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Old 09-11-2002, 12:31 PM   #1
War Child
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Ontario,Canada
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U2 & Faith - mid nineties

(Interviews with Bono / The Edge and Adam regarding faith in the chapter - It Is October Over All Our Lives. It is from the book Race of Angels: Ireland and the Genesis of U2 By John Waters. It came out about 1995-96 and I believe it is out of print.)

The first time I heard U2's "Gloria," I was sitting in a corner of Miss Ellie's nightclub in Roscommon. I heard the DJ mumble something about U2 over the PA and, more hopeful than expectant, pricked up my ears in a casual way. The words and sound blurred into a whole, in which they still remain. Even now, contemplating how to begin talking about the song in mere words, I find it difficult to separate the pieces and parts that I hear. I had the vaguest sense of what the song was about, but what it said seemed to be much bigger than at least my idea of what that was.

Better to talk about the backing whirring around under the feet of the vocal, chasing it, being chased by it. The song seems to begin out of nowhere. The voice fading in at the start might be that of Sting, a high-pitched yodelling backed by a desultory drumbeat. Then the guitar spins into a dizzy circle of sound that draws the drums and bass with it, as though away from the voice, which then frantically tries to catch up. The first lines I could make out are:

“I try to speak up
But only in you I'm complete
Gloria, in eo domine
Gloria exulto day-ee”

The ending of the song is stunning. An instrumental break moves from The Edge's circling guitar to a question-and-answer session between Adam's elastic-slap bass and Larry's methodical pottering on an array of jamjars, biscuit tins and piled-up dinner plates. Then The Edge slices the air with a chord as sharp and jagged as a broken slate and draws the confusion to an end. The drums wind up into a parcel of tightness and determination and the song gathers itself for the final stretch, achieving a synthesis and resolution that resonates back to the beginning. Bono's voice, layered upon itself a thousand times, sings into the distance:
“Gloria, in eo domine
Gloria Gloria.”

I wanted to dance but I didn't know why, so I didn't. The song had an unaccountable joyfulness about it, which because of the content made me uneasy. With hindsight it was my own positive response to it, in the knowledge of what it was, that made me uneasy. There were plenty of other pop songs with that title, but this was the least ambiguous. "You probably wanted it to be about a waitress," Bono joked to me a dozen years later. What I wanted was the song to be about what the song was about, but to be able to pretend I thought it was about a waitress. When the record had finished playing, I said to a girl sitting beside me that this band was going to be the biggest in the world. Don't ask me to explain why.

"Gloria" is the opening track on October, U2's second album, released in the late autumn of 1981. Reviewing the album in Hot Press, Neil McCormick, a school friend of the band, observes that U2 had at last openly embraced in their music the faith that had been running "in more subtle forms" through earlier songs. McCormick's review echoes my own feelings about October pretty exactly:

“It is a Christian LP that avoids all the pedantic puritanism associated with much Christian rock, avoids the old world emotional fascism of organized religion and the crusading preaching of someone like a born-again Bob Dylan. It is fortunate that the main spiritual issues dealt with can be related to in a wider frame of reference than Christianity: man's struggle to know and control himself and his own nature is something that comes to everyone in some guise...U2 can touch and involve as the best art should do, but I cannot relate to all their words because often they respond to the basic problems of life and youth with the catch-all of having a saviour...I can only relate to what U2 sing in a broad rather than a specific sense. “

His conclusion would have found a resonance with many young Irish people, of the time and since, who grew up in the shadow of a joyless, puritanical Catholicism which denied the very flesh they inhabited and taught them that there was a choice to be made, for a start, between chapel and nightclub.

"I actually really like that lyric," said Bono in March 1994. "It was written really quickly. I think it expresses--the thing of language again. This thing of speaking in tongues. Looking for a way out of language. 'I try to sing this song...I try to stand up but I can't find my feet...' And taking this Latin thing, this hymn thing. It's so outrageous at the end going in to the full Latin whack. That still makes me smile. It's so wonderfully mad, and epic and operatic. And of course 'Gloria' “is” about a woman in the Van Morrison sense. Being an Irish band, you're conscious of that. And I think that what happened at that moment was very interesting: people saw that you could actually write about a woman in the spiritual sense and that you could write about God in the sexual sense. And that was a moment. Because before that there had been a line. That you can actually sing to God, but it might be a woman? Now, you can pretend it's about God, but not a woman!"

People refer to "traditional Irish Catholicism," intending to signify that joyless version of the faith that has been imposed on the country, in living memory and before. But this form of Catholicism is anything but "traditional" to Ireland; like a lot of what we regard as reflecting some innate ethos, it is an imported product. Far from the present model of Irish Catholicism being intrinsic to the Irish character, it was part of the means by which the end of colonisation was furthered, the primary instrument in the process of softening us up for the industrialisation that would finally arrive in the 1960s. It is an example of the contradictory and complex nature of colonisation, being both part of it and reaction to it. The freedom of Irish sexual mores--the fact that concubinage was tolerated, for example--came as a profound shock to some of the early invaders, in particular the Normans. A degree of sexual license "quite out of character with the more conventional restraints of English and Western society at large," was still prevalent well into nineteenth-century Ireland, notes L.M. Cullen in his 1981 book The Emergence of Modern Ireland. "Not only were the morals somewhat freer than the conventionally stricter Anglo-Irish ones, but there was generally an element of license or libertinage, at times involving the use of force. With the church disorganized into the eighteenth century, a whole range of misdemeanors which were uncommon in Western Europe existed, ranging from irregular marriages to libertine conduct in which sexual favors were sought at a lower social level." In his study of the subject, Moral Monopoly, Tom Inglis describes the period of the sixth and seventh centuries, in which Ireland was an early centre of the Christian movement, sending out missionaries to rescue Europe from the grip of savagery and magic, and notes that the exported product bore only a passing resemblance of the one consumed at home. This export model contained strong elements of penitentialism. Sexual appetites were curbed and restrained through fasting, praying and kneeling, and celibacy was regarded as an elevated state. But, according to Inglis, attitudes at home took on a more relaxed character, with elements of the penitential rites being incorporated into more traditional pagan practices to produce a heady mix of magic, mystery and masochism. This, if anything, was the "tradition" of Irish Christianity, and survived until well into the nineteenth century, when it was arrested by the mass deaths of the Great Famine in the 1840s. From that time, the Catholic Church took in hand the task of curbing the uncivilized habits of Irish citizens by close supervision of gatherings like wakes and May Day festivals, of which sexual symbolism had been a vital ingredient and which frequently involved submission to passion in the form of sex, drinking and/or fighting. "In nineteenth-century Ireland," writes Inglis, "sexual ribaldry was reduced from the physical to a verbal level. Sex became a serious subject and the Church developed a monopoly of knowledge about it. Shame and guilt about sexual practices were instilled in every individual, privately, in a hushed manner, in the dark, isolated space of the confessional. Thus, the innate, primitive nature of Irish Christianity--joyful, playful, magical and sensual--was diligently suppressed by Irish priests and nuns. There is an odd paradox in this, in that the suppression was carried out with the stated intention of defining Irishness against the alleged decadence and immorality of the coloniser, but it also had the effect of facilitating the coloniser's purpose: the civilisation of Ireland. In the absence of the opportunity to possess economic and political power, identiy and social prestige became centred on the practice and expression of moral virtue. The Church, according to Inglis, developed a virtual monopoly of Irish morality, which allowed it to exercise both civil and physical control. Under English domination, the politics of morality allowed the Church to become the moral government. After independence, Church and state became effectively one. The question of whether or not this relationship was appropriate, and the belief of the modernising elements of Irish society that it was not, have been at the core of the moral civil war that has dominated Irish public discourse to this day.

