Space Between Places – An Interview With Artist Morleigh Steinberg

“I kind of pushed him to do it.”

Morleigh Steinberg is in the midst of producing the first public showing of her husband’s series of desert photographs. “I just said to him, ‘You really gotta do something with this. People should see this. I think it’s important. And with the closure of the tour, now is the time to do it.’”

Preparation for the opening of “The Joshua Tree – Photographs by The Edge” at Arcane Space in Venice, California. Image originally posted by @arcane.space on Instagram used by permission. © 2017 Arcane Space, all rights reserved.

Perhaps I should mention that Morleigh’s husband is The Edge, U2’s revered lead guitarist and atmospheric sound architect.

Back in 1986, when the Irish rock band visited California’s Death Valley and Mojave Desert to shoot images for the cover of their upcoming album, The Joshua Tree, U2 photographer, Anton Corbjin, wasn’t the only one taking pictures. The Edge took up his own camera to capture the desert as he saw it.

“I think he’s got a really good eye.”

With a quiet enthusiasm that projects genuine confidence in her family’s artistic competence, Morleigh also can’t help but sound like her husband’s biggest fan.

“I think he’s got a really good eye. And it’s photography, so I said, ‘Let’s just do this.’”

Arcane Space in Venice, California. © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Morleigh is co-owner of Arcane Space (along with singer & artist Frally Hynes), a bodega studio a couple blocks from Venice Beach in Venice, California. When we first met, I asked her about her “gallery” and she politely corrected me.

“It’s not so much a gallery as it is a space,” she mused.

That caught my attention. As a spatial storyteller with Storyland Studios, I’m fascinated by the ways people use space to express something of meaning or significance. Whether in cathedrals, office cubicles, or amusement parks, creative people are able to transform space to express something about themselves and the way they see the world. So I had to go see Arcane Space for myself.

“I think a gallery is very defined,” Morleigh later explained. “There’s a certain structure that a gallery has to set up to present artists. But we’re still trying to find out what this is and how it’s gonna work. And it feels so free. Space can be so many things.”

Arcane Space in Venice, California. Image originally posted by @arcane.space on Instagram used by permission. © 2017 Arcane Space, all rights reserved.

The entire gallery… er, space is surprisingly small and painted stark white, from the floor to the ceiling. It gives one the impression of a blank page or canvas to be used freely for artistic expression.

“We want it to be a place where we can share,” Morleigh said, “that we can express what’s going on in our lives and what’s going on in other artists’ lives. And give them an opportunity to present work, or make work, or explore work, or push work, but not in a defined gallery. But just in the space.”

Opening of Arcane Space in Venice, California. Image originally posted by @cyanmogi on Instagram used by permission. © 2017 Morleigh Steinberg, all rights reserved.

Like a brand new journal or drawing pad, starting with a blank space fills a creative heart like Morleigh’s with a churning sense of potential and curiosity.

“How do you occupy space? How do you change space? And how does that make you feel? And how does it make other people feel? That’s more my curiosity. So that’s where Arcane Space came from.”

Lines In The Sky

Power lines in Venice Beach. Image originally posted by @cyanmogi on Instagram used by permission. © 2017 Morleigh Steinberg, all rights reserved.

Arcane Space’s first installation was a collection of Morleigh’s own photographs entitled “LA Sky Lines.”

Each piece featured the blue, California sky criss-crossed with telephone wires and poles, double-exposed for a disorienting kaleidoscopic effect. In most shots, the illusion confuses the eye with lines that converge in reflective patterns and unnatural vanishing points.

Some look like reflections on water, and others recall the arches and gables of a transparent greenhouse roof.

LA powerlines and palm trees. Image originally posted by @cyanmogi on Instagram used by permission. © 2017 Morleigh Steinberg, all rights reserved.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the connections that these wires make above our heads. We live in this very detached society. There’s something so tangible and so real about these wires going from pole to pole to pole to pole.”

And person to person.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the connections that these wires make above our heads.”

As I viewed the pieces myself, I recalled a childhood memory. Riding in the backseat of my parents’ car as we travelled through the San Joaquin Valley, I watched the wires and poles pass by in rhythmic waves. I remember being enchanted by the idea that there are people on either end of these wires, with miles of space between them, and they’re talking to one another.

