Lit & Lyric: Joshua Tree

Angela Pancella (

The act of "running to stand still" was first described in "Through the Looking-Glass," the sequel to "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll.

"One Tree Hill"--"In the world the heart of darkness"--the story "Heart of Darkness" is by Joseph Conrad.

Edge talks about the literary inspirations for "The Joshua Tree" in "U2 At the End of the World"--"Points of reference were the New Journalism, The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer, Raymond Carver..."

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For:

I have spoke with the tongue of angels...

1 Corinthians 13:1: "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal."

With or Without You:

See the thorn twist in your side...

2 Corinthians 12:7: "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me."

Bullet the Blue Sky

Jacob wrestled the angel/ And the angel was overcome...

Genesis 32:25: "Jacob was left there alone. Then some man wrestled with him until the break of dawn."

Trip Through Your Wires:

I was cold and you clothed me honey...

Matthew 25:35-36: "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me..."

One Tree Hill

You know his blood still cries from the ground...

Genesis 4:10--"[The murder of Abel by Cain] The LORD said, "What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground."

I'll see you again when the stars fall from the sky...--see note on Fire.

John Soltis (

The Flannery O'Connor short story "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" influenced "In God's Country".

Note: John doesn't go on and say how it influenced "In God's Country" and I haven't read any O'Connor so I can't add to this. BUT the title of the story reminds me of a line in "North and South of the River". "There's a saddness that's so alone/ The one you're hurting is your own/ When we're north and south of the river..."

Ellen Davis (

I know what John Soltis is talking about in the lyric section when he mentions "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" as inspiration for "In God's Country". I had to read that short story in 11th grade English class and did a little paper on the same connection :).

O'Connor (often called one of the Southern Gothic writers) typically wrote about the spiritual barrenness of modern American life, but in a fairly grotesque and hard-hitting way, with extreme characters and incidents of almost mindless violence. Her works don't operate on a moralistic level but as something deeper- almost everything is a type of symbol, overt or subliminal, that reinforces the power of the story. She frequently used nature images as representative of deeper spiritual truths, and not comforting ones at that. One of her continuing "themes" was the idea that the revelation of God's justice and grace is not sweet comfort to an individual but a terrifying, heart-stopping, mind-overwhelming, even sinister-seeming collision with reality.

In "The Life You Save May Be Your Own" a silver-tongued itinerant handyman, Tom Shiftlet, comes to the home of an old woman and her mentally retarded daughter. He plays on the mother's fears for her daughter's future by agreeing to marry the girl, only to abandon her at a truck stop a few miles down the road and drive off into the distance with the family's money. Tom Shiftlet is missing part of an arm, which provides the chief relationship between this and "In God's Country": at the beginning of the story, before approaching the house, he turns and inexplicably spreads his arms to the sunset, his body forming the figure of a "crooked cross" (as O'Connor puts it). He is the embodiment of the spiritual emptiness that leads to such actions...if he has the opportunity for redemption, he ignores it.

As Shiftlet drives off into the sunset, a thunderstorm gathering low on the horizon seems to pursue him, a reflection of God's wrath in the forces of creation. This reminds me of the lines "Thunder, thunder on the mountain/ There's a rain cloud in the desert sky" at the end of "Trip Through Your Wires", when the singer expresses the ambivalence and the ominous nature of his "rescuer". The "rescuer", as with many of the other "women" in U2 songs, could well be God, who brings comfort-- certainly-- but can just as well remove the stable ground from beneath one's feet, leaving one lost and terrified, "lips dry, throat like rust".

There's another story, "The Enduring Chill", the title of which should remind you of a line in "One Tree Hill". In it, a young man is convinced he is dying and prepares his entire being for this outcome, only to find that a "reprieve" has come and his disease is actually not fatal. He has spent his sickness lying on his back in bed looking at a series of cracks in the ceiling that seem to form a bird made of icicles. The last paragraph of the story, when the young man realizes that he has no idea how to deal with the new lease on life granted to him, expresses the idea of his terror before the unyielding grace of God:

The old life in him was exhausted. He awaited the coming of new. It was then that he felt the beginning of a chill, a chill so peculiar, so light, that it was like a warm ripple across the deeper sea of cold. His breath came short. The fierce bird which through the years of his childhood and the days of his illness had been poised over his head, waiting mysteriously, appeared all at once to be in motion. Asbury blanched and the last film of illusion was torn as if by a whirlwind from his eyes. He saw that for the rest of his days, frail, racked, but enduring, he would live in the face of a purifying terror. A feeble cry, a last impossible protest escaped him. But the Holy Ghost, emblazoned in ice instead of fire, continued, implacable, to descend.

Bono et al. said that O'Connor was a chief inspiration for the Joshua Tree album...they even thanked her in their Grammy acceptance speech.

Here's a good link to check out (and the source for some of these quotes, which I couldn't remember off the top of my head):

Rose (

Due to reader interest, I'll include this on Victor Jara, a Chilean singer/ songwriter named in "One Tree Hill". He didn't write books, but his work is obviously admired by Bono and U2. He stood for human rights and political justice. Though the songs are in SPANISH (Chile... duh!), I didn't say I didn't like languages for no reason. I've included a transcription of a song plus what I've understood out of it. PLUS, a translation, albeit I'm not a poet and I'm not fluent in Spanish so bear with me.

