And the trees are stripped bare
Of all they wear
What do I care
And kingdoms rise
And kingdoms fall
But you go on…
At the beginning of every October, I play this track. I don’t know why, but I just do. The song is a haunting song, consisting of 26 words and two themes.
The first theme has to do with death. Obviously, it’s Bono’s reflection of a tree losing its leaves, which I think is a metaphor about losing his mother. The mother I feel he is speaking of is Mother Nature, stripping us bear of our emotional being as we take on winter. As I listen to the track, I envision a heavy, grey sky above me, almost suffocating. A lone tree, away from the forest on the horizon, stands naked before me.
The image is not in color but in high contrast black and white. The starkness reminds me of those days trekking across the University of Iowa campus as fall slipped into winter. Harsh wind, howling through the through the streets flanked by buildings made of brick and limestone, wisps dry leaves from unsecured spot to another.
The second theme spoken here is one of kingdoms and very little has been said about this other that it may be a reference to the Russian revolution. It’s interesting how these two themes meet in this song, especially when the band was still in their religious phase as the album October was being worked on. Kingdoms could also loosely refer to the Kingdom of God or Jerusalem or Babylon or Rome for that matter. Yet, it is has been said that Bono was reflecting on the Bolshevik October uprising and how that intertwines with the emotions of losing a mother is the biggest mystery here.
I will say this, October, for this U2 fan, has been the biggest month of my life. I saw th Irish quartet in concert for the first time on October 20th, 1987. I was just a sophomore in college at the University of Iowa when Bono et al came to Iowa City to play on the Joshua Tree tour. Our campus wasn’t on the initial tour schedule. We got the show by default thanks to the University of Northern Iowa not allowing the band to set-up their outdoor stage.
It was a stroke of luck that they came and played Carver Hawkeye Arena on that foggy night where trees were stripped bare of all they wore much like in the song. A year later, I relived my Joshua Tree tour experience when the band released Rattle & Hum on compact disc. It would be another three Octobers before their next release, Achtung Baby, and I waited them out – patiently and impatiently.
Eric Shivvers is the author of I’m a Fan: How I married U2 into my life without going to the altar. You may find him on Facebook: I’m a U2 fan or on Twitter: @iamau2fan. His book is available at Amazon.com.