U2101 – Scarlet

I was pretty pleased with the U2 360 Tour. Although the tour ended several years ago…almost a decade, now…U2 did one thing that I wish that they would do a lot more of. They played some oddities. Songs like “Electrical Storm,” “Your Blue Room,” and “Mercy” made their long-awaited live debuts, and the band also played several songs that, at the time, were unknown, unreleased, and totally unexpected. Perhaps the thing that made me most excited, though, even in the face of the wonders that I listed above, is that from the fourth leg on, “Scarlet” was a regular feature of the band’s concerts. Ever since I first heard “Scarlet,” it has held a special place in my heart.

Maybe it is the music…very few could argue that that chiming guitar and those native sounding drums are beautiful and stirring and almost otherworldly, while still maintaining an infectious quality that belies the strangeness of the song. Maybe it is the simplicity of the song’s concept and lyrics. One word, repeated several times, makes up the whole of the message of the song. “Rejoice!” Such an uncomplicated idea that is still somehow difficult to get through our thick heads. Even in the Christian Bible, which I tend to think of as dour and unhappy, we are instructed to “be of good cheer,” and “rejoice in the Lord always.” I expect that much of the song’s inspiration came from the Bible, but the message is clear even to those of us who aren’t Christians. Life is a gift, and we should be enjoying it. Simple.

As I alluded to above, the appearances of “Scarlet” on the 360 Tour were special, mainly because the song had only been performed once, way back in 1981, prior to those performances of 2010 and 2011. In September of 1981, before the album that the song is from had even been released,  U2 played “Scarlet” for a BBC radio session. The good thing about this performance is that it was for broadcast, so the audio quality is crisp and clear and a pleasure to listen to. The downside is that the song was not performed before a large audience, and even if it had been, the song was unknown, so there is no large crowd of people chanting “Rejoice!” alongside our favorite front man.  Part of what makes those 360 performances so special is the crowd singing along with Bono. Every time I listen to one of the 360 shows, I find that my eyes become a little leaky when it gets to the “Scarlet” portion of the show. This song is proof that the concept doesn’t have to be complicated or even deep to be affecting. I mean, this is as elementary as it gets. Just rejoice. No matter what is going on in your life, there is something to be joyful about, even if you have lost everything else and all you have to be happy about is the fact that you are alive. U2 would revisit this concept twenty years later with their big hit “Beautiful Day,” and while both songs are effective at expressing their meaning, I find myself yearning at times for the simplicity of “Scarlet.”

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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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