A useful way of explaining this might be to present the Church's role as the surrogate for the coloniser's, in post-independence Ireland. Without the kind of spiritual and cultural reawakening which the 1916 leaders had called for, what occurred was simply an internalisation of the forces of colonialism in the Irish mind. The Church took on the mantle of authoritarianism to satisfy the people's needs for an external power on which to project its dependency habit. In a sense, the virus of colonialism was caried invisibly into the late twentieth century, with the Catholic Church as one of its chief agents. The sixties generation, seeking to liberate itself from the constraints of an excessively moralistic and confessional Church, were actually engaged, unbeknown to themselves, in an increasingly neurotic struggle against the forces of colonialism itself. The virus was being handed down in unseen, unconscious forms.

But, while the sixties revolutionary generation strove to wipe out the influence of the Catholic Church and usher in a new, liberal, progressive and secular state, where the pleasures of the flesh might presumably get a better shake, the members of the lost half- generation of the 1970s were moving on to a question that had not yet been posed: "What then?" Theirs was not an overt revolt against an oppressive Church, more a washing of hands, a walking away from all the available alternatives--a plague on all your houses. There was no struggle, just a sudden absence.

Throughout the 1970s, the domination of Irish Catholicism came under what for a time appeared to be a significant threat from Christian revivalism. Groups like World Vision and Campus Crusade for Christ began to actively evangelise in the streets and campuses of Irish cities. Many of these groups were actively hostile to Catholicism, a feature which appealed to many young Irish people disillusioned with the authoritarianism and joylessness of the Irish Church. In an article on the phenomenon in the Catholic intellectual journal The Furrow_ in December 1981, Fr Jack Finnegan observed that many young Irish people had lost faith in the Church's ability "to offer an acceptable framework for life and worship...where teaching is sought and needed but not forthcoming, then others listening to different music will come in and sing a different song."

In his 1985 book The Church and New Religious Groups, Fr Martin Tierney observes: “There is a deep desire in many young hearts to know the Lord. The basic goodness of their lives is evidenced by their concern for the deprived and for the third world issues of poverty, justice and peace. The essential goodwill towards the Church is often manifested by a continuous respect of clergy and religious. However, the point of alienation arrives through the Church's inability to deliver with power the message of the gospel of salvation. Evangelisation today, that is bringing young people into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, is often hindered by the Church not through the laziness of Christians but through the busyness of Christians in the wrong area. There is a disillusionment with the presentation of what ought to be at heart a very exciting message. On the other hand there is conviction, power and an effective pastoral strategy among many of the new evangelical groups which have recently arrived in Ireland. I am surprised that they have not managed to attract more disaffected young people. “

There was something in the air. Maybe literally. In the summer of 1977, the Charismatic Renewal Movement, an emerging evangelical movement within the Catholic Church itself, hosted a major four-day conference at the Royal Dublin Society. Some seventeen thousand delegates from eighty countries came to hear the promise of a New Pentecost. Fr Martin Tierney was present and spoke critically of the failures of the institutionalised Church, which had "relied on power, influence, position, money, censures, interdicts"--"all unworthy instruments of evangelisation."

As in so many things in Ireland at this time, there were countless little pendulums swinging this way and that, clanging into one another, swinging too far or not far enough, arresting one another's course or sending it spinning in a different direction. Many young Irish people in this period turned away from issues of faith and religion; others went in search of a more meaningful sense of connection. For the first, read Neil McCormick's Hot Press review; for the second, listen to U2's October, the album he was writing about. It was the experience of Lypton Village, with its iconoclastic rituals and Dadaist dilletantism, that had bonded U2 and their friends to the extend that they would plunge themselves into the waters of the Shalom Christian community. The Hot Press journalist, Bill Graham, the first to write about the fledgling U2, recalled years later that, in the first interview conducted in the spring of 1979, he had actually played down this aspect of the Lypton Village sensibility, in order, as he saw it, to protect the band from themselves and the forces which they might unleash against their own chances of survival. In a 1989 book on U2's early days, Another Time, Another Place, Graham recalls that, in that first interview, Bono had volunteered: "One other thing you should know about the Village--we're all Christians."

