Essay: Faith, Hope & U2 - The Spirit of Love in U2's Music - U2 Feedback

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Old 09-12-2002, 11:42 AM   #1
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Essay: Faith, Hope & U2 - The Spirit of Love in U2's Music

(Below is an essay on U2 and faith by Henry VanderSpek. Also – there is a couple e-mail responses and his replies as well as his review of ATYCLB.)

Faith, Hope & U2 - The Spirit of Love in U2's Music
by Henry VanderSpek



Let Go, Let’s Go...Discotheque
A Fire in The Village
Under an October Sky
I Want to Run, I Want to Hide... An Album, a Movie...and a Backlash
Chopping Down The Joshua Tree
“Everything You Know Is Wrong” – Achtung Baby

“She Moves In Mysterious Ways...”
“I Have No Compass, and I Have No Map” – Zooropa
“Lookin’ For Baby Jesus Under the Trash” – Pop-Mart
“Into the Heart”
Taking the Cup

Bibliography & Suggested Reading
Web sites that are related to U2

One day you will look back,
and you will see how,
you were held out by this love,
while you can stand it,
you can move on this moment,
follow this feeling…
– “Mysterious Ways”
Achtung Baby

Introduction : It’s been said that music is the language of the soul. All of us probably have songs that we carry in our hearts, that ring through our heads, and find their way onto our lips – as a whistle on the street or as a bellow in the shower. Around the world, singing often passes the day for labourers harvesting fields. Music touches something deep in us as little else can.

I have intended this booklet to be an exploration of a music group which has touched millions of people for about twenty years now. Their songs have sought to connect with the heart of people, politics and everything in life that is worth being passionate about.

I want to look at the source from which the group and their inspiration has sprung. What motivates U2? What drives them to a creativity that crosses borders of the world and of the heart?

I first saw U2 as a young teenager in 1983 in Massey Hall, Toronto, and I have seen them at every successive visit to the city since. That first night I was struck by how U2 reached out to audience members, welcoming them on stage: a young man to play the guitar, a woman to slow dance with Bono. Reaching out and bridging gaps has consistently been a hallmark of the band.

This book is not an attempt to conform U2’s message to some narrow dogma. Their musical and lyrical influences have been many. I am choosing here to look at a single element that has run through all of their music, and which continues to be an inspiration for members of the band. It is an attempt to see what can be learned from taking a look at their career to date.

I want to approach this as a dialogue. While it might be easier to ignore or label what is difficult to understand, true dialogue means asking good questions and listening objectively to the answers given. I think the answers we’ll find will be intriguing. For those of faith it may mean expanding the ability to engage the world with a Christian mind. For those for whom faith is a non-issue, it may raise interest in what keeps U2 “wide awake.”

Whatever the case may be, I suggest you use this booklet in an interactive way. Play the songs and read the lyrics (especially if you doubt what I am saying!), and even buy or rent the videos mentioned. Universal Music is not paying me to say this! I believe that by looking more closely at the message of U2 you will gain a deeper appreciation for the band and for the faith, hope and love found in their music.

I welcome your comments.

Henry VanderSpek

(Send e-mail to or contact the

Let Go, Let’s Go...Discotheque: It’s October 26, 1997 and U2 are in concert at the Toronto Skydome. 50,000 fans are in attendance, and on stage is a monster yellow arch, a la McDonald’s, and a giant video screen, 50 feet high by 150 feet wide, pumping out creative video segments that comment on our culture. It’s midway through the concert and U2 is playing “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” the theme song for a recent Batman film. Bono, the lead singer, reaches over to one of the many cameras on the elaborate stage and pulls it close – his face appearing on the massive video screen for the entire stadium to see – and makes a gesture into the camera. With one hand he draws a halo over his head, and then with both hands grows a set of horns. Horns or halo? Angel or Devil? With a shrug and sly grin he carries on singing. The crowd goes wild.

U2. Who are they and what they are about? Something sacred? Profane? Neither? Or both? Is there still anything deep and meaningful in their lyrics today, or did it all go downhill after “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”?

Are they religious? Spiritual? Christian even? In the past, U2 concerts closed with “40” – a song based on Psalm 40 of the Bible and which made their faith clear. Since Achtung Baby, however, U2’s faith seems to be increasingly confused and gray.

Nevertheless, the intrigue surrounding U2 continues. As Bobby Maddex of Gadfly Magazine says in the edition entitled “U2: Still Looking?”: Mention the Band to a U2 fan and chances are, you’ll find yourself talking not about chord progressions, danceability, or favorite songs, but existentialism, hermeneutics, or the problem of evil.(1)

Perhaps there is something we can learn from their music, intellectually and spiritually.

A Fire in The Village: The band members grew up in Ireland in Dublin and attended Mt. Temple High School. It was the seventies and the punk scene was in. Sid Vicious and the Sex Pistols, Johnny Rotten and Thin Lizzy represented rebellion against everything established and accepted. It was in this context that drummer Larry Mullen posted a notice for anyone interested in starting a band. Soon a community of musicians developed that called themselves “Lypton Village.” They saw themselves as a movement resisting the status quo. Out of this came U2, named after an American military spy plane – most notably the one that was downed in the Soviet Union during Kruschev’s rule [in May of 1960] and that was involved with the Cuban Missile Crisis. The band was made up of Larry Mullen Jr. as drummer, Adam Clayton as bassist, “The Edge,” or David Evans, as lead guitarist, and “Bono,” or Paul Hewson, as lead singer.

