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Excerpts From “Introduction: U2’s Sacrament of Sound,” Scott Calhoun

Excerpts From:

“Introduction: U2’s Sacrament of Sound,” Scott Calhoun, pp. 1-8.

U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher. Ed. Scott Calhoun
© (Bloomsbury, 2018)

More information here on the book and a Table of Contents.

  • When listening to U2 fans talk about being U2 fans and what their fandom means to them, when I hear them express their reasons, their expectations and their experiences with U2’s music, what I hear from all fans, no matter their disagreements, is that the music moves them. I hear responses which, upon inspection, are foremost about experiencing music as music and the line running through all the individualistic statements of appreciation for U2’s music is much less about lyrics, or guitar solos or Bono’s performances, than it is about the total quality of encountering music.
  • U2’s music subdues us. We are overcome. We are cleansed, healed and empowered. We are lifted up and persuaded to do what we could not do before. We become what we could not have become otherwise apart from the music–we feel we are certain about this. We come to and receive U2’s music for its ability to connect the ordinary to the extraordinary. Some songs are better for a scourging, others cleanse, heal, and fortify one for what’s next. U2 has more songs that do all of the above—such as “One,” “With or Without You,” and “Moment of Surrender”—than perhaps all the other rock bands, which helps explain how U2 became U2 and why this book exists.
  • Bono’s long been a fan of the English hymn “Amazing Grace,” by Issac Newton, and after once telling Steve Turner he thought it was the greatest contribution to music the English have made, Turner was prompted to research and then write the biography of the song Amazing Grace: The Story of America’s Most Beloved Song. It seems Bono can’t get over the opening lines of the first verse especially: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” He’s often revealed his affection and gratitude for grace and its sound in interviews and song lyrics since, but for a short film called A Grand Madness (1997) he said “Amazing Grace” would be his pick for the last song he’d want to play for U2’s last concert ever. Why? “It’s a sound. How sweet the sound. I’ve never been able to figure that one out.”
  • In 2010, while convalescing from back surgery but anticipating U2’s appearance at the famed Glastonbury Festival, Bono told Rolling Stone’s David Fricke that “music is a sacrament for us.” In that interview, Bono explained U2’s new song, “Glastonbury,” was informed by the Christian legends surrounding the flowering white rose of Glastonbury, England, and that for Bono, a pilgrimage to Glastonbury was a more compelling reason to keep U2’s upcoming gig than the typical fun a music festival afforded.
  • In 2014, Bono elaborated on his continuing affirmation of the sacredness of music by implying it is worth a price and therefore Apple had to pay U2 for Songs of Innocence before Apple gave the album away for free: “I don’t believe in free music. Music is a sacrament.”
  • U2 fans with deep attachments to the music tend to respect it as a sacrament too, often ritualizing their listening and concert going experiences, and finding they receive a kind of blessing befitting a pilgrimage. … I find ample evidence for concluding U2 has intended for quite some time, perhaps from its first live performances in the late 1970s, to be more Bach than Bacchus, composing for a pattern and glory found in a higher realm, wanting to draw listeners into a grandeur no wine, dance or earthly sensuality can achieve. As sound, U2’s songs are transformative, as are the vibrations from Orpheus’ plucked lyre, pulsing through us, enchanting even the stones and the stoniest of hearts. We enact our feelings of loss and love with more courage because of this music, and we find that unseen powers seem more inclined in our direction. In return, devoted fans give U2 a high and holy place in their lives, a place typically reserved for an oracle or priest.
  • In thinking of U2’s music sacramentally, or as a pulse listeners seek as a means to an end that body alone cannot achieve, we wish to emphasize in this book the variability U2 offers its listeners who come for this pulse. The dial, whether turned down or turned up, emits good vibrations for its fans, who willingly place their seeking spirits to lesser or greater degrees in the way of the sound.
  • This book is not an attempt to reconcile the individual band member’s beliefs where they differ, nor is it especially interested in ascertaining their individual beliefs. … Reading across all of the chapters, one might detect there are disagreements between contributors as to what is the more important spiritual quotient in U2’s art and how one should best receive U2’s art.
  • How one receives art versus how one uses art is itself a fascinating and revealing study of human behavior, which I suspect is similar to the abiding interest the anthropologist has in religion. But the art U2 creates is intentional in its aim at the things of the spirit, and U2 attempts to voice the human experience in all its moods as it lives in bodily space and time. Bono sings laments and yearnings as willingly as he sings resolve, peace, and joy, and the band plays complementary tunings, chords, structures and tempos with equal integrity and artistry. U2’s “goal” for the soul “is elevation,” welcoming all who wish to journey to a higher place, but U2 will not rush the course or take short cuts along the way.
  • This interest of the fan approaching U2 in a way similar to how a seeker comes to a sacred text and then, perhaps, attends gatherings organized for inculcating the values and practices developed from that text with a desire to accomplish something the seeker feels unable to accomplish on her own is ­what we in this book examine as the religious impulse in U2 fans. U2 functions for these fans in a way that perhaps is best described as a totem, in the sense of Emile Durkheim’s conclusion of how an object or person functions in totemic religions, provoking an energy that loops back through it inflated and amplified by its followers.
  • This book, in contrast to the previous studies on U2 and religion, furthers the field of U2 studies by suggesting reasons based on more than theological analyses of lyrics for why the religious impulse in fans is so satisfyingly met by U2. Additionally, and uniquely in relation to previous studies, this book also examines why a broader group of religiously inclined fans are interested in U2. Two sections of chapters examine matters of sound and space, respectively, while two other sections explore the affective domains in fans who receive U2 and identify with religious elements found in its songs and performances.
  • The impulse for something structured and replicable that can elevate body and spirit is an impulse familiar enough to the human condition to not need much proof of its existence, yet understanding the impulse invites a host of disciplinary approaches. U2 has done very well at meeting its fans along the current of this impulse with its sacrament of music. And in doing so, it has become a myth itself for narrating this common but inscrutable truth: that music moves us, most mysteriously so.