In 1993 Bono remembered: “We were on our performance art missions in 1977, when we met our first preacher, in McDonald's on Grafton Street. This guy called Dennis Sheedy. Phew! He was as hard as nails. And he was goin', "You're mad, aren't ye? Yese are into music. Look at yese! The way yese are dressed! Ye're mad_! And yese don't drink? And ye don't do acid?" And he starts talking and he starts touching off things that I heard as a kid, via Guggi's [of the Virgin Prunes] family. They were like an Old Testament family--across the road. There must have been several hundred of them living in the house. There were thirteen kids. And Robbie Rowan was an unbelievable Prod. They were just out there. And when he used to talk I just knew--"there's something goin' on here." I loved the way he talked about this. I had gone to a few evangelical meetings in Merrion Hall when I was younger. And I didn't like it. I picked up bigotry. I didn't like that. I remember being dropped home and this, obviously, Protestant bigot saying to me in the car as a kid, "What's your name? Paul? That's a very, very famous name. What is the most famous person of that name?" And I go, "Paul McCartney." And the guy goes, "No!!! I'm talking about religious figures!" And I say, "Oh, I'm sorry. Pope Paul!" [Long intake of breath, and whispers viciously] "The Apostle Paul." He was not into Catholics, and my dad was a Catholic, so I didn't like that. So I backed out. So we thought this guy, Dennis Sheedy, was off the wall--one of us! He was goin' on about God--fair enough! Welcome in! Have a cup of coffee! Then we started to learn from him. We got into that. What had happened was that, in '77, this movement of the spirit had happened. And a very rigid Catholic Church started to suddenly loosen. Suddenly there was the sort of sexiness that you got in American gospel churches--people singing and dancing. And it was very easy to point at people jumping for Jesus in the RDS and dismiss
it totally. But it takes a lot to get hard-boiled Catholics to jump and carry on in that sort of drugged-out fashion. It was like a rave for the God-squad. That's what was happening. They were just out of their minds. But, instead of E, it was the Holy Spirit. This was interesting. It just got very fervent, and heavy things happened. I can look back now. I can see. Wow! I meet people from different places who were burned by the same fire. They'll say, "Yeah, I went through that." You start to realize this wasn't a sporadic thing. This was a thing that happened, which happens every so often. The Pentecostalists have this idea that a spirit falls and they can trace its movements. There was one that fell around 1917, 1918, and a number of things came out of that. These are movements of the spirit. They fall and they stay somewhere. And there was one around that time. And out of it came such various anomalies as charismatic movements--who'd ever heard of Catholics singing those hymns? You know, that was a “mad” concept, people jumping for Jesus in the RDS--insane! But something happened. I just know that. “

Like punk "happened"?

"That's right."

Before? After? Simultaneously?

"Maybe something quite similar."

In the Ireland of the 1970s it was almost impossible to be young and be other than superficially interested in any idea of God and escape the suspicion of the majority of your peers. What may have made U2 somewhat immune to this phenomenon was the odd mix of religious backgrounds they represented. Larry was the only Catholic. The other three were Prods of varying kinds. "I'm half Protestant too," says the country's leading psychiatrist, Ivor Browne. "The fact of feeling yourself not part of the culture gives you a seeing eye into the culture that you don't have if you're simply brought up in it. I had no choice but to look at it, because I knew I was different. Whereas typical Irish Catholics never reached any consciousness about what they were. They didn't have to."

Bono, for example, having a Catholic father and a Protestant mother, could mix and match his beliefs pretty much as he pleased. Brought up a Protestant, he had no axe to grind with the Catholic Church. This afforded him an unseen freedom from the collective neurosis of the society.

Bono: “I didn't have it in my face. My father drove me to the little Church of Ireland church in Finglas with my mother. We got out. We walked in. He went off to mass. And he picked us up afterwards. Occasionally I'd go to mass. I never thought there was any big deal. In that sense I had the most ecumenical background possible in this country. “

Did you always, I asked him, believe?

Bono: “No. I knew. In a very powerful way, I knew that there was something to this. And I didn't believe then, instinctively, the line that I was being sold in school and in the intelligentsia--which is the God is Dead line. I always remember in school, written on the wall "God is dead--Nietzsche" and written underneath it, "Nietsche's dead--God." A classic graffiti line. I just knew that there was something there.

Something outsiders find hard to figure about born-again Christianity is the concept of a personal friendship with Jesus. Catholics, in particular, have difficulty grasping this.

Bono: “I suppose it's the idea...Judeo-Christianity is about the idea that God is interested in you--as opposed to A God is interested in you--if you've got a money problem you go to the money god. This was a radical thought: that God, who created the universe, might be interested in me. And this is the stuff that got them into so much trouble in the Middle East. I mean, if you come in from working the land, smelling of sheepshit, and you stand in front of Pharaoh and tell him that you equal in God's eyes. You know? It's like, "FUCK OFF!" Seriously! It's MAD! It's an incredible thought. And it is the thought on which democracy is founded, and anyone who thinks it was a Greek idea is up their arse. The Greeks never lived by democracy. There was an elitism. The people? No chance! We're not equal with the people--we're equal with each other. So it is the most extraordinary thought. But if you follow it through to its conclusion, which is that if God is interested in you...and what are we told to base this relationship on? The relationship to begin with is Father, then Christ, who's the Son of the Father. So it's not the Father who's there; it's the Son of the Father. Mates. That's the relationship. That's the idea of Christ, I suppose. And it is at the root of megalomania also, I imagine, because if you think that God is available to you, it's got to change your world view. “

Maybe the difficulty we experience is a product of our all-too-human imagination. We cannot comprehend with intellect, but we have to try. We create images, pictures of God. We can think of God only in terms of Jesus--God become man. The suspicion is around that this may be a mere fable, a way of explaining things which our human intellects are otherwise incapable of grasping.

