Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Saying no: U2′s response to the evil of the refugee crisis

I am a regular columnist for an Australian magazine, Zadok. Here is my third article, for the Autumn 2018 edition, which focused on the theme of Engaging Evil.

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My piece was titled Saying no: U2′s response to the evil of the refugee crisis. It offers a theology of baptism as a participation in solidarity with refugees, drawing on U2′s song, Red Flag Day, from their latest album, Songs Of Experience. For fancy magazine layout, saying no U2′s response to the evils of the refugee crisis; or in plain text:

Saying no: U2′s response to the evil of the refugee crisis

Sometimes entertainment becomes not only political, but also theological. Songs Of Experience, U2’s fourteenth and latest album, splashed into Christmas stockings over the summer. The album debuted at Number 1 on the Billboard charts, making U2 the first music group to gain a Number 1 album in four consecutive decades. In the midst of commercial success, U2 has continued to engage social issues, singing ‘No’ to human evil in the world. Songs of Experience is no exception as U2 engage the evils around the European refugee crisis.

Evil is a strong word. Yet the Scriptures are clear. The greatest of God’s commandments includes loving neighbour as yourself. Israel’s laws emerged from the Exodus experience of being refugees, fleeing the tyranny of Empire in Egypt. Just as Israel in history experienced God’s protecting love as refugees, so now in everyday life humans should express God’s love, including to refugees. Anything less is to deny the Commandments.

On Songs of Experience, U2 engage the evil of the refugee crisis in a mid-album bracket of three songs. First, American Soul suggests that American values of unity and community need to apply to ‘refugees like you and me, A country to receive us’. A second song, Summer of Love, longs for flowers to grow amid ‘the rubble of Aleppo’. The hope, fifty years after a drug-fuelled, music-drenched Summer of Love in San Francisco, is for peace to descend on the West Coast of Syria in the Middle East. A third song is Red Flag Day. The title suggests a continuation of the beach vibe of Summer of Love while the lyrics remain focused on the consequences of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, becoming rubble.

The civil war in Syria resulted in a unprecendented refugee crisis. For more than 1 million people in 2015, this meant crossing the Mediterranean Sea, seeking safety in Europe. Deaths at sea rose to record levels, with more than 1,200 people drowning in the month of April 2015. And so, in Red Flag Day, U2 address this evil: ‘Not even news today; So many lost in the sea’. This is evil-as-disinterest, as the lost and the least disappear from our 24-hour news cycle.

For U2, the response to this evil is located in one word. ‘The one word that the sea can’t say, Is no, no, no, no’. It is easy to imagine the impact of this line performed live, Bono holding a microphone out to an audience, inviting them to sing, ‘no, no, no, no’. It is a powerful lyric. Water, the sea over which refugees travel, can never speak. But humans can. Humans can sing that one word, ‘No’.

At the same time, having raised children, I am well aware of the limitations inherent in the simple word ‘No’. It is often the first word learnt by a child, easy on the lips of a two-year-old teetering on a tantrum. So, when U2 sing ‘No’, what exactly are they asking us as humans to do?

U2 conclude Red Flag Day with the provocative line, ‘Baby let’s get in the water’. It reminds me of the baptism of Jesus. Every year in the Christian calendar, Christmas is followed by Epiphany and the birth of Jesus is placed in relation to God declaring love and pleasure as Jesus enters the Jordan waters. It is the way Jesus begins ministry, by getting in the water.

So is the refugee crisis in fact an invitation for the church to sing ‘No’, to respond to evil by entering the waters of baptism? Physically, in entering the Jordan River, Jesus expresses his obedience to God. This makes getting in the water the essential pattern of Christian discipleship, a way of saying ‘No’ to our own plans and ‘Yes’ to God’s intentions. Historically, as Israel crossed the Jordan River, they were saying ‘Yes’ to living out God’s commandments no matter what country they found themselves living. This makes baptism an expression of ‘Yes’ to loving our neighbour. And sacramentally, baptism and communion are woven together in the Exodus story of the Passover, which involves Israel entering the waters of the Red Sea. This makes getting in the water an expression of solidarity with all those who decide to say ‘No’ to persecution and tyranny, whether in fleeing Egypt in history or in the rubble of Aleppo today.

Hearing U2’s Red Flag Day and listening to the Gospel story of Jesus’ baptism offer ways to respond to the evil of the refugee crisis. The single word of ‘No’ is filled with Christian content. Every red flag swim in this summer of love becomes a singing of ‘No’. It means lobbying Parliament to ‘Let them come’. It involves lighting candles as prayers of intercession for all those lost at sea, refusing to forget those forgotten by the news today. It means a welcome to the promised lands as we teach English classes and guide migrants around unfamiliar supermarkets.

We often view baptism in individual terms, as a personal choice to follow Jesus. What if it is also a call to mission, a way to respond to evil by getting in the water in solidarity with the refugee crisis today.