U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher – A New Collection of U2 Studies Available Now

U2 and the Religious Impulse: Take Me Higher, is an edited collection of thirteen new essays from an international group of scholars studying U2 and its fandom, with a foreword by W. David O. Taylor and an introduction by Scott Calhoun.

Edited by Scott Calhoun
Studies in Religion and Popular Culture, Bloomsbury Press, 2018

U2 and the Religious Impulse examines indications in U2’s music and performances that the band work at conscious and subconscious levels as artists who focus on matters of the spirit, religious traditions, and a life guided by both belief and doubt.

U2 is known for a career of stirring songs, landmark performances and for its interest in connecting with fans to reach a higher power to accomplish greater purposes. Its success as a rock band is unparalleled in the history of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest acts. In addition to all the thrills one would expect from entertainers at this level, U2 surprises many listeners who examine its lyrics and concert themes by having a depth of interest in matters of human existence more typically found in literature, philosophy and theology.

The multi-disciplinary perspectives presented here account for the durability of U2’s art and offer informed explanations as to why many fans of popular music who seek a connection with a higher power find U2 to be a kindred spirit. This study will be of interest to scholars and students of religious studies and musicology, interested in religion and popular music, as well as religion and popular culture more broadly.

Available as a hardback and e-book from Bloomsbury and Amazon.

“U2 and the Religious Impulse provides a wide ranging, deep and thoughtful investigation of the relationships between popular music, religion and spirituality. Exploring areas such as music, lyrics, staging and cultures, the writers examine how fans navigate flows of meaning created by and beyond the band, offering considerable insight into the functions of the sacred within popular culture.” –  Rupert Till, Professor of Music, University of Huddersfield, UK

“This truly excellent collection of lively, provocative essays shows that digging into and reflecting on U2’s work is well worth the effort. Without constraining the band’s output and impact by interpreting their music in any simple, narrowly religious way, these multi-disciplinary investigations reveal U2’s importance for spirituality, theology, politics and ethics. The book provides compelling evidence of the profound significance of popular culture.” –  Clive Marsh, Head of the Vaughan Centre for Lifelong Learning, University of Leicester, UK

“The relationship of U2 and several western religions has been a topic of debate/discussion since the band’s debut album Boy, in 1980. Subsequent releases found the group consistently addressing spiritual and religious themes in an attempt to reconcile faith and ever increasing popular music stardom. Here Calhoun takes on the varied and diverse religious elements in the music of the long-lived, world-renown band. As the band, itself, culls religious influence from a host of sources, so U2 and the Religious Impulse expertly addresses these myriad sacred cues in a measured and thought-provoking volume.” –  David Moskowitz, Professor of Music History, University of South Dakota, USA

