Cambridge Book Review

[Issue #8, Fall 2002]

Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2
By Steve Stockman
Relevant Media Books, 2001

Reviewed by Nancy Bird

"Spritual" is a term that captures the attention of many individuals, as it distinguishes itself from the strictly religious or dogmatic. Author Steve Stockman, a Presbyterian minister in Ireland, makes of Walk On: The Spritual Journey of U2 an interesting intertwining of narrative, lyric-analysis, background information, and biblical exegesis. Stockman highlights the spritual aspects of the band's ongoing and unusual relationship with faith and God. One of the book's major strengths, in regards to the scope of its audience, is that the reader needn't be a religious person -- or a Christian, to be more specific -- nor a follower of U2's music and career to engage in Stockman's account. We might never know if strictly dogmatic individuals agree with Stockman's remarks, or even if the band would have its music's spirituality X-rayed in this very same way if they had such a project in mind. But as a narrative-analytical account, the book offers insights into Ireland's culture and music scene, as well as new approaches to dealing with postmodern undertakings in rock music performances, and how religion traditionally deals with (or disregards) such creative endeavors.

Stockman is very conscientious of his premise and reason for looking deeper into the spiritual hues of U2's artistry. There has been so much dissent as to the authenticity and unwavering strength of the faith presented in the band's music thoroughout the years. One of the most direct instances in which Stockman reiterates this concern is when he refers to the song "Until the End of the World" and declares that "if you stop to think, seems to have been a shot across the bows of postmodern culture that U2 would take on. It could also be an ironic dig at those who would get nothing from this album because they wouldn't stop to think." It is interesting how the author, giving himself away, tries to shed the preachiness linked to being a minister, and chooses to offer two, at the same time compatible, interpretations of the lyrics in order to underscore the importance of listening beyond the rhythm. In any case, Stockman strives to show the relevance of the meanings, many times fueled by spirituality, behind U2 songs.

The fact that most of the book dwells on personal interpretations alongside the presentation of evident connections between lyrics and biblical passages, makes Stockman's analysis less dogmatic. His non-traditional approach to spirituality aims at combining art, culture, and questions of faith in an informal yet highly critical fashion. And the title of the book actually hints at this new approach by not mentioning religion per se, and making it clear it is an account and not a biography or a religious test of the group members. It is not U2 and its spiritual journey. There are actually no interviews with the band, thus underscoring that this is an individual's narration-analysis of spiritual undertones and overtones and how the reader, believer or non-believer might look at them, and also, how the reader, who might care about U2's music or not, might consider the idea that postmodernism in culture does not mean a void of spirituality.

Just as Stockman proposes that every U2 love song be listened to as a love song to God, we might propose that Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 can be read as a twenty-first century novel. After all, there is cultural and historical data, the thesis that dares not remain at the mere surface level, and the chapters are all interrelated. Moreover, as the book highlights art's relationship to religion, it also aims at looking for new perspectives in the way religion relates to art.

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Nancy Bird is a doctoral student in Hispanic literatures at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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