U2 Brings Spiritual Vertigo to Fordham
People began gathering for breakfast at 5:00 this morning, though one of my students told me that some undergraduates were on site in rock vigil all night long. I don’t know how many Fordham folks were gathered, but the throng was not more than a few thousand by my completely subjective estimate. Folks were only tightly packed in for the first couple hundred feet from the stage, close enough to each other that several lads managed some brief crowd-surfing. After that there was elbow room and a layer of ice and mud beneath us. Mostly undergrads, but scattered graduate students and staff. I assume there were other faculty, but I didn’t recognize any.
By 7:00 the cameras were rolling, the crowd letting out whoops and waves for the cameras, egged on by "Good Morning America" personalities and stagehands. Around 8:00, Fordham President Fr. Joseph McShane, SJ, welcomed everyone and pointed out good-naturedly that of various NYC schools, including Columbia, only Fordham had nabbed a U2 show during their weeklong NYC sojourn. He left the stage to the acclamation by the on-stage emcee, "Nobody rocks a party like a Jesuit rocks a party!"
Then the band appeared out the center doors of Keating Hall and took the stage to mad cheers, and Bono proclaimed "It’s F.U. time!"
They played "Get on Your Boots," "Magnificent," and "I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight," from their new album No Line on the Horizon. Bono introduced "I’ll Go Crazy" as "a song about Friday nights at Fordham," and then in an aside to McShane, added, "with respect, Father." In the confluence of rockish and religious gestures for which he is justly famous, Bono concluded the song by making the sign of the cross.
After a break, the band was interviewed by a Good Morning America personality. She asked Bono about the lively sense of hope in their music, and he, perhaps intuitively edging away from seeming to endorse (what Bonhoeffer would have called) "cheap grace," gently reframed the question about the music’s spiritual power, talking not first of hope but of the imperative "to be real," and then emphasizing rock’s musical debt to the blues. "Rock and roll," he said, "is blues as well as gospel highness." Where it is hope, he seemed to be saying, it is the experience of hope given by lament. You can almost hear theologian Edward Schillebeeckx crouching behind Edge’s amp, stage-whispering "negative contrast experience"! Or theologian David Tracy flying overhead in the news helicopter, declaiming over a megaphone, "Theologians attempt to envision some believable hope by testing critically all religious claims to ultimate hope!" (Bono yelling into the mic over the whir of the rotors: "What’s the citation?" Tracy back: "My book Plurality and Ambiguity, page 85!")
About 8:50am, the band were back on for three more songs: "Beautiful Day," "Breathe" (also from the new album), and "Vertigo." The line that got the biggest corporeal push from the largely 18-22 year old fan base was from "Beautiful Day," namely the second half of this U2ian verse: "You’ve been all over, and it’s been all over you." Is it the immersive and unctuous witness allowed by "it’s been all over you" that made so many yell the phrase with such force? It certainly can let through the immanent revel that characterizes not only college life well-lived, but also (per Charles Taylor, in A Secular Age) our secular culture, and even a secular Christianity. "You’ve been all over, and it’s been all over you" could indeed stand as mystical anointing of bodied postmodern cultural life, which is (must I add?) not a simplistic "blessing" of everything, but rather a releasement to worldly fragility, contingency, beauty, unpredictability, and the gorgeous strangenesses that we make, and that we are.
Contrary to what I reported yesterday, it looks like the light never made it through the stained glass of the Blue Chapel on Keating Hall’s third floor onto us this morning; perhaps the idea was abandoned because, as one student told me, intense artificial lights are harmful for stained glass. On the one hand, that’s too bad, because having those saints shining brightly up behind the band would have been a probably unforgettable visual. On the other hand, the lack of forced light left us the blueness of the windows themselves, having "to be real" there, the blues under the rock. The yearning that U2’s music exemplifies and elicits need not be assumed to stand in for the whole of a theological life in order to be the pleasure that it is as both harbinger and holder of hope-in-the-wanting. Whatever salvation is, through such finite formations is it allowed.
New York City
Cross-posted, with pictures, at Rock and Theology