Lit & Lyric: Et Cetera

Ian Doreian:

One of best songs off the Achtung Baby tapes, and a single from "One," Lady with the Spinning Head shows U2 at their hardest, ripping into the song with full force. But what does it all mean?

On page 14 of Charles Bukowski's "Hollywood" it reads:

On the table he had a little roulette wheel, electrically controlled, it was set off whirling with the push of a button. He had stacks of chips and a long sheet of paper full of calculations. There was also a betting board. He placed the chips, pushed the button, said, 'It is my Lady with the Spinning Head. I am in Love' Jon came out with the drinks.

Now, this does not give the "meaning" for the song, but as an English teacher I hesitate doing this with any text...

This clear allusion to Bukowski permits a clearer understanding of the conceit Bono uses in the song. The extended metaphor of luck/providence/fate to a woman uses the line from Bukowski as a starting point. Since it is a comparison, the images in the song describe both a woman and the roulette wheel/gambling.

Here she comes
Lady luck again
Figure of eight
Six and nine again

As many people have pointed out, the six and nine form the eight when placed together, a symbol of infinity, and a sexual conjoining between man and woman. These are also numbers from the roulette wheel, an image furthered by the colors mentioned in the lines "She's got the red/She put me in the black." Luck, like a lady or a gambler's bet, comes and goes, hopefully forming the 8 mentioned at the end of the song.

Given Bono's penchant for Bukowski, dedicating "Dirty Days" to him, and the subject matter of the novel, a writer drinks his way through selling out to Hollywood by writing a screen play, I think the interpretation works quite well.

I hope this was not too long, or too much like literature class.

Angela Pancella (

A Celebration:

I believe in the walls of Jericho/ I believe they're coming down...

Joshua 6:20: "When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city."

Alex Descends Into Hell For a Bottle of Milk:

Dies irae, dies illa/ Dies irae, dies illa/ Tuba mirum spargens sonum (on the day of wrath, that day, the trumpet's wondrous call)

"In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed."

Slide Away:

But you tore a hole in space like a dark star falls from grace...

Luke 10:18: "Jesus said, 'I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky.'" ('Lucifer' is the name once given to Venus, the morning star)

Elvis Ate America:

Reading Corinthians 13...

That's the "Love is patient, love is kind" chapter that is so popular at weddings.

Jay Skipper:

"Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me"

"The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn." - Martin Luther

"The devil . . . the prowde spirite . . . cannot endure to be mocked." - Thomas More

These two quotes preface C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, in which Screwtape, a senior devil, instructs his apprentice nephew, Wormwood, on the most effective approach to procure the soul of an earthly human for Satan's consumption. The similarity between these quotes from the preface of The Screwtape Letters and one of the themes of U2's ground-breaking ZooTV tour ("Mock the devil and he will flee from thee") is apparent in Bono's often misunderstood role as the satanic Mr. MacPhisto (a variation on Mephistopheles from "Faust") for the concert's encore. In The Screwtape Letters, two devils are the unlikely source for religious revelation in their diabolical correspondence; in ZooTV the devil assumes the role of a rock star to reveal truth and religion in the lyrics of rock songs. Once C.S. Lewis' influence is analyzed, the theme of "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" is revealed: Despite the inherent excesses and contradictions, rock 'n ' roll is the perfect medium for religion (whether the fans realize they are imbibing religious principles or not!).

The title "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" refers to the stereotypical cyclical relationship between rock star and fan of adoration, elation, obsession, and finally condemnation. The majority of the song examines the many excesses ("You don't know how you took it / You just know what you got... In the headlights/ Of a stretch car/ You're a star... Dressing like your sister/ Living like a tart... You're a headache in a suitcase/ You're a star") and contradictions ("Oh Lordy you've been stealing from the thieves and you got caught... They don't know what you're doing/ Babe, it must be art... Believing in yourself almost as much as you doubt/ You're a big smash/ You wear it like a rash") inherent in the life of a rock star.