“It’s really about the infrastructure between the sky and all these lines and wires that are connected above our heads,” she said. “I find it really delightful and very reassuring.”

True to her intention to allow the space to guide the work created there, the photographs weren’t hung on the walls. They were on the floor, leaned against the wall to create a sort of blue baseboard that follows the walls’ hard angles wherever they may lead.

“I was really looking at the whole space, and my images, and how I would use them, and that was the way they ended up. On the floor.”

Morleigh Steinberg making use of space at Arcane Space in Venice Beach, California. Image originally posted by @cyanmogi on Instagram used by permission. Copyright © 2017 Morleigh Steinberg, all rights reserved.

This unusual arrangement allowed visitors to view the images, not as individual pieces, but as part of a larger complete work. The space itself had become the work of art.

“There’s purity in putting a picture on the wall. But you never just put a picture on a wall, do you? You always put a picture up in the relationship it has to the rest of the space.”

The Space Between Places

Sculpture at LACMA in Los Angeles. Image originally posted by @skipperfreddy on Instagram. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Morleigh’s perspective on space and our relationship with it springs from a lifetime of movement. As a lifelong dancer and choreographer, movement within space is what defines the artform she loves most.

She also grew up in Los Angeles, which, due to its never-ending sprawl connected like power lines through its notorious freeway system, forces its inhabitants to leave one defined space and move to another if they want to experience everything the city has to offer.

“There are several places in LA that are so unique, but you’re going to have to drive to them. You’re going to have to get in the car to go to them.”

Circle walk at Dos Lagos in Corona, California. Image originally posted by @skipperfreddy on Instagram. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Morleigh’s parents were people on the move with a passion for exposing their kids to experiences througout the city. Morleigh developed a keen interest in both the destination and the space between places.

“And I got it. I didn’t mind going from place to place to discover.”

“I lived in New York for a time and there you don’t have to drive to experience a lot of different things. Here there’s always somewhere to go. That comforts me more than having the same places within reach all the time.”

“I think how we make space and interact with space has an effect on our positivity, on our outlook, on the whole human experience.”

New Orleans Square at Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Image originally posted by @skipperfreddy on Instagram. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

One Southern California place she rediscovered for herself recently was Disneyland. Walt Disney’s cartoon kingdom in Anaheim might not be the first place an artist thinks of when seeking authenticity and genuine inspiration, but Morleigh went into the experience with eyes wide open.

“I was so impressed by it. I was really impressed by the landscaping, all California drought tolerant. But then in Tomorrowland, the landscaping was all vegetables, like kale, and chard, and herbs and it was quite remarkable and I was like, ‘Right on!’”

“Then, going into the haunted house, all the things that held the chains they were all these beautiful kind of patinaed bats. And they were real! They weren’t like plastic fake stuff. They were real materials.”

Brass bat stanchion in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. Photo provided courtesy of Todd Young Photography ©2017 Todd Young Photography, all rights reserved.

While Morleigh seemed genuinely surprised at the authenticity achieved in Disneyland’s fantasy worlds, she agreed wholeheartedly with the premise that creating space for people to respond to produces genuine emotional results.

“I think how we make space and interact with space has an effect on our positivity, on our outlook, on the whole human experience.”

Outside, It’s America

Flyer for “The Joshua Tree – Photographs by The Edge” taken from arcanespacela.com, used with permission. Copyright © 2017 Arcane Space, all rights reserved.

At the time of this writing, Morleigh is putting the finishing touches on Arcane Space’s newest installation; The Joshua Tree – Photographs by The Edge.

To music fans around the world, the photography for U2’s fifth studio album, The Joshua Tree, is widely considered the most iconic and beautifully integrated album art of all time. In many ways the photographs on the record sleeve created a unique space for the music to inhabit.

“The desert was immensely inspirational to us as a mental image for this record,” U2 bassist, Adam Clayton, told Hot Press magazine at the time of the album’s release. “Most people would take the desert on face value and think it’s some kind of barren place, which of course is true. But, in the right frame of mind it’s also a very positive image, because you can actually do something with a blank canvas, which is effectively what the desert is.”