La plegaria a un labrador/ Prayer to a Worker

Levántate y mira la montaña
de donde viene
el viento, el sol y el agua
tu que manejas el curso de los rios
tu que sembraste el vuelo de tu alma.
Levántate y mírate las manos
para crecer estrachala a tu hermano.
Juntos iremos unidos en la sangre
hoy es el tiempo
que puede ser mañana.
Líbranos de aquel que nos domina
en la miseria.
Tráenos tu reino de justicia
e igualdad.
Sopla como el viento la flor
de la quebrada.
Limpia como el fuego
el cañón de mi fusil.
Hágase por fin tu voluntad
aquí en la tierra.
Danos tu fuerza y tu valor
al combatir.
Sopla como el viento la flor
de la quebrada.
Limpia como el fuego
el cañón de mi fusil.
Levántate y mírate las manos
para crecer estrachala a tu hermano.
Juntos iremos unidos en la sangre
ahora y en la hora de nuestra muerte
Amen, Amen, Amen.

Get up and look at the mountain, from where comes the wind, the sun , and the water.
You who controls the course of the rivers. You who planted the flight of your soul.
Get up and look at your hands
Reach them out to your brother so you can grow.
Together, united we will go in blood
Now is the time that could be tomorrow.
Save us from he who dominates us in misery.
Bring us your kingdom of justice and equality.
Blow like the wind the flowers of the cliff (?).
Clean like fire the barrel of my gun.
May your will be done at last here on earth.
Give us your strength and your courage in the fight.
Blow away, like the wind, the flowers of the cliff.
Clean like fire the barrel of my gun.
Get up and look at your hands
Reach out to your brother so you can grow.
Together, united we will go in blood
Now and in the hour of our death
Amen, Amen, Amen...

This song bears a strinking resemblance to the "Our Father" prayer. Apparently, it also won a prize at the first New Song contest/ festival. It's about the people of Chile, especially the common people, and their fight for civil rights. I'm not familiar with Chilean history (I'm just another victim of the American school system) so can't tell ya much else, but I'm sure you can find out much more if you're interested.

You can also buy Victor Jara CDs (remember he's a SINGER, people, not an author in the strictest sense) by doing a search at CDnow or Amazon.

There. I've said my piece on Victor Jara. Happy now both of you that wrote me about this? If anyone speaks fluent Spanish out there, feel free to correct me. I'm sure I messed tons of it up. I hope it's apparent why Bono holds him in high esteem.

Mary (

The Executioner's Song/ Norman Mailer: The influence, I think, is on "Exit" directly. Norman Mailer was part of the 1960s New Journalism movement, a term coined by the venerable Tom Wolfe ("Bonfire of the Vanities"). New Journalism was an approach to real life events through fiction. "Executioner's Song" is the account of actual people and murders and such, but fictionalized. Mailer doesn't just give the facts. He posits how people felt, what their underlying motivations were, etc., to create almost a sensationalistic account really. In "Exit," then, we're presented with a murderer (?) and his intense emotions, much like Norman Mailer had achieved in his book. There were many other practitioners of this literary approach to current events besides Wolfe and Mailer: Joan Didion, Hunter S. Thompson, Joe McGinniss, Truman Capote, Gay Talese, Garry Wills.

The Brothers Karamazov/ Fyodor Dostoevsky: I read this last year, and I remember something sticking out as an obvious influence on Bono's lyrics. Unfortunately, I didn't write it down, but I can try and find it for you if you like.

The line "don't let the bastards grind you down" can be found in The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Whether or not this is where Bono took it from is unknown to me.

"Looking for the face I had before the world was made" is a Gnostic concept of existence. The line itself can be found in a book by Harold Bloom on Gnosticism. I will try to get an exact reference for this one also, if you're interested.

Note: For those interested in learning more about this "new journalism" or "literary journalism", there's a good compilation book out there called The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism with Kevin Kerrane and Ben Yagoda as editors. I picked it up at Tower Books one sunny day.

Brianne Karabetsos (

I had previously read on your site that Edge cited Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song as an influence for The Joshua Tree. I happen to be reading the book right now, so that comment piqued my interest. I'm not sure that The Edge was referring to specific passages, but this one caught my eye: "This dog started crying. It sounded like a man crying his heart out." Of course, this reminds me of "A dog started crying like a broken hearted man" from "Exit". Coincidence? I'm not sure...

Haki (

1st Corinthians, 14:12 (KJV) has already been cited as inspiration for "If God Will Send His Angels" and Skipper's mini-essay on that song is excellent. This note is just to point out that Bono has referenced these lines before - very directly in fact.

The scripture:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Compare to "In God's Country":

She is liberty
And she comes to rescue me
Hope, faith, her vanity
The greatest gift is gold

Bono corrupts the lines and assigns the twisted images to the uber-patriotic symbol of America, The Statue of Liberty. Ego-centered (and here false anyway) "hope" supersedes the more selfless value and faith; charity (love) becomes vanity and gold, manifestations of selfishness and greed.

It's also worthwhile to note the echoes of Eliot's The Waste Land at the beginning and end of this one, with the land bereft of water (spiritual energy) and the hero reborn after a death by fire

"Rivers run but soon run dry......burn by the fire of love, burned by the fire of love."

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