Posted by steve at 06:36 PM

Friday, June 15, 2018

the endings of pop: live

u2 endings Today I shared a paper at the U2 Conference. It’s the third time I’ve shared at the U2 Conference, with presentations on Bullet the Blue Sky as evolving live performance in 2009 and of the role of concert experience in corporate memory making in 2013. Today, 2018 in Belfast, it was the endings of Pop and how U2 end albums and end live performance. I looked at last songs across all U2′s live performances, in comparison with album ending songs and in dialogue with Ed Pavlic, Who Can Afford to Improvise?: James Baldwin and Black Music, the Lyric and the Listeners. I am seeking for the words to describe what is a performed reception history.

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The mix of academics and fans make for such a passionate, engaged audience and the questions and interaction were, as always excellent. The paper raises a range of next step questions, regarding the range of emotions present in U2 endings and what the band might be wanting to gain.

The last two U2 conference presentations have become book chapters.

“Let “us” in the sound: the transformative elements in U2′s live concert experience,” U2 Above, Across, and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Assessments (For the Record: Lexington Studies in Rock and Popular Music), edited by S Calhoun, Lexington Books, 2014, 105-121

““Bullet the Blue Sky”: the evolving live concert performances,” Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2 edited by Scott Calhoun, Scarecrow Press, 2011, 84-97.

Whether this one does, I’m still not sure. I grateful to those who made the trip financially possible (Trinity College and Church of Scotland Panel of Review and Reform) and to my family who let me take holidays in this sort of mad/obssessive/culturally focused type of way.

Posted by steve at 01:53 AM

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Built for change UK trip June 2018

Assembly hall nwb photo credit Bob White I’m in the United Kingdom for 2 weeks early June, working with the Church of Scotland and presenting a paper at the 3rd U2 conference in Belfast. The Presbyterian Church of New Zealand has a partner relationship with the Church of Scotland and it will be good to embody that relationship, reflecting with them on innovation, mission and change.

My itinerary is as follows:

I fly into London on Monday, 4 June and train to Glasgow on Tuesday the 5th.

Thurs 7th June, Glasgow – Built For Change: Biblical, Theological and Spiritual Resources for enabling change within congregations (open to all)

Fri 8th June, Glasgow – Listening In Mission/Mission Seedlings (open to all)

Mon 11th June, Edinburgh – Built for Change: Enabling Change At Regional and National Levels (nomination and invite only)

Tues 12th June, Edinburgh – Initial Ministerial Training – critical reflections on downunder models (invite only)

Tues 12th June, Edinburgh – Listening In Mission/Mission Seedlings (open to all)

Wed 13th June, I fly to Belfast and am there until Friday 15th June, at the U2 conference reflecting on the role of popular music in shaping culture. My paper is Friday morning, 8:45 am – The endings of Pop).

I fly out of London back to New Zealand on Saturday, 16 June.

I’m grateful to Doug Gay, Principal of Trinity College, Glasgow University, for making the trip possible. At a personal level, I’m looking forward to escaping a Dunedin winter. I’m also really interested in seeing how my book, Built for change: A practical theology of innovation and collaboration will resonate in the Northern Hemisphere context. I deliberately wrote with a down-under publisher, in order to reflect from my context. So taking the ideas half-way around the world to see how they play will be really interesting.

Posted by steve at 03:26 PM

Thursday, May 03, 2018

one word: emotional in multiple textures of action

In beginning to prepare for the U2 Conference in Belfast and my Endings of Pop: Benediction, Lullaby or Lament? presentation, some writing this week, as I read the fascinating Ed Pavlic, Who Can Afford to Improvise?: James Baldwin and Black Music, the Lyric and the Listeners alongside U2′s Wake up Dead Man.

The argument in Who Can Afford to Improvise? is that song lyrics function uniquely. They might be words, but they are never prose. First, they are received as an experience. They act to hold “our attention to physical and emotional textures woven in the rhythms of the utterance itself” (7). Second, they disrupt. They are a “musical interruption of the report-function usually assigned to what is called prose.” (7) In analysing lyrics, one must consider both physical and emotional textures and the “multiple possibilities, distinct tonalities that communicate at several simultaneous levels” (7-8). This helps as we consider the ending of Pop [Explicit], in the form of “Wake Up Dead Man.”

The emotional texture is enriched by the bridge, in which the one word “listen” is repeated eight times. “Listen” is the one word lyric that is disrupting time. The song is moving on, yet in that moving, the same word of action is repeated.

The listening is one word, but in the one word, sustained by repetition, is a complex set of repeated actions, of “multiple possibilities”, of “to” and “over” and “through” and “as”: Listen “to” (your words; the reed). Listen “over” (the rhythm of confusion; the radio hum, the sounds of blades, marching bands). Listen “through” (the traffic). Listen “as” (hope and peach march). The “to” is twice, the “over” is four, the “through” and “as” are once each. The one action – of listening – is actually four actions – to, over, through and as. This is a demanding understanding of humanity, and the complexity of engaging suffering. In the face of the physical action of suffering, there are multiple emotional textures and a complex range of response.