“So let’s kind of catch the end of this magnificent tour and commemoration to that album, which meant a lot to a lot of people.”

The Edge in the California desert pictured on the 12″ single for “With Or Without You” from the album “The Joshua Tree” by U2. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

Morleigh recognized that an opportunity to display never-before-seen images of the same brilliant landscapes captured by of one of the band members would be unique and intriguing for many people. And the timing isn’t bad either. The band just finished a worldwide tour celebrating the album’s 30th anniversary.

Co-owners of Arcane Space, Morleigh Steinberg and Frally Hynes, at the opening of The Joshua Tree – Photos by The Edge. Photo courtesy of Scott Fifer, Founder of the Go Campaign, used with permission. © 2017 Scott Fifer, all rights reserved.

“It doesn’t make sense to do it 6 months from now,” said Morleigh. “That would feel like going back, you know? So let’s kind of catch the end of this magnificent tour and commemoration to that album, which meant a lot to a lot of people.”

With the confidence of a woman at the vanguard of creative exploration for her family, Morleigh convinced her husband to do the unexpected, to use the space to explore and share his own story. ”Let’s not make this about the band. Let’s make it about the landscape. And the landscape that you saw at that time.”

The Joshua Tree – Photographs by The Edge runs from November 22-December 17, 2017. 100% of the proceeds from sales supports the Go Campaign, which funds grass roots organizations that serve children and youth around the world.

Arcane Space is the collaborative effort of Morleigh Steinberg and singer/artist Frally Hynes.

Visit ArcaneSpaceLA.com for more information.

 

The author and his daughter taken by Morleigh Steinberg in Arcane Space in Venice, California. Image originally posted by @skipperfreddy on Instagram. Copyright © 2017 Freddy Martin, all rights reserved.

 

 

Acrobat – A Homily For Hypocrites

In honor of the 26th anniversary of U2’s brand-bending album, Achtung Baby,  let’s review the record’s most gut-wrenching song. This line-by-line deconstruction of Acrobat explores the spiritual wirewalk many Christians experience as they attempt to be who they claim to be. 

When I was a kid, my Dad had the odd responsibility (either self or externally imposed) to be happy and hopeful all the time. I think he believed that part of his job as a pastor was to match up his demeanor with others’ expectations. It didn’t matter if he was facing financial trouble, marital disunity, illness, or a crummy day, he needed to arrive at church with a smile on his face and a kind word on his lips. In other words, he needed to wear a mask.

The unfortunate side effect of my father’s pretense was the occasional avalanche of pent-up anger, which would fall squarely onto his unsuspecting little family. I remember riding in the car on some Sunday mornings. My brother and sister and I could sense his mounting anger rising up in the front seat. Then some straw would break his camel’s back and for the next few miles we would receive the brunt of his frustration. Then, we arrived at church.

When he climbed out of the car, a miracle happened. He instantly became a different man. Gone were the scowls and furious words. All smiles and handshakes now, his mask was back in place.

Looking back today I feel sorry for the man. I know he didn’t want to act that way. He loved us. I have no doubt. He hated himself for talking love and peace to his flock while giving rage and turmoil to the sheep he loved the most, his wife and kids. When he reads this, I’m sure the old sting of this will prick him again (not my intention Dad). The sad irony of this story is that the mask he wore was a burden even Jesus did not have to bear.

In the song Acrobat, from U2’s 1991 album Achtung Baby, Bono laments the same balancing act that my father was forced to perform: “I must be an acrobat to talk like this and act like that.” Niall Stokes, the legendary Irish rock champion and Hot Press editor, wrote of the song, “Not for the first time on the record, Bono acknowledges his own weakness and inadequacy. He is more conscious now than ever before of the contradictions in his own position.”

If you are being honest, Bono’s words are your words as well. You have your beliefs and convictions. Your beliefs define you. You are red or blue, anti or pro, Jacob or Edward. In today’s wacky world of pundits and provokers, with comment boxes under everything you read or watch, you have the opportunity to shout your privately held beliefs loudly and viciously at whomever you want. But does what you say you believe match up with what you do?

