Saturday, February 25, 2006

On God (Part II)

The clarification in parentheses should suggest that this piece is not about the supernatural being that many get so excited about. No, this is about a song I really like: God Part II by U2.

A sequel must have an original, and the original is God, a track from John Lennon’s first post-Beatles album. It’s nowhere near as famous as Imagine or Give peace a chance, or as evocative as Working class hero, but upon release, God still attracted controversy. In it, Lennon declares his disbelief in magic, I-ching, Bible, Tarot, Hitler, Jesus, Kennedy, Buddha, Mantra, Gita, Yoga, Kings, Elvis, Zimmerman or Beatles. Instead, he said: I just believe in me. This statement would not have been out of place in the greedy eighties or the post-modern nineties, but in 1970, the lovey dovey sixties was still fresh, and many were still hoping for a Beatles reunion. Lennon of course courted far worse controversy with the Christians half a decade earlier when he said that the fab four were bigger than Jesus.

Bono wrote the sequel both as a tribute and reply to Lennon. Whereas the original repudiates every icon, the sequel is much more nuanced. The sequel asks whether there can be any virtue without the ability to choose evil. It points out how easy it is to make categorical statements denouncing forced entry and rape even though it is all too easy to be tempted. And while Lennon expresses his belief in self, Bono says he believes in love.

The lyrics and the history aside, the song is an important turning point for U2 stylistically. Appearing towards the end of Rattle and Hum, it is very different from the rest of the album. Instead of the blues-gospel-folk inspired tunes, this is much more like what would be in Achtung Baby and beyond. It has a ferocious tempo, beginning with perhaps the best drumming in Larry Mullen Jr’s career, with the guitar and bass following around the third verse, and about a minute into the song, the combination gives an electric effect, like a machine gun blazing away. And then just into the fourth minute, the song abruptly stops. And I am also going to stop here — you can get a much better appreciation of the song by listening to Bono than reading me.

Ps: I’d like to believe, even though I don’t see any reason to; but I do imagine.