The 1970’s religious scene in both the Protestant and Catholic churches of Ireland has been characterized as dry and empty. Many Christian groups emerged to fill the emptiness and spiritual longing of the times. Even then Bono realized that “It wasn't enough to rage against the lie, you had offer truth in its place.”(2)

Three members of U2 – Bono, The Edge, and Larry Mullen – became part of a group known as Shalom, a charismatic, non-hierarchical and informal Christian group, led by a man named Dennis Sheady. They became deeply involved with Shalom and grew in knowledge and commitment to their faith.

Here’s a comment from Bono looking back at that time:
“The Pentecostalists have this idea that a spirit falls and they can trace its movements. There was one that fell in 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...something happened. I just know that...I knew there was something to this.(3)”

It was this fire of the Spirit that propelled the passion of U2, and which would break through in their music for years to come.

Under an October Sky: Traces of belief in God are evident in U2’s first album, Boy (1980). They come through more clearly in their second album, October (1981), when a crisis arose for the three Christian band members. They wondered whether Rock and Roll was compatible with their faith in Christ. The struggle is heard in the songs of this album, such as “Gloria,” where Bono sings about offering everything he has to God.

From early on U2 knew they did not want to be "the band that talks about God."(4) In an interview with Hot Press magazine Bono said that if they had anything to say it would have to come through "in our lives, in our music, in our performance"(5) Nevertheless, they still had questions and were even ready to give up their music careers if necessary. The three Christian band members went away to spend time near the cold autumn beach of Portrane to reflect and consider what to do. They eventually reached the conclusion that their faith and rock and roll were not mutually exclusive and carried on. U2's musical journey soon entered new territory with the albums War (1983), The Unforgettable Fire (1984), The Joshua Tree (1987) and Rattle and Hum (1989).

I Want to Run, I Want to Hide... An Album, a Movie...and a Backlash: The hits from The Joshua Tree, such as “With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” pushed U2 into superstardom. As Elyssa Gardener of Rolling Stone said, “U2 was Rock and Roll in 1987.”(6) In the magazine’s readers’ poll, U2 was tops in many categories: Artist of the Year, Best Band, Best Album, Best Single, Best Male Singer, Best Songwriter, Best Guitarist, Best Bass
Player, Best Drummer, Best Live Performance, Best Video, Best Album Cover, and even Sexiest Male Artist.

The Joshua Tree was followed by Rattle and Hum – the album and the movie. By now U2 had reached full media saturation. Every pop culture magazine featured them on its cover. People had seen enough. Even David Evans (“The Edge”) said of all the media coverage, “I’m sick to death of reading about U2.” It wasn’t long before a backlash began. Some rejected U2’s delving into the roots of American music, and others rejected their strong stance on moral issues (U2 had been strongly linked with causes such as Live Aid, Feed the World, Amnesty International’s Conspiracy of Hope tour, Greenpeace, and Artists Against Apartheid). The band members were caricatured in the media as flag-waving, overzealous bleeding hearts. One comedian even said that “Bono thinks he’s Jesus.”(7)

It is likely there was some truth in what the critics were saying about U2. Some of Bono’s political and social commentaries, both in and out of the concert arena, were quite strong considering the cultural context of the “greedy 80’s” in which they were made. Such clarity of vision is rare and often misunderstood. The critics of the time may have missed the ideas at the heart of U2, misunderstanding the meaning behind U2’s words and actions.

The fine line between artistic expression and righteous posturing had become blurred. If they were to continue musically, U2 would have to find a way to free their voice and their artistic ability for future albums.

After Rattle and Hum in 1989, U2 announced, “We’re going to go away for a while so we can dream it all up again.”(8 )

Chopping Down The Joshua Tree: When Achtung Baby was born two years later in 1991, it brought radical changes for U2:

from monolithic images to a multitude of images

from clear-cutting lyrics to songs that were more mystical and metaphorical

from earnestness, sincerity and truthfulness to irony, image and persona – revealed in the on-stage characters of The Fly and The Mirrorball Man, and later MacPhisto

from U2 on the stage against the wrongs “out there in the world” (i.e. black and white) to the world on the stage there with them (on the TV screens and in the characters played, i.e. the colour of gray)

Actual concert footage gives a greater sense of what U2 was doing around this time. The video segment of The Fly on U2’s Live From Sydney is an excellent example. Bono is in full Fly persona: wrap-around bug-eye glasses, slick black pants and jacket, an extreme swagger, and an attitude. He was the perfect rock star. The opening riffs of this song are described by the band as “the sound of us chopping down The Joshua Tree.”(9)

Before the release of Achtung Baby, U2 had developed a reputation for being self-righteous and political. Now the band was determined to set the whole “myth of U2” on its head.

“Everything You Know Is Wrong” – Achtung Baby: “achtung baby” means “Danger [or Attention], baby.” The theme of this album is love and relationships, on both a human and a spiritual level.
The context and influencing factors for this album were both the Edge’s marital breakup and the exploding information age with all of its ironies and dangers. While recording Achtung Baby in Hansa Studios in Germany, the band was watching the Gulf War unfold on CNN. When an American fighter pilot was being interviewed about what it was like bombing Iraq, his response was, “It’s so realistic.”(10) This blew the band members away (no pun intended). Did people actually see the war as just a game on a screen, rather than a brutal conflict affecting real people? This led U2 to further reflection on how the media influences the world on a mass level. They considered the numerous conflicting messages the media broadcasts, messages often swallowed unthinkingly by viewers. Ideas for the stage setup for their next tour began to form. Zoo TV was about to be born.

Previous stage setups were sparse, often with a monolithic image on a banner, and the four members pitted against the world “out there.” Now U2 took the forces and messages that are “out there,” and brought them on the stage with the band. Then they pushed these forces to their logical conclusion. Before, things were rather decided – black and white, but now there was uncertainty and greyness, which U2 pushed into the audience’s face. In a way they were saying, “you decide.”