I doubt it. If you happen to be a human being, duplicity is your nature.

New years resolutions fail because of this. We know we should stop smoking or drinking. We should eat better and exercise. We should be more committed in our job or school or marriage. We should make things right with our parents or siblings. We should stop abusing our spouse or our kids and making them feel small. We should stop stealing, having emotional affairs, and sneaking copious bytes of porn into our homes via fiber pipelines. We say we believe one thing, but when it comes to living what we believe, we most often do something quite different.

For Christians, this self-imposed dualism is particularly painful to live with. We desire to be like Christ, but we are drawn to sin like moths to flame. As the hymn-writer said, we are prone to wander, and wander far. And we hate it.

In Acrobat, Bono paints his own picture of this hated wandering. The singer sings something of a rotating monologue to three distinct characters: to his younger self when he was an enthusiastic Christ following idealist, to his disenchanted present self, “the acrobat” who feels distant from his faith, and finally to Jesus circa Revelation 3.

When I first met you girl*

You had fire in your soul

What happened your face

Of melting in snow

Now it looks like this

His young self, was once transformed by his faith, happily drawn into a burning light that thawed a frozen heart. The singer sees in him the strength of character needed to resist temptation and to do only good. He begs the boy he was to hold fast to the faith that sustained him, to stand firm in his convictions.

I’d join the movement

If there was one I could believe in

Yeah I’d break bread and wine

If there was a church I could receive in

’cause I need it now

To take the cup

To fill it up

To drink it slow

I can’t let you go

The singer’s present self stands in disbelief that what was once so clear and motivating now seems so distant. He mourns his loss of passion for the things of God and shouts his need to be welcomed at the table of communion. But he cannot drink the cup or eat the bread. Like so many Christians before him, he stands at the table wanting to receive, but knows painfully well that his actions do not match up with his beliefs. Because of his duplicity, he believes his place at the table is forfeit.

The acrobat… er, Apostle Paul wrote about his own struggle with this wire-walk in his letter to the first-century church in Rome. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” In a particularly transparent moment, Paul shares his exasperation with himself for believing one thing and doing another. “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” Isn’t that the truth? Of course Paul points the finger at the root of this duplicity, his own sinful nature. “Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” And it is this sinful nature that the singer, the acrobat, can’t seem to abandon.

And you can swallow

Or you can spit

You can throw it up

Or choke on it

Most frightening to the singer, and any Christian who has faced his double, are Jesus’ words to the church of Laodicea found in Revelation 3. Here, Jesus rebukes this particular church (considered to be the prophetic embodiment of the modern church) for their lack of passion for Himself. Because they have lost their original heat, their passion for the things that once drew them close to Christ, He threatens to abandon them to their own self absorption. Jesus says, “because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” My paraphrase goes like this; Jesus cursed them saying, “You make me puke!” I can’t imagine any more frightful words for a Christian who thought he had his religion wired.

And the singer takes this curse on himself. He realizes that what was once a fire in his soul, is now a cold ember hidden beneath an empty façade of contentment and false spirituality. The acrobat walks on a wire of compromise, balancing his talk of doing good to others while his heart is far from the faith that would cause him to do so. He says he loves his neighbor as himself, but the truth is, he loves himself and desires only that which will bring him happiness.

The song ends with the singer emboldening himself to claw his way out of his duplicity and sin, and grasp onto the love for God and people he once held so tightly.

And you can dream

So dream out loud

And you can find

Your own way out

You can build

And I can will

And you can call

I can’t wait until

You can stash

And you can seize

In dreams begin

Responsibilities

And I can love

And I can love

And I know that the tide is turning ’round

So here he stands looking into the mirror. The singer is unsatisfied with what he sees. He doesn’t want to be an acrobat any longer. He’s getting back onto the path he desires to walk, and cheering himself for the journey ahead.

It won’t be easy. In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan said, “we have to believe it (the Gospel) enough that it changes how we live.” It’s one thing to say that. It’s another more excruciating thing to do it. But we have to do it. Christians have to believe the Gospel enough that, through the Spirit, our actions match up with our beliefs. Then, and only then, will the wire-walking end.

