Tuesday, March 03, 2009

More on U2's No Line on the Horizon - reflecting on "Unknown Caller"

I’ve been listening to the new U2 album by trying to think about what each song might be about in the overall context that I pointed to in my previous post. Today I thought a bit about the song “Unknown Caller.”

In “Until the End of the World” Bono takes the point of view of Judas. In “Unknown Caller” I think he may be taking on the point of view of Jesus – just after the resurrection on Easter Sunday. Here are the lyrics.

Here’s why I think this interpretation could work. When Bono sings “Sunshine, sunshine” I can imagine Jesus stepping out of the tomb on that Sunday morning.

The first verse puts Jesus before the resurrection:
I was lost between the midnight and the dawning
In a place of no consequence or company
3:33 when the numbers fell off the clock face
Speed-dialing with no signal at all

Lost between midnight and dawning could refer to being in the garden or to his time between being on the cross and Sunday morning. 3:33 might well refer to Jeremiah 33:3, which Bono hid on the cover of All That You Can’t Leave Behind and calls God’s phone number. Here is what it says: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

When Jesus calls on God he says "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me." This is the speed dialing with no signal. (As a note, I think that Jesus' words are a clear reference to Psalm 22 in which the Psalmist starts out saying that God has forsaken him and realizes that God has not. I think this is the point Jesus is making by quoting the Psalm and it seems that Bono might have taken this at face value instead - thinking that God the Father had indeed forsaken Jesus on the cross. So I think Bono is referring to this word from the cross but I think he interpreted it incorrectly.)

The song continues
Go, shout it out, rise up
Oh, oh
Escape yourself and gravity
Hear me, cease to speak that I may speak
Shush now

This sounds to me like Jesus telling us to celebrate his resurrection. Especially later when he sings
Restart and re-boot yourself
You’re free to go
Oh, oh
Shout for joy if you get the chance

I could go on for the rest of the song like this but I'll let you do a little digging for yourself. It all seems to fit the overall idea. I'm amazed at the number of songs on this album that have a pretty distinct Christian theme. There are others on the net who are saying similar things about the album (much of what I like) but sometime I think they're stretching a bit to make every song fit a larger theological theme. I've tried really hard not to do that here. I really think this is what Bono had in mind. There is a lot of cool stuff on this album and I don't intend (at least not at this point) to go through it song by song but I'm listening to this album a lot and the more I hear it the more I like it.


Beth said...

Bob -- I've seen more than one person hear it this way. Having read some comments from the band on the song's premise before release (e.g. Edge's "The idea is that the narrator is in an altered state, and his phone starts talking to him" from Rolling Stone, "tale about a man at the end of his rope whose phone bizarrely begins texting him random instructions" from Q), I find it hard myself to try on another premise. The song has struck me so intensely from that point of view....

John Mulholland said...

I thought it was AWESOME they way that they lead this live.