Wednesday, March 11, 2009

U2's "No Line": 5 meta motifs, part 2

As we begin part of our discussion on five meta-motifs on U2's "No Line on the Horizon,"
(part one is here, where we covered:

-the sound of God
-divine initiative
-spiritual stillness

Now we continue on to:

-the nonlinear nature of life and spirituality
-now and not yetness

4)The nonlinear nature of life and spirituality:
I dare to believe the following meditation on the new U2 is one of the most insightful yet.
What have U2 done for us in the making of this project?:

"(They) put creedal afirmations to communal songs; they brought theology to the masses through religious forms of folk poetry and ballads: they are at the same time street simple and university sophisticated....

They wrote hymns for every possible incident in life; hymns to help the pigrim get through every conceivable life experience..

But what is most unique is they constructed a sound theology and a sonic spirituality. The Greek word 'catheceis' is based on our word 'echo.' The very soundness of [the project] was based on the writers having come to terms with sound. The strength of [the band's] cathecesis is its echoing back to God 'the music of the spheres.'..

They listened; hearing into song first Christ then each other
Any chance this postmodern culture may have of achieving a new state of harmony depends on our ability to sing it to new life..

In the quantum world, anything can happen...linear time gives way; objects can be created out of nothing...What [the band] has understood like few others in history is that one does not 'see' a vision, one 'hears' a vision."
Isn't that an astoundingly accurate description of "No Line on the Horizon?"
Especially since it was written...uh, eleven years before its release?

Huh? I guess "time is irrelevant," Whats up?

I just quoted Leonard Sweet, pages 157-58, of "Eleven Genetic Gateways to Spiritual Awakening"
And even though Sweet does appreciate U2, this was not (directly) a discussion of U2, but..

The Wesleys and their hymns of the 1700s.


From the beginning, Bono claimed he wanted the album to be a collection of "hymns for the future." I believe the album is a tract for our times, but like our times, it is not linear.

I was a bit slow to "get" one of the puns of the album over.
I was also a bit late frasping the reference to the album title in the motto that the
the philospher/Holy Spirit/seductress whispers on Bono's ear (before licking it) in the title song:

"Time is irrelevant, it's not linear."

What is "not linear?"
Literally, "no line."

When I first heard the album title, I took it as a negative image, as a pilot whose plane is careening or upside down, and the desperate pilot cannot secure his bearings by the line on the horizon...or a horizon or line at all. A tract for our times, indeed.

It turned out to be a completely different image and imagination. Bono is qick to point out the wildly optimistic tone of the image, especially when liking it to the "Infinity is a great place to start" lyric:

"Just looking over Lake Michigan, there was a moment when the sea and the sky became the same color and disappeared into infinity. It seems like a realty positive thought right now, whether it's a relationship or a band." (link)
That's a great starting point for a tract.

But they can only start there, because they are (as Bono often quips about Edge) "from the future."
"I have seen it, and it's better," Edge has quipped back.
(see "Emotional music from a creative future")

Of course, just ask George Ladd, or Jesus (!) about the whole point of the Kingdom is its invading the

present from the future. There is a line,
but it is not linear ("not perceivable here or there"),
and it is moving "backwards".

In our Western culture, with its printing press worldview, and the inherited mindset of modernity, such movement is counterintuitive and countercultural.
But it nips ethnocentrism in the bud.

I often begin courses on cross-cultural awareness with:

"Just call out your first response: "In England, they drive on the _____side of the road."

Often, someone shouts out the "wrong" right answer: "wrong."

A better answer, of course, is "opposite." Best is "left."

It's not backwards to the Brits.

So thank God time itself travels backwards.

And it's common to think of music as time travel in that it inevitably "takes us back."
But perhaps more fundamentally, it comes back from the offer a timely and timeless tract for the (nonlinear) times we find ourselves in.
"You have already tasted the age to come," as Hebrews 6 promises.

In the early stages, "No Line" was pretty close to a concept album. In early drafts, not only did every song contain a time reference (several survived: the "3:33" of "Breathe, "Six o clock" in "Being Born," "Breathe's" "Nine o' five" and "nine-o-nine" timestamps);
but characters and continuities were clearer than in the finished project. Could it be that the band intentionally hijacked the storyboard, confused and defused the plot, and subverted linearity to make their primary point (" not linear") pointed?
In the accompanying film, not accidentally entitled "Linear," producer Anton Corbijn unpacks how even the making of the film was a lesson in security through discontinuty:

