"The vocal glides gracefully between recognizable language and fluent Bongolese -- semilinguistic scat forming temporary bridges over lyrical gaps."
-- Brian Eno
Like A Song: Until The End Of The World
January 12, 2013
[Ed. note: This is the 74th in a series of personal essays by the @U2 staff about songs and/or albums that have had great meaning or impact in our lives.]
Jesus ... this is Judas.
Bono's introduction to an alter ego is how he's often segued into the role of Judas Iscariot while performing “Until The End Of The World” onstage. I didn't get it at first. The Judas I was familiar with was Bob Dylan going electric during the Newport Folk Festival. As U2 were seen as the goody-goodies of rock 'n' roll before Achtung Baby, I thought that maybe this was Bono's way of referencing the arrival of irony to the band in 1991. Then I looked into it.
I'll preface this by saying that even though I have a deep love for music and make every effort to at least understand what is appealing about its many genres, I've never been into Christian music. It always struck me as a trend-hopping attempt to bring Jesus to the masses and turned me off. The obvious, unimaginative lyrics, clean-cut versions of the latest trends and vacant smiles frightened me more than a little bit. As much as I tried to listen to understand what others were getting from it, it always struck my ears as a sneaky attempt to trick confused teenagers into the church. It seemed like a dishonest means to an honorable end.
When I began looking beyond the surface meaning of U2's music, though, I began to see the Bible in the lyrics. Sometimes it was obvious, like “Jacob wrestled the angel/And the angel was overcome” from “Bullet The Blue Sky.”
And sometimes it was less obvious, like in the lyrics to "Until The End Of The World." For many years I believed it was simply a tale of betrayal between two lovers. Knowing about the conflict within the band when the song was recorded, as well as the conflict between The Edge and his wife, I imagined those emotions were the inspiration and nothing more.
It wasn't until later, after hearing the Judas introduction a few times, that I looked into the reference. There must be more to it than the Bob Dylan thing, right?
Now, I've been to church, but am not a churchgoer. I went to a Catholic high school, but am not a Catholic. I am familiar with stories from the Bible, but have never read it. The stories are part of the culture, but unlike with classic movies or books, I've resisted digging in to learn more because I was intimidated by the weight within and the risk of feeling like an imposter. I felt like I was interested for the wrong reasons.
But through U2's music, I felt a bridge from modern culture to the Bible. In Bono's lyrics, I find the common ground between what is and what has been. I see relevance — a window into a world of amazing stories and drama that never seemed interesting in Sunday school.
For instance, consider the tale of brotherhood, betrayal and repentance in “Until The End Of The World.”
Haven't seen you in quite a while
I was down the hold just passing time
Last time we met was a low-lit room
We were as close together as a bride and groom
We ate the food, we drank the wine
Everybody having a good time
You were talking about the end of the world
What sounded to me like a verse about a couple at a party where one wasn't having a very good time is the story of the Last Supper.
I took the money
I spiked your drink
You miss too much these days if you stop to think
You led me on with those innocent eyes
You know I love the element of surprise
In the garden I was playing the tart
I kissed your lips and broke your heart
You, you were acting like it was
The end of the world
Bono often sang this verse while wading into the crowd via ramps or stage extensions, toying with the audience as they reached out to touch the rock star. This is, in fact, Judas confessing his betrayal. He took the money from Caiaphas and identified Jesus to the arresting soldiers by kissing him. Jesus was betrayed, his heart was broken, and the world (as it was) was ending.
In my dream I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows, they learned to swim
Surrounding me, going down on me
Spilling over the brim
Waves of regret and waves of joy
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy
You, you said you'd wait
'Til the end of the world
The band gets quiet as Bono recounts the swirling emotions that lead Judas to the feet of Jesus. The highs and lows. The inescapable guilt. Finally, Judas reaches out to Jesus, having been directly responsible for his death. "You said you'd wait 'til the end of the world," Judas reminds him.
I love this: the abstract, open-ended telling of Judas' descent. Did Jesus forgive him in the end?
Love! Love! Love!
I believe he did. As Bono's revelatory declaration of that four-letter word over and over through the end of the song suggests, love (or the Lord) saves all.
In concert, Bono would sometimes bullfight with The Edge, his index fingers stuck over his head like horns while The Edge fought back with his guitar. Some believe that it was not Judas who betrayed Jesus, but the Devil in the body of Judas. In the onstage performance, I see The Edge using music and his guitar as a physical weapon to conquer the evil that is within Bono.
Love! Love! Love!
And while the battle between good and evil ensues onstage, with the lights flashing and drums crashing, Bono dismisses the pantomime and metaphor ...
It's just rock and roll!
(c) @U2/Cropp 2013