Bono: “When I get to this position, and this is a bit of a wall for me, I say, okay, we know Christ existed as a person. It's all in the history books and there's not a shadow of doubt but that this person existed at that moment of time and when around the place saying that he was the son of God. My problem is: he either was who he said he was, or he was a complete maniac. This idea of The Prophet, this idea of "Good Teacher"--funnily enough, Christ hated this. Whenever somebody would come up to him and say, "Good Teacher," he always sorted them out. Somebody would come up and say, "Good Teacher, I would like to follow you, but my father is dead and I have to go and bury him." And he'd say, "Let the dead bury the dead." And I used to think, "What a horrible thing to say. The guy wants to bury his dad!" I remember goin' up to somebody who knew about these things and saying, "This is terrible. I don't understand. He's tellin' him to fuck off. He just wants to bury his dad! That's a bit much!" And, as I recall, the guy said to me, "He called him Good Teacher--that's the first clue. Which means he didn't recognize what was going on." The most popular thought within our world, the West, is the idea of Christ: Good Person--someone who came up with good ideas about how you should live your life. Well, that is a load of bollocks. I mean, if that is true, this is a fucking looper of Charles Manson proportions. You know? This guy went to the cross, was crucified. King of the Jews! Here I am! We're talking psychopath! And it strikes me that it would be one of the great ironies of human existence that the entire globe has been shaped by a lunatic. 'Cause there's plenty of lunatics in this world--and there's been a lot more colourful than that. And I ask myself, "How could an entire globe be shaped by a lunatic such as this? How could we live by a calendar that's post-lunatic? I mean, it's too much! Now if my own beliefs were based purely on that, that would be nothing. But mine are based on feelings, senses, instinct, music. I'm a musician. And music is all about faith. You step from one not to the other, believing it will be there when you put your foot down. You're walking on water--all the time. And faith is about that. I don't have it all figured out or anything, but I know that there's something to this. And I feel more than I know. “

Does this mean it's a blind faith? You don't know where you're going. "Yeaaahhh," (doubtfully), "I don't know where I'm going, but..." Is that the point, then, that it does keep you going?

Bono: “No. You see I don't think it's that simple. That's almost like the crutch, isn't it? If it works, use it. But I don't think it works like that. We're at an extraordinary moment at the minute. It's like, never in the history of human civilization has there been a people who did not believe in the idea of their spirit, in the idea of God. And we're living it. This is it. It's never happened before. Ever, ever, ever. People worshipped the stars, and the moon. We worship money. It's an incredible thing. And religion is a shell. But what I think is that if God is dead, if God is a myth, it's a very hard myth to shake off, because we've had a hundred years at it now. And it's still there; in communist Russia, where they even took it from the schoolbooks, from everything. It's a very deep thing in us. And even if you don't believe that God exists out there, you must believe that the concept of God exists in there. So you have to deal with it. But how come nobody is dealing with it? How come that so few artists are dealing with it, so few writers are dealing with it? This is the thing. This is what Milan Kundera, in a way, is having a go at in “Immortality”. People like Wim Wenders are getting into it with things like “Wings of Desire” and “Faraway So Close”. That's what U2 are at, Patti Smith, Bob Dylan. People are trying to find out: what is that place and how come it won't go away? What is it? And how can we get to working our way through it? Is it the same as the music? Is it coming from the same place as the music? There are so many questions. And it's so rich.

The faith on which the music was founded is a continuous strain in U2's music right up to the present. But the caricatures of U2 which emerged in the wake of October have remained as well: the image of joylessness and self-righteousness born out of what can only be a complete ignorance of the music and its content. It's as though U2 had been forged in the public mind as the Mother Teresa of rock'n'roll bands. This paradox provided a pressure which was as enriching as it was enraging.

Bono says: “It never was self-righteous. What people would see as self-righteousness is defensiveness really. The tautness of the War album came out of defensiveness. The defensiveness came out of the fact that our idea of God, which was so big, was becoming smaller. People around us were closing in, trying to change and shape us. Gavin wore dresses and boots, and that was fine at first. The next thing it was, like "Could'ya quit the dresses?" People started dressing plainly. We used to have the sexiest women around, with beautiful bodies. They would cover themselves us. And we didn't like that. There was a closing in, by people who didn't have the freedom that we did. This period just kind of came in, and that was the driest time. They didn't understand our freedom. And they started to look towards the lifestyle. And you can't do that. You mustn't do that. It's invisible. Lifestyle is nothing to do with it. There are alcoholics who are believers. There are drug addicts who are believers. I don't belong to any church. But if there was one church that I'd be a member of, and go every Sunday, I'd go to the Glide Memorial in San Francisco. If you ever get a chance to go there, you'll have your mind blown. It is extraordinary. It's in the Tenderloin in San Francisco. There's a fella there called Cecil Williams--the Reverend Cecil Williams--he comes out in an electric blue kaftan, with "Love Power!" and, y'know, "Pow!" written upon really bad slide projections upon the wall. They've a choir of street angels--people with crash helmets, gay guys, hookers, people who are clean, people who are not clean, and skinheads, singing. It's packed every Sunday. There's a queue round the block at Easter to get in. It's the only church I know where you can get an HIV test during the service. He's funny, he's a completely irreverent Reverend, this guy. No subject is out of bounds. I've seen him do a sermon on orgasms, how the best ones you have to [preacher's voice]..."WAIT FOR! YOU KNOW THAT LADIES! YOU SEE, THE LADIES KNOW THIS! MAN, YOU'RE SO SELFISH!" And the choir--you have this incredible singing. You see cops in tears in this place. It's an incredible place! And this guy, he says, "You're all welcome. You're welcome here if you're heterosexual, if you're homosexual, if you're tri-sexual--we don't care. If you're a user, if you've been used. You are all welcome here." It's an incredible sense of freedom. He's not saying to the hooker, "Have you stopped? Okay, if you've stopped, come on in." He doesn't get into that. "You're all welcome here." That's my version of religion. Freedom. When people start to close in on that freedom, I get very nervous. “

But doesn't the fundamentalism which large reams of the Bible suggest set limits on the freedoms that you desire? Saint Paul, for example, was not exactly a buttery liberal.

Bono: “It can look that way. There are things that are hard to swallow. I think it's very important to separate the gospels. He was like a hitman, Paul. He was sent in to sort it out. Because it was kind of getting the name of a crackpot religion, because religion had always been so strict. Judaism was so strict, and all the other things of the time were so strict. Islam was so strict. And suddenly here was this freedom from the law, which was what Christ was preaching. And people were goin' mad. And Paul was sent in as this kind of repairman, to sort it out. "Don't do that! Oh God, don't do that! Will ye quit that! Women! Stop speaking in the churches! Will you stop wearing that! You have to wear a headband when you come into the church!" It was sort of local and set in that time. And that isn't as important as the central idea...”

Which is?

