U2: The Journey Toward Ascension (Part II)

Three Chords and the Truth (Part II)

By  Nikki Vanasse

Blackstone, MA


The Joshua Tree - Lo and behold, three years later the union of U2 and producers Eno and Lanois produce a work that to this day, defines the band.  U2 fans, young and old, diehard and casual, can’t seem to stop comparing the new music to this one album.  It’s quite controversial in that sense.  Hardcore fans never deny the power of The Joshua Tree, yet many more casual fans can’t stop hoping for a new version to drop each time something new is released by the band.  

This is U2 at their most serious, before embarking on a journey of self-parody.  Of course the obvious one to cite from this album is “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, and I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t broach the obvious.  Let’s look at “Where the Streets Have No Name”, often interpreted to be a song about being on the road.  In churches throughout the country, it’s no doubt about heaven (“The city’s aflood/And our love turns to rust/We’re beaten and blown by the wind/Trampled in dust/I’ll show you a place/High on a desert plain/Where the streets have no name”).

This is the song that began the movement known as “U2-charist”, which sprinkled certain U2 songs throughout the service, mainly in an effort to keep the interest of the younger members, according to Deacon Charles Cannon of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Palm Beach County, Florida.  Now, U2-charist happens all over the USA, UK, and Ireland.  

Rattle and Hum - On the heels of The Joshua Tree, Americana roots start to grow deep.  This is U2’s most obvious demonstration of Christianity.  Bono’s lyrics are much more explicit as opposed to the challenges of metaphor.  The word “love” could certainly be a placeholder for “God”.  “Love rescue me/come forth and speak to me/raise me up and don’t let me fall/no man is my enemy/my own hands imprison me/love, rescue me”.  

I see myself as part of an arm-waving congregation on a beautiful Sunday morning, looking for the answers.  Salvation is at hand with the Dylan-esque song that Bono says he didn’t really write, but “remembered” the song from a dream he had in which Bob Dylan sang it.  He believed it to be a Dylan song to the extent that he asked the man himself if it was indeed his (Into The Heart: The stories behind every U2 Song, Niall Stokes).  

It should also be noted that when Bono had this dream, it was sleep induced by plenty of drink, and ended in a massive hangover. Of course after The Joshua Tree, U2 couldn’t seem to get away from the constant scrutiny of when they would put out another “Joshua Tree”.  It is also around this time, shortly after Rattle and Hum, that the boys had to “just go away and dream it all up again.

Achtung Baby - Enter Achtung Baby.  Arguably celebrated as “the second coming”.  And not alot of people liked it when it was first released.  The people who were stuck on The Joshua Tree, are now stuck on Achtung Baby.  Except me.  But I should also tell you that I’m in the minority of fans who flipped over POP and think No Line on the Horizon is right up there with The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby.  For me, those three albums form sort of a “holy Trinity” of U2, if you will.  

This is historic on a couple of different levels:  the band reinvents themselves in a MAJOR way, and the Berlin Wall falls while U2 is in-state recording.  They’re in Berlin recording this album to give them a little inspiration.  Well, it worked.  Turns out the crumbling of the wall is very symbolic of U2 at this time.  It was the toughest period in the band’s life since October, only now they’re struggling with just how relevant they may or may not be.  Marital discord and other types of friction are right in front of our eyes, but again, the lyrical construction gives way to many different meanings.  Oh yeah.  And there’s a lot of sex here, too.  

Betrayal, love, morality, spirituality, and faith are all ingredients you’ll find in the Holy Scriptures, but oddly enough most of these songs could also tell a tale of infidelity, sex, and the guilt that goes with it.  It’s what I find most fascinating about Bono’s lyrics.

I hear God in every one of these songs.  Let’s choose one.  “Until the End of the World” finds Judas and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  BAM!  Betrayal.  Only this time Bono uses the illustration of the most well known case of betrayal to sum up what’s going on in the band, which is why I find it most interesting.  “We were as close together as a bride and groom/We ate the food, we drank the wine/Everybody having a good time/Except you/You were talking about the end of the world”.

Growing up Catholic, the “bride and groom” references always illustrated the connection between God and people, priest and church.  As I mentioned earlier on, the word “love” is often a substitute for God.

Look, I gotta go, I’m runnin’ outta change.  Up next, humanity gets lost in the blur of life with Zooropa.