"I'm what the world considers to be a phenomenally successful man. And I've failed much more than I've succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, "Where are we going?" And it starts to get better." - Calvin Trager
Wednesday, November 24, 2004 Got my copy of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb on Monday at midnight at Vintage Vinyl. It's been interesting reading all the reviews of the album that are out there ... and they vary widely. I think it's way too premature to look at it and say "this is terrible" or "this is their best album ever" (both of which I have read in reviews). I've found with a lot of artists -- U2 especially -- how good an album is emerges over time.
*I'm really looking forward to the tour. The one thought I kept having, even with some of the songs I didn't like as much, is that this is an album that is going to perform really well live.
*Muscially, the album feels really strong. That's part of why I think it will perform well live. And it's not just because it's got a lot of the echoing cadances of traditional U2 .. but because it branches out in some cool and effective ways (industrial guitar in "Love And Peace Or Else" and ethnic influences -- Latino and Middle Eastern -- in several places, but notably in "Fast Cars").
*Knowing the backstories on some of the songs helps me appreciate them. I got the deluxe version, which has a DVD about 3 of the songs and also a book. Not steeped in U2 fanstuff, I didn't know that "Sometimes You Can't Make it on your own" was written for Bono's father's funeral ... hearing the backstory of that makes me like the song more. In fact, hearing the whole album in the context of his grieving his father's death adds another layer of depth to it.
*The main problem with judging a U2 album is that you judge them against themselves -- which is a really high bar. I found myself wanting every song to be incredibly deep lyrically and amazing musically. You're just not going to find any album like that. Even great albums have songs that are good not great and that kind of cleanse the pallate as you move through it. My hunch is that this album will be among my favorites but probably not my favorite. Truth is, an average U2 album is still much better than the majority of what is out there.
Right now, Fast Cars is definitely my favorite song on the album -- wierd thing about it is that I keep reading reviews that refer to Yahweh as the last song on the album. Is Fast Cars not on every version? Is it not always last? If it's a bonus track, it's a great one.
| Mike at 11/24/2004 03:02:00 PM
Monday, November 22, 2004 Best news of the day is the marquee on Vintage Vinyl that says "New U2 ... Monday at Midnight". I know, I know ... it's been on MTV.com for a week or so. Call me a purist, I just like going to the record store at midnight, buying the CD and then listening to it twice ... once through and then once reading the liner notes. Kind of like the difference between reading the news online and cracking open a real, paper-and-ink newspaper over a cup of coffee in the morning. Anyway ... I'll hear it in 10 more hours.
Had diocesan convention this weekend. Terry Parsons, who is the national church officer for stewardship, was the keynoter and was dynamite. We have a desparate need to get our act together with stewardship ... not just from a financial standpoint (though that is true), but just from a spiritual formation standpoint. She was able to be in-your-face about it in a way that was sufficiently disarming that people heard it and even got excited about it.
Also we had a great Global Reconciliation Commission workshop ... used Sarah McLachlan's Worlds on Fire video (streamed from the website ) and heard great stories from people who had been to Sudan, Ghana, Nicaragua and Uganda as well as lots of practical ways individuals and congregations can get involved in global mission and international development. Got invitations from two congregations to come talk about All Souls Liberian Episcopal Church in Buduburam.
And ... in a really cool development ... in the middle of convention I get a call from Eddie Jennings, who is the seminarian at All Souls. They were at a vestry meeting and were thinking of us and really wanted to make sure we hadn't forgotten about them. We're starting to get the fundraising wheels rolling for them (thank you Tom and Leine McNeely!!!), so I hope to have a fund transfer to them by Christmas. You can donate by sending a check made out to Diocese of Missouri with All Souls in the memo line ... send it to me at
St. Louis, MO 63105
Didn't get re-elected as a general convention deputy, which was kind of a bummer. Our student ... an amazing freshman named Reynolds Whalen ... didn't get elected either, but he finished 6th, so if someone drops out he gets to go as first alternate.
Hayden is home sick today with some derrivative of hoof and mouth disease (not really, but it sounds like it) that he caught at the nursery. Good news is he should be OK by the time family starts arriving tomorrow night.
Tuesday, November 09, 2004 Haven't posted in a long time because so much has been going on. Not stuff I can really talk about on a public blog because of various confidentiality issues. Nobody dead. Nobody in the hospital. Just a serious event for our community to deal with ... which we are dealing with in different ways and with remarkable and inspirational resilience. Sorry to be so vague. Contact me personally if you want the details.
But I want to write about something else, something that has me really excited that though I'm sure it has been written about many times in U2fandom and in U2blogdom, well, I haven't written about it yet. It's about the first song off How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb ... Vertigo.
The first couple times I heard it, I thought it was a cool song but nothing too, too special. Sounded more like a really good, hard dance number and I liked the music.
Then, one morning a week or two ago, I was getting dressed and the video came on VH1 ... and it got to the place where Bono is leaning over Edge's shoulder in silouhette saying "all this, all this can be yours" when it finally hit me what was going on in this song ... and it's absolutely brilliant.
You've got to be careful with art saying "this is what it's about" because you never know what was in the mind of the artist unless he or she tells you and also art takes on a life of its own once its created. So I'll say that this is what I see in it.
