I have been a U2 fan since War was released in 1983, during my sophomore year in high school. I wish I could say I’ve followed them since their first album Boy, but I think my third of a century of fandom is plenty.
But with so many friends going to see U2 perform the entirety of The Joshua Tree album plus other songs on their current tour, I was feeling a bit of self-pity that I wouldn’t be seeing them myself. So, to move my attention away from myself and back to them and their music, I’ve been listening to all of their music (b-side songs included) and watching each of the concerts and music videos they’ve released in chronological order.
I’m not even halfway through and still it’s been an amazing immersion in music, politics, and faith. Bono masterfully moves between his inner world and the world around him and brings faith to bear on it all.
Although the album October is often brushed aside as a least favorite, I’ve always had a fondness for it and particularly the title song. It’s spare and melancholic, pairing piano and vocals in a way that offsets the semi-punk urgency of many of their other early songs.
The lyrics are similarly few and unadorned:
And the trees are stripped bare
Of all they wear
What do I care
And kingdoms rise
And kingdoms fall
But you go on…and on…
Bono starts with the ephemeral nature of creation. October has stripped the trees bare of their beautiful leafy clothing. The leaves are gone, but the trees are still there.
He then turns his eye from creation to humanity and sees the same thing at play. The flashy brightness of human kingdoms and boastful political systems, too, have their seasons. Their leaves burst forth and then fall to the earth. They may draw our attention, but just like the tree trunk that remains, when political bluster blows away, what remains is “you,” is God.
During this season of microscopic attention on all things political, I find this song comforting. Our current presidential turmoil and all of the other political wrangling will eventually fall away like leaves in October, but the one true constant will remain. God will prevail. And he is right now and will continue to have his way, even if we can’t seem to see it beneath all of the human pomp and circumstance.