Bono talked me through the songs and the record as a whole. For the first time he had created characters for this record, and wrote lyrics about their lives or from their perspectives. The record had an essence of time to it, most songs had a number or time references connected to them, as if going through a 24 hour period. Although I didn't want to translate the lyrics visually, I felt that making use of one the characters Bono wrote about would be interesting. It became the Parisian motorcycle cop of northern African descent, who threw it all in to go back to see his girlfriend in Tripoli. I was going to make a silent movie, with a touch of a story to it. We prepped late June-early July, shot late July, edited in August and were ready for the record's November release. Fantastic! However, it was at this point that the band decided to go back into the studio and work on the record a bit more. As U2 never do anything in half measures, the record that emerged from the studio in late December 2008 was a very different one than the one I'd made images for. Not only had the running order changed, now there were completely new songs on the record while another song had gone, new lyrics without the characters had emerged, and different sounds dominated the songs I had worked on. Disaster! Thankfully, we worked on a solution that saw LINEAR keeping its own running order and songs, whilst only changing edits for the 10 songs, those that are also on the new U2 record, to their newly created identities. Thus LINEAR is a very interesting hybrid version of No Line On The Horizon, partly how it was in May 2008 and partly how it is now. Tomorrow is always partly yesterday. Apparently."
-Anton Corbijn

The running order of the film is quite intriguing, and sheds light and source criticism on the original narrative:

06. FEZ-Being Born

The band has also suggested that "Fez-Being Born" was (is?)the opening song until the last minute. Hmmm

in the opening song is the same fellow he rides down to Africa (to reconnect with an old flame/Flame) in "Being Born."
But which comes first? She may be the one and same girl who (later?earlier?) prophesies ("Time is not linear" and speaks in tongues (Then she stuck her tongue in my ear") a to the cop in the title cut.
Now recheck the running order of the film...aha! Chicken or egg?

Bono has recenly revealed that the narrator of "Moment of Surrender"; testimony is an addict; in fact the same guy who winds up in the next (?) song ("Unknown Caller") in a motel getting a call from God.
Check the film running order...hmmmm.

As throughout the U2 canon, there is freedom and fluidity in characters and symbolism. And though there are some helpful interpretive keys (The Holy Spirit is often a woman, for example. Is she the girl by the sea?), a direct correlation and allegorization doesn't always work.
This is classically postmodern (is that an oxymoron?). "The Matix" films are a clear example:

Is Neo Jesus, a human disciple or "everyman? Yes.
Is Trinity the Holy Trinity, God, or the Church/Bride? Yes.
Is Morpheus John the Baptist or Peter? Yes.
Is Cypher Lucifer or Judas or everyman/woman? Yes.

The parables of Jesus,
even though the one main point is that they have one main point,
are not pure allegories,
but due their identity as rabbinic and rhema
(which Bono once defined as "the meaning changes in the moment"),
shapeshift and timewarp as you hold them up to the light.

All prophetic literature can do that.
Rock albums from the future sometime fit that, too.

One interesting post on the atu2 forum offers that the timeline of "Unknown Caller" is intentionally tweaked: the glorious instrumental intro and it's "sunshines" actually belong to the end of the story (the guy decides not to take his life, but surrender to God, for example).
The writer suggested this is the only way the song makes sense.
As an Irishman once sang (on the previous album) , "Love makes no sense of..time."

All this to say that the timeline and trajectory of the somewaht elusive story of the record
itself incarnates the nonlinearity referred to on the first (?) track and the album title itself.
Which is partly why it is so timely.
And a gift from/of the future...where "all the big revelations" originate, anyway.

5)Now and not yetness:

In typical Venn fashion, a lot of what I wanted to say about this motif was covered/overlapped in the discussion about point four, above. If time is not linear, and can even run "backward" from the future into our present, of course we experinece not only hilarious and exhilrating freedom and optimism about the (present) future ("No Line," "Magnificent," "Being Born,"
but frustration and despair that "earth is not yet heaven."

Thus in the trenches of a dying soldier's Afghanistan (in "White as Snow,") we hear "Where can we find the Lamb as white as snow?"

Thus in the cedars of a war-correspondent's Lebanon (in "Cedars of Lebanon," tellingly, the closing song) "You're so high above me/Higher than everyone?Where are You in the cedars of Lebanon?"

It almost seems the answer to the first question is "Right here,"
and the (non)answer to the second is "Nowhere."
And that my friend nails the terrible and creative tension we live in.

"God is nowhere"
"God is now here"?

Maybe those two songs are the same.

In light of section four of this essay, I have wondered if the narrator is in some <
NLOTH's evocations of God's vibrant presence seem to me not to be framed so much as the awe of one who is suddenly undone by a gift of inbreaking grace even "under the trash" or "when there's all kinds of chaos." They're still every bit as celebratory and broadly inviting, but now they rest on an unsurprised, grateful security, in a spaciousness that allows us to "breathe": This is how it is.
-Beth Maynard

That indeed is a tract for our times.
It's not Joel Osteenism or eartickling.
It's still brutally honest.
The world is still "shitty."
But it is also the locale for the incoming
The whole earth is already full of his glory.
If only we have ears to hear,
and ears to see the "vision over visibility."

Long ago, in an obsure instrumental B-side, the Boys offered us a proleptic preview of "Sixty Seconds in the Kingdom Come."

This time; this album, we get to stay longer.
"Until the day the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our Lord and Christ,"
and all lines and all Lebanons host the fullness of the glory.

"This is how it is," Beth said.

"Here is what is," (co-producer)Lanois said.

So be it.

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