, Edge’s relentless two chords (two strings!), and Bono’s hammering home that one note: “if you walkaway walkway I walkaway walkaway.” What is this, really, I wondered? Then finally this winter I read something that gave me the words I had been looking for: “I will follow” is a stalker song.

Of course, that immediately begs the question: is Bono stalking Jesus, or is Jesus stalking Bono?

I make that identification with no intention to downplay all the other levels in the text. U2 songs are good because they mean a lot of things at once, and because you get to build part of the meaning yourself. Of course the song is about Bono’s mother’s death, about his own need for her not to have walked away and the numb, feral instinct to follow her out of the world. In another way, it is about unconditional commitment of all kinds. It can also be turned into a song about U2 and their audience. It is all these things. More, probably. But for me, it is most profoundly about stalking and being stalked by Jesus.

While the verses seem to be Bono’s words, in the chorus you can’t even ask the question of who is speaking at any given moment; they’re both speaking the whole time. “I will follow,” promises Bono, and the One about whom he would later write “he spends his [time] running after me” says it right back: except he really will; he will follow no matter what. As U2 have powerfully illustrated in their live staging, he will back you all the way to the end of a ramp, or the end of the world, until you have nowhere else to go but into his arms. The Hound of Heaven, someone else called him. The divine Stalker.

The way the lyrics and style of performance have shifted over the years also sounds, at least to me, like an expression of an evolving, though not always easy, relationship. It would be interesting to burn a CD that traced this song’s style across the past 22 years. Even with my incomplete catalog of live recordings, the shifts are striking.

“I will follow”: on the Boy album Bono says it, but he sounds remote, wary, even amid the song’s incredible intensity. The center section, which will later become holy and improvisatory, comes out eerie and to me a tad frightening. (Your eyes… they fascinate me, but what am I getting myself into?) The song ends in a high-energy drive to the final note, but Bono delivers his last word as if sleepwalking, almost as a question: “…follow…?”

But then listen to a live performance from a little later -- the bootleg Lost Broadcasts #1, or the 1981 Boston Paradise show, for example -- and the eeriness and caution are gone. They rush the tempo. The song is exuberant, ecstatic. It’s a vow. “Your eyes” has turned confident: these eyes may be awesome, but they can be trusted. The transition out of that section becomes exultant, at times spilling over (as it did on the Elevation Tour) into a glossolalia-style vocal surrender. And the end? Bono, as he later will do over and over in the version on Under A Blood Red Sky, is no longer musing “…follow…” but shouting, “I will!”

And that UBRS performance. “Ladies and gentlemen… let me tell you…I will follow!” I can’t listen without a smile at the fervor, the 23-year-old’s certainty.

Over time the lyrics begin to be played with: “they tore the four walls down” becomes “you tore my four walls down.” “I was looking through the window” becomes “you looked through my window.” “I see you and I go in there” becomes “I see you when I go/come in here,” explicitly identifying live U2 performance as a place where God can be met.

I didn’t see U2 during Popmart, but the lyric changes from that era tie in perfectly with the dark, honest absence-of-God laments that are all over Pop. First, the numinous encounter-with-God section in the middle is gone, cut out of the story entirely; Bono can’t, or won’t meet “your eyes” just now. And “You took the soul from me, you put a hole in me, you should have stayed and lived your life,” he sings. Yes, it was about his mother. It was also about that God-shaped hole in “Mofo,” and about the God-hauntedness that marks Bono like the limp marked Jacob after he wrestled the angel.

And on the Elevation Tour, the song sounded to me like nothing so much as the secure, appreciative interaction of two old married people. (We’ve been through our dark days, but we’re still together.) Bono substituted “Amazing grace” for the business about windows (at least once singing “I was chased by Amazing Grace” – back to the stalker image) and often improvised words evoking the past 2 decades as Edge rang the bells in the middle section. U2 have 20 years of history with their audience, but when Bono sings “let’s get to a place we can never get over…Paradise,” on the Boston DVD, there’s more going on there than that famous 1981 gig at the Paradise Club.

When Bono comments, “it’ll never get old,” the immediate reference is to the U2 sonority, yet it also means: I’ve loved you (you: Jesus/ you: Adam, Larry, Edge, too) for 20 years and I will never tire of loving you. And one night I saw them on the 3rd leg, he sang something that at some concerts was clearly addressed to the audience, but that night was equally clearly addressed to Someone Else: “You’ve changed me. You’ve changed me. Thank you.” And then those eyes again, and that jubilation that launches beyond language.

“If you walkaway walkway I will follow.” Me too. And I agree: even 20 years later, it never gets old.


[This message has been edited by mebythesea (edited 05-10-2002).]
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Old 03-14-2002, 11:56 AM   #2
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mebythesea,
Again, I am awed by your insights.
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Old 03-14-2002, 04:13 PM   #3
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This post is absolutely incredible. I got chills and excited about Jesus in a way I haven't been for a while while reading this. Thank you so much!
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Old 03-14-2002, 05:55 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally posted by ocu2fan:
I got chills and excited about Jesus in a way I haven't been for a while while reading this. Thank you so much!
Thank *you* - there's nothing you could have said that would have made me happier!
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Old 03-15-2002, 03:53 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally posted by mebythesea:
“I will follow.” The way it begins, with the odd muffled echoes, the gradual drum crescendo, always conjures up to me the image of something coming at you down a hall, approaching nearer and nearer. It is something bright and powerful, but not entirely safe, and the sound makes you wonder if you are ready for it to arrive.
mebythesea...
that paragraph alone gave me chills.

Quote:
Listening to those opening bars, before the guitar bursts out into the open, to me evokes an experience described by one of Bono’s favorite writers, C.S. Lewis, who wrote of his feelings before his own hard-won conversion, “You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet.”
and your invoking that electrifying passage of Lewis', which I haven't read in years, altogether humbles me. As does your whole essay, plainspoken and intuitive at the same time. Thanks for loving this song to new life for me, and in the process giving me an anchor on a churning spiritual sea right now... I've had to be away from the board awhile, and I must return to my labours -- but newly fortified.

Amen, Brother.

Deb D



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Old 03-15-2002, 06:30 PM   #6
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WOW!

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