Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away from God"// Rolling Stone's interview with Bono

Among contemporary musicians, perhaps only Bob Dylan has proved the equal of U2 in terms of the amount of discussion provoked regarding the relationship between art and faith in their music and work. Whether from clergy, laity or academics, the last decade in particular saw an out-pouring of titles (eg. One Step Closer, Walk On, Religious Nuts / Political Fanatics, We Get To Carry Each Other, et al.) discussing the intersection of aesthetics and theology in the work and thought of U2, and of their frontman Bono in particular.

But rather than deal in commentaries, per se, it is interesting from time to time to read some "primary texts." And among the very best in this pool is an interview which Jann S. Wenner (founder and chief editor of Rolling Stone magazine) completed in late 2005 with Bono. Epic in length, scope and color, the published interview represents "perhaps 20 percent," says Wenner, of the 10 hours of total interview time. You can read the nearly book-length final published version of the interview in its entirety (or listen to vast segments of the unedited original audio recordings) here.

Among the 9 sections which the interview is divided into, perhaps the 3rd part will be of most significant interest. Titled "A Spiritual Life," an excerpt from this section is found below. It's an interview to keep in mind as U2 returns to the US in little over a month to continue their acclaimed 360 tour, and discussions of the relationship between aesthetics and theology in the band's work continue.

You never saw rock & roll – the so-called devil’s music – as incompatible with religion?
People are always forcing you to make decisions between flesh and spirit. Whereas, I want to dance myself in the direction of God. I go out drinking with God. I am flirtatious in the company of God. I am not a person who has to put God out of his mind to go out on the town. And it's a key point. The divided soul of Marvin Gaye, Elvis - it tore them apart, these conflicts. And they don't tear me apart. I reckon God loves all of me.
The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away from God. Both recognize the pivot, that God is at the center of the jaunt. So the blues on one hand – running away; gospel, the Mighty Clouds of Joy – running towards. The blues are like the Psalms of David. Here was this character, living in a cave, whose outbursts were as much criticism as praise. There’s David singing. “Oh, God – where are you when I need you?/You call yourself God?” And you go, this is the blues.

Both deal with the relationship with God. That’s really it. I’ve since realized that anger with God is very valid. We wrote a song about that on the Pop album (1997) – people were confused by it – which was called “Wake Up Dead Man”: “Jesus, help me/I’m alone in this world/And a f***ed-up world it is, too/Tell me, tell me the story/The one about eternity/And the way it’s all gonna be/Wake up, dead man."

Look at the people who have formed my imagination. Bob Dylan. Nineteen seventy-six – he’s going through similar stuff. You buy Patti Smith: “Horses” – “Jesus died for somebody’s sins/But not mine...” And she turns Van Morrison’s “Gloria” into liturgy. She’s wrestling with these demons – Catholicism in her case. Right the way through to “Wave,” where she’s talking to the pope!

Then I can remember John Lennon singing “Oh My Love.” It’s like a little hymn. It’s certainly a prayer of some kind – even if he was an atheist. “Oh, my love/For the first time in my life/My eyes can see/I see the wind/Oh, I see the trees/Everything is clear in our world.” For me it was like he was talking about the veil lifting off, the scales falling from the eyes. Seeing out the window with a new clarity that love brings you. I remember that feeling.

Yoko came up to me when I was in my twenties, and she put her hand on me and she said, “You are John’s son.” What an amazing compliment!

What draws you so deeply to Martin Luther King?
So now- cut to 1980. Irish rock group, who’ve been through the fire of a certain kind of revival, a Christian-type revival, go to America. Turn on the TV the night you arrive, and there’s all these people talking from the Scriptures. But they’re quite obviously raving lunatics.

Suddenly you go, what’s this? And you change the channel. There’s another one. You change the channel, and there’s another secondhand-car salesman. You think, oh, my God. But their words sound so similar... to the words out of our mouths.

So what happens? You learn to shut up. You say, whoa, what’s this going on? You go oddly still and quiet. If you talk like this around here, people will think you’re one of those. And you realize that these are the traders – as in t-r-a-d-e-r-s – in the temple.

Until you get to the black church, and you see that they have similar ideas. But their religion seems to be involved in social justice; the fight for equality. And a Rolling Stone journalist, Jim Henke, who has believed in you more than anyone up to this point, hands you a book called “Let the Trumpet Sound” – which is the biography of Dr. King. And it just changes your life.

Even though I’m a believer, I still find it really hard to be around other believers: They make me nervous, they make me twitch. I sorta watch my back. Except when I’m with the black church. I feel relaxed, feel at home; my kids – I can take them there; there’s singing, there’s music.

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1 comment:

  1. Bono stands with the sons of Cain. He said so himself.