And all the acrobats of the world say, “amen.”

Reader Resources: The Song, The Video (unofficial), The Lyrics

 

*I believe “girl” is used here as a way to make the characters distinct. It’s also common throughout Achtung Baby for Bono to sexy-up the songs with words like ‘baby’, ‘girl’, ‘honey child’ despite the deeply spiritual and personal nature of the content.

 

This post originally appeared in 2011 on my now defunct blog “isbonoachristian.blogspot.com,” an exploration of the faith and spiritual truth sometimes found in U2 lyrics.

God Went Shopping At U2’s Popmart

The Setup (skip down to the title to dig into the official post) – With the pending release of U2’s newest album, Songs of Experience, this memory of Bono’s rock-n-roll redemption came back to me. Upon hearing their bright and dancey new song The Blackout, a friend told me it reminded him of something from Pop, U2’s ninth studio album. That thought took me back to twenty years ago when I was a young father, just figuring out the balance between innocence and experience myself. I was also learning more about my own spiritual life and what it means to conduct myself as a Christian man in a post-Christian era.

I was also a big U2 fan. I went to three of their shows on The Pop Mart Tour; Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Seattle. After the Seattle show (where this story takes place), I was so moved by the experience that I told the story to anyone who would listen. I even sat down and wrote it all out to send to the U2 fan magazines. It was never published.

So today, on the eve of new music from U2 (You’re The Best Thing About Me, the first single from Songs of Experience comes out September 6th), I dug up my original typed pages and copied them word for word here. Actually, that’s a lie. I spent some time editing it to make it ready for prime time. But after I did, I’m still quite convinced that, despite my penchant for hyperbole, this description is very accurate to what actually happened.

Regardless, I hope you enjoy the view from the front row.

God Went Shopping At Popmart
(or Here’s a Song U2 Stole from The Almighty. He’s Stealing It Back.)

For U2 fans, there’s nothing quite like that perfect “U2 moment.” That’s the moment when With Or Without You broke your heart and when One put you together again. When Bono danced with a girl from the audience and it felt somehow like he was holding you. That moment singing Pride (In the Name of Love) at the top of your lungs from the back of a stadium and you swear Dr. King can hear you. That’s the spiritual feeling that keeps U2 fans coming back; the defining moment that turned us into fans.

I’ve been a U2 fan for a long time, and I’ve actually experienced many “U2 moments.” But none will ever compare with the spiritual rediscovery and transformation that I experienced at the U2 Pop Mart show at the King Dome in Seattle on December 12, 1997.

Tickets to the Kingdom(e) – Half of our group owned front row, while the other half had 6th row. Good news was, the sections ahead of the 10th row weren’t monitored so we all just pied in the front.

I’m still not sure how it happened, but dreams became reality and I found myself, along with thirteen friends, lined up along the stage barricade between Bono’s mikestand and Adam’s bass rig. Each one of us, U2 fans since Jr. High or before, had built this moment up in our minds as the pinnacle of youthful glory. We had convened from locations all across America, reunited for the chance to stand in the front row at a U2 concert.

From the souvenir booklet – Final show on the North American leg of the tour

And yes, it was all that we had ever imagined; the closeness, the eye contact, the favorite songs, and the deafening roar. Being as close as we were, the very front row, we could see every expression, technical glitch, nuance, and emotion that others couldn’t see from the stands or on the screen. At this range, we allowed ourselves to be enveloped and united under the sights and sounds of U2’s Pop Mart.

Everything about it was incredible, until…

Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me, a single released with the Batman Forever soundtrack, opened the final set. It’s a cool, hard rock song that wears like gold lamé – baudy and bold. I know the song by heart, but in seeing the images on the screen and hearing Bono’s intense delivery opened up the meaning of the words to me for the first time.

Flashing across the screen, they showed Warholesque images of Marilyn and Jimi, Janis and Kurt, Morrison and Mercury, Elvis and Tupac – all pop icons who died young. Then, mixed in among those tragic souls were quick cuts of Bono himself, dressed as his devlish alter-ego, Macphisto.

