Friday, March 15, 2013

The "God" trilogy

"God," the penultimate track on John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, is a powerful pop sermon of unbelief and rejection. It's so powerful, in fact, that it inspired two sequels - one by U2 and the other by Larry Norman, a pioneer of the Christian rock genre. I first heard U2's "God Part II" a few weeks ago while listening to Rattle and Hum. Intrigued, I read up on the song and then came across this article, which explores the relationship between the three parts. Their conflicting theological perspectives make for a compelling interplay. I especially like Bono's lyric, which addresses the inner discord that holds sway in the life of a sinner.
U2's music often includes religious content, but it is a highly creative, restless and wondering relationship with religious mysteries. They look for the baby Jesus under the trash and would take bread and wine if there were a church they could receive in, but their articulation of sacred themes is often playful and always incomplete, as if they never quite find what they are looking for.
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Larry Norman's "God Part III" does not include the same subtlety or affection for Lennon we find in Bono's lyrics. Norman begins his song not with a statement about religion, like Lennon and U2, but instead with the words "i don't believe in beatles, i don't believe in rock," taking the first phrase directly from Lennon's song. The liner notes to Norman's Stranded in Babylon describe "God Part III" as a "response to John's song," which suggests something far less affectionate than U2's note that their song is "for John Lennon." Unlike U2's generous affirmation of the rightness and truth of Lennon's emphasis on love, Norman's direct confrontation with Lennon, the Beatles and rock more generally suggests there is no truth to be found in music; "you can easily hit number one with a bullet," he says, "and totally miss the heart." Bono disagrees, finding truth in Lennon, even if he is misguided in certain particulars.

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