Table of Contents:

List of Figures

Contributors

Acknowledgments

Foreword by W. David O. Taylor

Introduction: U2’s Sacrament of Sound (Scott Calhoun, Cedarville University, USA)

Part One: “Meet Me In The Sound”
1. “Edge, Ring Those Bells”: The Guitar and Its Spiritual Soundscapes in Early U2 (Henrik Marstal, Danish Institute of Popular Music/Rhythmic Music Conservatory, Denmark)

2. “Looking to Fill That God-Shaped Hole”: The Evolution of U2’s Spiritually Evocative Musical Gestures (Christopher Endrinal, Florida Gulf Coast University Bower School of Music and the Arts, USA)

3. Divine Moves: Pneumatology as Passionate Participation in U2’s “Mysterious Ways” (Steve Taylor, Flinders University, Australia)

Part Two: “Lift Me Out of These Blues”
4. “Hold On To Love”: U2’s Bespoke Exorcism of the 1960s (Nicola Allen, The University of Wolverhampton, UK and Gerald Carlin, The University of Wolverhampton, UK)

5. Sarajevo and the PopMart Lemon: The Fractured Form and Function of U2’s Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Richard S. Briggs, University of Durham, UK)

6. “You Carried the Cross of My Shame”: From Crippling Stigma to Infectious Joy in the Songs of U2 (Mark Meynell, Langham Partnership, UK)

Part Three: “Escape Yourself, And Gravity”
7. The Technological Reach for the Sublime on U2’s 360° Tour (Kimi Kärki, University of Turku, Finland)

8. The “Moment of Surrender”: Medieval Mysticism in the Music of U2 (Brenda Gardenour Walter, Saint Louis College of Pharmacy, USA)

9. “In God’s Country”: Spatial Sacredness in U2 (Michael R. MacLeod, St. Mary’s University, Canada and Timothy Harvie, St. Mary’s University, Canada)

Part Four: “You Give Me Something I Can Feel”
10. “You Don’t See Me But You Will”: Jewish Thought and U2 (Naomi Dinnen, Independent Scholar, Australia)

11. “Like Faith Needs a Doubt”: U2 and the Theist / Non-Theist Dialogue (Angela Pancella, Independent Scholar, USA)

12. Finding What They’re Looking For: Evangelical Teen Fans and Their Desire for U2 to be a Christian Band (Neil R. Coulter, Center for Excellence in World Arts, USA)

13. U2 and the Art of Being Human (Mark Peters, Trinity Christian College, USA)

References

Index

“‘Tangle of Matter and Ghost’” Studies U2, Leonard Cohen, and Blakean Romanticism

A new academic essay on U2 titled “‘Tangle of Matter and Ghost’: U2, Leonard Cohen, and Blakean Romanticism,” by Lisa Plummer Crafton, Professor of English, University of West Georgia, appears this month in the new anthology Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2 (Lexington Books, 2018), edited by James Rovira, chair and associate professor in the English department at Mississippi College.

Rovira’s website for the book is a sort of launching point for “scholarship with a soundtrack,” with links to chapter summaries and an iTunes playlist for each of the eleven studies in the anthology.

He summarizes Crafton’s essay this way:

“‘Tangle of Matter and Ghost’: U2, Leonard Cohen, and Blakean Romanticism,” triangulates Blake’s, Cohen’s, and U2’s songwriting to illustrate how each artist represents, responds to, and addresses different life stages as they engage themes such as ‘social and cultural protest, the conflation of erotic/spiritual love, and the representation of the rupture of that symbiosis, especially in the poetic treatment of Judas, Yahweh, and Jesus.’ Life stage writing, therefore, is demonstrated in Crafton’s chapter to be a vehicle for sociopolitical critique. Critique is simultaneously and alternatively inwardly and outwardly directed: politics are the outward manifestation of inwardly present ‘mind-forg’d manacles’ and the external force forging those manacles from the start. Blake’s answer to this quandary, a Romantic response repeated by Leornard Cohen and then by U2 through both Blake and Cohen, is to address the mind first through imaginative vision.