Posted by steve at 03:44 PM

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Endings of Pop #U2lyricbingo

This is my 100 word summary for the U2 Conference: Belfast.

The Endings of Pop: Benediction, Lullaby or Lament?
Rev. Dr. Steve Taylor
Principal, Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership, Knox College
Dunedin, New Zealand

U2 are performance artists. They shuffle songs, insert visuals and craft snippets, in the name of peace. This helps us understand “WUDM”, the song ending Pop. The album begins with discoteque – everybody having a good time – yet ends with profanity-laced lyrics of divine absence. Live, during Popmart, “WUDM” is performed as ending. Is this benediction, an invoking of divine sending? Yet midway through Elevation, “WUDM” is played mid-show. Located between “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “One,” is this lament? How might such performances contrast with lullaby-like “MLK,” another album ending song for a dead man? This talk includes #U2lyricbingo

The 300 word summary is here. Me, looking happy with my latest U2 publication, is here.

Posted by steve at 09:33 PM

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Divine moves – my 8th U2 publication

I’m delighted to welcome this into the world of academic scholarship and U2 studies …

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U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher, edited by Scott Calhoun, in the Bloomsbury Studies in Religion and Popular Music. The book has garnered some superb endorsements: “beautiful … smart … truly excellent … lively, provocative … wide-ranging, deep and thoughtful” from the likes of Clive Marsh, Head of Vaughan Centre, University of Leicester and Rupert Till, Professor of Music, University of Huddersfield. The book builds on existing work in U2 studies by examining U2 not only theologically, but in relation to the religious impulse, in particular in relation to sound, space and the affective experience of fans.

My chapter is titled “Divine Moves: Pneumatology as Passionate Participation in U2’s “Mysterious Ways.”” It began life at a Sarah Coakley symposium in 2010. The piece was re-worked based on feedback and then submitted for publication. It was affirmed by the editors but not accepted (apparently it messed with the purity perceived to be needed in the discipline of systematic theology). Then in 2015 there was a call for papers. In between, I had been reading Paul Fiddes Seeing the World and Knowing God: Hebrew Wisdom and Christian Doctrine in a Late-Modern Context and that gave me the impetus to develop the Coakley/Mysterious ways/Praying for England: Priestly Presence in Contemporary Culture thinking further (here was my initial abstract). I rate this chapter the most difficult but most satisfying piece of writing I’ve done in relation to U2. In the chapter, I engage extensively with two systematic theologians, Sarah Coakley and Paul Fiddes, in dialogue with the development of Mysterious Ways. This involves tracing album covers, video analysis, live performance and U2′s place-based relationship with Morocco.

In summary, I have argued MW is a performed pneumatology, a song in which the Divine is a Passionate Dancer, intimately involved in creation, inviting us to participate in the mystery of movements that reach, teach and move

To make this argument has required a movement in two directions. Musically, what is the song saying? I have argued that U2 have a visual pre-occupation in 1991 and a sonic pre-occupation in 2009. The visual pre-occupation is clear when the design of the covers’ of the Achtung Baby album and MW single is analysed in relation to the video of MW. It makes sense of the use of the belly dancer in the live performance of the ZooTV tour. The sonic pre-occupation is consistent with the fusions of Moroccan music, U2’s hopes in recording in Fez and the “let me in the sound” themes of the NLOTH album. U2’s sonic search makes sense of the re-interpretation of the live performance of MW in the 360 tour. Hence internal factors, including the location of artistic exploration (for MW in Fez), shape live performance. Given this visual, sonic and geographic analysis, MW can be interpreted musically as a reaching for the feminine and an embodied, immersive participation in a reaching for the other.

Theologically, I have argued that God is not male, remote and coercive. Rather God can be imaged as feminine – moving, reaching, teaching – inviting us to participate in immersive, embodied, ecstatic Divine life. The work of two contemporary theologians, Sarah Coakley and Paul Fiddes has been considered. Both understand God in Trinitarian terms, as three movements in which the Divine is passionate, self-giving love and participates in creation in ways that are ecstatic, sonic and participative. Considering U2’s live performances of MW on the ZooTV tour in conversation with Sarah Coakley allows us to see prayer as ecstatic participation in the Spirit. Considering U2’s live performances of MW on the 360 tour, can be interpreted as God in three movements – reach, teach, move – with and for creation. A theology of sound allows us to see the interplay between Divine and creation as a sonic atunement in which all of creation is invited to freely participate in multiple ways. This ensures Christian particularity, consistent with U2’s stated religious beliefs, while providing freedom in which varying degrees of incorporative participation, from any and all concert goers, is possible.

Hence theology provides a way to parse the complexities of U2 and religion, offering a set of analytical frames that clarify the development in U2’s performed pneumatology. Equally, what emerges is a quite a different place in which the mystery of religious experience can be located. Live performances at a rock concert become a “thin place” for Divine encounter and ecstatic experience an ideal way to encounter the Divine.

