U2101 – White as Snow

Last week, I wrote about U2’s song “Winter”, so it seems only fitting that I take this opportunity to record some comments on its sister song, “White as Snow”. White as Snow” is taken from U2’s twelfth studio album (not counting Passengers), No Line on the Horizon, and is one of several songs from that album written as a collaboration between U2 and the album’s producers, Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. Actually, the song’s origins can also be traced back to the traditional hymn “Veni, Veni, Emmanuel”, (also known as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”), from which “White as Snow” takes its vocal melody.


When U2 first took on the commission to write a song for Jim Sheridan’s film Brothers, the film was expected to release at a time that would make completion of “Winter”, the song that the band planned to use in the film, problematic. Since that was the case, it was decided instead to offer “White as Snow”, which was further along in terms of readiness, to Jim Sheridan for use in his film. When Brothers was pushed back, allowing “Winter” to be used, U2 decided to retain “White as Snow” for release on No Line on the Horizon.


“White as Snow” is the lone political song on an album the lead single from which famously declared “I don’t want to talk about wars between nations”. The song’s lyrics are mostly memories of childhood, sung from the perspective of a soldier, and the story goes that the song lasts the amount of time that it takes the soldier to die after being fatally wounded. It’s not hard to imagine a dying soldier lying on the field of battle, and as his life is flashing before his eyes he is remembering his brother and the things they did together when they were young. His impending death makes him question his own readiness for the afterlife and wonder why a heart can’t be as white as snow. The song also asks a question about “forgiveness where forgiveness is not”, perhaps echoing the soldier’s own desire to forgive those responsible for his impending death and finding himself unable to do so, realizing that only “the lamb, as white as snow” could find such forgiveness. This is a reference to Jesus Christ, called the “Lamb of God” in John 1:29 and who, according to the Bible, was sacrificed so that humanity might find forgiveness for its myriad sins.


“White as Snow” has never been performed live, or even soundchecked, as far as I know. Indeed, the song’s subject matter might be a little too esoteric to appeal to a large audience, especially one with a large percentage of casual fans. With that reasoning in mind, I find it doubtful that U2 will ever perform “White as Snow” live. It seems fitting to me, in a way, that a song about death, about an ending, should only have the one version extant. Still, it would be moving should U2 ever decide to perform “White as Snow” in a live setting.

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Ever since I realized as a kid, while poring over the liner notes of the Bob Marley - Songs of Freedom boxed set, that writing about music was a viable career choice, one of my greatest desires has been to write about U2. The band has been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I'm thrilled to have this opportunity to contribute a little something to the fantastic online community that's been built around the band.

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