The final and most crucial stanza reflects on the dangerous propensity of fans to anoint a rock star as the savior and then crucify him (a commercial metaphor is used to heighten the irony) when they realize he cannot bring salvation: "They want you to be Jesus/ They'll go down on one knee/ But they'll want their money back/ If you're alive at thirty-three." However, the rock star is still "turning tricks" with "[his] crucifix" by weaving religious context into the very structure of his songs. The concept of subtle religious revelation observed when comparing The Screwtape Letters with "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me" is essential to understanding U2's music in the 90's (see Edge's quotes about U2 singing about the same themes but being better at disguising them now and Bono's quotes about discovering irony).

Note: In the HMTMKMKM video, the Bono cartoon is reading "The Screwtape Letters" when he gets hit by the car. Be sure and pick that detail up from the video.

Kathryn Geottl (

This might be pretty obvious, but "Salome" parallels Oscar Wilde's play by the same name. Imagine the song is from Herod's point of view. Here's how some of the lines relate to the play, roughly.

Baby don't bite your lip

Salome was hesitant to do the dance of the seven veils for her stepfather, because it's pretty strange stripping down naked in front of your mother's husband. I think.

Give you half what I got
If you untie the knot
It's a promise

Herod took an oath to give Salome anything in the world if she would dance for him, even half his kingdom. 'Untie the knot' would refer to her clothes.

Shake it shake it shake it Salome
Shake it shake it shake it Salome
Salome...shake it shake it shake it

The chorus is song in a pleading, whiny voice, rather pathetic really. The Dance of the Seven Veils is a sort of belly dance, hence the whole shake it thing.

Don't make me stick to my promise

After she finishes dancing, Salome demands the head of the prophet. Herod naturally backs down, and pleads with her to request something different.

Baby please
Baby don't say no
Won't you dance for me
Under the cherry tree
Won't you swing down low

Originally, Salome refused to dance for Herod, so he began to beg. There was, I believe, some sort of orchard or something adjacent to the courtyard in which the play takes place.

Baby please say yes
Baby don't go away
You're spilling me
And your precious love

This verse mirrors the previous one.

Karen Simpson (

Prompted by the Wire discussion of a W.B. Yeats poem being an inspiration for the lyrics of 'Bad' - my favourite song ever - I got a Yeats anthology out of the library, and look what I found there:


Down by the salley gardens my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish, with her would not agree.

In a field by a river my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.

I don't suppose I need to point out the similarity to "My Wild Irish Rose".

Rose (


In a field by a river
my love and I did lie.
And on my naked shoulder
she too proud to cry.
She said that I must leave her
An icy tear she froze.
How could I melt the heart
of a wild Irish rose?

Well, a gypsy she has made of me,
a servant of the street
From bed to bed I've travelled to taste a love as sweet.
Well, the heart it knows no reasons and reason never knows
As I lie with them and think of
a wild Irish rose.

(3rd verse - unintelligible due to Bono talking all over it)

Well I saw the city of angels
it brought a devil out of me.
In Hell's hotel on Sunset
showed a whore no mercy.
As the orange sky was screaming
from the roof I let her go.
These are the dizzy heights that brought me
my wild Irish rose.

Now, red is the rose
that she laid on my grave.
A life was all she wanted
and a life I surely gave
Like a hundred men before me
they lay lying here in rows.
Young men, bloody
as a wild Irish rose.

Jay Skipper:

"The Ground Beneath Her Feet"

The lyrics for this song were written by Salman Rushdie in his 1999 novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet and relate the mythological story of Orpheus and Eurydice:

All my life I worshipped her
Her golden voice, her beauty's beat
How she made us feel how she made me real
And the ground beneath her feet

"The new-wed bride, roaming with her gay naiads through the grass, fell dying when a serpent struck her heel" (Ovid's Metamorphoses X. 9-11)

And now I can't be sure of anything
Black is white and cold is heat
For what I worshipped stole my love away
It was the ground beneath her feet

"And when the bard of Rhodope had mourned his fill in the wide world above, he dared descend through Taenarus' dark gate . . . He came to pale Persephone and him, Lord of the Shades . . . And as he struck his lyre's sad chords he said:. . . 'Reweave, I implore, the fate unwound too fast of my Eurydice . . . She too, when ripening years reach their due term, shall own your rule. The favor that I ask is but to enjoy her love; and, if the Fates will not reprieve her, my resolve is clear not to return; may two deaths give you cheer'" (Ovid's Metamorphoses X. 12-41)