It is my 8th U2 related publication – made up of 5 book chapters from 5 different international publishers, along with 1 dictionary entry and 2 popular pieces. When I began academic writing, I would not have dreamed that I would be published in places like religion and popular music. But as a theologian of culture, a missiologist interested in life outside the church Western and a practical theologian with a commitment to embodiment in practices, it has become a rich and life-giving vein of inquiry.

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“Saying no: U2’s response to the evils of the refugee crisis.” Zadok (in press).

“Divine Moves: Pneumatology as Passionate Participation in U2’s “Mysterious Ways”” U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher (Bloomsbury Studies in Religion and Popular Music), edited by Scott Calhoun, Bloomsbury Press, 2018, 43-60.

“U2 Praying the Pattern of the Psalms in Paris.” Equip 30, 2017, 20-21.

“Let “us” in the sound: the transformative elements in U2′s live concert experience,” U2 Above, Across, and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Assessments (For the Record: Lexington Studies in Rock and Popular Music), edited by S Calhoun, Lexington Books, 2014, 105-121

“Public Lament,” Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament, edited by MJ Bier & T Bulkeley, Pickwick Publishers, 2013, 205-227, (co-authored with E. C Boase).

“Baptist Worship and Contemporary Culture: A New Zealand Case Study,” Interfaces. Baptists and Others: International Baptist Studies (Studies in Baptist History and Thought), edited by David Bebbington and Martin Sutherland, Paternoster, 2013, 292-307.

“U2,” Don’t Stop Believin’. Don’t Stop Believin’: Pop Culture and Religion from Ben-Hur to Zombies, edited by Craig Detweiler, Robert K. Johnston and Barry Taylor, Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, 125-127.

““Bullet the Blue Sky”: the evolving live concert performances,” Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2 edited by Scott Calhoun, Scarecrow Press, 2011, 84-97.

Posted by steve at 10:13 AM

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

the beatitudes of waitangi day

Walking up the hill to our house yesterday evening, I composed a Waitangi Day grace:

Blessed are those who first said haere mai (welcome),
for with them was the grace of God

Blessed are the truth tellers of Te Tiriti,
for through them is the beginnings of change

Blessed are the meal makers,
for by them is the hospitality of God,

Blessed are strangers,
for in each is a waiting friend, Amen

I wrote this grace for a social event I was part of hosting on Waitangi Day, February 6, 2018. The evening involved entertaining around 30 KCML interns, staff and families. Many of those coming were arriving as strangers to each other – different year groups, overseas scholars and their families – and I wanted to name that reality, yet frame it as opportunity (Blessed are strangers, for in each is a waiting friend). The food was a Team Taylor effort and I wanted to express my gratitude to my family (Blessed are the meal makers, for by them is the hospitality of God). The meal was held on Waitangi Day and I wanted to connect our hospitality with what I have learnt from manaakitanga (hospitality) from Maori culture.

The couplet framing – Blessed … for – has a nod to the beatitudes of Matthew 5. It seemed fitting for a grace, connecting our gathering with the values and commitments of Jesus.

The couplet framing was also shaped by U2 and Kendrick Lamar and the spoken word cameo that ends U2′s recent release “Get Out Of Your Own Way.” I like the way it updates the beatitudes of Matthew 5, bringing in contemporary categories. “Blessed are the bullies/ For one day they will have to stand up to themselves…/ Blessed are the liars/ For the truth can be awkward.” LA Times call it a “short sermon“.

Glad of the song, enjoying the Songs Of Experience U2 album, I began to think about the contemporary categories if I was doing a Kendrick Lamar, but “blessing” not America, but New Zealand and the Waitangi celebrations. Hence the couplets about Maori as those who “first said haere mai” or welcome; and “the truth tellers of Te Tiriti” – those who speak for truth about the history of the Treaty signing.

Of course, U2 were contemporising the beatitudes of Matthew 5 before Kendrick Lamar was born (in 1987). Bono wrote “Wave Of Sorrow (Birdland)” when he travelled to Ethiopia after Live Aid (around 1986). The song was reworked and released in 2007 as part of the 20th anniversary edition of The Joshua Tree. The two lines of a couplet are evident “Blessed … for.” They are also contemporised, into those “meek who scratch in the dirt,” “the voice that speaks truth to power.” and “tin can cardboard slums.”

Wave Of Sorrow (Birdland) is a song I love – brooding, justice-focused – with a clever set of lyrics that reframe Ethiopia with the dignity of “ancient holy scrolls.” Again, an echo of my beatitudes of Waitangi Day, which sought to honour Maori as sovereign actors, extending to a visiting Captain Cook and so many subsequent migrants a welcome that for me speaks of the grace of God.

