When I sat down tonight to write my weekly article, I planned to write about another of the lesser-known masterpieces from The Joshua Tree, such as “In God’s Country” or “One Tree Hill”, but after a careful search, I discovered that I’ve already written about each of the eleven songs that were included on the original release of the album! I guess that means that it’s time to delve into one of the REALLY lesser-known highlights, such as a B-side or an outtake. “So”, I asked myself “are there any such songs that the band might possibly play on the Joshua Tree Tour 2017?” One that occurred to me that the band might actually break out is one of the new tracks from the 2007 reissue of the album, “Wave of Sorrow (Birdland)”.
After reading some of the recent interviews with Adam and Edge, wherein they talked about how the world has changed recently – and in many ways has been reset to a political climate much like what was prevalent in the mid-to-late eighties – it became evident that the band still needs to fight many of the same battles that they were fighting in 1987. One of these battles is for equality and aid for those parts of the world that are in need. While Ethiopia, which this song is about, hasn’t been in the news much lately, there are many parts of the world that still suffer from famine and poverty, and I think that the band might find it appropriate to resurrect this song, which is about the struggle to survive in such a place.
The song’s title is a reference, perhaps an unintentional one, to a poem by Langston Hughes, the African-American poet and activist. The poem is called Island, and the opening line reads “Wave of sorrow, do not drown me now”. Knowing Bono’s interest in literature, it’s not surprising that he would know the Hughes piece and draw inspiration from it for a song that is, in the end, about the need for equality. Some may view it as charity to give assistance to the poorer countries, but it’s really about giving everyone, in every country around the globe, the same opportunities. For the song “Wave of Sorrow (Birdland)”, Bono references the physical wave of sorrow that would occur if the rains were to come; there would be flooding, and the meager crops that are counted on for survival would be washed away. This is compared with the emotional wave of sorrow that must threaten to overcome those living in such conditions every single day, when “to wake up this morning was an act of will.” At the end of the song, Bono gives his own spin on the beatitudes from the Bible’s sermon on the mount, one that feels like it could have been written in response to today’s headlines. “Blessed are the meek who scratch in the dirt” he begins, before continuing with “Blessed is the voice that speaks truth to power” and finally closing with “Blessed is the spirit that overcomes.” As much as these phrases are meant for those living in poverty-stricken parts of the world, they also serve to remind me that we, in the luckier countries like the United States, have a responsibility to stand up for those less fortunate, despite what our leaders might have to say on the subject. Musically, “Wave of Sorrow (Birdland)” is a stirring, moving piece of art. With pounding, rolling drums and heady keys throughout, the song sounds like part call-to-action and part lamentation. It’s an effective and moving song, one that I believe would be a highlight of any live set.
“Wave of Sorrow (Birdland)” has actually been performed live once before, in Islington, England, back around the end of 2007 – soon after the song’s release on The Joshua Tree remaster, so we know at least that the song is playable. If U2 do decide to break out with this emotional powerhouse live in concert, I fully expect to be moved to tears, and I imagine that I wouldn’t be the only one. There’s no guarantee that U2 want to play songs that are only tenuously related to the album they’re celebrating with the upcoming tour, but if they played this and a few other songs that are sure to be in the set-list, such as “Red Hill Mining Town”, I’ll be one happy U2 fan.