The songs Rovira and Crafton suggest listening to are:

  • Leonard Cohen, “I’m Your Man,” “Nevermind,” “Sisters of Mercy,” “Story of Isaac,” “Suzanne,” “Who by Fire”
  • Van Morrison, “Let the Slave“
  • U2, “Beautiful Ghost,” “Bullet the Blue Sky,” “Grace,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “MOFO,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “Until the End of the World,” “Wake Up, Dead Man,” “With or Without You”

Crafton’s essay is the only chapter in the anthology about U2, but fans and scholars of popular music and Romanticism will surely find the entire book stimulating reading.

Rock and Romanticism: Blake, Wordsworth, and Rock from Dylan to U2, appears in Lexington Books’ On The Record series, edited by Scott D. Calhoun, Cedarville University, and Christopher Endrinal, Florida Gulf Coast University. It is available starting February 15, 2018, from the publisher and Amazon.

U2 and Music Theory Series Debuted on @U2.com

Professor Christopher Endrinal, Florida Gulf Coast University, writes about U2 and music theory in “Theorectically Speaking,” a new series on @U2.

Theoretically SpeakingHave you ever been listening to a familiar song and suddenly noticed something new about it? This happens to me all the time, especially with U2’s music. If I hear something new or particularly interesting, my music theory training instinctively kicks in and compels me to dive deeper. That’s what this series, “Theoretically Speaking…”, is all about: an exploration of U2’s music through the lens of music theory.

His debut article is Rhythmic Representations of Uncertainty in ‘Zooropa.‘” 

New Study: Emotions in U2 Fan Videos

From this Media Release:

Music fans’ emotions could be used to help them find new songs online, according to research at the University of Strathclyde.

A study of 150 music videos made by U2 fans uncovered a range of methods, both visual and musical, used to convey emotion, through location, style of music and video content.

Dr Diane Pennington, a Lecturer in Strathclyde’s Department of Computer and Information Sciences, carried out the research. She said: “Although music holds no emotion in itself, it can elicit very deep emotions in listeners and performers.”

The videos were covers of U2’s Song For Someone, from their 2014 album Songs Of Innocence. They were made and posted on video streaming website YouTube, after the band invited their fans to create their own clips, which would “make (it) your song.”

The research found that the videos, and viewers’ responses to them, were highly individual but often also social, with shared emotions creating a sense of community.

It also found that such emotions could help to inform searches, recommendations and playlists in online music providers.

Dr Pennington said: “The emotion music evokes is the main reason people listen to it and many would like to be able to search for music videos that meet an emotional need, such as a desire to be cheered up.

“However, information retrieval systems, such as those used in video streaming sites, don’t currently support this well. To advance these systems, new systems need to be envisioned that go beyond traditional keyword-based or subject-based queries and process information requirements in new ways.

“I chose the Song For Someone clips as a case study after U2 called for fans to make them. This was because it would be a rich source of information and because, for their fans, U2’s songs and concerts are highly emotional; this is reflected in the content of the Song For Someone clips and the reactions they produced.

“Many of the cover versions were personalised by people recording their own versions in their houses or bedrooms, or including images of their loved ones. Others signified their devotion to U2 by using their original version to accompany the clip or by including U2 paraphernalia, such as t-shirts, posters and photos.

“Emotions are difficult to define tangibly and describing them in a way which could benefit information retrieval presents a challenge. However, this research could inform commercial music service providers on how they might include emotional factors in their recommendations and automatically created playlists.

“Allowing retrieval system users to search, browse and retrieve by positive emotions could also have a contribution to make to music therapy.”

Dr Pennington’s research has been published in the Journal of Documentation (doi.org/10.1108/JD-07-2015-0086)

 

Book Review: U2 Above, Across, and Beyond: Interdisciplinary Assessments

“This is heady stuff written by individuals who’ve given serious thought to U2’s ‘missteps, disappointments, failures…and ordinary problems.’ … [t]here is ample (and stimulating) intellectual discussion of the Irish band’s ‘proclivity for change’ in a world that doesn’t always welcome it. And each of the eight articles (none longer than thirty pages) makes for an easy-to-digest, hour-long patch of premiere rock and roll reading.” — Peter Roche, Cleveland Music Examiner

Read the full review here.

