Angel or devil
I was thirsty
And you wet my lips
You, I’m waiting for you
You, you set my desire
I trip through your wires
Trip through your wires | The Joshua Tree, 1987
2017. Somewhere © Veronica Lisi
The Joshua Tree wants to closely scrutinize what the concept of America means for the rest of the world, but it wants above all to analyze what the “new continent” represents for the “old continent”.
U2, the four Irish pilgrims, approached America through poetry, literature, and of course by listening to the “founding fathers” of American folk music, from Bob Dylan to Johnny Cash. The songs of these two artists had already been revealing the social contradictions of such a Country as pure ideals as they were tremendously ruthless in the blind pursuit of satisfying their political logic: just think of pieces such as Masters of War by Dylan or Man In Black by Cash. Thus, the star-shaped and stripes Country has showed extremely fascinating sides, such as the American Dream, offering men the chance of success, fame and money. But at the same time, it has concealed obscure sides with deep social inequalities, especially if it looked at the dusty suburbs where the poor, the outcasts, or the homeless were excluded from the “game” of possibilities.
Bono’s writing is entirely based on folk music: Dylan and Cash pop out in every direction as the Irish singer plays disguised in a folk costume by holding the harmonica to weave a country melody. The words exude carnal feelings, an eros that contrasts with With or Without You: if the latter sink into a spiritual limbo made of loving desolation, Trip Through Your Wires, on the contrary, is the sexual recall of the female universe. Anomalous in truth, a lightweight envelope to Spanish Eyes which conceals, this time, a dark core.
Trip Through Your Wires links this dual identity of America: on the one hand, the “Promised Land” of the people and on the other, the Country of massacres, social inequalities, political agreements with world dictators, wars and of his enormous nationalist self-centered egocentrism. The text is fearfully close to reality and the song, paradoxically, is the one that is closer to the contradiction inherent to the ideology of the United States of America, which is still manifesting today.
America – with its immortal charm – is painted like a handsome, attractive woman, inspiring erotic thoughts that can envy men. A song disguised of feelings where a mysterious woman can keep her lovers in love, letting them fall in love with her innumerable beauties but she hides, deviously, her own demons. Thus, the “laces” take on a definite meaning: they are the inextricable problems of a closed America, unwilling to guarantee riches and liberties to all peoples, ruthless in pursuit of its goals and at all cost the role of world superpower. Just as in every relationship, you have to accept compromises, you must “stumble” inevitably in the laces of love while continuing to pursue your dream.
Thomas Jefferson, one of the founding fathers of the United States of America, as well as the Third President and one of the prominent authors of the “Declaration of Independence”, reserved considerable controversy in his work as the appellation of “merciless savages to cure or eliminate” towards the Native Americans, or the profound contradiction between the written words of his fist in the Declaration in favor of men egalitarianism: «We believe that the following truths are in themselves obvious, that all men have been created Equally, that they are endowed with their Creator of some inalienable Rights, which among them are Life, Freedom and Search for Happiness». He was himself master of over 200 slaves and refused to release them. Taken together, America relies its foundations on an ideological basis which erode like clay, and is neither concrete nor stable.
In 1939, in memory of Thomas Jefferson, the Jefferson Memorial was built in the American capital, a huge neoclassical building that resembles the structure of the Pantheon of Rome, where a bronze statue of the President is placed inside. Inside the dome are the words, «I swore on the altar of God eternal hostility against all forms of tyranny on the mind of man», a phrase that emphasizes not only the Stainless American thought in favor of individual freedoms but Which is, moreover, the latent sensation of ideological rage. The Jefferson Memorial thus becomes the monument to American contradiction, a unique contradiction in the world scene that finds its majestic celebration in a Washington-based building in the heart of star power and stripes.
As Bono recalls the Bible through the targeted use of these contrasting phrases, «I was cold/ and you clothed me, honey/ I was down/ and you lifted me, honey/ […] I was thirsty/ And you wet my lips […] I was broken, bent out of shape/ I was naked in the clothes you made/ Lips were dry, throat like rust/ You gave me shelter from the heat and the dust» that are reflected in the Gospel of Matthew, where at 25:31 – corresponding to the Final Judgment – we find Jesus who states: «Because I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger and you hosted me, naked and you dressed me, sick and you visited me, jailed and you came to see me».
The Bible also comes alongside the “New Colossus”, written by Emma Lazarus, of which an extract is placed at the base of the Statue of Liberty on a bronze slab. It says: «Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses eager to breathe free, the miserable waste of your crowded beaches. Send them, the homeless, shaken by storms, and I will raise my torch beside the golden door». The analogy is thus clear: Bono wants to emphasize how America decants its goodness, how it wants to represent the “safe harbor” for the suffering people of the world when, in reality, it is deeply torn by social injustices, by politics apt to cause death in other nations and a ruthless capitalist vision towards the poorest people.
And Bono inside the song asks, “Angel or Demon?” Leaving this doubt today to every lover falling in America’s arms.