Posted by steve at 09:06 PM

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The endings of U2’s Pop: Benediction, lullaby or lament? U2conference2018

The U2 conference, exploring the work, music and influence of U2, is planned for 13-15 June 2018 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. It is in partnership with the Senator George J. Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice, Queen’s University, Fitzroy Presbyterian Church, and the Ulster Museum of the National Museums of Northern Ireland. Given I’ve loved the first two U2 conferences, in Raleigh and Cleveland; given that Belfast and Steve Stockman are as cool as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; given than I now have seven publications in relation to U2 (for the list see below), it made sense to ask my employer for some time in lieu and put a paper forward.

popvisionlogo The 2018 conference theme is U2: POPVision and sets out to investigate, articulate and critique the guiding visions specific to U2’s Pop era of 1997-98. The call for presentations closes 31 December, 2017. So join me.

Here’s my paper proposal:

The endings of U2’s Pop: Benediction, lullaby or lament?

Pop, the album, beckons hearers to a dance floor, all mirror ball and Miami. Popmart, the tour, offered audiences a golden arch, giant olive and the world’s largest video screen. Despite the glitzy mix of electronica and technology, Pop ends in a dark place. The profanity-laced lyrics of “Wake up Dead Man” (WUDM) evoke Divine absence in a lonely world. How does the lyrical weight of WUDM sit alongside POPVision’s ecstatic embrace of the dance floor? This paper examines Pop’s endings alongside U2’s catalogue.

First, in conversation with U2’s other studio albums. How do themes of lullaby, evoked in “MLK,” illuminate WUDM? Are there inter-album references, as occurs with “13 (There is a light)”? How might the genre of lament, referenced in “40,” help us understand WUDM?

Second, against U2’s narratives regarding other album endings. The band have cultivated a narrative that Pop was unfinished. Yet U2’s narrative regarding the ending of War reference a similar pressured deadline. What to make of these contrasts, in which the rush of War becomes an artistic triumph, yet Pop a premature travesty?

Third, U2’s choice of ending songs in live performance. WUDM was played in twenty-two of the ninety-three Popmart concerts, every time as an encore. This points toward a performative role of benediction, a final prayer invoking divine blessing. Yet midway through the Elevation Tour, WUDM shifts to be played mid-performance, between “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “One.” This suggests a different performative role, of lament rather than benediction. How might the interplay between songs as album-ending and concert-ending illuminate the endings of Pop?

I argue that for U2, endings, whether album or concert, deconstruct the dance floor glitter embedded in the now of every performance.

And in case you’re interested, here are my 7 publications in relation to U2:

“Divine Moves: Pneumatology as Passionate Participation in U2’s “Mysterious Ways”” U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher (Bloomsbury Studies in Religion and Popular Music), edited by Scott Calhoun, Bloomsbury Press, (forthcoming).

“U2 Praying the Pattern of the Psalms in Paris.” Equip 30, 2017, 20-21.

“Let “us” in the sound: the transformative elements in U2′s live concert experience,” U2 Above, Across, and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Assessments (For the Record: Lexington Studies in Rock and Popular Music), edited by S Calhoun, Lexington Books, 2014, 105-121

“Public Lament,” Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament, edited by MJ Bier & T Bulkeley, Pickwick Publishers, 2013, 205-227, (co-authored with E. C Boase).

“Baptist Worship and Contemporary Culture: A New Zealand Case Study,” Interfaces. Baptists and Others: International Baptist Studies (Studies in Baptist History and Thought), edited by David Bebbington and Martin Sutherland, Paternoster, 2013, 292-307.

“U2,” Don’t Stop Believin’. Don’t Stop Believin’: Pop Culture and Religion from Ben-Hur to Zombies, edited by Craig Detweiler, Robert K. Johnston and Barry Taylor, Westminster John Knox Press, 2012, 125-127.

““Bullet the Blue Sky”: the evolving live concert performances,” Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2 edited by Scott Calhoun, Scarecrow Press, 2011, 84-97.

Posted by steve at 09:39 PM

Thursday, February 02, 2017

U2 praying the pattern of the Psalms in Paris

A joy yesterday to have a 2,000 word article accepted for Equip a bi-annual publication of Ethos Centre for Christianity and Society. Aware of my interest in U2, they asked me early in January to write something for an upcoming edition on music.

Back in October I was doing research on how religious groups prayed after Paris. Having written a number of times about U2′s live concert performances, I wondered how they responded, given they played days after the Paris bombings. The research in October (watching the iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Live In Paris DVD) never made it into the two conference presentations that resulted.

So when Ethos emailed, I thought it might be an opportunity to use research done, but not likely to find a writing home. I looked back over my research notes: watching U2 DVD’s as research! How did they pray, live, publicly, in the midst of so much pain?

I also was aware of the friendship between Bono (of the band U2) and Eugene Peterson (author of contemporary-language Bible translation The Message) and their common interest in the Psalms.

