My general philosophy regarding new books, records, movies, and pretty much everything else is this: “If I wait six months, all things will come to me through the used book store.”
Well, after waiting for a year and not finding the deluxe version of Songs Of Innocence at the Half Price Books, I finally caved and put the album on my Christmas list. And God bless my parents for finding it for me!
Honestly, the physical copy of the album is even better than I thought it would be. Two CDs in vinyl-style packaging, complete with liner notes all tucked into the folding cardboard sleeves? Retro typewriter-style font? Yes, please! And all of this visual delight reinforces the theme of the band’s past and present intermingling. It’s just beautiful.
For me, the most anticipated “bonus” song from Disc 2 was Lucifer’s Hands, and I should probably explain why before I go any further. Here are my two reasons:
1. I really enjoy Mr. MacPhisto, so now every time U2 reference the devil in any way, I crack up a little inside. (Speaking of which, did anybody else notice that in some photos from the Innocence + Experience tour, Bono holds a megaphone with MacPhisto’s photo on it?)
And 2. Thanks to my middle name, Louise, my mama sometimes calls my Lucy. And naturally, one nickname leads to another, which means that one of my many names is Lucifer. Do I get more enjoyment out of this than I should? Probably, yes. But what can I say? The Latin word for “Light-bringer” is such a cool nickname!
But all of that is just a side note. The main point is that I have gotten my first glimpse at the other side of Songs of Innocence, and in my excitement, I want to share what I have learned so far.
First of all, I can see why this song was included as an “extra” rather than being included on the main part of the album. Even though it definitely fits with the theme of the album and the contrasting ideas of being young and growing up, it has a much different feel than the songs on Disc 1. While some of the main songs, especially Raised By Wolves, deal with “darker” ideas and images, Lucifer’s Hands has a darker “feel” than the rest of the album, and it seems less accessible somehow. In some ways, I think that it’s a song that’s easier for long-time fans of U2 to appreciate than it would be for newer fans.
With the various music references—punk rock, “new wave airwaves,” and the Velvets—it’s easy to see how much inspiration the band took for both this song and the album as a whole from their early influences. This song seems to me to be very much about exploring one’s identity through music. Being “born again to the latest sound,” seeing “visions beyond sight or sound,” and “beginning to see the light” all seem to be reflective of a spiritual experience, and finding that spirituality and sense of belonging through music—and possibly, the shared experience of being in a band.
As Bono told the Los Angeles Times in 2004: “Music is the language of the spirit. I think ideas and words are our excuse as songwriters to allow our heart or our spirit to run free. That’s when magic happens.”
Even though the first verse is pretty self-explanatory, with its imagery of a party and blown speakers, the second verse takes a little more thinking to figure out. Even though the meaning of “raindog” eludes me, a bit of Wikipedia research reveals that the NME “spitting from an inky page” is a British magazine, the New Musical Express, and that St. John Divine probably refers to…well…St. John, the apostle. Both verses push forward the idea that music and spirituality are interconnected, and that during the time of their innocence, the band members searched not just for new sounds, but a new spirit, too.
There are also several other ideas expressed in this song. Some of Bono’s ideas about rich and poor are included in the song, as well as the anger that characterizes so much of rock music, the anger that Bono expresses in other songs on the album, such as Volcano. This especially comes through in this line from the second verse: “At the talent show where your talent is your rage, I’m in.”
The chorus also express the feeling of breaking free. Whether you’re breaking loose in the rebellious sense of rock music, or whether you choose to interpret the chorus in the sense of looking for salvation, the lyrics express the idea of freedom from the things that hold us back.
“You no longer got a hold on me, I’m out of Lucifer’s hands
You no longer got a hold on me
You’re no longer in control of me
The “you” from the chorus—this thing that’s losing its hold—could be the devil, or worldly things, or a bad situation, or an inner struggle, or any manner of evil. It could even be oneself; often, we are our own worst enemies. But whatever the things are that try to bind us, whatever we’re fighting against, evil can’t hold and control us forever. We have the freedom to choose, and all of us can choose to do the right thing.
Perhaps what interests me most about this song is the subtle but strong allusion to the true songs of U2’s “innocence”: the throwback to their second album, October, released when they were in their 20’s and when three of them were deeply involved in the Shalom group, when they were growing in their faith and in their music as well.
Just before the last chorus, Bono sings these lines:
“Yes, I can change the world.
Yes, I can change the world.
The poor breaking bread that’s made out of stone
The rich man won’t eat, he’s eating, alone
But I can’t change the world in me.”
I have no doubt in my mind that this is an allusion to Rejoice.
For those of you who haven’t heard that song or who need a refresher, the main theme of Rejoice can be summed up in this line that repeats throughout the song: “I can’t change the world, but I can change the world in me, if I rejoice.”
Bono has said before (particularly with regards to Volcano) that he envisions much of this album to be almost a dialogue between him and his younger self. The lyrics of this song may reflect how his experience in life has changed how he views his “innocence.”
In U2: Into The Heart, our good friend Niall Stokes quotes Bono as commenting on the lyrics from Rejoice that I mentioned a moment ago: “So naive! … But there was something real happening all the same. … Rock ‘n’ roll – that was just the day job. We used to get together every single night, meeting in people’s houses, reading, studying Scriptures. The band was what we did during the day.”
Perhaps Rejoice is a trifle naive, if you want to think of it that way. Or perhaps it’s Lucifer’s Hands that’s the naive one. It depends on what you think is more difficult: changing the world, or changing the world in you.
For me personally, it’s easier for me to make a change in myself and my life than it is for me to change the world. If I do change the world, it will be indirectly, in small ways, by doing everything I can to help the people around me…by doing things like writing for U2 Radio. I will never change the world in a big way like Bono.
But Bono has changed the world. That’s what he’s been striving for his entire career. As he alludes to in the song, he’s dealt with rich and poor alike in trying to help people on a massive scale, and there is no doubt that the band’s music has affected thousands and thousands of people across the globe. At the time that Bono wrote Rejoice, he was learning how to change spiritually, and the band was at a point where they weren’t even sure if they would stay together, let alone change the world as a rock band. But looking back from a place where they have changed things in ways that no one could have imagined, I can see where Bono might wonder if it’s possible that changing the outside world was the easier battle after all.
So is this song a connection between present and past? Is it a dialogue between “innocent” Bono and “experienced” Bono? Is it a celebration of the major musical influences on U2? Is it a reflection of the different ways to change the world? Or is it all of the above?
Since it’s a new song, with many more years of “experience” and interpretation to gain, maybe we’ll gain even more insight into this piece in the future. (Although, since it’s only been played three times so far according to U2.com, it might be the next mega concert rarity.) Until then, this song is what you make of it, like any other U2 song, and the real question here is, will you change the world? Or will you change the world in you?