It was during this time that John F. Kennedy’s sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, observed to Bono that there always were angels on U2’s stage, only now they were letting in the devils too, and that was good because it made for a fairer fight!(11)

Sincerity and earnestness were gone. Bono had discovered “that irony is not the enemy of soul, but can be its friend.”(12)

U2 also discovered that if you want to have an impact on a culture, you need only describe it. To describe it is to challenge it. Isn’t that what artists are supposed to do? It’s not their job to solve the problem. It’s their job to describe the problem.(13)

Bono and the band were further influenced by fellow Irishman and poet Brendan Keneally, who said, “If you want to serve the age – betray it.”(14)

The on-stage setup now consisted of walls lined with video monitors pumping out images and messages transmitted by mass media. Here are just a few that show up during the concert version of “The Fly”:

Everything you know is wrong
The future is a fantasy
Art is manipulation
Enjoy the surface
It could never happen here
Guilt is not of God
Rebellion is packaged
Death is a career move
It’s your world you can change it
I’d like to teach the world to sing
Watch more TV

The audience is presented with a postmodern wasteland with no rational basis for truth, just the pitting of one person’s feelings and experiences against another’s.

At this point one might well ask if U2 had gone over the edge. But listen to what Bono says about this album and tour: “It’s all a con – a way of putting people off from the fact that it is a heavy mother. It’s probably our most serious record yet it’s the least serious title. It just fooled everyone. They thought we’d lightened up – which is totally untrue. We’re miserable bastards.(15) “

In fact, if we look, we can see that U2 is expanding upon the very things they used to sing about. The seeds of intense thought in their earlier lyrics have blossomed into fuller, more artistic realities on stage.

Let’s look at a few examples.

One line from “Sunday Bloody Sunday” forms the entire basis for the monster TV setup in the Zoo TV tour of 1992-93: “When fact is fiction, and TV reality.”

Instead of singing about a “preacher stealing hearts in a traveling show” as they did in “Desire,” Bono is now trying to become that character in his stage personae.

The line “Taking a landslide to my ego,” from “A Day Without Me” (Boy), is now the basis for the Fly and Mirrorball Man personae in the Zoo TV tour. Bono was pushing his constructed identity to its limits and becoming like a rock star – mocking the whole star concept, deconstructing it, tearing it down.

“I used to think that my image was something to live up to,” he says. “Now I feel it’s almost a duty to let people down.” The only way Bono could dodge his own shadow was by assuming its cartoonish opposite – becoming MacPhisto or The Fly, modern devils as degraded as his previous public self was holy. “One thing I might regret from early times was just showing that one side of me,” he says. “The egomaniac was always there, too. And some people have always seen me with horns.”(16)

Bono wanted to show that he identified more with “sinners” than with “saints.” To show he didn’t think of himself as Jesus, he sang a song from the perspective of Judas – the person who betrayed Jesus before his death. Bono sings “Until the End of The World” as if Judas had just risen from “down in the hold” – the grave. He seems to be saying, I am human, I can betray, I am not the perfect saint you may think I am.


“She Moves In Mysterious Ways...”There is some depth in all the artistry of the Zoo TV tour, but what about the songs themselves? Do they have any depth, or are they as shallow as the characters played out on the stage? Of these song lyrics Bono says, “I lie all the time. I only always tell the truth in my songs.”(17) He stresses that it is the music that is important.

The lyrics cry that in this dark, apocalyptic wasteland created on stage (which could be our world under the influence of the mindless media) there is one thing that stands tall, that defines our experience, and against which we rise and fall. That thing is love. U2 is still U2, despite all the on-stage chaos.

Another song from Achtung Baby, “Mysterious Ways,” reveals more about this love. Bono sings about someone who has been “running away” from what he does not understand. Even as he runs, there is a certain “she” who “moves in mysterious ways” and who is going to “be there when you hit the ground.”

These lyrics could be about love between a man and a woman, but this song is also about God in the person of the Holy Spirit. Bill Flanagan, author of U2 At The End of The World, makes a comment about this: “I do know that when they write about fidelity and loyalty, very often they may be writing about a relationship with God in the metaphor of a relationship with a woman.(18) “

In Niall Stokes’ book, Into The Heart, Bono talks to the author about El Shaddai (an infrequently used name for God in the Bible), which some scholars believe may be translated “the breasted one.” Bono adds, “I’ve always believed that the Spirit is a feminine thing.”(19)

Bono’s meaning is even more apparent when you watch him perform in concert. At the end of “Mysterious Ways,” he can be heard calling out to the Spirit:
I feel your comfort love.
Move now Spirit lead me…
move now Spirit teach me –
to move with it, to move with it.
– “Mysterious Ways”
Zoo TV Live From Sydney (1994)

Bono sings passionately and ecstatically – perhaps much as he once sang in
those spirited church gatherings of his youth.

“I Have No Compass, and I Have No Map” – Zooropa:
Don’t worry baby
It’s gonna be alright
Can be a guiding light
– “Zooropa”
Zooropa (1993)
I went out there, to taste and to touch, and to feel as much as a man
can before he repents
– Johnny Cash on “The Wanderer”

U2 took the spirit of Achtung Baby even higher with another album recorded while still on tour. Many of the band’s albums had been an exploration of certain emotional, geographic and spiritual states. Zooropa is an exploration of another place: the state of “Europe.” “Uncertainty can be your guiding light” is the theme representing European life. U2 seemed to be positioning themselves inside this place called Europe and commenting on the European experience. This reflects their earlier conclusion that to impact a culture one need only describe it.