So over the last few weeks, various scraps on the hard drive began a 2000 word piece, titled

 

U2 praying the pattern of the Psalms in Paris

 

Here’s part of the conclusion:

In sum, aware of a broken world, I have examined how music and musicians might respond. Psalms voice the full register of human emotion. The Psalms of lament offer a pattern: call, confession, complaint, curse and confidence in surrender. I have examined how U2 played in Paris and have argued that this pattern is evident, not on a single song, but over a number of songs, stretched over more than sixty minutes. In response to terror, and the resulting emotions of anger and fear, U2 called for help, confessed and complained. But they did not curse. Instead they looked to New Testament resources, to the love of Christ.

It’s my 2nd U2 piece this month, having submitted in the middle of January a 9,500 word chapter for a book on religion and U2 with Bloomsbury, currently titled

 

God moves in mysterious ways: Performed pneumatology as passionate participation in the evolution of U2’s Mysterious Ways

 

Two pieces in one month on one band is a bit ridiculous. But it is nice to be writing in the theology and culture interface. It brings to seven the number of things I’ve had published on U2 over the last 6 years. Not something I every expected, but it has been a fun trip. Now back to some real theology!  (It also explains the silence on the blog front – only 1 post in the month of January, my most silent month ever. Apologies).

Other work I’ve had published on U2 and lament:

Posted by steve at 02:25 PM

Thursday, October 27, 2016

U2 Praying after paris: a research query

In a couple of weeks I am co-presenting a plenary session at Practising hope: gathered and scattered, a day resourcing ministers prior to the Presbyterian General Assembly. The advertising blurb is as follows:

9:15 am Plenary: Hope gathered. How do churches respond to hard stuff? How did PCANZ churches worship and pray as they gathered on Sunday, November 15, 2015 in light of major international events? Steve and Lynne Taylor will present findings from their research into 160 churches, to explore how churches respond in gathered worship to hard stuff. What was practiced? How was hope understood? What theologies of God in suffering were at work? What does this say about being church in the world today?

It is one thing to agree to speak. It is quite another to find something coherent, interesting, deep and engaging. I’ve been quietly mulling away, working on the data, which is SO interesting. But it also slips and slides in SO many directions. Where in all this is the creative points of connection that might open up the conversation.

At the same time, I’ve also been working on a writing deadline – a chapter on live performances of U2′s “Mysterious Ways.”

Today it clicked. Two separate conversations suddenly began talking to each other. How did churches pray after Paris? Well, I wonder how U2 “prayed after Paris”? The band after all were due to play in Paris November 15, 2015. The concert was postponed. When they returned The New York Times wrote: “The Paris show that concluded U2′s Innocence and Experience tour was concert as personal memoir, archetypal story, prayer, exorcism and vow of unity.” Hmmm. Prayer!

How did they pray, live, publicly, in the midst of so much pain?

I wonder what happens when the prayer life of U2 after Paris is put alongside the prayer life of churches?

I have had, after all, work published on U2 and lament, looking at how they prayed publicly after the Pike River Mining Tragedy in New Zealand (Boase, E.C. and Taylor, S. (2013). Public Lament. In MJ Bier and T Bulkeley, ed. Spiritual Complaint: The Theology and Practice of Lament. Eugene, USA: Pickwick Publishers, pp. 205-227).

I have also had work published on how U2 memorialise the dead (Taylor, S. (2015). Transmitting Memories: U2′s Rituals for Creating Communal History. In Scott Calhoun, ed. U2 Above, Across, and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Assessments, Lanham, Maryland, USA: Lexington Books, pp. 105-121.) In other words, I’ve already done some reading and thinking.

And so, for the sake of research, in the name of resourcing ministers, another purchase is made: iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Live In Paris

Posted by steve at 06:42 PM

Sunday, September 25, 2016

public prophetic theology: U2 on Trump

She’s the dollars, She’s my protection
She’s the promise, In the year of election
- U2, Desire, off Rattle And Hum album

U2 played in Vegas last night, the headline act of iHeart radio. U2′s opening song was Desire and in the space of 1 minute and 12 seconds, as this opening song ended, they made a public announcement. Here’s the clip:

Lyrically, the song is Desire. Bono ad libs, offering a set of one-liners: Las Vegas are you ready to gamble? Are you ready to gamble your car? Are you ready to gamble your house? Are you ready to gamble the American Dream? The one-liners begin as a locating statement. They are performing in Las Vegas, so the opening question regarding gambling locates this live performance. The repetition of gamble allows Bono to seque from Las Vegas to the American Dream. In terms of sampling, they play a segment from a Donald Trump speech. What do you have to lose? This is now located as a gamble. In terms of performance art, money begins to fall. (You can see it fluttering against the American flag.) They are $10,000,000,000 (ten-trillion) dollar bills with Donald Trump on them alongside the phrase “Make America Hate Again.” Visually, a set of visuals loop, ZooTV style: American flag, gambling, crosses. With the Trump sample looping – What do you have to lose? – spoken over the mouth organ, the last word now belongs to Bono:

What do you have to lose? Everything.

