March 12, 2008
Staring at the Sun
"Starting at the Sun" is one of my favorite songs from Pop, which I still hold to be U2's most underrated album -- especially as an album with spiritual lyrics. Pop is, I think, most U2's explicitly spiritual and Christian record since October, though its lyrics are more along the lines of psalms of lament and Romans 7's "who will rescue me from this body of death?" than it is like the exuberant "Beautiful Day."
It's also one of my favorite U2 songs live -- and it's definitely a song for which you do NOT need a full band if you want to do it live at a U2charist. U2 themselves don't do it with a full electric band. If you want to see why, check out this video of them trying to do the song with full band at the opening of the Popmart tour. Then check out the version on the Popmart DVD, or this YouTube video of U2 live at Slane Castle on the Elevation tour.
"Staring at the Sun" is much, much better acoustic, in my opinion. And its lyrics work, I think, as a confession of brokenness in oneself and in the world -- in other words, as a confession. It also works as an acoustic prelude. I like to introduce people gently to the full volume and singalong potential of the U2charist by starting with an acoustic prelude -- just acoustic guitar and vocals, and maybe (if you've got a percussionist) a shaker. It's especially good if it's a song that includes some opportunities to sing along on something very simple, and preferably with lyrics no more complicated that "oh." "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)" is one such song; you can draw out the Edge's soaring "Oh"s before the final verse to get the congregation singing along, and so introduce them subtly to the idea that, this being rock and roll, they can unglue their eyes from the service leaflet or screens, and it also brings into full participation people who don't know U2's music at all, but who can sing a line of "oh" if it's repeated a few times.
The acoustic version of "Staring at the Sun" as U2 does it live doesn't have such an opportunity, but it's the easiest thing in the world to add it back in: just do the line of "oh"s that Bono does at the end of the album version, and do that line several times, at least one of which the singer sings away from the mike with hand cupped over ear, or with arms in a gesture of "c'mon!" invitation toward the congregation.
So if you've got at least one youth group member who can play bar chords on an acoustic guitar (and the song can even be adapted not to require bar chords!), you can do "Staring at the Sun" live.
We did two preludes at the Hancock UCC U2charist last week, the first being "Stay" (as the acoustic prelude) and the second being "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" -- which works really well in that spot, since (as we did it that night, anyway -- this song can also be done acoustic) it starts with just a light guitar riff and optional shaker or light tamborine, and has the full band coming in later, and since it also has great singalong potential (just do the chorus multiple times at the end).
But the next live U2charist for which I do the music, I think I might have "Staring at the Sun" as the acoustic prelude. It's a gorgeous and deeply moving song.