The opening song, “Zooropa,” reveals the state of Europe as viewed by U2. It appears united but that unity is mainly under such commercial banners as “eat to get slimmer” and “fly the friendly skies.” At the culture’s core there is a fundamental lack of direction: “I have no compass/And I have no map…/I have no religion.” The songs on this album characterize the soul of Europe as uncertain and drifting. It is not until the last song that any antidote is offered. Here, in Johnny Cash’s rendering of “The Wanderer,” the subject is a comical character who goes against the grain of society, critiquing the world with his certainties – the ambiguous combination of “a Bible and a gun.”

With the release of Zooropa, the Zoo TV Tour included a new character, MacPhisto, a sad and aging lounge singer. Bono uses the MacPhisto character to comment on all the media madness taking place on stage and in the world. This new persona has horns – Bono describes him as the Fly character taken to his logical conclusion, "...when he's fat and playing Las Vegas…a bookend to the…swagger of the Fly."(20)

Bono speaking from the perspective or persona of this new devil-like character may have shocked some, but it is related to what U2 set out to do. Remember Brendan Keneally: “If you want to serve the age – betray it.” Bono was also influenced by Oscar Wilde at this time, in particular Wilde’s comment: “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person; give him a mask and he will tell you the truth.(21) “

Perhaps this betrayal of European culture – this exposure of its empty heart from behind the mask of MacPhisto – is intended to lead one to deeper discoveries. Is there a spiritual answer to this sense of emptiness? U2’s betrayal of the age seems to point in that direction.

“Lookin’ For Baby Jesus Under the Trash” – PopMart: On U2’s next album, POP,
the various stage personae were replaced by a lighter, more playful version of U2 in concert. The theme was an exploration of pop culture. Each song elaborated on a different aspect of that culture:
“Discotheque” on pop music
“Gone” and “Mofo” on the dynamics of being a pop star
“Miami” on the brittleness of pop culture
“Please” on pop religion – religion that is cheap or used to hurt and
“The Playboy Mansion” on pop values and the idea of heaven
“Wake up Dead Man” on the desperate emptiness of pop culture

There is a strong spiritual thread running through the album. Lines from the song “Mofo” are typical:
Looking for to fill that God-shaped hole,…
Looking for baby Jesus under the trash.

The song “If God would send his angels” takes this search a step further. It is a lament for the state of the world, a world where corruption is dominant and heads are buried in digital sand. It makes clear that televangelists and religious extremists who “put Jesus in show business” are not the answer. In fact, they can make it “hard to get in the door” of genuine spirituality. Instead, Bono calls his hearers to be spiritually wide awake. He invites them to find a spiritual source of hope so that they can be fully aware of the struggles of the world, and both grieve over them and do something about them.

“Into the Heart”: I believe that the basis of U2’s passionate worldview is love. Love is the growing, living power that drives their passion to its mark. Some songs have titles about love, such as “Love rescue me,” “When love comes to town” and “Love is blindness.” Far more songs simply contain vivid images of love. Some random samples:
on The Unforgettable Fire: “In the name of love” (“Pride”)
on The Joshua Tree: “The healing hands of love” (“Exit”)
on Rattle and Hum: “I believe in Love” (“God Part II”)
on Achtung Baby: “One love, we get to share it” (“One”)
on Zooropa: “For the first time, I feel love” (“The First Time”)
on POP: “Love is not what you’re thinking of” (“Please”)

The love that U2 talks about, however, is very different from “that lovey dovey stuff” (“Discotheque”) – the sugary, co-dependent love of so many pop songs. U2’s songs give shape and dimensions to a love that is powerful, personal, and alive. It is love with a capital L.

Sometimes this drive for love takes the form of a yearning for justice. U2 albums contain information on how to get involved in Amnesty International and Greenpeace. At a concert in Vancouver to mark the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, U2 put Amnesty’s logo on the huge video screen and encouraged people to join the campaign to have the world sign the Declaration. They have also promoted awareness of such tragedies as Chernobyl and Sarajevo and the work of WarChild. Bono has also done extensive work with the Jubilee 2000 campaign to see crushing Third World debts forgiven. Under this plan the world's poorest nations may begin to channel their massive debt repayments into much needed social and infrastructure programs. This too is love. In fact, one writer has suggested that a concern for justice is simply love for the neighbour we have never met.

There is a beautiful and much-quoted passage in the Bible which talks about this kind of love as the supreme standard for all human endeavours.(22) It was read, for instance, by British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the funeral of Princess Diana. The writer suggests that one could sacrifice all one has for a cause, even “giving up one’s body to be burned,” but if it is not done in love, it is empty.

This is the spirit of a song like “Pride (In the Name of Love)” which celebrates the work of black rights pioneer Martin Luther King Jr. King vigorously sought to embody this kind of love. The song focuses on “one man betrayed with a kiss,” the man who inspired both King and U2 to love – Jesus. In fact, Jesus once said, “This is the very best way to love: put your life on the line for your friends.”(23) Jesus went out to do just this, laying down his life in crucifixion.

The love U2 sings about is powerful, personal and spiritual. In fact, in many U2 songs, the word “love” could be replaced with the word “God” or “Jesus” with little change in meaning. The Bible goes so far as to say that “God is love.”24 Not surprisingly then, the key dynamic of the band’s music is often the “rise and fall” of the singer’s relationship with this transcendent Love. Sometimes the relationship seems connected and intimate; at other times the singer honestly expresses himself as unfaithful and doubting.

