"...I was aching to be somewhere near,
Your voice was all I heard
I was shaking from a storm in me,
Haunted by the spectres that we had to see
Yeah I wanted to be the melody,
Above the noise, above the hurt."
When I was 15, it was 1985. My youth group was going to some big event called Lifecheck. My mom wanted me to go. I was opposed. I went anyway, and it changed my life. I saw a couple of things that day. People who acted like their faith mattered every day, not just on Sundays. A DJ who played only Christian music. A subculture of people I felt a lot like who listened to said music.
One of the seminars I chose to attend that day was Christian Rock Music. Sounded like a ridiculous contradiction to me, but what did I know about rock music, anyway? I hadn't listened to much more than the REO Speedwagen, Ratt, Chicago, and Journey that they played on the radio in those days. Oh, and Air Supply. You know, the hard stuff.
Well, knowing now what a divisive force U2 can be among Christians, I can now tell what a miracle it indeed was that whoever led that seminar chose to share the music they did. Steve Taylor, for one. Other things I don't remember. Crumbacher. And at lunch, he invited us to come back and watch "Under A Blood Red Sky". From U2. On a huge projection screen.
"I was young
Just wishing to be blinded
And we were pilgrims on our way
I woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred
Heard a song that made some sense out of the world"
The first few times I heard this song, I was a typical academic about it. Thinking about Bono's past, about Ireland's troubles. About how I knew Bono had written the song about seeing the Ramones in concert. It wasn't till a few days later, driving to my job with Kathy, that it hit me. I was listening to Bono sing about his musical awakening and how it changed his life, but the song was really about me. About U2's effect on me that day in 1985. I remember it as rainy, but that really could just be because of "...Blood Red Sky" and its famously rainy setting.
Could there be a more romantic introduction to any band? The rocks themselves. The rain. The fog. The fires. The white flags. It’s still touching now, but to a 15 year old, it was quite simply magic. I went home and got the cassette at Kmart of Blood Red Sky, and listened until I knew every note, every syllable of Bono’s yelps and Edge’s counterpoint, echoing, chiming guitar.
That day started me on a musical journey, one that had me listening only to “Christian” bands until college (and what does that mean, really?). But U2 always stood outside of that. How could I justify not listening to a band that sang “If I had anything- anything at all- I’d give it to you” and “to claim the victory Jesus won on Sunday Bloody Sunday”? I didn’t know it, but my decisions about these four Irish boys (and back then, they weren’t much older than boys either) and their music were forming me spiritually into the person I’d become right up to the present day. I saw faith, out-in-the-world, credible, nothing-to-fear-from-the-world-we-live-in faith in them. I saw that Christians could compete right alongside everyone else and didn’t have to- shouldn’t, even- live in a ghetto known as Christian Rock. I saw that while God is certainly worth singing about, there’s a great big world that can be sung about, and some great big problems in it, that also need to be addressed. See what I mean about it being foundational? No wonder I’d never be satisfied with “Give your heart to Jesus. No, literally. Give it!” evangelicalism, and its art.
But I’m getting needlessly philosophical here. Because I sometimes thought about those aspects, sure. But what I was hearing, what I was experiencing, what I saw on that big screen, was just… magic. How do you describe The Edge at his best on some of those songs? “Seconds”, for example? Or the scratchy guitars in the middle of “Sunday Bloody Sunday”, while Bono is parading around with that white flag? You can’t, not really. You just hear a song, and it makes sense out of the world. We all know this. That ecstatic electric guitar moment, of Hendrix burning his guitar, or Johnny Greenwood’s guitar tweekery on OK Computer? Or thousands of other such moments? You just know.
“Everything I ever lost, now has been returned
In the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard.”