“Well, you know, when Christ was asked to cut to the chase, in the soundbite sense, he said, "Okay, love God and love your neighbour as you love yourself. That's it." Jesus's vibe was--if pushed--"What are you all about?"--"That's what I'm about! That's my Greatest Hits!" Now each of those has huge implications. But it's the third idea that's completely ignored by religion. Religion teaches love your neighbour, the love of God, but leaves out the love of the self. And so you have this imbalance. People might look at me and the way I live. I don't live an ascetic life anymore. I'm not as disciplined as I'd like to be. And at times I'm sure I'm, sort of, AWOL, and at times I'm more centered. But I actually have a love of the self--of myself, which in a way gives me the freedom to make those mistakes. They are part of the discovery, and getting to know yourself is part of that. “

The Mother Teresa idea is one with which Irish Catholics are swamped from birth. Goodness means a bowed head. This is one of the things that, consciously or otherwise, what I may be forgiven for calling the U2 ethic has set itself against. If they were true to the caricature versions, they would sound like Chris de Burgh. Their seemingly innate consciousness about what would be wrong with this route is what makes the band sound the way they do, what makes The Edge play the guitar in the way he does, what makes sense of the seeming contradictions which swamp the music in its escalating blur. I saw a clip of Bono on a TV programme about Joy Division in the autumn of 1993, talking about that band's singer, the late and great Ian Curtis. He talked about "the holy voice of Ian Curtis." Addressed to the lumpen simplicities of conventional society, this is a shocking, almost blasphemous, statement. To rock 'n rollers it is an example of the foolish piety that we have come to expect from U2. But for anyone for whom Curtis's memory still means something, and who is honest about what they have gleaned from his dark-angel voice, it may be just a modest assertion of the simplest truth.

A useful way of seeing things is to say that, over the past dozen years or so, U2 neither remade themselves nor the world, but held a mirror up to the world as it was remaking itself without knowing. They began in clarity--simple ideas which were strange only because of how much the world had forgotten. The music of the young U2, growing from boys to men, as well as the format of guitar, bass, drums and voice, was emblematic of the passionate simplicities it contained. As the band grew and the world changed, the music was as though driven into what crevices and cracks of space it could find to carry its core spirit as far as possible towards the threshold of the twenty-first century. As the band's view of the world became necessarily more complex, the sounds and textures they created became more intricate and ambiguous.

There is a view that, with the release of Achtung Baby, U2 cast off the naiveté’s that made them different and threw themselves with gusto into making a soundtrack for damnation. Nothing could be further from the truth. The sound they made and the musical heights they achieved with that album may have placed them at the business end of the devil's medium, but they remained on the side of the angels. They recolonised the devil's language, the dirty, distorted, sleazy rumble of reality, and nestled within it a dozen songs which sought to bask the world in the same heavenly light.

"Until the End of the World," for example, is a song about a conversation between Jesus and Judas. More than ten years had passed since the recording of "Gloria," but the song has the same exuberance, the same redemptive insistence. When you delve in, you find that, instead of dividing its listeners between those who want to believe and those who do not, it attempts to reconcile them at the heart of the differences that divide them. In its doubt, it is liberating. In its confusion, it is reassuring. In its ambiguity, it seeks resolution:
“In waves of regret, waves of joy,
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy.
You, you said you'd wait until the end of the world. “

There are striking resonance’s between aspects of U2 and the work of the poet Brendan Kenelly, who has consistently attempted to draw out and exorcise the difficult demons of the Irish personality. He did it with a long poem about Cromwell, one of the unholy specters of Irish nationalistic victimology, attempting not so much to rehabilitate as to rehumanise him. He did it again with The Book of Judas, a collection of poems around a single theme, which was published coincidentally with the release of Achtung Baby. An Irish newspaper, The Sunday Press, had the bright idea of getting Bono and Kennelly to review one another's work. Bono picked up immediately on the themes in Kennelly's book with which he had himself become preoccupied. "Religion as antagonist, that ould crutch of Irish writing, is not enough for someone as smart as Brendan Kennelly," he wrote. "As a rebel his five smooth stones are kept for much less obvious Goliaths that Catholic guilt or political gridlock. He knows that with less than ten years to go, the twentieth century has left Judas/Kennelly with no one to blame...but himself that is...If not exactly stained glass windows, he has found in Christianity a parade of colours, a vat of symbolism, ceremonies and rituals that takes on new meaning when juxtaposed with the cruel mundaneness of the real world...There is light here, bright white light, but if you do find Jesus, you know Judas is just 'round the corner and he knows...it's got to be-e-e perfect!"

The infatuation was reciprocated entirely. "What I like most about U2 is the style with which they have survived their own popularity," wrote Kennelly. "This record goes futher than merely rejecting cynicism. It praises in a joyous yet sometimes quite ironic way the fragile but enduring power of love in a world whose values seem to denigrate that power."

In the ducking and diving that has characterised the U2 attempt to make music that would connect with its times is an image of those times, a shroud of Turin etched in sleaze and noise but still recognisable after all these years. And I have this thought that maybe the reason the music succeeded in making that connection was that its central idea had to be implicit rather than overt, and so allowed a generation which couldn't admit to its need to meet that need without having to own up.

"Sex and music," said Bono in 1992, "are in many ways the only mystic acts left. Because religion amongst people has gone cold. I really feel that people know that they're three-dimensional. But, for a hundred years now, the intelligentsia has told us that we aren't. And we live in this two-dimensional world, but we're three-dimensional beings. And we have no expression for this. And if you can't deal with the contradiction of organised religion, which I personally find hard to take, but if you at the same time still know that there's a part of you that isn't being touched by politics--it might be touched by art...In music...there seems to be something there. For most people who don't go to art galleries and get slain in the spirit in front of a Rothko, it's just sex and music. "As a form, rock'n'roll is one of the few areas where you get to work out this thing of the flesh and the spirit. Like, Jerry Lee Lewis walking into the studio in Memphis and saying, "This is the Devil's music." And there's his cousin, Jimmy Swaggart, who is this preacher, but they are one and the same. And it's Elvis reading Corinthians XIII, and shooting his television set that same evening. This thing, the choice that religion has made us make, between the flesh and the spirit, when to be whole we have to be both. And the music that draws me in always has both. And even if that's kicking against, railing against God, like Robert Johnson and "Me and the Devil Blues," it's still an acknowledgement of the spirit. And I worked out a while ago that the music that kept my interest for the longest was music running away from or toward the spirit."