Taking the Cup: The questions raised by U2’s music are good ones. In the PopMart tour a giant screen portrays a simple view of human progression from a small monkey, to an ape, to an upright human being, and finally to a person pushing a shopping cart. Are we here just to consume, “born to shop”? Is human development advanced by the creation of a global consumer culture in which “more material goods are better”? What are we missing that makes us want more and more? The irony, of course, is that as U2 raise those questions, they play their own part in the spread of consumerism as their PopMart touring and record sales reach more countries than ever.

Yet U2 has found some answers. It’s October 26th, 1997, at the Toronto Skydome Concert. In an encore set, U2 has just finished playing “One.” Cartoon figures – artwork from the late Keith Haring – move around and through each other, eventually forming a giant heart on the huge video wall. The crowd is ecstatic. The lights dim to a single spotlight on Bono. The strums of his acoustic guitar run through the entire stadium as he sings a simple chorus: “Wake up, Wake up, dead man.” What’s the connection?

The song “Wake Up Dead Man” is said to be set during Holy Saturday – the day between Good Friday, when Jesus died, and Easter Sunday, when Jesus came back from death. On the Saturday, Christ is in the grave and his disciples are desperate, despairing and confused. On one level, the song is a song to Jesus, the model of human love and compassion, urging him to come back to life, a song of hope in the midst of desperation.

Often, this kind of concern for spirituality is associated with a kind of spiritual escapism. Yet for U2 this is never the case. In the song “Bad,” they sing about being “wide awake.” There are two realities U2 have shown themselves wide awake to: the reality of our broken and hurting world, and the reality of a God of love, mercy and compassion. Bono describes trying to hold these two together: “I enjoy the test of trying to keep hold of what’s sacred, and still being awake, walking around, breaking through the plate glass window. It’s one thing being in that holy huddle; it’s another thing taking yourself out there into the world.(25)”

Perhaps it is such realism and honesty that draws people to U2. We are not
always “wide awake” either to the harsh realities of our world or to
spiritual realities. On the one hand, I need to recognize the needs of a
damaged world all around me, and of which I am a part. On the other hand,
I need to recognize the one living Source who can heal body and spirit and
change hearts. I need to be wide awake to the two together. I want to live
passionately in a world where mass media and materialism can make life
dull. And I want to “take the cup” from the one who “carried the cross”
and who gives true freedom and joy.

I am learning that, somehow, becoming fully human is becoming more like
this Love-in-human-form called Jesus, about whom U2 has been singing for
so many years.

1. Gadfly Magazine, August 1997, p. 7.
2. Eamon Dunphy, The Unforgettable Fire (Markham: Penguin Books Canada, 1987), p. 101.
3. John Waters, Race of Angels, (London: Fourth Estate, 1994), p. 153-4.
4. Dunphy, p. 212.
5. Dunphy, p. 213.
6. Rolling Stone Editors, U2 The Rolling Stone Files (New York: Hyperion, 1994).
7. Carter Alan, Outside is America (Boston: Faber & Faber Inc., 1992), p. 194.
8. Bill Flanagan, U2 at the End of the World (New York City: Dell Publishing, 1995), p. 4.
9. Niall Stokes, Into the Heart (Dubai: Carlton Books, 1995), p. 102.
10. Flanagan, p. 13.
11. Flanagan, p. 64.
12. Sean O’Hagan, “U2 Anew,” Details, September 1992, p. 138. Also Sean O’Hagan, “The Devil in U2,” Arena (Winter 1993-94), p. 73.
13. Flanagan, p. 66.
14. Flanagan, p. 52.
15. U2, Achtung Baby, The Videos, the Cameos, and a whole Lot of Interference (Markham: Polygram Group Canada, 1991).
16. Ann Powers, SPIN (March 1997).
17. Bill Flanagan, quoting Bono in an interview by Johan Conrad and Amy Nickell, “Almost Better than the Real Thing,” Gadfly (August 1997), p. 14-15.
18. Conrad and Nickell, p. 16.
19. Stokes, p. 104.
20. Rolling Stone Magazine, October 14, 1993, p. 130
21. Flanagan, p.6.
22. First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13.
23. The Gospel according to John, chapter 15, verse 13, from the translation called The Message, by Eugene Peterson (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1993).
24. The First Letter of John, chapter 4, verse 16.
25. Ann Powers, SPIN (March 1997).

Bibliography & Suggested ReadingThere are many books on U2, of varying worth. Those listed below are all excellent for exploring different aspects of the band and are the primary resources used in this booklet.

Dunphy, Eamon. Unforgettable Fire. Markham, Ontario: Penguin Books, 1998. An excellent history of the band’s development until The Joshua Tree.

Flanagan, Bill. U2 at the End of the World. New York: Dell Publishing, 1995. This gives a great inside look at the band, especially during the wild times of the Zoo TV tour.

Rolling Stone Editors, U2 The Rolling Stone Files. Rolling Stone Press, 1994. This contains virtually every article or bit of news The Rolling Stone has published about U2 to 1994.

Stokes, Niall. Into The Heart. Dubai: Carlton Books, 1996. This book explores the inspiration and story behind every song up to the Passengers album.

Waters, John. Race of Angels. London: Fourth Estate, 1994. This book is highly recommended for anyone who appreciates the brilliance of what U2 did in the Zoo TV tour. The chapter “It is October all over our lives” shows clearly how the Christian faith has influenced the band and its music.

Web sites that are related to

The views expressed in this booklet are those of the author and U2 have not endorsed these views or collaborated with the author in any way.

Copyright © Henry VanderSpek 2000. All rights reserved. Order booklet - Contact Dare Connexions with questions or for more information.


