[Ed. note: This is the 6th in a series of essays by the @U2 staff about U2-related visuals and videos. Some essays may be informational and educational, while others may be more personal.]
Do you remember where you were on May 21, 2011? It was an important day for two reasons, both of which converged in cosmic-like fashion in Denver, Colo. That night, U2 landed their 400-ton spaceship on Invesco Field for the first U.S. concert of the final leg of the 360 tour. But there was another event of galactic proportions in the works - this was the night that Harold Camping predicted the departure of millions of Christians from planet Earth. Though he was never considered an authoritative voice within Christianity, this self-appointed prophet caught the attention of the world by declaring May 21 to be the day of rapture and, thus, the beginning of the end of the world.
The convergence of these events provided Bono with ample opportunity for comment seven songs into the concert. As if on cue, he and the band launched into "Until The End Of The World" with all of their normal emotion, drama and theatrics, but at this show Bono reshaped and nuanced the message of the song in a new and timely way. In this month's "Like A Video," through the use of a couple of YouTube videos, I unpack what was going on that stellar night in Denver.
Bono begins the song with a dedication as The Edge's siren wails through the stadium: "This is for the Reverend Harold Camping." And then, just a few moments later as Larry fires up the booster rockets and the pit explodes with a barrage of strobes and spotlights, Bono shouts, "Such a disappointment!" From there the song takes on a life of its own and sails into the familiar territory of pain, confusion and forgiveness by narrating the story of Judas' betrayal of Jesus. (See this video for Bono's introduction, "Jesus, this is Judas" and the ensuing battle between good and evil played out on the ramp.)
But what is this disappointment that Bono announces? I believe Bono is using the controversy surrounding the concept of rapture to heighten the band's own concerns for global issues. "Such a disappointment" is probably a phrase of both sarcasm and frustration. It's not likely Bono was disappointed that the rapture didn't happen. Later in the song he sarcastically suggests that it would be fun to fly heavenward, but only if Larry and Adam come along for the ride. He then realizes, "Actually The Edge gets taken up in the air and the three of us get left. But then I'd be here with you."
However, something else seems to be happening, something that causes real disappointment. There's a sense that this is a time for action across the globe, not for ignorant retreat and withdrawal. The members of U2 have identified themselves as Christians on many occasions, but theirs is not a faith of blind naiveté. Bono's God is not disconnected from his creation. Bono believes that God is intimately yet cosmically seeking to engage with his creation. In the middle of the instrumental bridge of UTEOTW Bono brings it home. "God is in the house," he shares/confesses/admonishes, as if to say, "That God Harold Camping believes in - I don't believe in him either. My God is actually here."
Bono has said that one of his favorite passages of scripture is the Lord's Prayer, the "Our Father" from Matthew 6. In the book Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas, the author asks, "What do you think will happen to you after you die?" Bono responds, "I close my eyes and I try to imagine Heaven. But I think, rather like Hell, Heaven is on Earth. That's my prayer. It was Christ's prayer, which was: 'Thy Kingdom come / Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.' I mean, that's where Heaven for me is, and we've got to start bringing Heaven down to Earth now. So what I imagine Heaven looks like is this present life without this present evil, which just scratches and bites and bullies people."
Perhaps this is one reason why so many people, regardless of religious affiliation or conviction, eagerly listen to what Bono is saying. He believes in engaging the world with a hopeful message of change. This is reflected later in UTEOTW. After the third verse and during the grand chaotic cacophony of the song's final few strains, Bono screams with the conviction of a man who knows heaven is not just some distant ethereal place, "Somewhere! Somewhere! It is ... Heaven!" And then in a beautiful poignant act of symbolism he reaches down, picks up some roses and one-by-one throws them to the impassioned crowd, shouting, "We bring peace! We bring peace!" In this and subsequent concerts he also names Damascus, Tehran, Cairo and other global hot spots of violence, oppression and civil unrest. The message of peace and reconciliation is unmistakable.
But the drama isn't over. In a twist of irony so common at a U2 concert, the band leave us with one final image during UTEOTW. During the last moment of the song, in a scene played out on two bridges above the screaming crowd, Bono stretches across the chasm between he and The Edge and offers his fellow band member a rose. The trusses they stand on move closer and closer together, but just inches away and unable to reach far enough, Bono drops the flower to the audience below. Such a disappointment. Reminiscent of a 1990s "Discotheque" moment ("You can reach, but you can't grab it"), the offer of peace is extended, but it's not received. Such is the fragile and tenuous nature of peace. Still, the band continues to deliver.
While I didn't have the good fortune to be at the Denver show, I was in the pit at several 360 concerts, standing below the converging bridges amid the pulsating lights, musical anarchy and raw emotion that so perfectly captured the coming apocalypse. U2 prodded us on tour for two years with the question, "What time is it in the world?" Many people think that 2012 will be the end of the world. That would be such a disappointment. Particularly when Bono and company would have us believe this could be our finest hour on spaceship Earth.
Here is another view of the May 21, 2011 show in Denver. Watch closely for Bono's monologue at 3:40.
And here is a video I shot of UTEOTW from the floor at Anaheim on June 17, 2011. You can hear Bono's call for peace starting at 2:30.
(c) @U2/Neufeld, 2012.