August 18, 2019


In U2's 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For,' A Restless Search For Meaning (Elizabeth Blair , 7/26/19. NPR: All Things Considered)

Three of the members of U2 -- Bono, guitarist The Edge and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. -- were members of a Christian fellowship called Shalom. For The Edge and Bono, their faith seemed at odds with rock 'n' roll: They felt they should be doing something more meaningful with their lives than playing music. In an interview with presenter Gay Byrne for the Irish broadcaster RTE, Bono said that just as the band was on the brink of major success, they went to tell their manager they wanted to quit. He was a no-nonsense type named Paul McGuinness.

"And we say, 'Paul, we're done. We actually want to do something useful with our life, and maybe rock 'n' roll isn't it,' " Bono recounted. "And he's like, 'Oh, so God tells you to do this?' And we said, 'No, not exactly, but it's very deeply convicted here.' He said, 'Would you mind speaking to God about the commitments I've made on your behalf to do another tour?' "

They stayed. Bono went on to say their songs are "prayers of a kind."

Theologian Sarah Dylan Breuer agrees. In the early 2000s, she founded a worship service called the U2charist -- as in U2 plus Eucharist -- that incorporates the band's songs, played by local musicians. Breuer says "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" works because it's an expression of both spiritual joy and disappointment.

"A lot of the contemporary music that's written for worship in Christian circles can be this kind of relentlessly 'I totally love God with all my being, and everything's going to be great.' And that's really not most people's lived experience day to day," she says. But Breuer adds that some members of the clergy believed a few of the verses were inappropriate for the service. For example:

I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her fingertips
And it burned like fire

"Some people said, basically, that human desire that's obviously sexual has no place in the service," she explains. "Some people were OK with it, but wanted to allegorize it, and said it's completely not about human beings at all -- it's only desire for God."

Bono told Rolling Stone "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" is "an anthem of doubt more than faith." Joshua Rothman, a writer for The New Yorker, hears something else: "It's a song that celebrates wanting."

In a 2014 piece called "The Church of U2," Rothman outlined the case for this song as a potent contemporary hymn, partly because of the uncertainty expressed in Bono's lyrics. "It's a song about searching for meaning or transcendence," he says. "And to me, the most interesting thing about it is that you don't find it. It's about the search."

Meanwhile, Jon Pareles, chief pop critic for The New York Times, believes much of the song's power comes from the way Bono lingers on one word: "still."

"The genius of the chorus is in its first two words," Pareles says. "There's the leap from 'I still' and 'haven't found.' That 'still' emphasized in the melody tells you he's been looking for a long time. It's a simple thing. But it's a profound thing."

Posted by at August 18, 2019 12:00 AM