RE: U2
I think an even greater understanding of U2 can be made by reading 'Paradise Lost'. Great commentaries... but Bono isn't looking for any heavenly afterlife. He wants a Heaven on Earth - so we can all experience it without the process of death. Bono IS a VERY spiritual person - but he doesn't look to Jesus for his answers. For those that would like to discuss this with me, I'd be glad to receive any emails.

Dear Mark,

Thank you for your comments. I find them very intriguing. I have read portions of "Paradise Lost" but it was some time ago. I would love to hear more about the parallels you notice between Milton's work and U2. I have noticed a number of other literary influences in their music, and expect there are many more than I would notice. I have found Niall Stokes' book "Into the Heart" has given me similar insights into U2's wide range of influneces.

To get to your main comment, you mentioned that you feel U2 are looking for Heaven on Earth and not some afterlife. Their song Peace on Earth does seem to indicate that, opening with the line "Heaven on Earth, we need it now". For me, what U2 seem to be after is a faith that is alive and meaningful for here on earth, and not just for the afterlife. I won't claim to speak for them on that point or any other matter, but I will point out what I see in their music and have heard them say in interviews. Repeatedly in interviews they have talked about the importance of being "wide awake" to the realities of a painful world, and that their faith would not be some kind of blinder to that, or a force which tranquilizes them from the pain of the world. They have believed that their faith should enable them to wrestle with these things, and that easy answers were a kind of death. That is what I have gotten out of reading numerous interviews with them. I find that approach to living out one's faith inspiring and refreshing in a world were Christianity, a very non-consumeristic religion, has become, at a certain level, a business of t-shirts and bumper stickers promoting an oversimplistic attitudes that innoculate people from the questions a very broken world raises. I would count myself amongst that crowd at times.

It seems to me though that their faith (i.e. the faith of at least a few of the band members - only three were ever clearly Christian in the early days) is one very much centred on Jesus. This is something Bono and the band have never sought to force upon people though. This is one of the reasons why I like their music - because it is deep expression of what they once called an "emotional truth" - rather than forced propaganda for their convictions. I see Bono's faith as one centred around Jesus, because throughout U2's career Jesus is the one the band's questions always come back to. A simple scroll through their albums will find a significant number of songs like this. There is a common idea out there that to have faith means something that one never questions or never doubts. Someone once said that "a faith beyond doubt is not necessarily a faith beyond question". Faith is strong, in my perspective, when one can freely ask any sort of questions. King David in the book of the Psalms is a good example of that.

If U2's heaven on earth was something they saw existing without God, why have they not tossed God & Jesus out of their lyrics? I can only see two reasons - the first being that it serves them commercially - that their Christian faith helped make them successful - and they expect it will continue to help their career. The second option is that they still do have faith and that their lyrics are consistent with who they are and where they are at. This first option doesn't work for me as U2 seem to have deliberately torn down their righteous image and self-critiqued how faith served their success in the Zoo TV tour. The song "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" is a good example of this. Bono is singing about being a rock star and is really pointing the finger at himself, singing "and you're turning tricks, with your crucifix, you're a star...". Turning "tricks" is an expression for what a prostitute does. Bono was willing to say that there was an element of that in some of what he does, that the outer elements of his faith, served him and the band. The second option rings more true to me because Bono once said that "I always lie, but in my songs I never lie". Maybe I am naive to buy into that (maybe I have too much faith!) but I believe that the calling out to Jesus in their songs represents very true sentiments and a real dynamic faith.

Their latest CD "All That You Can't Leave Behind" has some very interesting elements of faith in it as well. The only thing I will note about it is the last song, "Grace", a beautiful expression of a very Christian idea. Grace "takes the blame, covers the shame, removes the stain". This is exactly what Jesus is about for me and where I see "Heaven on Earth" starting. Grace is getting something we do not really deserve. Being aware that I have received grace, or forgiveness from God, changes me, and then I begin to give it to others. I may think others don't deserve it, but I have second thoughts and take different actions because of what I have received. Christian faith is very much for the here and now and not some escapist faith. It changes the person, and then changes his or her relationships and community. There is the eternal, and there is the reality of afterlife which comes alomg with it, but that is not the first thing that comes to mind when I consider how I live out my faith. It is how I might live more in tune - in better relationship - with this amazing God of love and grace.

Thanks for your comments Mark. I appreciate them. I hope they were clear. I do have your e-mail and will send you a note so we could dialogue further. I'd enjoy it. Henry

E-Mail: I too love U2 and their music. I saw them perform in Eugene, OR at Autzen Stadium. Awesome!!!! Unfortunately I feel that the U2 booklet was a theological stretch. I want to believe that U2 will always be a Christian band but their actions, and words speak otherwise. I feel that Bonos' writing could be characterized as "seeking" but profoundly Christian, it is not. The author is just another hopeful, optimistic U2 fan wanting to justify his listening to them.

REPLY: Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate getting it. I must say though that I was disappointed with being written off as "just another hopeful, optimistic U2 fan wanting to justify his listening to them." If my writing has not convinced you of something deeper, perhaps a friendly cafe discussion about this would. Dialogue and relationship are elements often missing in cyberspace but that's another story.

While I appreciate your feedback, I must say, perhaps obviously, that I disagree. First let me give a disclaimer. U2 members once called it a "sport" to try and find out whether they are Christians or not. I have tried in my writing to avoid playing that game. I will try again in my response to avoid a heavy inquisition into band members' lives, and stick to looking at what they have made public in their lyrics and their interviews. (Those really wanting to know about U2's Christian beginnings must read Eamon Dunphy's "The Unforgettable Fire" and the chapter called "It's October All Over Our Lives" from John Waters' incredibly sharp book "The Race of Angels").