But let's be honest about it, for all that the medium they set their sights on was rooted in forms like gospel and soul, the U2 Christian-fix was as bizarre an idea, to begin with, as is possible to imagine. You can say what you like, but please don't tell me you believe. According to The Edge, at least, the band members themselves were conscious of the aura of weirdness with which the then perceptions of such beliefs inevitably surrounded them. In the beginning, there was no room for irony. What had to be said had to be said straight and simple. Only in growth could the ambiguities be entered into. They were fighting prejudices from both sides: from those who said leave it out and those who told them to get it "right." To one side their statement appeared bland; to the other, irreverent. U2 merely said as much as they needed to say for a start. This, they seemed to say, is 1981--whatever it is that that implies--but if Christ was here now he wouldn't be the guy with the crewcut and the lemon cardigan playing "Streets of London" on an out-of-tune guitar.

"We just didn't buy that image at all," says The Edge. "We felt very uncomfortable about people hearing the music and listening to it with this idea in their head--that this was a band of Christians. Christian soldiers. We really did not want that to be the first thing on their minds. Because we didn't see that, ultimately, that information, that information was relevant. We've always hated cliches and stereotypes. There was the most awful stereotype of what the good Christian was supposed to be like. It was so dull, more than anything. We just did not want that label. It wasn't gonna affect the way people perceived the music, so why should we fly that particular flag? We were telling people what we believed--it's just we weren't telling them in interviews. We didn't want it to be on the album sleeve."

Bono sometimes uses the word "glasnost" to describe the period in the mid-eighties when the band began to acknowledge that there was maybe something unnecessary about their imprisonment in other people's ideas about what they were saying.

Bono: “What it was was that our instinctive ideas about freedom of the spirit were being challenged by people who didn't have that kind of freedom, and had a very rigid idea. And I suppose we withdrew from that, and I suppose there was a period of some doubting as to whether it was right to withdraw from that, or whether we were wrong. So there was an uncomfortable period there. Religion is the enemy of God, as far as I'm concerned. It can be very dangerous. I have this phrase--it's one of my cliches--"Never trust a righteous man who looks like one." I have a sort of wariness of the clothes of morality, which might explain why on the ZooTV thing we took off those clothes. In fact, we dressed in the clothes of immorality--black leather, shades...Because people look for righteousness in the wrong houses. I think the status quo can be the enemy. The statement of the status quo is that everything is okay. "This is it. You got your car. You got your television. You got your holiday in the sun. Everything is okay!!" Well, everything isn't okay. And in that sense you feel that you're on the same wavelength as the rebel, 'cause he's saying that too. His ideas as to what the problem is are very different from yours--he might think, or she might think, that it's structures. I don't. I don't think it's that simple. I don't judge people by discipline. I admire disciplined people, but I don't think they're any better. There's a line in scripture--you see it on the bus stops, I love it--"For all have fallen short of the glory of God"--or something. Everyone, basically, is in the same shit. Just some people are in better suits, some people look like they don't need. There's that classic line from Leonard Cohen--what is it?--"Only drowning men know they need to be saved," or something like that. Fundamentalism really frightens me, because it's this old idea that one's works will get you into the kingdom of heaven. If I live a very good life, and get up early in the morning, and take a cold shower and I beat myself twice a day, and I help the old person across the road--this will get me into heaven. And that is absolutely bollocks. And I just don't believe that the God who created a universe as complex as this would think like that. I'm into this idea that it's - free. That's what I connect with in all these people--the born-againers or whoever--this idea that it's free. And what worries me about religion is that it's - expensive. “

Even our most "sophisticated" ideas about God and what God wants from us are still only human. How, as human beings, can we see past that wall?

Bono: “I think you – feel - past it. You innately know, you sense, what God is. And you know that it's not this, but you're taught by religion that it is. That's what I mean by "free" and "expensive"--you have to do this, you have to do that. But I think it's more expensive, and at the same time free. All you have to do is give - everything. Surrender. And that's a position of the heart, of the soul. It is not a political position or a social position or a "right" position. It's the heart, I think, that God is after. It seems to me that religion is preoccupied with the details, which is like the story of the two sisters and Christ goes around to see them. And one of them breaks open the oil. You only use this oil once in your life. And she breaks it open over His head. And the other one is going, "That's ridiculous! You're making a big fuss." And she's going in to wash the dishes. And He says something like, "You're so preoccupied with all the unimportant things." And I always think, you know, that's religion--washing the dishes, getting the table clean for the priest to come in. And it's completely unimportant. And maybe we know that. And maybe that's why our lifestyles get very confusing. “

The band are the first to admit to confusion about what the modern world has opened up for them. It's a long way, as Bono says, from fasting for Christ in a caravan on Portrane beach to riding around Beverly Hills on a Harley Davidson wearing nothing but underpants and warpaint. U2 made that journey in a few years, without making it seem like a U-turn. The U2 perestroika was an organic element of their creative growth. Not only was the manoeuvre documented in the
music, but the purpose was explicit as well. The trip has not been without its moments of doubt. Bono remembers that the very first time he and his wife Alison slept in the house backing on to Killiney Beach, south of Dublin, where they now live, they woke in the night freaked out by the size of the place. Next morning, following a frantic call from Bono, a close friend who was more used to this kind of problem had to come round and persuade him not to put the For Sale signs up right away. The issue was finally dealt with on the basis of a saying of Bono's father, Bobby: "The problem of wealth. Now that's a great problem!"