In that moment I realized that I had completely missed the meaning in the lyrics?

“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 33”

He’s right. Pop stars like Bono live to hear people calling their names. But they’re never truly revered or loved unconditionally until after they die like sparkling messiahs. As the song reached its crescendo, I heard Bono’s cry for help. He was no longer begging “hold me, thrill me, kiss me.” Rather, he kept calling out to us, his worshippers, “kill me, kill me, kill me, kill me!”

This song is not about Batman! It’s a suicide note.

Does he mean it? Is this an act? Has Bono reached his pinnacle? Is there nowhere left to go but Popmartyrdom? Does he want it all to end?

I couldn’t help believing that Bono was signaling his anguish – revealing to us that, like the fractured stars that went before him, he is indeed broken. Behind the flash and celebration of good new-fashioned rock-n-roll, I saw despair in his expression and on the screen. What more does a worldwide audience want from its celebrities than to live fast and die young so that they can idolize them all the more?

Baldo – In solidarity with a mate on the crew, Bono shaved his head for the Seattle show. Cover of a fan rag.

Shaken, I realized in my heart that I was responsible for this. With all my worship and fanaticism toward this ragtag group of photogenic Irish men, I put Bono on that stage – a man made god, to die, not for my sins, but for my entertainment.

I was shocked with the thought that I had brought him to this. I wanted to reach out to him and apologize. Bono, If I ever deified you, if I ever worshipped you as my god, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to raise you up so high that you could never come down without a crash.

I wondered if I was making something out of nothing. Was the excitement of the night leading me to believe a charade? To see something that wasn’t there? I looked around at my companions, my brother and our friends, to seek in their faces the confirmation or invalidation of my presumption.

They looked back at me with the same confused expressions I could feel on my own face. Like children walking in on a violent parental quarrel, we had all caught the same sensation that we were witnessing something extremely intimate and disturbing.

In that moment, we became united under a desire to do something to put Bono back together with “God’s Glue” – not back together as the rock star we’d idolized, but as a regular person who is loved for being human, not deity.

The band played Mysterious Ways next. It’s a crowd pleaser, but I didn’t hear much of it. Frankly, I was distracted by Bono’s apparent desire to die. I did however come to the realization that it has taken me three albums and two tours to listen closely enough to hear Bono’s previous cries for help – If you want to kiss the sky, better learn how to kneel.

Next, Bono dedicated their unifying hit One to Kurt Cobain, Seattle’s golden grunger who had joined the ranks of self-martyred rockers three and a half years previously. Ironically, Bono’s tribute came with him surrounded by corporate logos wearing a blue pixel suit in the land of flannel.

One, a glorious love song to U2’s fans and the human race, was supposed to be the final “feel good” moment of the night, and a triumphant wrap-up of the North American leg of the tour.

Then the technical problems began.

I was at the first show of the Pop Mart tour in Las Vegas. I watched as all of the band members struggled to keep in time and in tune while their cutting edge in-ear monitors malfunctioned and nearly wrecked the show. In a show this big and ambitious, with audio loops and video screens to stay in sync with, the speed of sound to stay ahead of, and to simply hear themselves play, the in-ear monitors must be functional.

Humiliated, U2 had to start Staring at the Sun over. This is something that should not happen to the biggest band in the world. It dogged them throughout the tour. Pop Mart technology couldn’t keep up with U2.

In Seattle, one verse into One, Bono began signaling to the techs that his ear monitor was not loud enough. He tried to be subtle by pointing to his ear and pointing up but the problem continued. He then started hitting his right ear with his hand and broadly motioning for volume, all the while still trying to play his guitar part and sing the song many in the audience had travelled many miles to hear.

Bono was frustrated and angry. He seemed to be thinking, “This is the last show of the tour. The last show! I just dedicated one of our most popular songs, the finale, to a hometown hero and I don’t even know if I’m singing in the right key! Why can’t you get this right?!”

Furious, Bono stripped off his guitar and dropped it on its back sounding a boom throughout the stadium. He finished singing, but in a tantrum. He couldn’t shake the anger. In a fury, he began smashing his microphone into the stage. Bashing and smashing, enraged and hateful, while the last lines of the love song ended around him.