I see an absolutely brilliant autobiographical work about the band's struggle (and, to a large extent the struggle, period) with the heights of fame and power. It's the perfect introduction to the new album because the last album left them back at the top of the music world and at the same time with Bono as a finalist for the Nobel Peace Prize. The critical issue is that fame and fortune and all that comes with it are value neutral ... it's what you do with it, it's the choices you make of whom you worship in the midst of all that fame and fortune offer that are what's important.
And though it's about the struggle of one small band, it also is about the struggle each of us faces as Americans and that our nation faces as the lone remaining superpower.
The whole thing hit me not just with those words from Bono to Edge, but the way he was standing, whispering in his ear. The pose was familiar and it hit me instantly who it was ... it was Bono playing the quasi-devil character Macphisto from the mid-90s. And the words were the words of Satan to Christ in Matthew 4:9 "All these I will give you if you fall down and worship me." And where did Satan say these things to Jesus ... on the top of a very high mountain showing him all the kingdoms of the world. And what is one of the reactions people have to being up on very high places -- vertigo, a spinning disorientation.
So many of you are probably saying "DUH!" But I'm kinda slow about these things, so it had taken me almost a month of hearing the song to finally put these things together, but when I did I started to look at the rest of the song in a different light. From the opening (uno, dos, tres, catorce) being itself a statement of excess to things that seem to be specifically about the challenges the band faces as a result of its fame. The temptations of the adulation crowds give the performer, the temptation to be worshipped, to believe that you are God.
Lights go down
The jungle is your head
Can't rule your heart
I'm feeling so much stronger
Than I thought
Your eyes are wide
And though your soul
it can't be bought
your mind can wander
The temptation to sell out and produce music for the purpose of keeping them on top (with a humorous self-stab at their inability to dance at least not tempting them to be like N'Sync and the others). Then there's the "Jesus round the neck" lyric which has a great double-meaning of turning Jesus into costume jewelry and at the same time choking him.
The night is full of holes
Those bullets rip the sky
Of ink with gold
They twinkle as the boys play rock and roll
They know that they can't dance
At least they know
I can sell the beat
I'm askin' for the cheque
Girl with crimson nails
Has Jesus 'round the neck
Swinging to the music
Swinging to the music
And then in the midst of the chorus is the presence of God:
I'm at a place called Vertigo (¿Dónde está?)
It's everything I wish I didn't know
But you give me something I can feel
The vertigo fills the jungle of your head with spinning confusion, but God cuts through to the heart in a way that contrasts, that gives us something we can feel.
Then there is the temptation, which has a great edge of fear to it:
All this, all this can be yours
All of this, all of this can be yours
All this, all of this can be yours
Just give me what I want
And no one gets hurt
and finally, the crescendo of where listening to the voice of God, the voice that cuts through to the heart, where that voice leads you in the midst of being so high and Godlike yourself:
I'm at a place called Vertigo
Lights go down and all I know
Is that you give me something I can feel
You're teaching me ...aaahhh
Your love is teaching me ...aaaah
How to kneel
In the midst of all the spinning confusion and wondering what is real, of all the conflicting voices and temptation, the constant is God and God always puts us in a posture of humility ... of having the perspective to recognize who God is and who God isn't.
The root of all sin is idolatry ... putting something or someone or (most often) ourselves in the place of God. As the psalmist says, "the fear of God is the beginning of Wisdom" ... that's not fear like in a slasher movie, but awe and the perspective of who and how big God is and who and how small we are. The realization that even though we may be being treated as gods by the world, we are all still in the presence of the infinite.
Even though this seems to be a personal song about what the band is going through, I think it touches a lot of chords for us as individuals as we deal with these same issues of power. More than that, though I think it strikes a deep chord with us as a nation that stands on perhaps the highest ground that any nation has stood on since the Roman Empire.
Power can be dizzying. We as a nation -- especially under the current administration -- have begun to identify ourselves as agents of the divine and nearly as the divine itself. Certainly, we have identified ourself as the force of absolute good in the cosmic battle of good vs. evil, which at the very least is theologically problematic!
So the questions are for us: Will we use our power to gain more power for ourselves, to "stay on top"? As I traveled even just a little bit this summer, I saw plenty of things that frankly I wish I didn't know. Things about how the U.S. government and U.S.-based multinational corporations are perpetuating cycles of poverty and violence. How will we as a nation respond to this?
Certainly, we are at a point in this history where we can hear the voice saying to us "all this, all this can be yours". And so far, our response has been "just give me what I want and no one gets hurt" ... though, of course, plenty of people have gotten hurt.
There is a real challenge for all of us in this song. There's a challenge for us as a nation and a challenge for us Americans as globally overprivileged individuals. Will we strive to use our power to acquire more power, acting in our own self-interest? Or will we let God's love, a love that recognizes that the highest love is to give up one's life for another, a love that who, "though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross." (Phillippians 2:6-8). Will we forsake a false "mandate of Christ" that is about manifest destiny to be transformed into the image of Christ, which is about the cross?
And so it comes down to one question:
Will God's love teach us how to kneel?
It's not reaching to far to say that how we answer that question will determine not only the fate of our nation but of our planet.
| Mike at 11/09/2004 11:04:00 AM
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"Christ's example is being
demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy,
which is AIDS. The church is the sleeping giant here.
If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest
of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't,
it will be irrelevant."