Bono: “The high life thing had started in LA around Rattle and Hum, and continued right through. But I suppose that I'm impossible in that I need to have a reason--in my head at least--for why I would be giving in to this. So, my attitude is, " This is interesting! Let's see what we can make of this!" I mean I'm perfectly relaxed, and have gone through the questions of wealth and responsibility and all that. Well, I'll never be completely relaxed, but at least I know where I stand. Wholeness is the thing. I think that God wants from us to be whole: body, spirit, soul. Trashy, transcendent, human. That's what we're trying to get at. That's why there are no contradictions, because they're all the same. These characters, the Mirrorball Man, the Fly, MacPhisto--it it was just irony, it wouldn't be as interesting as saying, "No, no! I'm not messing. This is actually a side of your personality. I may have exaggerated it, blown it out of proportion. But to try and exist all at the same time"--that's what I'm trying to get to with the group. I demand...[country accent] I absolutely fucken demand!!!...to be sacred and profane in the same breath. To own up to all that. Media is about caricatures, cartoons. So with this disinformation...but it's not just as simple as disinformation.
It's, how can you be this and that? How can you feel like that and live there? Freedom again! People can't stand to see you have your cake and eat it. And as much as we've got it in the neck in the eighties for being lopsided, we'll get it more for the balance. That's a thing that I'm staring to figure out. I didn't think that would happen. But actually it drives people mad. "YOU MEAN THAT YOU

It can scarcely be overemphasized that, rather than being some kind of peripheral and slightly embarrassing distraction from the music, the Christian ethos is what guides U2. It is the reason the music exists. (Up to a point, but we'll get to that later.)

"Life is faith," says The Edge. "Anyone who's creative has to admit that you're tuned into things that are at times beyond your own understanding. We would certainly make connections between our spiritual beliefs and our creativity. Definitely. There's a sense, a spiritual...call it “presence”...just a “spirit.” It is full of a spirit that is connected and wrapped up in U2 as a band. Quite where it comes from I'm not sure."

"There are aspects of U2 that are very unusual," Bono elaborated to me in 1992. "We spent, really, from 1981 to, say, 1983/84 caught up in discovering our spiritual lives and paying attention to that. And, at that moment, it was like we grew in a distorted way, we learnt things a lot of people don't learn until way later in their lives. While other people were getting “just” the right shoes, and “just” the right haircut, we were reading books, talking with people about very abstract things, and we were completely wrapped up in it. So, by the time we got to 1984/85--which we now call glasnost--we were advanced in some ways, but “so” lopsided. In some ways--socially--and I speak for myself--I was “retarded”. Not quite knowing how to talk, so pretending you did! Being around rock'n'roll, but not really “in” rock'n'roll. We'd been travelling in the blue bus across America and Europe, playing rock'n'roll concerts, but then just going back to our rooms. And it was an incredible period of growth, mentally and spiritually. But in terms of just hanging out, and in terms of just pickin' up on what rock'n'roll is, we were way down the road. So, by 1985, we thawed out a bit and realised that this was not right, that we were out of balance. And that's really when we started to become a rock'n'roll band."

The course the band has taken in carrying its flame through the vicissitudes of the late twentieth century has had them shot at by both sides: by the securalists as goody-goody-two-shoes, by the Christians as counterfeits. "We probably, at this point, have deeply disappointed a lot of Christians," agrees The Edge, "because what I perceive as freedom, they would perceive as complete decadence and self-indulgence."

The nub of the issue is language in its widest sense. The sounds and images which U2 produce are deeply shocking to those who think about Christianity in fossilised images and words. Elements of righteousness and rebellion are sprinkled through the U2 story and statement, but not in the places you might expect to find them. The more time passes, the more U2 seem to fit into place in the external world. But the perspective of the external world can perceive in the changes in U2 and their music only a dilution or an abandonment of their earlier beliefs. There is an alternative explanation: that the world is moving along a course of reconciliation which will create new images of the things which it needs to believe--and that U2 have been ahead of their times.

The Edge insists in the spring of 1994: “I don't think we've changed our beliefs. I would say that, myself, I'm probably relying on faith even more. The more you are around, the idea that there's any kind of grace out there becomes increasingly difficult to hold on to. So you need a different logic to resist the logics which are coming at you all the time. I went to see All Things Bright and Beautiful, Barry Devlin's movie, and it's a really beautiful story about a little kid. I think it's probably very wrapped up in Barry's own experience. It's really about, I suppose, the death of innocence--or, if not the death of innocence, the attempt to hold on to that childlike way of looking at the world in the face of everything else that's around, which is just constantly eroding all your faith and your beliefs. What I'm saying is I need my faith even “more” now. And it's much more of a challenge to have faith than it was ten years ago. I suppose it's just the way that, when you're around a few more years, you just see a lot more of what goes on. There's so much more negativity. So it's much more of a challenge to hang on to it. Because faith is another form of this naive creativity. It's something out of the imagination, to an extent. It's an assertion--that you're not going to give in, you're going to hold on to a conviction that is beyond logic, beyond adult attitudes.”

Or is it that U2 are struggling more with the contradictions in their own position? How much of the change has been for external reasons, how much for internal?

The Edge: “I think it's external and internal, because I think the world and society...[working-class Dub accent] "I blem suss-i-itee"...it conspires as you get older to make you feel more and more isolated in your own life. So that obviously makes it more of a challenge to get outside of yourself, to believe in things that are external. And then in viewing the world--just, the badness out there is so overpowering that sometimes it's just a struggle to hold on to beliefs that are so, I dunno...”simple”, in the face of such sophisticated “evil”. It is really. It's “terrible”.”

It was the faith issue which, in the wake of October, had come closer than anything to breaking up the band before it had rightly begun. It was a moment of knife-edge precariousness, but its resolution created a bond which became all-but unbreakable. "Within maybe two years of that time," recalls The Edge, "I came to realise how the whole idea of there being a prohibition on any form of creativity on the grounds that it was morally unsavoury was just completely stupid and ridiculous. So I've never really given it a second thought after that point."