I have analysed the live performance of U2′s Bullet the Blue Sky, exploring how U2 use samples to communicate (Taylor, S. (2012). “Bullet the Blue Sky” as an Evolving Performance. In Scott Calhoun, ed. Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2, Plymouth, UK: Scarecrow Press, pp. 84-97. I have also analysed U2′s live performance and how one-liners – short spoken sentences – allow each U2 performance to be contextualised. (Taylor, S. (2015). Transmitting Memories: U2′s Rituals for Creating Communal History. In Scott Calhoun, ed. , U2 Above, Across, and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Assessments, Lanham, Maryland, USA: Lexington Books, pp. 105-121). Both dimensions – sampling and one-liners – are present in this performance. Both allow U2, in just over a minute, to offer a public, prophetic response.

Posted by steve at 10:30 AM

Friday, March 18, 2016

“says Taylor, establishing a fascinating “fixity” to how we recollect what U2 has done”

c6016d10682061148d818b5ac2b57716 A very thorough review of U2: Above, Across, and Beyond—Interdisciplinary Assessments, edited by Scott Calhoun, has recently appeared in the Cleveland Examiner. “This is heady stuff written by individuals who’ve given serious thought to U2’s “missteps, disappointments, failures…and ordinary problems.” …. As is the norm with a Lexington publication, Above, Across is … a college-worthy appreciation of its subject.” High praise indeed.

In terms of my chapter, “Transmitting Memories” there is an extended, positive, engagement.

Flinders University senior lecturer Steve Taylor sifts through Bono’s in-concert “lyrical departures” from the recorded versions of key tracks to arrive at an understanding of how the band memorializes people, places, and events during performances—thereby manufacturing unique new moments for the ticketholders in attendance. Spring-boarding from his discovery of a shout-out to the thirteen-years-dead Frank Sinatra in a live version of “Until the End of the World,” Taylor comments upon Bono’s many mentions of past concerts, prior locations…and dead people (Eunice Shriver, Greg Carroll, buried miners in New Zealand) from the stage, and how these seemingly unscripted one-liners establish both an oral history of the band and a “collective memory” for concert audiences.

“What would motivate such changes?” Taylor ponders.

Calendrical repetition, verbal repetition, and gestural repetition conspire upon U2’s gargantuan stages, weaving a ritualistic tapestry the band tosses over audiences like a playful papa blinding a laughing toddler with her “woobie.” There’s more than meets the eye when Bono waves at Larry behind the drums, thrusts a finger in the air, or points his microphone at fans in the front row. These are “concert-rical” connections that make each show special and enhance the universal appeal of each tour after the fact.

Remember Bono’s white flag at Red Rocks (Under a Blood Red Sky), or how he danced with a girl from the audience at Live Aid? These small, spontaneous gestures mean a lot in the long run, says Taylor, establishing a fascinating “fixity” to how we recollect what the band has done.”

For the full review, by Pete Roche, in the Cleveland Examiner, go here. For a summary of my next U2 chapter – She moves in mysterious ways: a theology of “sexy music” – check out here. For the book, in paperback, check out is here.
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Posted by steve at 07:19 PM

Saturday, March 05, 2016

Acceptance Notice Mysterious Ways: U2 And Religion

BellyDancer_main-300x286 I was delighted to hear today that my proposed chapter for a book on U2 and Religion has been accepted. The book, titled Mysterious Ways, is to be published by Bloomsbury Press, sometime in 2017. My chapter will pick up on some work I did in 2010, around Sarah Coakley, pneumatology and U2. It is good to have a chance to revisit the work and to be able to position it slightly differently by focusing directly on Mysterious Ways. Here is what the chapter will explore:

She moves in mysterious ways: a theology of “sexy music”
Dr Steve Taylor

This chapter argues that U2’s live performances of “Mysterious ways” offer an ecstatic, sonic and participative theology. The song, described by Bono as “sexy music,” has gained critical and popular acclaim.

Performed live 584 times, “Mysterious ways” has gone through three distinct live phases. The first involved an on-stage belly dancer, moving always out of reach of Bono’s stretching fingertips. The second involved a female member of the audience joining Bono live on stage to dance. The third involved a re-worked conclusion. The lyrics “She moves, We move, s/Spirit teach me” were sung as Bono extended his arms upward and outward. Simultaneously the lighting, until then tightly focused on the band, rolled outward over the audience. Together these three phases – performer on stage, the audience member as performer on stage, the audience as performer – become an incorporative, participative and sonic theology.

This conclusion is reached by bringing the performances of “Mysterious ways” into conversation with British theologian, Sarah Coakley, who calls for an understanding of God’s Holy Spirit as gendered, sexualised and ecstatic. She argues from Romans 8:22-27 that God is experienced only through a profound entanglement with the ecstasies of human sexual desire. For Coakley, feminine metaphors (birth pains) and the mysterious ways of the non-rational realm (wordless groans) describe divine participation. Coakley’s theology gives words to the performative phrases of “Mysterious ways,” making sense of a theology of “sexy music,” in which the audience is invited to “move with” the dancing s/Spirit.

