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The 411 on U2’s 5589: Mystery Solved

@U2, March 11, 2017
By: Scott Calhoun


Because all U2 fans can at least agree on The Joshua Tree (right?), we all geeked out when U2 announced on Christmas Day 2016 that they had planned some “special shows” to honor the album’s 30th anniversary in 2017. Then we geeked out again soon after New Year’s day, when U2 announced their tour plans and posted a short promotional video, featuring old clips shot by Anton Corbijn. But then, for many fans the geeking out went to a whole new level. In a word, it got elevated.

For a split-second at the start of the video, the number 5589 appeared right before the iconic bass line of “With Or Without You” began over the equally iconic scenes of U2 in Death Valley, California.

What was that? What’s 5589? Why is it there? What’s U2 trying to tell us? It looked intentional. It looked like it was finger-painted with fire across the pitch-black sky of night. It couldn’t be accidental. Fans started guessing, and some of the theorizing, especially over at, would have certainly intrigued Sherlock Holmes. Is it an address? A password? Perhaps a Kickstarter campaign number for fans to help fund a speedier finish for Songs Of Experience.

It's none of the above. In fact, it's nothing meant to tell fans anything.

“There’s no particular significance. It’s just a bit of film leader that came back from the lab attached to Anton's Super 8 film rushes,” U2’s publicist told me.

That 5589 signifies nothing as far as a message from U2 was both a thrilling and anti-climactic end to a numerological journey I began all because I have been trained by U2 themselves to think they are hyper-intentional about most everything they show us. All the album art and touring stagecraft aren't accidental, of course, but there is a history, too, of sending fans extra messages both veiled and not-so-veiled. Like Edge’s shirts on the Elevation tour, for example. Or pages from great works of literature and the Bible falling from the sky as bomb-blast “debris” on the Innocence + Experience tour. And, maybe most obviously, the changing of the departure gate numbers at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport to read J33-3 for the All That You Can’t Leave Behind cover. (Perhaps less obviously, Bono picked 3:33 as the time when the “numbers fell off the clock face” in “Unknown Caller.”) I could go on ….
When I asked Steve Averill, U2’s long-time graphic artist, if he knew what 5589 meant, my guess was it referred to Isaiah 55:8-9, as it seemed like the best Biblical reference to match the themes I was getting from U2 all through the 1980s: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.”

Averill said J33-3 does refer to Jeremiah 33:3 (“Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known"), but he was never directed to place 5589 on anything. He didn’t think it had a biblical connection.

We checked next with Shaughn McGrath, who has also designed a lot of U2’s album and product art over the years. “We’ve not put 5589 deliberately into any U2 projects,” he said, adding that it must have been coincidental that the numbers appear in the stamping on some records issued for a U.S. club in the late 1980s.

Both Averill and McGrath concluded the numbers at the beginning of the video must have come from the location-shot film and were for referencing the film itself. speculated this as one of its theories, and it turns out, with confirmation from U2’s publicist, that this was spot on.

Why wasn’t it cut from the new video? To mess with us? Perhaps. But my deduction brings me to a more elementary answer: Thirty years on, U2 will still do something just because it looks cool.

(c) @U2/Calhoun, 2017

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