Go lightly down your darkened way
Go lightly underground
I'll be down there in another day
I won't rest until you're found

"and Orpheus took his bride And with her this compact that, till he reach the world above and leave Avernus' vale, he look not back or else the gift would fail" (Ovid's Metamorphoses X. 54-57)

Let me love you let me rescue you
Let me bring you where two roads meet
I'll come back above where there is only love

"The track climbed upward, steep and indistinct, through the hushed silence and the murky gloom; and now they neared the edge of the bright world, And, fearing lest she faint, longing to look, He turned his eyes - and straight she slipped away. He stretched his arms to hold her - to be held - And clasped, poor soul, naught but the yielding air. And she, dying again, made no complaint (For what complaint had she save she was loved?) And breathed a faint farewell, and turned again, Back to the land of spirits whence she came" (Ovid's Metamorphoses X. 58-63)

There are many sources for this myth. I just thought Metamorphoses was the most poetic.

Rose (

Ancient Greek stories say Orpheus was a musician. He played the lyre and everyone loved him. He went from town to town playing and singing. He was the best. It was said even the trees and animals would make circles around him as he sang in the country. He played so many towns and villages in Greece and every time the people were different but he began to see one face over and over. The same face. At first, he didn't pay much attention to it, but then she began to appear even where there were just trees and animals. One day, he asked her name. Eurydice.

He married her and they were so happy, he was rarely seen in the towns and villages again as he couldn't bear to be away from her. Rumors started, as they always will, that Orpheus had married an enchantress. Others said he was under the power of a witch that made him play for her alone. Eventually, these rumors came to a prince or a king. I forget his name or station. He wanted to see for himself who this enchantress was, so he camped outside their house in the woods until one morning she came out to bathe in the river. He chased her and she ran away and in running, she stepped in a nest of snakes. They bit her and she was dead before she fell.

Orpheus came looking for her later and found her dead in the grass. It wasn't right. She couldn't be dead. So he went to Hades, to the Underworld. Because of his song, he convinced the oarsman of the river Styx that would not allow living man through to take him to the other side. Because of his music, the hound at the gate of the Underworld that would have torn him to bits, Cerebrus, didn't touch him. And he came to Hades and his kidnapped Persephone. He asked for Eurydice. Hades said no, so Orpheus unslung his lyre and sang. Persephone began to cry. Even Hades was moved. The Kindly Ones, the harpies, begged the God of the Underworld to just this once break his rule and let the girl go. Let the minstrel have her. Just this once. So Hades said he could have Eurydice back, but on one condition. That the shade of his wife would follow him to the light above, and once in the open air, she would be his again. Alive how he wanted her. BUT he was not to look back at her as they walked back up to the light. If he even so much as glanced back on the way up before they were out of the Underworld, she would be lost to him forever and don't even think about coming back! So Orpheus agreed, and playing his harp he left. He thought he heard her walking behind him, but he couldn't be sure. Had Hades fooled him? Told him what he wanted to hear just to make him leave? Almost at the top, he couldn't bear it anymore and took a peek back. There she was. Eurydice like he remembered her. She smiled at him. He reached out his hand to pull her into the light, but her hand became smoke and the rest of her evaporated and a wind blew her back down to Hades. My oh my.

Just a clarification to those who have never heard this before...

Rose (

This is turning into William Butler Yeats worship, but here's another one. I have a clip s RealMedia of Bono reciting a poem called "Mother of God". It's a Yeats and here's the poem in its entireity.


The three-fold terror of love; a fallen flare
Through the hollow of an ear;
Wings beating about the room;
The terror of all terrors that I bore
The Heavens in my womb.

Had I not found content among the shows
Every common woman knows.
Chimney corner, garden walk,
Or rocky cistern where we tread the clothes
And gather all the talk?

What is this flesh I purchased with my pains,
This fallen stars my milk sustains,
This love that makes my heart's blood stop
Or strikes a sudden chill into my bones
And bids my hair stand up?

