Thursday, January 12, 2006

Exegeting U2

I have begun noticing a trend in U2 albums. I do not know (and doubt) if it holds true for all of them, but I have observed on three albums so far that there seems to be an organic relationship between the first and the last song on the album. I am not sure if this is intentional, but I wouldn't be surprised if it is. Here are some examples:

How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb

Vertigo - Begins with "Uno, Dos, Tres, Catorce." Genesis is uno, Exodus is dos. Tres is chapter 3, catorce is verse 14. Exodus 3:14 says, God said to Moses, "I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you." The album begins with a reference to the God of father Abraham.

And how does the album end?

Yahweh - A wonderful tribute to that God including a confession of complete dependence upon him.

All That You Can't Leave Behind

Beautiful Day - The first verse ends with You thought you’d found a friend / To take you out of this place / Someone you could lend a hand / In return for grace. The song is about how a beautiful day can be had, even in this world of destruction, pain, and heartache.

And how does the album end?

Grace - A floating and ecstatic athem about a name for a girl / it's also a thought that changed the world.


Sunday Bloody Sunday - The pain of the Irish peace process provides a perfect backdrop for U2 to cry out in biblical fashion, How long? How long must we sing this song? It's an echo of David's call for justice from a God who claimed that all would be made right. But when?

And how does the album end?

40 - Why not just sing a Psalm?

I waited patiently for the Lord / He inclined and heard my cry / He brought me up out of the pit / Out of the miry clay
I will sing, sing a new song / I will sing, sing a new song
How long to sing this song? / How long to sing this song? / How long... How sing this song
He set my feet upon a rock / And made my footsteps firm / Many will see / Many will see and fear
I will sing, sing a new song / How long to sing this song? / How long to sing this song? / How long...

Singing this refrain with thousands of other U2 fans at the close of the concert in Chicago remains a worship highlight for me.

I will post more of these connections as I make them.


kelly said...

I have three separate friends who are in the music field. They pay extraordinary attention to the order of the songs on an album. They all make test CDs and listen to them in the car, at school, in the tub and so on. I have every confidence that the band consciously wanted the listener to both enter the experience of their creation and exit it on a strong note.
U2 are a bunch of politician wanna-bees anyway. =P I listen to them though I do not agree with some of their views.


A said...

Woah, step away from the U2 bashing. Sacred ground . . . tread softly.

t said...

interesting thoughts.

small correction, to clarify, 'tres' is 3 not 13.

Robb said...

my mis-typage has been fixed.

A said...

Just to clarify my first comment was aimed at Kelly, not you Robb.

rocket said...

I always thought that "Peace on Earth" and "When I look at the World" on "All That You Can't Leave Behind" went together. "Peace on Earth" is the song longing for God to act in a dramatic way and questioning why he doesn't. And then "When I look at the World" seems to be an apology to God, an admission that we just don't understand how God thinks.

Anyways I like your theory here but I don't understand the Uno. Why is it there?

A said...

I by no means want to detract from what I believe are consistent spiritual gems within the U2 catalog. It has been suggested in several places by various people that the "uno, dos, tres, catorce" at the beginning of Vertigo is a veiled referenct to Exodus 3:14. Uno and dos would correspond to the books of Genesis and Exodus (the mention of uno/Genesis is just to get us to Exodus, kind of like when a pastor will lead those unfamiliar with the layout of the Bible to a certain passage by starting with Genesis or whatever) and the tres, catorce correspond to the chapter and verse.

However, I have read two different interviews where Bono has been asked about the numbers and corresponding meanings (this was on the subscriber section of the website this past summer). Unfortunately, both responses claimed no purposeful thought to the "uno, dos, tres, catorce." He stated that after goofing around one evening having partaken of an "adult beverage" or two, someone said "uno, dos, tres, catorce" and they all thought it sounded cool so it stuck.

Not that I wouldn't WISH that there was some spiritual significance or that Robb's theory wasn't true in each case, but I think the specifics in regard to Vertigo may be stretched.

I have read (I think it was in Walk On) that the song, Vertigo, is a reference to the temptation of Christ by Satan in the wilderness. Specifically when Satan takes Jesus to the top of the temple and urges him to throw himself down. That sense of vertigo from the top of the tower in that moment correlates to the sense of vertigo that we all face daily in the temptations of the world. They can overwhelm us and cause our heads to spin and we can give in to them in order to make the spinning stop, or we can stand firm and resist. I think this concept is far more compelling in the meaning of the song and its relevance to our daily lives.

Just my two cents worth.

dave said...


Bono almost always gives answers like that (that make intentional spiritual references sound like throwaways.) in most interviews..i think partly not to come across as a cheesy preach type...and to keep his humility..

Even in introducing "in a little while," he claims it as a song abouta hangover, but now thru the lens of Joey Ramone's death, he now sees it as a "gospel song".

So he sometimes defuses anyone thinking he's superspiritual by crediting drink as an influence.

Once on awhile he tips his hand, like when he told Rolling Stone that the J 33.3 on the cover of "All That" was a scripture..

All that to say Bono is a different interviews he may give far different answers about what songs are about..