Three points of departure are important. Regarding performance, if Bono is inviting the audience to “move with” it, how does an incorporative, participative pneumatology honour the individual in the concert experience? Coakley helps by calling attention to the Spirit’s ceaseless “moves” irrespective of human participation. This complicates and enriches all three of Bono’s performative modes.

Regarding theology, Coakley commends prayer as silent contemplation. U2 provide a stark contrast, offering rock, specifically the Edges’ chiming bar chords, played through an effects unit. U2’s approach provides another way to understand “wordless groans,” as a sound scape. This reading would complicate and enrich Coakley’s understanding of the ecstatic.

This line of enquiry can be developed using the work of Endrinal (2012) who has analysed the introduction by U2 in Achtung Baby of multiregister vocal layering to provide a rich sonic signature. This can be helpfully set alongside evidence of the growing influence on U2 of North African and African-American musical traditions. “Sexy music” is thus communicated sonically, as well as through performance and theology.

Hence bringing “Mysterious Ways” into conversation with Coakley provides a theology of “sexy music” in U2. The Spirit moves in a soundscape that is ecstatic, sonic and participative. This provides a different place to locate the mystery of religious experience, in the beat and bass of a rock concert.

Dr Steve Taylor,
Senior Lecturer, Flinders University, Adelaide, Australia.

This will be my sixth publication in the area of U2 in the last five years:

Which is a somewhat unexpected (“mysterious” even) move in my writing. However I do enjoy the opportunity to think theologically, particularly through the lens of lament and liturgy, so I’m delighted to participate in this project.

Posted by steve at 02:48 PM

Friday, May 22, 2015

the ever evolving bullet blue sky: U2′s innocence and experience

The U2 innocence and experience tour began last weekend in Vancouver. It included Bullet the Blue Sky, a song which had disappeared from the U2 360 tour.

This is fascinating given I have previously written about how Bullet the Blue Sky as a song has evolved over time. In “Bullet the Blue Sky” as an Evolving performance (in Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2) I focus on a number of evolutions.

  • “See the Sky ripped open” describes the origin of the song, back in 1986. Bono asks the Edge to put the conflict in Nicaragua and El Salvador through his amplifier. They stuck pictures around the studio and the song emerged, as a contemporary psalm of lament.
  • “And I can see those fighter planes appears” on the Elevation tour, in Dublin, in 2001. It evolves from a psalm of lament to a moment of confession. A spotlight shines upward, searching for fighter planes, then focuses on both the crowd and Bono. Graphics note the worlds five biggest arms traders – USA, UK, France, China, Russia – which are then linked to the IRA and the British army. What was a song focused on American influence in Central America is now focused on all countries that traffic in bullets that rip on the skies of Ireland.
  • “Outside it’s America,” occurs in Chicago in 2005. A number of song samples (Jonny Comes Marching Home, Gangs of New York) are used. Bono adopts a number of theatrical postures, that reference prisoners blindfolded in the Iraqi war, while a fighter jet is projected behind him. This is followed by a prayer “for all the brave men and women of the United States.” It feels like a prayer of intercession, in which the impact of the war in Iraq is considered.

I then use theory of installation art to understand this evolving performance. I note the use of samples (song snippets, visuals, performance posture) and how these create connections and awaken communal memory. The work of De Oliveria, Oxley and Petry (Installation Art in the New Millennium: The Empire of the Senses) is a rich resource. They talk about the creation of an experiential space which allows “a viewing of the self contemplating the external world.”

I apply this to the evolving performance of Bullet

The self can lament at the external world at Paris; the self can confess at Slane Castle and the self can both confess and petition in Chicago. U2′s use of sampling crafts an experience that allows introspection with regard to how one should act in the relation to the wider world.” (Exploring U2: Is This Rock ‘n’ Roll?: Essays on the Music, Work, and Influence of U2, 94).

The reappearance of Bullet in the new U2 Innocence and experience tour is thus yet another, quite distinctive, evolution. The lyrics undergo a dramatic change, with new verses written to reference not the conflict in Central America but talks in Davos and the use of cell phones. There is a song sample, which needs further discussion. What is most intriguing is what seems to be an interplay during the performance of Bullet between young Bono (19) and Bono (now). He seems to be “patting himself” down. The adolescent is engaging with the rock star, including the rock star so mocked for his social justice activism (including going to Davos).

This adds another whole dimension of “a viewing of the self.” It is a contemplating of the self in the external world, when young, and now middle-aged. This is perhaps what is at the heart of the innocence and experience tour, a self looking back. This introspection can allow a contemplation of what has become. Whether this is lament, confession or intercession depends on the actions of the self.

Importantly, having reflected, having “patted oneself down”, one is now freed to consider not only what one has become, but what one is becoming.

Posted by steve at 11:10 AM