He crouched there on the stage gripping the ruined microphone, huffing and puffing. The song ended and he stood. Bono shouted a furious staccato grunt into the hunk of metal in his hand. Only those of us close enough could hear it because no sound came from the speakers.

A roadie, reluctant and afraid, crept onto the stage with a fresh microphone and held it out to Bono who snatched it from him indignantly. The roadie turned quickly and made for a place in the shadows. He couldn’t, however, escape the hateful stare of the man on stage.

The Edge began playing the chords of Wake Up Dead Man and Bono sang the first half of the song still glaring with the eyes of a martyr on fire at the poor fool who gave him the mic. I stared in disbelief as Bono, known for his love and compassion, shot daggers of hate at his sorry employee.

From the concert booklet – “Wake Up Dead Man” is as forlorn as the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, when the tabernacle is empty and all the candles are blown out. The song suggests the 20th Century, the age when Darwin, Freud and Marx conspired to kill off God, is coming to a close and He’s still not coming back.

Wake Up Dead Man is a song that has been tough for me to enjoy. I have spit, thrown up, and choked on it, but I still haven’t been able to swallow it. Mostly because it disturbs my Christian sensibilities. The “dead man” in the title is Jesus and the singer is frustrated that He’s nowhere to be found (Read the lyrics to here).

I’ve argued with myself over it since I bought the album. It’s it blasphemy? Is Bono actually saying that God is dead or, if He is alive, He doesn’t care anymore? Or is this a song like I Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, which praises the greatness and mercy of God, yet still searches for more from Him?

Perhaps it’s a call for the Church to wake from its complacent slumber, a call for revival in the hearts of people who call themselves children of God. Maybe Bono is calling to the Christ he knows lives in him to wake up and show himself – a Christ who Bono has cherished but has been slowly burying beneath a rock star’s clothes and all the garbage that goes with being a hero to millions. Or surely Bono is crying out to himself, a dead man in need of waking from his own hypnosis of fame and fortune.

No matter what the song actually means, in that moment, all I could hear was Bono’s anger toward God, something I had never heard from him before.

And so I stood there listening as Bono, angry and tired, sang this frustrated and hopeless song. From that distance, just a security barrier away, I believed I could see into his heart.

I saw a man who has worked his whole life to change the world, to have a voice that the world will hear, to reach the masses with a message of hope and love. At the very least, I could see that he had wanted to make this last show on the U.S. tour a great experience for the thousands present, but instead it was a disaster.

I couldn’t help think of King Solomon in Ecclesiastes, looking back over a life filled with accomplishments and worldly gain only to realize it was worth nothing. And he sang those words over all of us there in his “King Dome” asking, begging, “Is there one of you here who is awake? Are you all dead men? Am I dead? Has God left building? Is He anywhere?”

I heard his cry. And so did my friends.

As if to say, “Yes! God is still here! He is awake in us and we are awake in Him,” we began, in unison and at the top of our lungs, to sing.

“How long to sing this song? How long to sing this song? How long to sing this song?”

These are the closing lines of U2’s concert favorite, 40. It’s a nearly word for word rewrite of Psalm 40 that U2 used as their closing benediction at nearly every concert since it’s release. That is until they reinvented themselves for the cynical 1990s and the song was shelved.

Now we no longer chanting for one more song. We were singing to Bono, reaching out to him, ministering to his heart like he had done for us so many times. We hoped he would hear the Christ in us, hear the Christ in himself, buried beneath his anger at the equipment, hidden by his fear of mediocrity and his demented longing for dead rock star status – to hear the Christ calling from inside one of his own songs – the Hallelujah of King David that he had sung so many times before.

Then, just as he was waving goodbye to the audience for the last time and turning to leave with Edge, Adam, and Larry, he heard us.

“How long to sing this song?”

The Psalm was spreading from my group of friends throughout our section of the arena.

“How long to sing this song?”

Bono turned back to us, his face still shrouded in sadness. He looked like a boy on the last day of his greatest Summer crying for the loss of his youth.

“How long to sing this song?”