Danish book on U2 published: When the Sky meets the Sea – U2´s songs as hymns

In June 2015, a new book was published in Denmark. The Danish title is “Himmel og hav i ét – U2´s sange som salmer”.  Translated directly it is: “Sky and Sea in one – U2´s songs as hymns”. The book focus on the theme of U2´s No Line On The Horizon (2009), exposing the contrasts and ambiguity of life, the longing for contact, understanding, unity and love and the harsh reality of alienation, division, disintegration and hatred in our personal life and in the world we live in. The wonderful moments where the sky meets the sea, and there is no line on the horizon, end the times where the line between the sky and the sea is all too clear.

The book is an in-depth analysis of No Line On The Horizon, and there is a wide range of references to other U2 songs, music, literature, the bible, hymns, our personal experiences among other things. It is available here.

The book consists of 15 chapters, with an introduction, a presentation of the four trilogies of U2 (1980-2009), a chapter for each of the 11 songs on NLOTH plus “Winter”. The last chapter focuses on the 360 tour and the new songs presented there. As an appendix there are two articles on our experiences with U2 church services.

The authors of the book are Joergen Lasgaard, Aarhus and Jens Moesgaard Nielsen, Herning – two pastors in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark, who have been inspired by U2 in decades. They have been arranging U2 services since 1993. Joergen is a vicar amongst homeless people, drug addicts and people who are fighting to keep up every day. His experience is that the music and songs of U2 can be a part of both reflection and reconciliation. Jens is a vicar in a church, and he can say the same thing, even though his church is situated in an “upper class area”. The Church is the home of the well renowned Herning Boys Choir, and they have transformed two U2 songs into sacred music, both “Magnificent” and “Gloria.”

Both authors participated in the U2 Conference 2009, giving a presentation on our work with U2 services: U2 in the church – How it is done in Denmark.

 

The U2 Tattoo Project

The U2 Tattoo Project is documenting and curating U2 tattoos and the stories behind them.

When you think of bands like The Beatles, The Who or The Rolling Stones, a dominant icon emerges in your mind: the elongated type and fretboard-like “T” of the Beatles, the arrow-protruding “o” of The Who, the lips and tongue of the Stones. But what comes to mind when you think of U2? The hand-brushed grunge script from Achtung? The bold, red Block Gothic face of War? The Joshua Tree silhouette? U2 has become an iconic band with no consistent icon, but rather a history of transient visual identities that embody their eras and represent different emotional experiences for fans.

In the absence of an official logo or singular, long-running, uniform mark, how do U2 fans brand their love for the band? The U2 Tattoo Project aims to study U2 fan tattoos in terms of popular U2 iconography and lyrics, examine the connections between favorite albums and tattoos, and explore what happens to U2’s visual identity as it passes into the hands and onto the bodies of fans.

Have a tattoo? Submit via our survey. Follow the project on social media: “U2 Tattoo Project” on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. 

 

U2 Concerts and Community Publications by Michael Williams

My name is Michael Williams, and I am a long-time U2 fan (since 1982). Currently, I am also a doctoral candidate, researching rock music events, focusing on U2’s 360° tour. The aim of my research is to develop a better understanding of the concept of spectacle in the context of a rock music event. 

The following two publications relate to my research project and may be of interest to fellow researchers and fans:

Williams, M. (2015) ‘One but not the same: U2 Concerts, Community and Cultural Identity’ in Merkel, U. (ed.) Identity Discourses and Communities in International Events, Festivals and Celebrations. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 242-259.

Williams, M. (2014) ‘Politics as spectacle: U2’s 360° tour (2009-11)’, in Merkel, U. (ed.) Power, Politics and International Events: Socio-cultural Analyses of Festivals and Spectacles. London: Routledge, 174-190.

 You can find out more about my research project at www.U2360spectacle.net

Research query on U2 and Krautrock, and new MA dissertation on U2 and James Joyce

Hello. My name is Helena Torres and I wrote an MA dissertation in Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool on U2 and Joyce, titled “Nicely-polished looking glasses: A comparative study of U2 and Joyce’s Dublin in ‘Eveline’ and ‘Running to Stand Still.’” You can read my work here.

I would like to develop a new research project focused on Achtung Baby and the influence of krautrock for this album. However, I think sources regading U2 and krautrock are scarce. I have Rock and Popular Music in Ireland: Before and After U2 by Noel McLaughlin and Martin McLoone to provide me a starting point, but I’d like to know if there are more options. Thanks a lot.

 

 

 

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