Today I’m going to spend Easter not so much with a celebration of the day, but of one of my favorite songs:
“Until The End Of The World” by U2, off their brilliant album, Achtung Baby. I could write for quite a long time about this album, in fact, one of the handful of really seminal musical works to come out of the 90s, along with things like Exile In Guyville and probably even Pearl Jam’s Ten, but today I just want to talk about this song, just a little.
Haven’t seen you in quite a while
I was down the hold just passing time
Last time we met was a low-lit room
We were as close together as a bride and groom
We ate the food, we drank the wine
Everybody having a good time
You were talking about the end of the world
I took the money
I spiked your drink
You miss too much these days if you stop to think
You lead me on with those innocent eyes
You know I love the element of surprise
In the garden I was playing the tart
I kissed your lips and broke your heart
You…you were acting like it was
The end of the world
In my dream I was drowning my sorrows
But my sorrows, they learned to swim
Surrounding me, going down on me
Spilling over the brim
Waves of regret and waves of joy
I reached out for the one I tried to destroy
You…you said you’d wait
’til the end of the world
As with every song, it was three meanings: what you think it means, what it actually means, and what it means to you. What it means to me is not something I care to go into, other than to say that it’s a beautifully written song that always seems to find me when I’m in a bit of a dark place, and whether it makes me feel better or just sustains me, I don’t know. But what the song means to me personally isn’t nearly as important as what it means to you, and that could be anything.
What a lot of people think it means is something do with with romance, or rather, the end of one. Around the time of it’s writing, The Edge was going through a pretty bitter divorce (this is before he married the band’s touring belly dancer).
But what the song actually is is a dialogue between Jesus and Judas Iscariot, taking place in the afterlife, talking about betrayal and sorrow. The song was written before the album for Wim Wenders’ Until The End Of The World, though it fits in perfectly with the darker themes and feel of the album. The band is good friends with Wenders, collaborating with him quite a few times in throughout their career. Wenders specifically asked the band to write a song for the album, something along the lines of the same theme within the song, for the very interesting soundtrack to the film, which is set in late 1999. Wenders even asked the band (and every artist on the soundtrack) to write their song to sound like the kind of music they thought they’d be making at the end of the decade as the end of the world approached.
The actual bible and tenets of Christianity mean so very little to me, I can’t even begin to describe it to you, though I guess that’s not wholly accurate. While I respect that my beliefs aren’t necessarily right nor should be everyone’s, though I do consider myself a spiritual person, I find the bible to be about as useful to humanity as Aesop’s Fables. I’m fascinated by the stories from a literature sense, and from the way humanity has handed the keys to your minds over to the God meme rather than relying on themselves to create their own destinies… Ah, but that’s the kind of thing of which people can only disagree on, right?
Being Easter, I thought of this song last night, and how much I am fascinated by the story of Jesus’ end, but not in the torture porn way of something like The Passion Of The Christ, or the sacrificing for the sins of humanity, or any of that nonsense, though Scorsese’s The Last Temptation Of Christ is a beautiful and amazing film and if you’ve never had the privilege to see it, you should. And if you consider yourself a devout believer, then you should definitely see it.
Ah, but Easter, and Jesus, and his friend Judas… The story goes something like this: After supper with his friends, Jesus and his followers are greeted by some Roman soldiers in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, the messiah and agitator, is identified to the troops by Judas, who gives the man from Nazareth a kiss on the lips. For his trouble, Judas is paid 30 pieces of silver, and Jesus is hauled off to… well, we all know where his story ends. But the following day, Judas, driven mad by the guilt and remorse of what he’s done, hangs himself from a tree not far from Golgotha, where Christ as crucified. By sundown, both men are dead.
All though out our history since that moment, or rather, that story, the character of Judas has been violently vilified. In fact, the only person probably more disgusting to us than him is Hitler, but that’s probably because we have proof that Hitler was real, never mind that the philosophical questions of Judas doesn’t quite add up to satisfactory answers (if Jesus could foresee the betrayal and allowed it to happen, then is not Judas the instrument of our so called salvation?)(Borges’ take on this, “Three Versions Of Judas,” is a very interesting read), nor do some of the historical details (like that the crucifixion couldn’t have been on a Friday, good or not), but what matters is the story, the way the fiction makes us feel.
And that’s one of the reasons I love the interpretation of the story in the U2 song. The betrayal isn’t just about money or a difference of philosophy or wanting to tackle somone’s cult of personality. It’s much more personal than that, almost a romantic betrayal. It’s a betrayal of love, be it homosexual or homosocial. It’s something everyone can relate to, either as the betrayed, or in that dark place where you betray someone you love, kissing them on the lips and then breaking their heart. In so many ways, that is the end of the world.