Mary (

The Dostoyevsky connection is with "Your Blue Room," if I remember correctly. I've got to find the exact passages, but in one particular chapter a character goes on and on about the blue room in a woman's house. At the time I thought it was merely coincidence, but since you mention on your site that Bono recommended the book to someone, it may have had the resonance with him that I had suspected initially. I'll try and find some quotes for you, but you may want to read the powerful "Grand Inquisitor" chapter yourself. In it, one Karamazov, Ivan, tells his brother, Alyosha, a tale of Jesus returning to earth only to be condemned to die by the church. Whether or not this had an effect on any lyrics I have yet to determine, but the language of that chapter is just incredible.

Now, here's the "looking for the face I had before the world began" stuff: From Harold Bloom's Omens of Millennium: The Gnosis of Angels, Dreams, and Resurrection, p. 237:

Gnosticism, already existent among pre-Christian Jews, naturally became one of the earliest forms of Christianity, and competed with the burgeoning Church of the first two Christian centuries, after which it was politically defeated and so cast out as heresy. The credo I am preaching upon as my text is a second-century C.E. version of the doctrine of the great Christian Gnostic Valentinus, certainly the most powerful writer among the ancient Gnostics. But now I am going to abandon history, except for occasional moments of clarification, as they become necessary. In the first place, the Gnosis makes us free because it is the knowledge of who we were, before that priestly Creation that was actually our Fall from divinity into division and splintering. Who were we, when we were our original selves? What were our faces, before the world was made? What was our power of being, our condition of consciousness, our relation to life? The Gnosis, for two thousand years now, has been a knowledge pragmatically available only to an elite, to those who are initiated, and who are capable of so large a knowing. But the true knowledge of who we were embraces far more than an elite: it returns us to a universal entity that contained all men and all women. We were, all of us, of a double nature, God and Man, with a reciprocity moving between both aspects. Self-knowledge and knowledge of God were in harmony, and none of this was theoretical, but was experiential.

Now, of course, it is only speculation if Bono took is wording from this passage. It's a simple enough concept that he could have come up with it on his own, but who knows? For some time, for example, I thought he took his "God-shaped hole" idea from Sartre who used that phrase. But I know that Yeats (?) also uses the phrase, so everything is merely speculation.

A few others have come to mind about influences: Dante's Divine Comedy which reflects the Orpheus myth which reflects the story of Lot ("Don't turn around..."); Goethe's Faust for Mephisto, of course; Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus (the same concept as every other Faust story but set in pre-war Germany. Considering that U2 were holed up in Berlin during the recording of Achtung Baby and have cited Gunter Grass, Leni Reifensthal (sp?), and the movie "Cabaret," I don't think it's far-fetched that this version of the Faust story would have been read.)

Note: For those interested, here's a link to an online version of The Brothers Karamazov chapter "The Grand Inquisitor". If you don't want to read the whole book (weighs in at about 800 pages), at least read this one chapter.

Rob Wanenchak (

Two lines from Bono's "Wild Irish Rose" are similar to something that Blaise Pascal wrote in his Pensees Section IV, (277):

The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things. I say that the heart naturally loves the Universal Being, and also itself naturally, according as it gives itself to them; and it hardens itself against one or the other at its will. You have rejected the one and kept the other. Is it by reason that you love yourself?

Compare that to Bono's lyrics: "Well the heart it knows no reasons And reason never knows..." (For the full text of "Wild Irish Rose" scroll up.)

Is this close enough, do you think? Pascal says that the heart has reasons, while Bono says that the heart doesn't have reasons. The second half of the line is the same...perhaps the first part is the same but lost in translation from French somehow?

Beth+ (

Pascal was a philosopher and a mathemetician, one of the world's great intellects. He also, however, was involved in an intense Christian sect called the Jansenists, who stressed the power of grace and the need for experiencing God personally -- not, perhaps, so unlike the Shalom group which influenced Bono early on. Pascal had a dramatic and emotional mystical experience which he recorded as a meeting with the "GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob, not of the philosophers and of the learned. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace."

In his (unfinished) Pensees, from which the quote is taken, Pascal was beginning to make notes for a defense of Christianity along Jansenist lines, and he includes reflections on the limits of rationality in dealing with the Divine. The heart, emotion, instinct, is sometimes a better guide than even the best intellect, he says.

So when Bono writes: Well, the heart it knows no reasons
and reason never knows
As I lie with them and think of
a wild Irish rose. boils down to almost exactly the same point as Pascal makes, except that sex is conflated with God (not unusual for U2.)

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