Nevertheless, the uncertainties of the three Christian members had been real and profound, and the divisions they created between them and Adam Clayton equally so. Another of the U2 caricatures is of a band comprising three-plus-one. Because there was so little understanding of what exactly the three stood for, there was even less about the relationship between the three and the one. As Adam remembers it, the real source of the tension which developed within the band was never centred on issues of faith, but one the division which this issue created. He says:

Adam: “ In fact it had nothing to do with religion. It had more to do with my being on the outside and not wanting to give up that position, but feeling very pushed out. It was a crucial period for the band. We'd made our first record, we'd gone on tour, and suddenly the influence of the meetings was disrupting the progress of the band. Myself and Paul [McGuinness] were plotting and scheming. It was, you know, whatever you had to do to stay in business. You'd be on tour somewhere, and the bus would be about to leave, and the other three would be in a meeting. So there was this situation. I didn't have a problem _at all_ with spirituality, and identity. I just had a problem with the disruptiveness that it brought to the band's activities. And then later, as we got into the _October_ album, and the others were considering whether rock'n'roll was the right form of expression--I never wanted to go to those meetings. I didn't like the tone of what was going on. It was another band. It was an exclusivity that I didn't buy into. I felt that one could have a spirituality that was one's own. I mean, I regret now that I never went through it, because they have a spiritual strength that I don't think I'll ever have. And they have a knowledge that I'll never have. And I think they were very right at the time. But I was really getting over my own kind of religious stigmas that had come from the boarding-school approach to religion. I felt them being more drawn towards the meeting group, and less drawn towards dealing with the problems of the band. And less tolerant. And all the paranoias that that produces. And Paul and myself very much ended up, after a gig, going out to the local clubs, meeting the record company people ourselves, staying up all night doing those rock 'n roll things. And that made me very insecure, because I was making commitments that, yes this band was going to go all the way, and I wasn't actually sure whether I had the guys behind me. And musically I wasn't as accomplished as them, so I knew if they wanted to not back me up, there was an opportunity to not support my playing, but to expose it. I certainly went along with the spirituality. I didn't have a problem with admitting to that. It was just at the time, the “charismaticness” of the charismatic meetings was something I couldn't feel comfortable with. I knew the guys in a different way, so it could never be so po-faced with me. I'd known them since '76, so the relationship I had with them was pretty straightforward. And we spent time in business meetings and artistic meetings together. So I knew the people behind some of the pronouncements.”

Adam agrees that, yes, it might be said that there was a narrowness in the language which U2 used to get across what they were on about. But he also sees that the journey of the past ten years has seen the language expand in a way that's brought the four of them closer together.

Adam: “I suppose there was an absence then of the rock 'n roll spirit, which was staying up late, going to clubs, drinking--whatever. Meeting people. Which I embarked on from the early years through to -- probably The Joshua Tree. I kinda had enough of that by then. And by then everyone else was beginning to go to clubs and seek out different things. And I was less driven, I felt like I'd done that. I'd been in enough bars and clubs all over America, and not really found--with the exception of some in New York--anything all that exciting. “

The Edge goes a little further, to the heart of the U2 paradox. You might say that the seeds of the later music were contained in the make-up of the band from the beginning. The U2 mix of personalities ensured that nothing was given, nothing could be taken for granted or accepted at face value. The band's range of identities ensured that nothing was given, nothing could be taken for granted or accepted at face value. The band's range of identities always made them question “everything”. Adam's rock 'n roll agnosticism kept the others as safe from fossilising as their faith kept him from complete unbelief. The two forces worked in a creative symbiosis which ended up as the gritty spirit of Achtung Baby. If they had been four straight Irishmen, they might have ended up as a rhythm'n'blues quartet; if four Christians, as Cliff Richard's backing band. Their differences made them whole.

"That's a very good theory," enthuses The Edge. "Yeah, I'm sure. I mean it was critical that Adam did “not” believe the same things that we did. So that the paths that we took were...it's _true_. I've never thought about that. I would agree."

That Achtung Baby might never have happened if there had been four Christians instead of three?

"Yeah. Probably it would never have happened."

U2 began with their roots in space--in the heavens, if you prefer -- and then grew to earth. They confronted the demons that stalked that earth in a way that promised to either reclaim the Devil's music for God or damn them as well. (How would we know which of these had occurred? Perhaps we couldn't.) In attempting to fill in their own lives what Salman Rushdie called the "God-shaped hole," they had tried to express in their music a faith based on the radical if ancient idea of love, but to clothe this meaning in the texture of the times. They have sought to redefine the humanly desirable in a manner that would be both fearless and plausible, and in this they have both betrayed and embraced their times. The question they have asked is this: is it possible to live in the twentieth century in all the ways that the twentieth century seems to demand, and still believe in something that the times appear to deny? U2 began with a fear of the world and ended up looking like they loved it too much for their own good. But deeper down there was something else going on. In this sense, their story may provide one of the most powerful parables of the century.

"Mock the Devil and he will flee from thee." Bono smiles and affects his best preacher voice. "I remember hearing a story once, I think it was a missionary in Haiti. There were all sorts of demons that would mock him while he preached his sermon. People would go into trances and give him abuse. So he's bring in exorcists from all over every week, and they'd try to exorcise the people and the church. And this went on for weeks and weeks and weeks, until finally he brought in the Pope of Exorcists, the Big Shot, and he spoke to the demons and he said, '_Why_ are you here?' And the demons spoke back: 'Because we get so much attention!'

"We saw success like a big bad wolf. It was like this thing we had to keep at bay. And now I genuinely find it funny. Four jerks in a police escort--that's funny. Being a rock 'n roll band and taking the same hotel suite that normally industrialists and presidents take--that's funny. And it's actually fuel for our fire.”

"Eunice Shriver came to one of our shows. People said she was the smartest Kennedy--that she would have been President in a different time. She'd seen us a few times. She's very “au fait” with Irish poets and writers, and she sees rock 'n roll as part of that and wants to know what's happening. And one night after the gig she said, 'Ahh, I see you had a few more devils on stage tonight.' And I said, 'Oh yeah?' And she said, 'Still angels. Still angels. More angels and more devils. But I like it better this way. It's a fairer fight.'"

(Thanks to Angela from the Gloria Yahoo Group for making this available)

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Old 09-11-2002, 01:02 PM   #2
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Thank you for posting this, I am now convinced that I really need to try harder to track down the John Waters' book.

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Old 09-11-2002, 05:55 PM   #3
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Thanks so much for posting this! I've only read half of it because my eyes are hurting now but I will come back and read the rest later! There's lots of good things in there that I hadn't come across before. A very interesting read

I agree with bonosloveslave, I need to find a copy of this book
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Old 12-06-2002, 08:02 AM   #4
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