"He's the type of person who'll hit you in the ass and get you going. It doesn't make you a lot of friends, but it's a great ability to have."
-- Adam, on Bono
U2 Lists: Top 10 Uses of Nature in U2 Songs
March 30, 2011
[Ed. note: This is the 24th in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
Lightning flashes across the sky
You'd think Bono was a meteorologist in a former life with all his talk of electrical storms and locust winds. Where other male songwriters may have chosen sexier metaphors, Bono and The Edge embraced the female form via Mother Nature, creating a plethora of references to the earth and its behaviors.
It wasn't until our grand Joshua Tree road trip of 2009 that I fully noticed how often nature themes are injected into U2's lyrics.
What follows are ten of the best uses of this practice, from the solemn to the spiritual.
Who's to say where the wind will take you
When Bono sang about the feeling that "it" was coming, he was referencing the death that was upon him as his father grew more ill with cancer. Flying kites with his daughters at the beach near their home was said to be the inspiration for the song, so naturally wind is the theme he chose to use throughout. "In summer I can taste the salt in the sea" carries the listener to that ocean of pain and then rescues the doubt with inspirational phrases such as "Life should be fragrant." Carpe diem all the way.
Are the leaves on the trees just living disguise
Even in their early days, the knack for nature was evident. In this song, Bono was metaphorically transforming U2's north Dublin neighborhood into a forest reminiscent of the book Lord of the Flies -- in fact that's where he found the title (it's a chapter heading). An impressive effort for someone so young.
When the night takes a deep breath and the daylight has no air
I like it when a time of day is assigned a human quality. And who hasn't felt like they've been swallowed by "the night" after a long evening of drinking? The song is after all about a hangover, and nature taking its course on the singer couldn't really have been better expressed. The scatter-o-light star-talk at the end just serves as a sparkling bonus.
You plant a demon seed
Though the song is steeped in political roots, few U2 hits mention nature as frequently as this one. Sky, for instance, is referenced 13 times. Wind and rain twice each. There are also locusts and fireflies and thorn bushes -- all of which pack the perfect poetic punch. Mother Nature can be the most unforgiving of foes, so it's no wonder the band chose to cleverly use her in one of their angriest rants.
The future needs a big kiss
The song explodes with action, drawing our attention to the sky right out of the gate. From there we're led to a darker place in the falling night, but the beat never lets us fall too low, as we're freed from the "dark dream." For such an electronic song, it has a very organic ground.
Two rivers run too deep, the seasons change
For a song that was hatched in a buzzing metropolis (New York City), it's clear its author was yearning to return to a more organic landscape. Bono is quoted as saying he was trying to convey "a sense of spirit trapped in a concrete jungle." Swimming against tides, wind blowing through hearts and souls, I'd say he accomplished his mission.
We run like a river to the sea, run to the sea
Written in remembrance of friend and crew member Greg Carroll, who was killed in a motorcycle accident before The Joshua Tree was recorded, this song explores the themes of the Maori burial Greg was given in his native New Zealand. One Tree Hill, of course, refers to the actual place, and the band used nature as its poetry to complete the story. "I'll see you again when the stars fall from the sky" remains one of the most beautiful moments of musical imagery in U2 history.
The wind will crack in wintertime
The "land grows weary of its own," indeed. In this landscape-laden meditation sparked by the phrase of a Jewish poet, Bono paints the portrait of someone on the edge of death, which thankfully leads to rebirth. With talk of city walls coming down and burning rain, it would be a very grim song if the melody weren't so contradictory and upbeat. The rescue of the subject in the end coming home affords the listener a well-deserved sigh of relief.
See the Bedouin fires at night
The entire song is about a glorious, perfect day, so how could the band have refrained from lacing the song with earthy references? Luckily, they didn't. They loaded it up with a giant dose of happy in the form of blooming hearts and warm sun, then threw in a bit of their signature vulnerability, thus resulting in a radio-friendly, relatable refrain. Pure salt-of-the-earth genius.
See the sun rise over her skin
With the "delta sun" burning "bright and violent" and floods of fears through "ghost-ranch hills," this song from 1987's Rattle And Hum may be the most nature-heavy tune of all. With much talk of "The Two Americas" around the time of this recording, it's clear U2 truly got to the core of one of them. The song is so powerful I've always pondered if Bono's wailing "In this heartland soil" really was meant to say "In this heartland soul."
(c) 2011, @U2/Kokkoris.