U2's "actions and words" are rich with filled with a level of nuance that only matches those of accomplished artists which is what they are. Even in the seeming mess of the Zoo TV there was something spiritual going on. So much so that John Waters actually called their performances in those days "the shroud of Turin etched in sound and sleeze"! (the shroud of Turin is said to hold the impression of Christ's face).

If one did wish to set themself up as a judge over the band's faith, they would need to be similarly adept at comprehending and negotiating a good deal of nuance and artistic complexity. Also factor in their culture. North American Christianity often has very defined markers for what makes one "in" and what makes one "out" of the faith. European Christianity, and Irish in particular, from what I have seen, are much more wholistic and integrated. A drink of whiskey, a swear word, or a frank approach to sexuality are much less likely to strike fear in their hearts or seem as disconnected from their faith. I feel one needs to consider where U2 are coming from.

One also needs to understand where U2 are going to. They are not a Sunday morning worship band and never set out to be. They set out to be a band that makes great music. Gadfly magazine did a very interesting issue looking at U2. In their interview with Bill Flanigan, an author close to the band, he quotes U2 as saying to some bands at a British Christian music festival "You're blowing it. You don't get out first thing and stand up and go 'I'm here for Jesus.' because then you're literally preaching to the converted. If you want to get through to people, you grab them with the music first."

I find U2's music very good at "grabbing people". They have very catchy tunes and words. Once "grabbed" the listener might find that some U2 songs actually have a parable-like nature to them. Just as the parables Jesus told were stories with a simple face-value reading, but yet a deeper meaning, so do some of U2's songs. This shows up especially in the band's relational imagery. Bill Flanigan says it well again "Sometimes a song that seems to be about a sexual or romantic relationship may in fact be about a relationship with God." It doesn't always hold true, but when it does it is powerful.

You described them as profoundly seeking. How refreshing! That is what I love about the Psalms. They invite me in. When David asks "Where are you God?" I can sometimes identify with that. When he doubts, when he is angry, that too connects with me. I find a great deal of contemporary Christian music decided and neatly wrapped up. There is no struggle and every answer is very quickly given. Such music leaves me cold. I relate to those with honest questions. I suspect that those who aren't sure what their faith is connect well with those questions too.

For a final point of consideration though, look at U2's new album. If you haven't you may be surprised at how imbued with soul and spirit the songs are, despite only minimal mention of God. The opening song sings about looking for someone you could lend a hand "in return for grace." If you follow through the album that is exactly where you are taken to a song called "Grace". It is a beautiful picture of a profoundly Christian idea: "she takes the blame...covers the shame...removes the stain". Beside the song title in the CD liner notes is a picture of a dove descending the classic historical image representing the Holy Spirit. U2 has said with each of their last albums that they are always trying to do the same album to get what they want to say just right. For me, if ever they have, it is certainly with this album and with this song.

Sorry for writing so long. I guess I have taken inspiration from Bono (notorious for being a bit long-winded in conversation). I hope people won't be shy about throwing other questions at me - I am very receptive. All the best to you however you choose to look at U2! Henry VanderSpek

TITLE: All That You Can't Leave Behind
by Henry VanderSpek

October 31st 2000 was a beautiful day for U2 fans. After three years of waiting they got to hear "All That You Can't Leave Behind" (ATYCLB), the landmark tenth studio album of the Irish super group. With more than twenty years of performing around the world, they are no stranger to travel, a fact which comes through loud and clear in the imagery of this new recording. On the cover stands the four members of U2, Bono (Paul Hewson), Larry Mullen, Adam Clayton and The Edge (Dave Evans), in the concourse of Paris' Charles De Gaulle airport. With bags at their sides and passports in hand, they are ready for a journey. Where to? The music within gives some good clues.

This CD is a continuation of U2's venture into the territory of faith in a way that few "secular" or contemporary Christian artists dare or are permitted. Bono once described himself as having a form of Tourette's syndrome where he would always mention God in places where it was taboo. As if to confirm that, Bono recently confessed in Rolling Stone Magazine that the J33-3 on the cover of the album is a scripture reference. The verse is Jeremiah 33:3 and says "Call to me and I will answer you." "It's known as God's phone number" says Bono. U2 have always seen it as a challenge to try and live "wide awake" to two realities, that of a broken, damaged world and that of a God who is known as Love incarnate. Their music often represents the creative working out of living in those two seemingly distant realities and on ATYCLB it is the latter that shines through.

The band was looking for an "invocation" to open the CD, and "Beautiful Day" is just that. Quiet lyrics with a somewhat eighties new wave beat, unlike anything U2 ever released in that decade, pull the listener in. Only when the wallop of a chorus hits with full guitar, drums and vocals does one discover U2. The space shuttle icon found beside the lyrics in the CD booklet is appropriate for U2 begin their journey here with a real lift-off. All the passion and spirit one might recall from the eighties U2 are found afresh. This is no repeat of an earlier sound or ideal though. "We advance towards simplicity" said Bono on the U2 fansite What they have been reaching for is the stripped down sound of just the four band members jamming in a room, a sound lead singer Bono has dubbed "titanium soul".

If "titanium soul" seems too obscure then try the Psalms. U2's early days saw them close their concerts with a song called "40" inspired by the Psalm of the same name. Bono once called the Psalms an "early form of the blues" and recently even wrote an introduction to Scottish publisher Canongate's pocket KJV edition of them. This inspiration comes through strongly in ATYCLB, as the album runs through with the familiar pattern of a Psalm. After the exultation of "Beautiful Day", "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of" closes in on the low place one finds oneself in, and ends like a blessing or a prayer. "Elevation", with its whooping and joyful chorus, continues the rocket boost of passion, calling for Love to lift "me out of these blues". From there, like King David on a rough day, there are songs expressing frustration and deep questions about the state of the world. As with the ending of a Psalm though, renewal seems to come with the closing song. It all bears taking a closer look through.