He looked at us with an expression saying, “You didn’t hear a thing I said these past seven years! You call yourselves U2 fans but you understand me less today than when I last sang that lost song. All you want is for me to come out and play the U2 jukebox. Well, I won’t be made a novelty.”

“How long to sing this song?”

“Why are you doing this? Why are you trying to change me?

“How long?”

“I’m comfortable in the pain.”

“How long?”

“Leave me alone!”

“How long?”

“It’s so hard to wake up.”

“How long… to sing this song?”

Just then a smile crept onto his face – a smile of relief, comfort, of peace – the smile of a man meeting a long lost friend.

He turned and stopped Mr. The Edge, asking him if he could mock up an impromptu 40. Edge protested a bit, probably because he hadn’t played the song in 7 years. But Bono, along with a mass of emotional fans, insisted.

We needed to sing this song.

The familiar chords rang out from the golden arch. Bono looked directly at our group and sang.

“I waited patiently for the Lord. He inclined and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit, out of the mire and clay. I will sing, sing a new song. I will sing, sing a new song.”

He paused, struggling to remember the words that his heart knew.

“He set my feet upon the rock and made my footsteps firm. Many will see. Many will see and fear. I will sing, sing a new song. I will sing, sing a new song.”

And the audience finished the song for him.

“How long to sing this song? How long to sing this song? How long? How long? How long? How long… to sing this song?”

Here’s the front row crew right after the show, spent in rock-n-roll ecstasy.

The Edge stopped playing, closed the chord and took off his guitar. As Bono waved goodbye, his eyes met mine and we both saw changed men, awakened men.

The stage cleared, my friends and I came together hugging and crying in the realization of what we had all just experienced. This had been a spiritual rediscovery unlike any we had ever experienced before – not in a church, not in nature, not in a lonely cell, but at a rock concert.

As I walked out of the arena I thought about Bono. I wondered what he was thinking just then. Was he thinking about going home to his wife and girls? Was he thinking about the technical problems? About dying? About living? Was he thinking about me and my friends? About God?

I know I can’t speak for him, but I felt in my soul that he was thinking about the song, the Psalm, the ascent that he’d lost but found again that night.

How long to sing this song? Forever.

Epilogue: A lot has happened with Bono and U2 in the last twenty years.

Anybody who has followed the band’s album releases would note that the music is more joyful and spiritually deep than ever before. Their very next album after Pop, a return of sorts to their exultant musical roots began with Beautiful Day and ended with Grace.

Bono’s activism took on an even greater power as he linked arms with political leaders to cease aggression in his home country of Ireland, spearheaded the Drop the Debt campaign and Jubilee 2000 to forgive the debts of the world’s poorest nations, and created the One Campaign to bring awareness to the problem of HIV/AIDS across Africa, and continues to be a bridging voice of unity and compassion in world politics and culture.

It’s probably silly to think that that moment in Seattle had any effect on Bono’s life over all. Although, 40 does still make its way into their concert playlist now and again.

Yesterday, we spent Labor Day in Ventura. I had been working on this post all morning and it was definitely at the front of my mind. Out of nowhere, this fantastic dude with his respectable beard walks by wearing a 20 year old Pop Mart shirt. “I went to the Vegas show,” he said. “Me too.”

Also, YouTube became a thing. Who would have ever imagined that we would ever see this drama unfold again before our eyes on a web page that rhymes with U2.

Thanks to whoever recorded the entire concert so we could relive it. Keep in mind, it’s shot from far away in the stands. You can’t see or hear some of the drama we did. But what you can see is pretty dramatic. Check out the “Kill Me!” section at 1:45, Bono’s ear monitor freak out at 2:03, smashing the mic at the end of One at 2:05, and the redemption at 2:09.

This post is dedicated to the rest of my compadres at the front row; Isaac Martin, Matt Keortge, Rich Sargent, Rich Fuller, Paul Trudeau, Greg Homdrom, Shawn Cardwell, Jon Fuller, Chuck Inman, Eric Fearing, Tadd Reaney, Michael Sorensen, Brian Thomas(?), and our nosebleed section buddy, Dennis Emslie, who saw it all from above. And of course Chris, the guy in the photo above. Stay Popped!