U2101 – Yahweh

I often get asked how I can claim to be an atheist, as I do, and still be obsessed with a “Christian” band, like U2. In response, I first explain that I don’t think of U2 as a Christian band. Sure, they have some songs that talk about God, but I’ve always thought of that as more of a search for purpose in life and a quest to give meaning to death and whatever comes after. I’ve always felt that Bono and the other guys in the band were still searching for the answers, anyway–not that they knew everything. Even the few songs that are more explicit in their statement of belief in a higher power, songs like “Yahweh,” carry some wisdom or truth somewhere in the lyrics, something that I can latch on to. The big idea that moves me in “Yahweh” is the thought that there is “always pain before a child is born.” Like many of Bono’s lyrics, I don’t take this line literally, although it would apply in such a case. No, I simply take it to mean that there is no growth, no progress, without some discomfort…in short, “no pain, no gain.” Whenever I am going through a tough time, I find comfort in that thought. What’s more, I love the idea of Bono calling out to his God, as he does in this song…what is more relatable than a man crying out to his higher power, looking for answers?

Musically, “Yahweh” is as anthemic as they come. This is one of those cases where it doesn’t really matter what words Bono is singing–when he raises his voice as he does in the chorus to this song, it moves me. I’ve said it so often that any regular readers of my articles are probably sick of it by now, but Bono has this ability, almost a super-power, to make the listener feel the feeling of the song that he is singing, and “Yahweh” is no exception. The music rises and falls dynamically around Bono’s wails, and I can’t help but feel that if there is someone up there listening, if there is a God, then music like this would be enough to snag his (or her) attention.

“Yahweh” was performed, mostly acoustically, at the majority of shows on the Vertigo Tour. I say “mostly” because these performances featured one unusual characteristic in addition to guitar and vocal–Larry Mullen on keyboards. It is always cool to see Larry get out from behind his drum kit, and in this case, it was especially poignant. I really like the spectacle created by these four men standing together at the front of the stage, looking for some kind of resolution to their search. If U2 ever decides to follow my idea and play a series of albums in their entirety, it will be interesting to see what they do with “Yahweh.” I’d like to see something a little more in line with the album version…more fleshed-out rock anthem (complete with pounding drums), less campfire singalong.

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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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