The music of U2 has appealed to both Christian and secular audiences alike for well over two decades. Not only are the sounds and melodies intriguing but the lyrics exemplify powerful emotions which captivate audiences by identifying with inner emotions and struggles.
The man behind these compelling lyrics is Bono, U2’s exclusive song writer. But what is Bono trying to say through his lyrics? Is he touching on spiritual or even Christian issues, as Christian fans often suggest?
Although there is some truth in assertions that Bono’s songs are ambiguous, and vague this can not be generalized to all of his songs. There are many songs in which Christian content is unmistakable. In this section, some of Bono’s most popular songs, namely those from U2’s compilation albums, The Best of: 1980-1990, and The Best of: 1990-2000, will be examined for Christian content.
Moreover, popular songs Bono has written from 2000-2005 will also be examined. Ultimately, the reason Bono’s songs appeal to both Christian and secular audiences alike, is because the songs resonate in people’s hearts as they are able to identify with the real-life issues of pain, doubt, fear, love, and hope.
In 1987, Bono released, “Where The Streets Have No Name” which became an immediate hit. This song was inspired by the visit Bono and his wife Alison Stewart made to Ethiopia in 1985. In Ethiopia they saw great disparity between the rich, city-dwellers and the poor, rural villagers who were dying in the desert.
Bono comments to Propaganda, the official U2 magazine( at the time), on how he was trying to sketch with this song a feeling reflecting either a spiritual or a romantic location.
He goes on to explain: “I often feel very claustrophobic in a city, a feeling of wanting to break out of that city and a feeling of wanting to go somewhere where the values of the city and the values of our society don’t hold you down. An interesting story that someone told me once is that in Belfast, by what street someone lives on you can tell not only their religion but tell how much money they’re making - literally by which side of the road they live on, because the further up the hill the more expensive the houses become.
You can almost tell what the people are earning by the name of the street they live on and what side to that street they live on. That said something to me, and so I started writing about a place where the streets have no name”
Even though Bono is not explicit in identifying whether this place, where the streets have no name, is a new Heaven on Earth or not, the fact that status indicators would be written off certainly suggests that it is a place to which one would aspire. At the same time that the song exhibits a hope for a better world, it also exhibits a real emotional struggle of dealing with the current world. The first verse of the song reads:
I wanna run, I want to hide
I wanna tear down the wall
That hold me inside
I wanna reach out
And touch the flame
Where the streets have no name
These lyrics reveal a conflicted heart that wants to embrace and extend love, but is fearful of doing so.[x] The song’s last verse expresses the wickedness of humanity:
We’re still building and burning down love
Burning down love
And when I go there
I go there with you
(It’s all I can do)
In essence, this song is calling people to rise up to the challenge of loving others in spite of different backgrounds, thereby disregarding labels of race, social status, nationality etc.
This notion of throwing off identity labels falls much in line with Galatians 3:28, where the apostle Paul writes, “ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Although Bono does not come out directly and speak about Heaven, he is clearly speaking about a peaceful place where love overrides all identity barriers.