Moved by the state of the world, Bono has spent 1999 and 2000 extremely active in promoting Jubilee 2000's campaign to forgive Third World debts. Similar convictions have seen U2 promote Amnesty International's work on global human rights issues. It comes as no surprise then that Amnesty's logo is found beside the lyrics to "Walk On". Dedicated to Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, the song is the cornerstone of the album. Ripe with travel imagery and rich in soul, it tells the listener "You're packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been. A place that has to be believed to be seen." Pressing on with faith is key here. The song's closing lyrics tell the listener to leave behind "all that you make, all that you build", a clear echo of Pink Floyd's song "Eclipse"from
their album "The Dark Side of the Moon". Instead of the futility and alienation felt in Pink Floyd's music, "Walk On" delivers a sense of release and freedom from letting go and clinging to "The only thing that you can bring...all that you can't leave behind." This "only thing" is something which "they can't steal", "sell" or "buy". U2 are "locked on" to the soul and going deeper.

Where is deeper in the soul? "Kite" reveals that for U2 it is a vulnerable place, where one is very aware of how frail life is. Bono sings "Who's to say where the wind will take you? Who's to say what it is will break you?" Like Psalm 39:4, "Kite" reveals a consciousness of how life is fleeting and its days numbered. "In A Little While" taps deeper into this awareness with lyrics that are drenched with longing for release to life's pain. The lyrics promise that soon "this hurt will hurt no more" and that something sweeter will come. "Wild Honey" seems to confirm this. Sounding like a Beatles chart-topper, it is a playful love song that resonates with something eternal. Bono asks his lover "Did I know you, Did I know you even then? Before the clocks kept time. Before the world was made."

Until now the songs are soaring with passion and faith. "Peace On Earth" brings sharp a descent back to earth, and the realities of a world filled with pain. Written the day after the 1998 Omagh bombing that killed 29 people and left 370 injured, it echoes the Psalms' familiar frustration at life's ongoing trials. Bono is "sick of sorrow..of pain...of hearing...that there's gonna be Peace on Earth". In the midst of his despair though he reaches out, singing "Jesus could you take the time, to throw a drowning man a line". Somehow there may be still be hope, but at this point he just can't see it here on earth.

"When I Look At The World" continues the descent with deeper questioning. Bono asks someone "What is it that you see?" when they look at the world. It isn't clear who is being addressed though. Do the lines "Can't see for the smoke, I think of you and your holy book, while the rest of us choke" refer to the listener, God, the Pope even, or perhaps the church in general? Or maybe the song is meant to connect on all of those levels. "New York" completes the trilogy of songs of descent with a touchdown in a city "hot as a hairdryer in your face". In the midst of this harsh place though, there is a voice to be heard "a-whispering, Come away child". It seems that there is still somewhere to go from here.

What is incredible is how deeply U2 imbue a sense of Spirit and faith in these songs with only minimal mention of God. While "Pop" contained more such references than any prior U2 CD, ATYCLB has only a single mention of Jesus in one song's chorus. Despite this, most songs carry a joyful, passionate spirit of trust. If Bono was longing for his cup to be filled, as he sang in "Achtung Baby's" "Acrobat", here it is running over. The deepest longing and toughest questions are still present, but they are well directed, and like a familiar Psalm faith is renewed. When Bono sings in "Beautiful Day" of lending a hand "in return for grace" he is offering you his. When he cries out "Touch me. Take me to that other place" you might just go with him. With an awareness of your own frailty, you just might sing along to the chorus of "Peace On Earth" like it was your own:
"Jesus can you take the time, to throw a drowning man a line."

While U2 made touchdown in New York, it is the album's final number that sees them finding their home. The icon of a dove descending, the classic image of the Holy Spirit, is especially appropriate placed beside these lyrics, for "Grace" gives wonderful expression to a profoundly Christian concept. If you took Bono's hand, this is where you would be led, to the "thought that changed the world", a person who "covers the stain, removes the shame" and "carries a pearl in perfect condition." Like Psalm 23:5, "Grace" is U2's "table" in the presence of a dark and damaged world. They aren't afraid to sing about it, and even seem to invite you to it. If you do go, just be prepared. Have "the only thing that you can bring" safely packed. For this is one journey you will not want to miss.
Copyright © Henry VanderSpek 2001. All rights reserved.

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Old 09-22-2002, 10:51 PM   #2
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Several people in the forum talked about getting this book, but I haven't heard if anyone has. Very good reading, and thanks for sharing all of it here.


"The truth is when that singer is saying something that comes from right down within him, and it affects you right down within you. That's when you start talking about great music, as distinct from nice music." -- Bono
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Old 09-22-2002, 11:17 PM   #3
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Originally posted by spanisheyes
Several people in the forum talked about getting this book, but I haven't heard if anyone has. Very good reading, and thanks for sharing all of it here.

Which book? There are a few references up there?

BTW, Thanks for the read...It was a good refresher. And I know its been talked about tons here and many of you have read it, but i HIGHLY recommend the "Walk On" book to anyone who hasn't read it. An absolutely AMAZING story of U2 and their walk with God from day 1. One of the best books I've read this decade...not because I'm biased or anything...
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Old 09-23-2002, 04:19 AM   #4
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What a great read! Thanks for sharing.

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