Some songs are great from their first to their final second. Other songs have blinding moments of brilliance that spring up in the midst of mediocrity (or worse). “Cedars of Lebanon” would be in that first category for me, but there is one part – two lines, really – that stand out for me. So many individual lines resonate and they all fit together, tightly, telling a story and painting a deep, emotionally complex picture of the world in 2009.
When I started this piece, I was fixed on the line “This shitty world sometimes produces a rose.” We'll call today's entry "part one" because there are a lot more lines in the song worth coming back to discuss. Bono isn't the first person to say it (or something like it) but there's something about him saying it and the way he presents it that sticks with me.
For one thing, it's very un-Bono. It's not in his nature to see a shitty world with the occasional rose. Bono is more of a rose garden with the occasional weed kind of guy. There's the saying in journalism that it's not news when dog bites man but rather when man bites dog. Bono has fallen into pessimism before, but U2 has built a career by singing anthemic songs of possibility. “Cedars of Lebanon” is not one of them.
There is a seductive weariness and despair in the vocal – on that line and throughout the song – almost but not quite to the point of resignation. The character in this song is stuck in a personal and global quagmire and isn't sure if he's staying because he wants to, has to, or because he doesn't know what else to do or how to go back to his old life. He's not sure if he's making a difference or if anyone can. He's losing himself.
For all U2's glorious bombast, they are capable of moments of great delicacy and nuance. “Cedars of Lebanon” is one of them.