Culture and Society

In God’s Country

Larry Mullen’s snare drum rips a hole in the darkness and silence with that iconic march. The unmistakable metallic, rattling scream of The Edge crashes off the walls of the stadium and down over you—through you. Then above it all, the voice, that soulful Irish wail falls down from the heavens like a war cry.  

They open with Sunday Bloody Sunday; a song about the condemnation of the violence and bloodshed in their homeland. And for three hours, four men who started a band the year before I was born in country five thousand miles away, are alone, together in front of sixty thousand Americans, surrendering their art to us.

It’s more than just the music though. It’s a plea to whatever human parts are left of us to switch on, even for just a little, before we file back out into the lines and the traffic and the deader parts of life.

It’s a running scribe of poems of peace and humanity and opportunity and equality and pain and suffering and human life. It’s Naomi Shihab Nye’s Kindness scrolling up on an 80 foot screen.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

It’s the politics of pictures of refugees and Americans of every color, sex and age. The message is clear. We are the destination. America. We are the station at the end of 70,000 years of human journey. And there is a cost to closing the doors behind us when our train pulled in.

I didn’t come for the politics. I came because Joshua Tree was the first tape I ever bought with my own money. And when I had to go to my dad’s on weekends, and I had to wait at the boathouse in Philly for his practice to end before I could go home with him, I listened to it on loop. Beginning to end. For hours. It was perfect. No song needed be fast forwarded. I knew every inch of it, every word, every ripping chord The Edge hammered into me. When I went off to war, I played Bullet the Blue Sky to get my head in the right place before we went out the door when we went.

That record has been with me as long as music has.

When they came to my city, I went to see them. And when I left, my bucket list was one light. And my heart and my head were full of more than music. They were full of a reckoning. That where I’ve been and what I’ve seen and what I’ve done hasn’t been without cost. Whatever your politics are, that message is an inescapable truth.

And that’s the point of art.

Be wary of people who tell you that artists have no say in the material things of this world. They are the flesh and blood of our condition. They are here to remind us of the cost of our actions. They are the red side of the ledger, charged with the worthy task of bringing us something so beautiful that we can’t ignore it, something so human that it reminds us of what we are.

Flesh. Blood. Pain. Hunger. Love.

And kindness.

We are sentient beings. We don’t have to obey our artists. But when we stop listening to the humanity that comes with their art, we’re something less.

5 replies »

  1. Yes! a vivid description of experiencing their music, and what you draw from it is beautiful and profound. Thanks

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  2. I was hooked from the first time I heard the “War” album, when they were still albums. Joshua Tree is in my top 5 LPs of all time. They are worthy of anyone’s bucket list. And yes, art and politics do go hand and hand.

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  3. This may be one of your most perceptive essays. Reminds me of what Robert Graves would have said about the power of bards, long ago. Perhaps a civilization is in true decline when its members no longer care about art.

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  4. Sean, you are a gorgeous writer and I am so grateful for this piece, this truth, this naming of a thing so important to me. The fact that it comes from someone who has seen a very different kind of truth makes it all the more powerful. Thank-you.

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